Clay Hutson of Nashville, Tennessee has been interested in music since he was a young boy. He earned a bachelor’s degree in theater design from Central Michigan University and a master’s degree in business administration from the Stephen M. Ross School of Business. After he graduated, Clay held several positions with live entertainment companies. He was a project manager and worked as a sound engineer. Although he worked in corporate entertainment and traveled with Billy Graham’s sound team, he eventually chose the music industry. Clay was especially passionate about rock ’n’ roll. Since he had several jobs that exposed him to every facet of sound engineering, live performances and management, he started his own business. Clay discovered that he was a natural entrepreneur, and he was successful in his endeavor. His business grew quickly along with his reputation for impeccable and reliable work.
Clay traveled with several musicians in the past. He traveled to many countries in Europe with a band called Garbage. He also spent time in North America and in Australia. After that, one of his notable accomplishments was operating One Republic’s automatic rigging system during one of its biggest tours. He spent time in North America and in Asia for that tour. Today, he designs, manages and produces concerts for famous musicians such as Pink, Kelly Clarkson and Kid Rock. In his spare time, Clay enjoys spending time with his family. Also, he enjoys woodworking and crafting projects.
How did you get started in this business? What inspired you to start this business?
I already had plenty of experience with sound engineering for live entertainment, and I had experience with tour production. After I gained additional experience in the industry, I thought about starting a business. Fortunately, I learned valuable skills and lessons in each of my past positions. When the big recession hit, the company I worked for faced several struggles. With my acquired skills and the need to distance myself from a struggling company, I decided to leave my job and start my own business. At that point, I just knew I was ready to set out on my own. I took a leap of faith, and I landed on my feet.
How do you make money?
I provide sound engineering, live production and rigging services. My services include production design and management, and I provide logistics and stage management as well. I do a lot of business with clients whose friends or colleagues recommend me to them. I have mostly been focusing on stage management projects lately.
How long did it take for you to become profitable?
It was hard to set out on my own in a tough economy. However, my instincts were right, and I was fortunate. I found good clients quickly. With hard work and consistency, I made it through the hard times and became profitable in a reasonable amount of time.
When you were starting out, was there ever a time you doubted it would work? If so, how did you handle that?
Taking a big leap of faith during a recession was hard. There were times when I felt doubt. I just kept going every day. I had one costly experience that affected me both personally and financially. I was subcontracting for a production company and its client. The relationship between that company and its client deteriorated, and the client still wanted to work with me directly. Although I agreed, I received a legal notice soon after that. The production company sued me, and the legal battle set me back more than $150,000. However, I worked past the ordeal and moved forward.
What is one non-referral marketing strategy that you’re using that works really well to generate new business?
Referrals are the biggest part of my business. However, I also run a website. I make sure that there is reliable information about me in several places and on my site. If people have questions about me, I want to provide them with useful answers. My website outlines what I do and how I help musicians. I also connect with people in my industry on LinkedIn. I spent years establishing my reputation. Connecting with people is a good way to keep strengthening that public image and to keep bringing in more business.
What is the toughest decision you’ve had to make in the last few months?
My recent and current work involves stage management for a well-known musician. There are a lot of important tasks that I have to either do or oversee. One mistake can ruin a performance or even an entire event. There are regularly tough decisions to make, and I make a habit of thinking them through carefully and analyzing options from multiple angles first.
What do you think it is that makes you successful?
I think my passion for the business and my hard work make me successful. I make sure that I put forth my best effort for every project. Also, I am not afraid to work odd hours or long hours. I check whatever I do immediately. I check it again, and I check it a third time. If I check everything at least three times, I catch potential problems that I may otherwise overlook. I also align myself with people who work hard. I would rather work with someone who has an unpleasant demeanor and a solid work ethic than someone who is nice but produces mediocre or average quality.
What has been your most satisfying moment in business?
Every success has been satisfying for me. Recovering from my legal dilemma with the production company was satisfying. In this business, a tarnished reputation can cost you everything. I recovered from a setback, and I managed to build a strong reputation. Today, I take pride in working hard to maintain it.
What does the future hold for your business? What are you most excited about?
I will continue working hard, maintaining my reputation and seeking new opportunities. The evolution of technology is exciting to me. It advances fast, and I keep up with it to find innovative solutions for my work. In my perspective, it is important to blend live entertainment with technology. For example, huge stage screens are popular for concerts today. They give everyone in the venue a better look at what is happening on stage. However, some performers also use acrobats or do stunts. I think stunts add excitement and enhance the use of a large screen. I appreciate entertainers who realize the value of variety and creativity in live entertainment.
What business books have inspired you?
I recommend Richard Carlson’s “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff.” An associate gave me that book a few years ago, and it really improved my perspective on multiple things. It teaches people how to let go of unimportant things that they may unnecessarily obsess over and how to focus on the big picture instead.
What is a recent purchase you have made that’s helped with your business?
I make quite a few purchases for iPhone apps and upgrades. I use my phone to run every part of my business. Being able to do everything from one device makes life easier for me. It also saves a lot of time.
If you could go back in time, would you change anything?
I would have spent more time with my family. Also, I would have told myself to analyze every situation with total honesty. That can be hard to do if you know the truth and deny it. However, the outcome is always much worse when you are in denial.