When you take a look at Missouri native Livio Harris’ credentials you can tell the man has made his way through the ranks of the entertainment industry with consistent dedication. A multi-faceted individual like him comes around once in a blue moon. Livio has fully indulged himself in music, film, management, consulting, and now fashion with his clothing line, Livio Vechelli. You get the idea? The man can do it all given the opportunity to shine. Not everyone can honestly say that they would capitalize on all their endeavors because not all people have that innate drive to excel beyond their potential like Mr. Harris does. Impressive is an understatement. He’s proven time and time again that he could step up to the plate and surpass all obstacles thrown his way. Without further ado, here’s the interview I conducted with one of the entertainment industries most established, yet unassuming and humble executives: Mr. Livio Harris.
Alright, let’s jump right into this. Tell the people out there where you’re from.
I was born in St. Louis, MO and raised in Kansas City, MO.
Being that you have Midwestern roots, in what ways has your childhood effected where you’re at right now?
It made me grounded. People from the Midwest tend to be more grounded about themselves, so when I went to California 22 years ago, I was on point with what my goal was. So, I would say that my upbringing has made me competitive and kept me grounded.
How have you given back to your hometown?
Finding and flying people out here (referring to California) who are talented, who really want to be serious about their craft and encourage them by reminding them that if I did it, so can they.
What are your biggest challenges you face daily?
I’ve pretty much jumped over all the hurdles. I’ve done it all from managing artists and producers, even actors and actresses, consulting for Notting Hill Music Publishing out of London. I have a film and television company, Who’s Harris Entertainment, which is a multi-million dollar, versatile business entity. So, I haven’t really seen too many obstacles in the past 22 years. I've pretty much figured it out.
What serves as your greatest inspiration in life?
Trying to give back and keep my legacy going by being successful at everything I touch. Building other artists and seeing them grow.
You know, everybody says they want to be successful, so what’s your definition of success?
Success can be many things. For me, I came from a Midwest city and moved to a larger city and market (L.A.) to follow my dreams. Success, in my shoes, is partly being able to have the eye for great talent. For example, I managed Adina Howard and invested in her and she ended up selling 2 million copies as an artist known worldwide. 17 years later, everyone knows who she is and she’s still relevant, so I feel like I’ve succeeded in my goal for that artist. To break it down, success is doing something that you want to do and following your dreams. Once you accomplish it, then you have to maintain it. To me, it’s finding a talent who’s a “nobody” and turning them into a “somebody”. 2 million hit records later, it’s like my name is on it and I’m partly responsible for Adina’s success.
If you could plant a seed for more success in the future, how would you start?
I’m already doing it. I always have my ears to the streets. I’m always at entertainment conventions and panels trying to find that diamond in the rough, then dust them off and continue down the path I’ve been on for the past 22 years.
If you weren’t doing what you’re doing right now, what would you see yourself doing professionally?
I’d most likely become a technical engineer at a major corporation like General Motors.
How do you feel you benefit most from your profession?
I have the opportunity to do what I want to do in life. I don’t want to do something I don’t like doing, where i would hate going to work because I hate my job.
Can you ever see yourself getting into politics, or education?
Not really when it comes to politics. I do a lot of consulting so that alone is of great educational value to those I interact with, but I can’t see myself being a politician.
You’ve been involved in so many different areas in the entertainment industry. How in the world do you keep things together outside of just the challenge of dealing with time management?
It’s a balance that I’ve learned throughout the years. It’s nothing that’s happened over night. Just try to focus in on what you’re most talented at and try to balance the other things around it. That’s pretty much how I’ve been able to maintain with all the responsibilities I’ve had.
Why did you decide to start off your label with soundtracks, instead of it being an artist driven label?
I’ve always had a fascination with soundtracks. When dealing with soundtracks, it’s a hard game. Very few soundtracks sell. I like the challenge of putting together a soundtrack that actually sells.
So you like the challenge of standing out, going against the grain and being successful doing so?
What’s it been like for you to delve into the film industry with your projects, “Gafflers” and “Skater Kings”?
“Gafflers” is a concept that came from my cousin, Lee Eric Berry. It’s kind of like a spin off, or should I say an urban version of Oceans 11. “Skater Kings” is a multi-pop culture, skateboard movie, but it’s not hard. It’s more of a film where mothers and grandmothers can go see it, because it has that family vibe to it. It’s based on skateboarding which is a multi-billion dollar business. 7 years ago we wrote the script as a movie concept and now the skating entity is even bigger, so we looked at the script and decided to make it a reality as a featured film.
From what I’ve read, you’re in talks with artists and actors to get them their own line of Liquor. Do you, as an entrepreneur, ever feel conflicted about promoting alcohol consumption when the drunken driving death rates stay consistent?
Not really because everyone has to be responsible for their own actions. The brand can be marketed right and it’s profitable financially, but the people/fans still have to know their own personal limits. I don’t think branded someone as an artist with liquor has an effect. It’s all about the individual person.
As an entrepreneur, do you ever find yourself not thinking about how to make that next dollar? What I mean is, do you ever take time to step back from it all and what is it that you do in those moments to get away?
Well, for the last 22 years this is the first time in my life when I could get home at 6 o’clock, verses 3 in the morning, midnight. Just try and kick back and enjoy life a little more. What I do is go home, watch a good movie, have a nice drink, (Livio laughs briefly)… go shopping and sight-seeing, things of that nature. Even traveling, you know, maybe to Miami just to get away.
What’s your greatest moment professionally?
Adina Howard. That was my first big break in artist management. In 1994, she was the black Madonna. We traveled the world. That was really a huge accomplishment. Not only did I manage her, but I produced the records, picked out the records for singles, picked the image and gave her the image and swag.
Is that a situation where art imitates life, or is it the other way around for Adina?
I’d say life imitating art.
Are there any moments that you wish you could take back where you could do things differently?
It’s not so much of a certain moment. I’d say being more communicative with people. Some of the people from my past have become bigger names in the business and if the relationship was still there, I could call and build off knowing someone for the last 10+ years. If I could, I’d focus more on keeping in touch with contacts.
When you were an artist and singer, what was the most significant challenge you faced when started and maintaining the group, 4-Sure?
It wasn’t so much of a challenge. We loved what we did and we came to the big city. We made it. Got a deal with Uptown Records. Andre Harrell saw the vision. The deal kind of came easy. Our management was the A&R for the label at the time. We did what we had to do as artists, make hits. That was 20 years ago and people are still talking about the group.
What did you learn from that experience?
We learned how to be entrepreneurs, like Michael Bivins from Bell Biv DeVoe. Also, how to find talent and develop it. That experience set the course for me to move into the realm of being an executive and not just an artist/singer. That’s what brought me to this place right here.
Describe Kurt Woodley and how he’s helped you develop.
Kurt Woodley, to this day, is still my mentor. We talk regularly. Kurt’s the one who inspired me to become a manager when I was just an artist. He managed Mary J. Blige at the time. He was doing A&R for Uptown Records. Watching his moves; that inspired me to say “I want to be like him!” The other members in the group (4-Sure) weren’t toointerested in managing. He’s inspired a lot of people. He also discovered Alicia Keys.
Do you have any experience interacting and getting to know Mary J. Blige?
No, not really. Mary lived in New York and I was in California. I only met her once and she is a really cool person. Very down to earth.
How would you describe the style of your clothing brand, Livio Vechelli?
It’s more of an Italian look, but more so suit jackets, sneakers, baseball hats, tee-shirts, ect…
After doing some research, I found out that you served in the U.S. Marines. How did that service enhance you as a person?
I served in the Marines for 3 years. It was good actually. It was tough, but years later I appreciate it because it taught me how to be disciplined. Now a days I’ll get up early in the morning, fix my bed, make sure my clothes are clean at the cleaners every day. It taught me how to be a gentleman and handle pressure better.
If you don’t mind me asking; what is your perspective on the current U.S. military operations overseas? Are you an advocate to stay involved overseas, or do you believe we should stay within our borders and protect the “home turf”, so to speak?
I don’t think we need to be anywhere over there. We’re always the first to go overseas and support, but then we’re the ones who end up being left over there when other countries pull out. We get a bad rap and a bad name, but I think we can go and lend support to a certain extent. Then we can get out of there and let their military deal with the issues. Come back home and deal with what’s going on here in America.
I’ve heard some fans/consumers criticize the artists of today for making “cookie cutter” music. In your eyes, is it a matter of personal creativity that’s lacking, or is it a lack of marketing music with substance?
Definitely marketing music with substance. There’s a lot of red tape and craziness. It’s like you have to have You-tube spins, Facebook hits, etc.… I don’t think any of that really matters. It’s about the talent. If the talent is dope then you sign them. The perception isn’t real. I think when people go back to signing real talent because they’re dope, then that’s when the business will be back to where it’s supposed to be. And what’s strange is that no one helps develop and market them. Artist development? It’s like no one does that anymore. They expect to walk through the door with an album all ready to go. Then off of a million hits, they put it out and usually it won’t stick because it’s not real to someone like me.
You mentioned artist development. How was your experience doing A&R for Elecktra and Epic Records?
It was great. Artist development is something I really like. They taught me many things including how to talk during interviews, ect… They put money into marketing, also imaging for the right videos, even choreographers. Those things are very rare these days.
If you were in charge of radio stations abroad, how would you do things differently?
I would probably do it the same way it’s done now. The only thing I don’t really like or agree with is that sometimes they’ll play the same record 3o times in a day, or maybe 3 times in an hour. They need to make room for some of those other records.
Who is it that you haven’t worked with that you would like to work with on both an artist and executive level?
As far as artists go, I’d have to say Kanye West. When referring to executives, I’d choose to work along-side Clive Davis.
Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
Running a family business along with a successful movie/film company, managing Lil’ J still as the next, young Denzel Washington, managing Shanica Kmowles as the black Taylor Swift, and then sitting on a yacht, relaxing and enjoying my life.
Do you have any profound insight and/or advice for the readers who have ambitions of their own?
Stay humble. Stay loyal no matter what. Lil’ J and I have known each other for 12 years and it’s out of loyalty and humbleness. Believe in your talent, because you know people are going to tell you that you can’t make it. You have to be creative and find ways to achieve your goals. Every successful artist got a slap in the face at least once, but they kept on going. Believe in God and just follow your dreams. Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do it, or make it. Believe in yourself even when you get turned down. They said Adina Howard wouldn’t be any good and I almost didn’t do it, but I was like “You know what? I’m going to do this anyway.” Now, she’s doing her thing. I’m thankful for that chance I took. Basically, follow your dreams, don’t take “no” for an answer and you might just change the game.
Courtesy of: Who’s Harris Ent.