Nashville music executive offers insight at Developing Artist Symposium

Cliff Williamson addresses the crowd at Thursday’s symposium at Southeastern Oklahoma State University.

Cliff Williamson addresses the crowd at Thursday’s symposium at Southeastern Oklahoma State University.

DURANT, Okla. – As far as the music business goes, Cliff Williamson has been around the block a time or two. Throughout a 50-year career, he has worn many hats, including disc jockey, record producer, publisher, and executive. Today, he is Chief Operating Officer of Reba McEntire’s Starstruck Entertainment  and Reba’s Business, Inc., in Nashville, Tenn.

Williamson was on the campus of Southeastern Oklahoma State University Thursday to speak to students at the Department of Music’s “Developing Artist Symposium.’’

“You have to have passion,’’ Williamson advised students interested in a career in music, “but you must also have diligence. Success is relative … you measure your success by how happy you are.’’

Williamson noted that his passion for music began in junior high school and high school in Georgia and Tennessee when he joined the marching band. His professional involvement in the music industry began in 1964 while he was in high school when he was employed as a disc jockey.

The record executive told the audience that there are three keys to success in the music business.

“One key is you’ve got to know who your audience is,’’ he said. “Taylor Swift and Reba McEntire (a Southeastern graduate) are great examples of artists who recognize this. Then you have to know what they (audience) want. Finally, you must have the talent to give it to them.’’

Williamson also touched on “style’’ that makes artists successful.

“If you go back to the early 1970s, Conway Twitty had a lot of style. Today, Reba has a tremendous amount of style, as do artists like Kenny Chesney and Jimmy Buffett, and many others.’’

During his hour-long presentation, Williamson mentioned a variety of other subjects, including the songwriting business, disco, vinyl records, the importance of social media in the record business, and some of the many other changes the industry has seen over the years.

But, according to Williamson: “A song is a song is a song, and a record is a record is a record – the same things that matter to making a hit record today are the same as they were, 20, even 50 years ago.’’

In addition to managing Reba, Starstruck also oversees the careers of such popular  artists as Blake Shelton and Kelly Clarkson.

Williamson has been associated with Starstruck for 20 years. He also serves on the Board of Directors of the Texoma Health Foundation.

Also offering comments from Starstruck Thursday was Justin McIntosh, Creative Media & Marketing Director. He directed his remarks to marketing and creating a brand.

The two-day symposium, geared toward Southeastern students with an interest in the music business, marketing, performance, or songwriting, concluded Friday.

In addition to the lectures, roundtable discussions, singer-songwriting clinics, and musical performances were a part of the symposium.

Guest singer-songwriters  performing were country artist Amber Hayes (an Oklahoma native) from Nashville, and Austin Hartley-Leonard, based in Los Angeles.

This event was made possible through a grant from the Cultural and Scholastic Lectureship Committee, with additional funding from Choctaw Casino and Resort, Sports City Bar and Grill, and private donors.

Austin Hartley-Leonard performed Thursday night at Sports City.

Austin Hartley-Leonard performed Thursday night at Sports City.

Country artist Amber Hayes, an Oklahoma native, takes the stage at Sports City Thursday night.

Country artist Amber Hayes, an Oklahoma native, takes the stage at Sports City Thursday night.