Larry’s Rules To Perform By

Larry Butler, the artist manager, author and former Warner Bros. Records exec, knows a thing or two about working with established stars and developing rising ones. So when a friend called and asked him to travel from Los Angeles to Santa Cruz to see a singer that might have the goods, he drove up the California coast to check her out. 

Photo: Courtesy Larry Butler
Larry Butler coaches artist Dawn Mitschele on the finer points of live performance with the goal of creating a lasting career for her. He’s begun a consultancy for teaching performance tricks of the trade that aren’t taught in music school

“He comes to me and says ‘I’ve got this girl singer/songwriter out of Santa Cruz that I’m looking at, and thinking about managing, but I’m not really sure,’” Butler told Pollstar. “’There’s something missing. Would you come take a look at her and see what I mean?’ and I said yeah, sure. We went up to Santa Cruz and took in a show.

“I told him what she could be doing better and he said, ‘Listen, I’m going to bring you in. You’re going to be part of my management team, and you’re going to work with her and show her what to do.’ I said, ‘OK, I’ll take money for that. Sure.’”

That was six months ago. Butler coached Taylor Rae in live performance, and she’s now out of the beach-town, bar-band scene and doing jazz-styled showcases around Los Angeles for reps and record label execs, taking the first step toward establishing a professional music career.

That’s the catalyst for Butler’s latest entrepreneurial effort. He’s putting out his shingle as a live performance consultant, taking in clients with musical chops and a passion to make a career of it. “There’s a whole school for kids to learn how to sing, and play, and do them at the same time,” Butler said. “To a certain degree, they’re taught how to put on a show, but I’m not sure anyone teaches them the specifics of it.”

“It” is the art of becoming a seasoned commander of the stage; connecting with an audience, knowing what to wear, what to say and how to move. How to stand apart from thousands of other artists who want to be stars, too. Most importantly, how to sell tickets and inspire fans to buy them again and again.

“I’m working from the point that someone can sing, can play, can write songs and make demos of them; then what?” Butler explained. “What you have to develop is a live act in order to take your career to the next level. Everything you do from here on out in your career is going to revolve around how good your live act is. Up to the point when you’re 70 years old, and you’re still Mick Jagger, and you’re still on the stage doing your live act. And it better be great.”

Butler points out that the greatest record ever made won’t break a career today – because the big money revolves around the live show. When an artist breaks, the radio stations first ask when she’ll come to town, play in the studio for listeners or perform at the local radio show festival. Even finding representation is more difficult without a live show to back up the music. “That’s all radio wants right now is a live act,” Butler said. “If you don’t have a good live act, or any live act at all, you’re not going to get on the radio.

Without radio, and without a live act, you don’t have a career.” And a budding artist had best possess at least some fundamental musical proficiency by the age of 12, Butler insists. It takes a couple of years to learn to play and sing at the same time.

The Beatles were a band by the time Lennon and McCartney were 18, Butler points out. But they’d been learning instruments and playing for years before that. Of course, this means that Butler’s client base includes parents. “I don’t have issues because they are funding it, and it is their son or daughter,” Butler said. “The parents I’ve been working with so far – even though they’re really concerned – know absolutely nothing about the music business and I have to break it to them gently as to what it really is about.

“I need to tell them I’m not going to lead them down a garden path, but tell them this is what we’re faced with – not only is this going to take time and money, your kid has to get motivated and dedicated! Your kid is not going to summer camp,” Butler said. He adds that the most important factor in turning a budding performer into the next Taylor Swift is funding, and in amounts parents alone almost certainly can’t afford.

Butler won’t be providing that, but he says his goal is to develop a musician into a performer able to attract the attention of someone who will, preferably at a record company.

“I would say to the parents, ‘I’m not the most expensive thing you’re ever going to see. If you think I’m expensive, you’d better rethink this career. The next level up is real expensive. The level we’re working toward is getting out of your bank account and into somebody else’s. And the way to do that is get this showcase together so we can attract the industry and work on songs and work on demos and get all our ducks in a row so that when that opportunity strikes, you’re ready. You’ve got everything you need.”

Butler’s blog and website,, includes “How to Become A Successful Performing Artist in the New Millennium.”