Wayne Brewer Of Brewgrass Entertainment: Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Times
An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis
Make sure that you secure a good line of capital to fund whatever project that you are doing. Always think ahead and keep reserves to fall back on during difficult times. When the pandemic started, touring was taken from us, we had funds previously set aside to use for promotions.
As a part of our series about the “Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Times,” we had the pleasure of interviewing Wayne Brewer.
Wayne Brewer is the CEO and co-founder of Brewgrass Entertainment. He manages the legendary Billboard chart-topping American-roots music group Gary Brewer & the Kentucky Ramblers, overseeing SGM Records and Brewgrass Entertainment Studios as well. Brewer does much more than the business side of things in his work; he is also a 6th generation musician and long-time member of his family band. Wayne has received critical praise as a vocalist, bassist & fiddle player with the group as well. Wayne took over as CEO in 2012 and under his management, the band has been taken to new heights of success. Their most recent album release 40th Anniversary Celebration charted on Billboard at №1 for 16 weeks, staying in the top 5 for 72 weeks (according to MRC data 40th Anniversary Celebration has sold around 60K verified units) and was submitted to the initial round of the 63rd GRAMMY Awards in 6 categories.
The band was later submitted to the 64th GRAMMY Awards initial round for “Best New Artist” (recognizing the band’s 40-year career, its second wind of new life with new generations of Brewers, and their largest mainstream breakthrough success to date. New and exciting things are still to come under the leadership of Wayne Brewer.
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
I’ve enjoyed music all my life. My career in the entertainment industry started at the young age of 18 months old. My dad (Gary Brewer) brought me into the studio to record on one of his CDs (Memories of Home) singing lead and playing guitar on “Y’all Come” (alongside my dad and grandpa Finley J. Brewer). Because of my early start, I was awarded the honor of “The Youngest Recording Artist” in the Guinness Book of World Records. I was also blessed with the opportunity to perform at the Grand Ole Opry and I was again awarded a world record in the Guinness Book; this one was for “The Youngest Artist to Perform on the Grand Ole Opry Stage.” Since then, I went on the road with my dad and his band as much as possible. At 7-years-old my mom finally let me tour with the group without her accompanying me. I really wanted to be a full-time touring member of the group, so I pulled my dad off to the side and asked when I could do that. He told me when I was able to learn all his music, and play it as good or better than who he had at the moment, I could have a shot at it. About a month later, he had a show in Arkansas; I asked to play with them as I knew he was looking for a bass fill-in for that show. He told me that he’d love to have me, but there was just no way I was up to par that quickly. I practiced day and night. After several weeks, I had my dad listen to my bass playing, and he hired me on the spot. We all jumped in the bus, and on the trip there, the guys were asking who was going to be the bass stand-in at the show. Dad told them he had hired me; they all said things like “ahh okay” and “alright, sounds good,” but I could tell nobody really knew what to think. Next thing, we were on stage. The guys and all the fans accepted me with a warm embrace and proud smiles. I was already exactly where I was meant to be when I was just 14-years-old. I still look at that night as a vital highlight of my career.
In 2012, I decided that I wanted to expand our business by incorporating all of our entities into one large company as an entertainment industry “one-stop-shop,” thus Brewgrass Entertainment was born and I was given the opportunity to become CEO. Since 2018, I’ve been a very proud endorsing artist for NS Design basses, fiddles, and now guitars; a partnership that helps further my career in many ways. I have and I still very much enjoy touring, traveling, and seeing the world; and feel very blessed to do so along with my wife, family, and support from many friends and fans. Early on, I was very interested in and thought it was important to learn all aspects of the music business inside and out, top to bottom. I’ve been able to experience those various parts by learning them for myself. Since then I have toured all over the world, recorded, booked, managed, produced multiple projects (for myself, the group, and others) that have garnered critical praise, won awards, and been in contention for multiple IBMA and GRAMMY Awards. I’m proud to be a voting member of the Recording Academy, IEBA, AMA, and IBMA. Most importantly, I’m able to make a living doing what I love. Speaking of love… in 2014 I met my beautiful and talented wife (Alyssa). We fell in love, and while dating I discovered she had a lot of abilities and traits that I knew would work well in our business, so I introduced her to all that we do. She is now the COO of Brewgrass Entertainment along with her own publicity, web design, and event management company (also included under the Brewgrass Entertainment umbrella). In addition to working together in the music business, I have been a life-long martial artist alongside my family and wife. I find it captivating for my mind, body, and spirit; a great way to stay in shape, relieve stress, and of course, learn self-defense. I also enjoy collecting and restoring old vintage cars. I have restored and now own a 1968 Torino GT Fastback. For many years, we talked about having our own recording studio (built on the family farm) in one of the warehouses where we store our entertainer coach (tour bus). In 2020, we built a state-of-the-art recording studio to our specs; which was another life-long dream checked off the list. My dad, my brother (Mason, who is also an audio engineer), and I write, record, and produce projects for ourselves and others.
I have been training for this job my whole life under the tutelage of my father, and am pleased with what has happened so far. I’m looking forward to seeing what comes next for me in this business.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
When I first started, I had the crazy idea that no one could do anything better than I could do it myself. I loaded myself down with all the work and wouldn’t delegate any of it. I soon found out that is not the way to do things; it’s too stressful and taxing on a person to do it all. I eventually delegated the work out to the team and taught them as I would do it. Now, we each have a more efficient workflow and less stressful workload.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
The first person that comes to mind that I’m grateful toward for all his help getting me to where I am is, of course, my dad (Gary Brewer). He passed the family legacy down to me, giving me the opportunity to prove myself as a businessman, manager, and CEO initially. Even still, if I have any questions, he is my mentor and business partner in all things Brewgrass. From the day I was born, my dad has taught me everything he knows and in a lot of ways, we are just alike. That’s why me being Gary Wayne Brewer Jr. is so fitting! He was always “the guy” that did it all and over time he saw fit to pass that responsibility on to me. Due to his belief in me, his guidance, and his mentorship, I have been able to take the business to heights never imagined.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When your company started, what was its vision, what was its purpose?
I started our parent company “Brewgrass Entertainment” to house all of our entities (Gary Brewer & the Kentucky Ramblers, the management company, the live concert production company, and our record label SGM Records) in order to have a central point of control and contact. My vision is to continue to promote and preserve in the interest of furthering our family’s musical legacy into future generations.
Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion. Can you share with our readers a story from your own experience about how you lead your team during uncertain or difficult times?
Truthfully, for me, normal times and difficult times are treated the same. In other words, as a professional in the music and entertainment business, I haven’t changed my mindset because the music business always has been and always will be ever-changing and uncertain. I keep my team’s and my own focus on the task at hand no matter what may be happening around us. For example, with the COVID-19 pandemic, we still do our conference-style meetings on video calls (if in-person is not an option) to keep everyone on the same page while being very transparent with what our common goal is. The key to an achieved goal is to have a good team working toward it. In uncertain times, we stay our regular course having a clear vision of what we are trying to accomplish. When we found out about the shutdown and pandemic, there were a lot of cancellations and postponements that heavily impacted our largest source of income (touring) that directly affected other areas of the business financially. Knowing the “40th Anniversary Celebration Tour” was being postponed, instead of pushing our 40th Anniversary Celebration CD release, we made the decision to go ahead as scheduled, unlike most everyone else in the industry that held their releases until a later date. Because of that decision, 2020/2021 turned out to be our most successful years to date. You are always changing and updating your business model as far as how to run things better, but at the end of the day… don’t let it change your end goal.
Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the motivation to continue through your challenges? What sustains your drive?
I think everybody has thoughts in the back of their mind about the grass being greener somewhere else, even if they say they haven’t. I have never considered giving up. There is a difference between having those thoughts and entertaining those thoughts, but no I have never given up on anything I’ve ever started. I’ve always had an above-average work ethic that was instilled in me by my parents (Gary & Lesia Brewer) and grandpa (Finley J. Brewer) from a very young age. As I got older, my desire for success only grew because I now have my wife (Alyssa Brewer) by my side. We are what people like to call an “entrepreneur power couple”. So my motivation came from my family as a kid and throughout my life growing up. My wife helps sustain my drive from day to day as the COO of Brewgrass Entertainment and we share the same passion for our joint career. In addition, keeping the business thriving and growing for future generations definitely sustains my drive to do more.
What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during challenging times?
The most critical role of a leader during challenging times is to be a strong motivator and good support system.
When the future seems so uncertain, what is the best way to boost morale? What can a leader do to inspire, motivate and engage their team?
Create more short-term goals than long-term goals, BUT always keep the ultimate goal in mind. Especially if everyone is working remotely rather than all together in person. You have to have a victory every now and then. I like for us to celebrate all wins rather than just the big ones. Keeping short-term goals and celebrating small wins too will keep everyone positive and working toward the end goal.
What is the best way to communicate difficult news to one’s team and customers?
In my experience, the best way to communicate difficult news to the team is to be direct and try to get straight to the point. It also helps to get the bad news out of the way and have some good news sprinkled in after the fact to soften the bad, if possible.
How can a leader make plans when the future is so unpredictable?
I have always thought and lived differently than most people, I would say. The future is always unpredictable and you have to just live day to day, minute to minute, stick to the plan, and keep going. Make adjustments when necessary, but don’t let anything knock you off the course.
Is there a “number one principle” that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times?
Yes. To me, the number one principle is to always be professional. No matter what is going on in the world or in each individual’s life, it’s important to be a positive influence, have a respectful presence, and stay on task.
Can you share 3 or 4 of the most common mistakes you have seen other businesses make during difficult times? What should one keep in mind to avoid that?
1) Focusing too much on what is going wrong rather than on the job. You have to keep your mind on what you are trying to accomplish above all else.
2) Not setting aside funds for difficult times. You should be able to enjoy your success, but don’t bask in it too much so you can have reserve during uncertain times.
3) Changing the business model too much. There are adjustments needed for specific situations, but never let the work stop.
4) Too many employees to begin with. Sometimes you have more success with a smaller boutique-style company that you can connect with rather than a huge staff. When difficult times come around, it is easier to keep morale up and funds flowing to fewer people.
Generating new business, increasing your profits, or at least maintaining your financial stability can be challenging during good times, even more so during turbulent times. Can you share some of the strategies you use to keep forging ahead and not lose growth traction during a difficult economy?
One of the strategies that I have always done to drive sales is to keep promotions flowing. When our entire touring season was pulled out from under us because of the pandemic, it got rid of the most prominent form of promotion; getting out in front of people to perform. Basically, I did the opposite of everyone else and put the money toward publicity and other promotion outlets aside from touring. When you lose 90% of your presence with your fans, you have to invest twice or three times as much in yourself to stay in front of everyone and relevant to drive merch and cd sales. The old saying is true “out of sight, out of mind.” Promotion is key.
Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a business leader should do to lead effectively during uncertain and turbulent times? Please share a story or an example for each.
1) Keep your team motivated, stay positive, and have a good professional work atmosphere. Our team had a rough time at the start of the COVID 19 pandemic because we lost a very important member of our team (my grandpa, Finley J.), but we all used that loss as motivation because we knew that he wanted us to go on and continue the family legacy.
2) Make sure that you secure a good line of capital to fund whatever project that you are doing. Always think ahead and keep reserves to fall back on during difficult times. When the pandemic started, touring was taken from us, we had funds previously set aside to use for promotions.
3) Be a trendsetter and don’t jump on the bandwagon. What works for other people might not work for you. It was our decision to go ahead with our original schedule in releasing our 40th Anniversary album; including a virtual CD release party and other promotions. Other artists didn’t release their projects and held their music for years. We are happy with our choice.
4) Encourage your team to find an outlet to relieve stress outside of work to keep things at work good and flowing. Everyone needs to find something to use as a release whether that’d be working out or other hobbies, it’s up to each person.
5) Find employees that are dedicated to your business and have the desire to do the work. Dedication is needed to do good work. Our day-to-day operations depend on our dedication and drive to do great things. Our whole team has a joint passion for this business.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
You would probably have to know me personally to fully appreciate this quote; A quote of my own that I use a lot: “If you don’t like it…love it.” -Wayne Brewer.
That can apply to yourself as a leader or your team members. If an employee comes to you having a bad day, dreading something they have to do, we say “If you don’t like it…love it.” It can be taken as a lighthearted joke and serious at the same time. If you don’t like something that you’ve got to do, just do it, love it and you’ll be better off. Dreading something is a waste of time and energy. The work has to be done either way. With a better attitude, the work will in turn be better.
How can our readers further follow your work?
You can like and follow me on Facebook (@Wayne.Brewer.7) and Instagram (@waynebrewerofficial). You can like and follow Gary Brewer & the Kentucky Ramblers on Facebook (@TheKentuckyRamblers) and Instagram (@garybrewer_thekentuckyramblers).
Also, you can look around our website and join our email list (www.brewgrass.com).
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!
Wayne Brewer Of Brewgrass Entertainment: Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.