Interview with TV & Music Executive, PHIL THORNTON
AimerAmour: How did you first get into entertainment industry?
Phil Thornton: I’ve always had a love and passion for music. I accepted my first internship opportunity when I was twelve years old at WOWI-FM (103JAMZ), which is now a Clear Channel station. I did that for a few years until my second internship at fifteen years old at Arista Records. That opportunity helped me to meet a lot of the people that I came to work with later on in life. From there I attended college at Norfolk State University. As a student, I was heavily involved in promotions but then I started branching out into artist management. When I graduated in 2003, I moved to New York and started my own company, Bright Star Entertainment, and at the time I was working with 112, Lil Mo and various producers. In 2006 I moved to west coast, Los Angeles to be exact, to continue to do artist management and work on TV projects. While there, I produced a show for TV-One that year called I Married A Baller. It was Taj George’s [lead singer of SWV] first introduction to reality television, and it was based on her relationship with her husband NFL player Eddie George. I started consulting for various companies and producing more TV shows including the hit series LisaRaye: The Real McCoy and then R&B Divas. In addition, I managed Faith Evans, Michelle Williams, Jessica Reedy and Kenny Lattimore. That’s it in a nutshell.
AA: With only 24 hours in a day, how do you effectively manage your time as a label executive, manager and tv producer?
PT: It’s an ongoing learning process but I couldn’t do it without the help of God first and foremost. Secondly, it’s really teamwork and I don’t mean to sound cliché. My teams include my eOne marketing department that I work closely with to plan, strategize and execute projects. As far as R&B Divas, I’m not on set every day. We’re filming in Atlanta and Los Angeles at the same time. My partner at Ten 2 One, Paul Coy Allen may be in LA and I might be in Atlanta but we make it work. I have incredible show runners on each coast. I’m working with an amazing team from Think Factory Media: Adam Reed, Aaron Fishman and Leslie Greif. I’ve known them for years and I trust their judgment. They are integral in my absence because think the way I think.
However, I’m very much involved with the shows. I my hot sheets and I receive daily updates of what’s happening on location. Right now I’m going through the edits for the first few episodes of R&B Divas: Atlanta.
Even team Mack Wilds consist of about twenty-five people. His publicist, music agent, tv/film agent, Mack’s assistant, his road crew and of course the label staff. So it really is about the team. That’s how I’m able to really juggle and mange the many aspects of my career so I am able to have somewhat of a personal life. It’s a team effort; it’s not a one-man show at all.
(Editor’s Note: AimerAmour’s Interview with Director/Producer Paul Coy Allen Here!) AA: Can you give you an overview of producing a reality show beyond the first season? How do you continue to craft the story to keep the momentum going?
PT: The fortunate part about the cast that I’m working with on R&B Divas, and I think this applies to any docu-series, you really have to stay true to form with what’s happening in their lives. Although we have a bit of structure, it’s somewhat hard because it’s real life situations. The team and I sit down with each cast member at the top the season and ask them, what’s going with your life personally and professionally? We create our story arc and our timeline according to what they dictate to us. I say for example, what’s going on with you within the next three months and you may be having a big birthday party, your parents may be coming into town and you haven’t seen them in months. We really take all of those things and incorporate it. Of course we can’t show everything within forty-three minutes, we have to chop some things to make it compelling and keep people excited to watch but we really strive to be true to form.
That was what attracted me to this show, not to discredit any other [reality shows] but whatever is going on in your life, we try to capture it. Right now one of the ladies in our Atlanta cast, her son has been diagnosed with autism. That’s a reality. And she found out a week before we started filming so we’re really on the journey with her as she’s trying to handle it and sort it out as a mother. We’re not scripting, we’re just a fly on the wall. Then we have a LA diva that’s going down the path of divorce. That’s really her reality and we’re just there to document the process. At the end of the day, between the internet and the fans being involved via social media, you can tell when something’s not real.
AA: With so many artists being independent how has your role changed as a manager?
PT: In the past people thought you needed this machine, have the major label success. Now, it’s anyone’s game. With Mack [Wilds] specifically, the social media platforms are so important. He’s constantly engaging his fans on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. It’s about giving your supporters exclusives whether it’s music or performance footage because that also helps your story on the radio side.
Years ago radio was a separate entity. Now radio stations have blogs and they’re tweeting and facebooking and looking for content. People in radio are following you online to see what you’re posting and talking about.
Previously, you had to be signed to a major label in order to be a success. Now you can do it on your own. Of course it can be pricey in some areas but you can shoot your own video. With social media you can create a story that will get you thousands of followers then you can go to radio and get spins. In fact, you can put your album on iTunes and sell it yourself. You don’t really need the middleman.
AA: Congrats on Mack Wild’s GRAMMY nomination for his debut album New York : A Love Story.
PT: It’s an honor! Especially when the record just came out at the end of September and we’re still on the first single! We’re just going into single number two with the “Henny” track impacting radio. It’s been a real blessing for a new artist to really establish his place as a new face and a new voice in music. I’m super excited for Mack’s future. I’ve been working with him for over five years. We started at the very beginning stages of development: vocal training, media training and getting him comfortable on stage. I implemented a true artist development process prior to the record deal and once we got the deal it didn’t stop there. With Mack we really started from the bottom and found a great partner in the form of Salaam Remi & Sony Music. They’ve been great and a pleasure to work with. They’ve definitely been a partner in every sense of the word.
(Editor’s Note: AimerAmour’s Interview with Mack Wilds Here!)
AA: How do you define success?
PT: Success is when I know we’ve done the best possible job for the respective project. If I know we’ve done everything for Mack Wilds possible i.e he’s done every performance, he’s the brand ambassador for these companies, his song is doing well on the radio and people are really loving the music-to me that’s success. With an eOne project, when people say they love a song or a song inspires them that defines success for me. I don’t measure it by any awards, accolades, chart position or sales. Instead, it’s about people being fulfilled and enjoying the work that I’m apart of. For R&B Divas, when people say they love the show, I feel accomplished. I let the network worry about the ratings. I’m successful when people truly enjoy the work and the products I’ve had a hand in creating.
AA: What do you know about yourself now that you didn’t know when you first started? What advice would you give to your 21-year-old self-based on your career trial and errors?
PT: What I didn’t know…I didn’t know if I had what it takes to be in this business. I didn’t know if I had the chops and the knowledge. In my mind, I’m just a guy from Virginia who grew up loving music. I always had a passion to work in the entertainment business in some capacity but honestly I didn’t know if I had what it takes. When I look back on my life knowing that I started interning at twelve, which is unheard of, the path was already created for me. That’s why I thank GOD everyday because I couldn’t have planned it any better. God prepared me for the role I’m in now.
I would tell the younger Phil to just to be patient. It’s all going to work out soon; your time is coming. [At 21 years old] I couldn’t have envisioned managing a great recording artist, having hit shows on TV and having an executive role at a record label, all at the same time. I’d be grateful if just one of those was happening, let alone all of them at the same time. So I would definitely tell a younger me to be patient, because it’s been a journey. Also, enjoy your youth! I was so busy trying to work I would definitely tell the younger me to enjoy your time enjoy that period of your life. I don’t feel like I’ve had enough fun in my younger days because I was so focused on trying to get to this point. You do have to sacrifice in some areas just for your career but just give yourself a proper balance of personal and professional.
AA: As the VP of Marketing for eOne, can you explain the difference between marketing and branding? Is one more important than the other?
PT: I don’t think one is more important than the other. I look at marketing as a way to get your product or your artists to multiple platforms whether it’s digital, traditional or grassroots. Marketing is more standard and covers a lot of ground. I feel like managers are marketing executives in their own regard. Branding to me consists of, partnering. It’s a hot word that everyone uses these days, but it’s simply a branch from the marketing tree.
If you’re properly marketing a television show or an artist, they’ll become a household name and their brand, so to speak, will increase by way of the promotional and digital efforts, which also falls under the marketing umbrella. In my opinion, branding is just a word that people are fixated with nowadays. Years ago, brands were the beverages and clothing companies. Now people have taken that term to talk about branding themselves but when you think about it, it’s really just marketing, effective marketing.
AA: Who has mentored and influenced you throughout your career?
PT: I admire a lot of the greats: Berry Gordy, Clive Davis, and David Geffen. I read a book based on all of their lives. Some of people I’ve had the pleasure to work alongside are Craig Davis, Benny Pough and Ethiopia Habtemariam. Although Ethiopia and I are only a year apart in age, she’s still a constant inspiration. She’s an executive at Motown Records and an Executive Vice President at Universal Music Publishing Group. I admire her growth and her persistence. I look at people like her and say ‘You’re doing the damn thing! I applaud you!’ On the TV/Film side, Will Packer, who’s a good friend of mine, is doing a kick ass job. He’s got four movies coming out this year. He’s definitely an inspiration and a mentor. He’s someone I call from time to time as a big brother. He’s been down the path that I’m just starting as a producer. I ultimately want to do film. My goal is not to just limit myself to television but also produce films. On the management side Blue Williams and Manny Haley. It really just depends on what part of my career when I’m referring to my mentors. They’ve all been influential, impactful and inspiring in some regard for me.
PT: I definitely think there are many opportunities for people of color in music, tv, film etc. It’s about creating the path and getting into these organizations and really working your way up. As far as what I’m doing, I like to mentor young professionals and educate them on how the business works. I speak to different high school and college students to show them that there’s someone that looks like you that’s working in this field and you can do it too.
I also offer internships. Right now I’m looking for more interns. When you get an internship with me, you get hands on experience. I don’t just give you busy work, I really explain [for example] this is how a marketing plan is done or we have these tapings coming up, this is what needs to happen, you’re going to help me do it and I’m going to walk you through it every step of the way. My interns walk away with a wealth of knowledge. That’s my personal thing because I’ve been blessed to have people walk me through how things work from A to Z. So I believe it’s really my duty to pass along that knowledge. Before Ethiopia was an executive, she started out as an intern at LaFace Records. We’ve all had people who’ve shown us the way. It’s really important to me to share my insight and experiences because that helps to create more opportunities. If you’re selfish, it only going to make it that much harder for the next generation. We have to pass the baton so twenty years from now our interns can do the same thing. It should be cyclical. We have to keep people of color engaged and also expose them to opportunities that they may not get anywhere else.
Wait there’s more industry knowledge from Phil Thornton! Part Two Coming Soon!
Photo Credit: Malcolm Ali/Finaimage