"After all of these years, it’s still exciting for me to watch an artist’s career grow. It doesn’t matter at what level, whether it’s a young artist" — Robert Williams
Since 1971, Robert Williams has been the impetus behind countless entertainment industry success stories. However, among all of his notable accomplishments within the business of art, Williams’ own history could be the most compelling story of success he has authored.
Today, Williams is the president of WBA Entertainment, Inc., a Nashville-based yet globally reaching professional talent management and film/television production firm. Along his journey to the present, Williams has built and developed an elite collection of artistic entities recognizable worldwide as solo artists, musical acts, comedic performers, actors, actresses, theatrical touring companies, feature films, television series, and much more.
It is nearly an exercise in futility to compile a comprehensive list of the many career credentials of Robert Williams (although an attempt to illustrate such details will be made subsequently). However, it is how he thoughtfully and humbly built his legacy that is the true theme of this story. Having a confident, yet friendly nature while choosing to color outside of the lines has served this entertainment industry veteran very well.
“The power of P.M.A. — positive mental attitude — is an important quality to possess on any path of life, but it’s especially important to make it in the entertainment world,” attests Williams. “If you approach everything using the ‘yes’ process, and if you know how to approach it, you are going to win. If not, you’re going to lose. It’s that simple.”
A History of Winning
Winning is clearly Robert Williams’ thing. Even before entering the entertainment business in ‘71, he had elevated himself to the position of Chairman of the Board at the world’s third largest employment agency boasting 110 offices in 47 states with nearly 2000 employees. “Ironically, I found that there was a great deal of interchangeable ideas between the world of employment agencies and the entertainment industry,” explains Williams. “In the end, both an agent’s and a manager’s job is the same: to get work for their client.”
Moving to the entertainment world proved to be a natural and seamless move for Williams. He soon founded Spotlite Enterprises, Ltd., a Virginia Beach, Virginia-based booking agency, which quickly grew into a national powerhouse. Upon moving his startup firm to New York City in 1976, Spotlite began to sign their own artists including the likes of Blood Sweat and Tears, Ritchie Havens, Jimmy (J.J.) Walker, and the Weather Girls. Williams’ momentum carried him to a plethora of other opportunities, where he became the exclusive representative and touring director for the Gorky Bolshoi Drama Theater of Russia, the touring director of the Leningrad Film Studios, and the agent/television packager for the world renowned Montreal Comedy Festival ‘Just For Laughs’.
The Williams-led firm soon began to take on theatrical events, including Oh Calcutta, Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, Harry Blackstone’s Broadway Magic Show, and Beatlemania, which was recognized as ‘Theatrical Production of the Year’ by Performance Magazine in 1980. Throughout this time of continued growth, Williams continued to cultivate his thriving business via physical expansion (new offices in Beverly Hills and Nashville), new clients (comedic icons such as Jay Leno, Jerry Seinfeld, Dennis Miller, Yakov Smirnoff, Damon Wayans, among nearly 90 other industry notables), television and film work (with clients such as HBO and Showtime) and a continued thrust into the world of events booking (with a roster of over 700 artists, performance groups, and touring events).
In the mid-1990s, Williams founded WBA Entertainment, Inc., where he began to build a new roster of diverse and talented artists. WBA Entertainment has managed, consulted, and represented clients including the Moffatts, 4 The Cause, Cledus T. Judd, William Lee Golden, Jeff Allen, Naturally Seven, producer Jeff Coplan, music production team Gee 'N J. Productions, painter Gregori Maiofis, and sculptor Jon Leightner. Currently residing and working from WBA headquarters in Nashville, Williams continues to build upon his history of winning.
Dispelling Myths, Capitalizing on Truths
“As a manager, your job is to dispel the myths while capitalizing on the truths,” he insists. “True artists have a vision but are usually singularly focused; that’s great, and it’s a trait that’s a gift of being an artist. But in today’s entertainment world, if you don’t think outside of the box, you might as well get out of the business — that’s number one. ‘Vertical integration’ is a term used often in our business — maybe even too often — but it really makes sense. An artist must understand himself as a commodity and how to put that commodity on different shelves. For instance, we represent an artist named Larry Carlton, who is definitely in the company of the greatest guitar players alive. But his greatness becoming success involves getting his concerts on DVD and to store shelves, getting his signature Gibson guitar line to market, and so on, all while retaining artistic integrity.”
Sharing His Story
It is patience, says Williams, that is most often absent in the minds of newbies entering the entertainment world. In sharing his knowledge with others, he often tries to encourage audiences to prepare for a long haul on the road to success. “There’s no question that the core naiveté of this business is the misconception of growth time,” he offers. “In reality, our industry is no more or no less difficult to enter than the industry of any other great profession. It may take a doctor a decade after preparing for their career to begin to make a living, and it’s often the same situation with an actor, a singer, or other such artists. Granted, there are those who may get a break and have success early, but in those situations, a lack of knowledge of the industry often requires one to ‘pay the piper’ later on.”
Written by Strother Bullins
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