Friday December 1st, 2023
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Mathew Knowles on Beyoncé, Destiny’s Child and Music in MENA

The influential record executive and artist manager talks to SceneNoise ahead of his speaking appearance at XP Music Futures.

Zaid Kreshan

Mathew Knowles is an artist manager and record executive whose work has influenced the sound of popular music in the early 2000s. Knowles’ storied career saw him taking on the role of manager for acts such as Beyoncé and Destiny’s Child, serving on the Grammy Board Committee, and founding the gospel and country record label Music World Entertainment Corporation.

Knowles is set to present a keynote in Riyadh, as part of XP Music Futures where he will share his insights with the hope of advancing the rapidly developing music industry in the region. 

Ahead of his appearance at XP, which will take place from the 28th-30th of November at Jax Riyadh, Knowles spoke to SceneNoise in an extended interview discussing his career, his process as a manager, and the state of music coming out of the MENA region today:

What got you interested in the music industry? 

As a kid, my dad got me started with DJing on Sundays. After doing that, I began to come up with playlists with my dad, because he loved to dance. That got me really interested and excited in music. Most people don't know that about me, but I've always loved music. 

What were you doing before working in music?

I had worked in corporate America for 20 years, but I felt like it was time for me to transition out of it. I took a deep look inward and asked myself: “what is my passion?”. Then, a young rapper in Houston asked me to consider managing him, and at the same time, Beyoncé's up-and-coming girl-group ‘Girls Time’ had lost on Star Search, which was like American Idol. All of these things happening at the same time made me consider going into the music industry as a manager, by using the skills that I had learned in corporate America.

Did the skills that you learned in your previous career transfer into the music industry?

Absolutely, because the companies I worked with were leaders in understanding marketing and branding, and when I started in the music industry, they weren’t paying as much attention to that. I was in the branding and endorsement business, so I understood brand development, and how important it was. I understood that if you don’t have a brand, you don't have an identity. And without an identity, you have nothing to market.

Do you usually get involved in the artistic process of the acts you manage?

I'm one of those managers that gets deeply involved with the artistic process. I like to work with undeveloped artists to help them understand the process of writing a song, the process of recording in the studio, and the process of performing on stage and understanding how to become an entertainer. I get really involved with the creative process and in some cases, like with Destiny's Child, I co-wrote one of their hit songs; ‘Survivor’.

What is it about an artist that makes you want to work with them?

Oftentimes artists want to showcase their ability to perform. I don’t want to see that before I get the chance to sit down with them at my office and talk. I want to know if they are passionate about what they do, and if I determine that they are not, I don't move forward to the showcase. It doesn’t matter if they can sing or rap well if they are not passionate. I believe that passion is that thing that drives you and gives you the fuel to work hard, and in this business, you can only be successful if you work extremely hard.

How do you feel about the success you’ve achieved with acts like Beyoncé and Destiny’s Child?

It’s incredible to see Beyoncé becoming one of the most successful artists of all time with the number of Grammys she has won or with her success in the charts from 2000 to 2009. If you look at those charts, Beyoncé was the number one female artist of the decade, and Destiny's Child was the number two group of the decade. That's really phenomenal. 

How did you start your career as a record executive?

I actually started by forming a gospel label, which was financed by Columbia Records. And it was challenging because I had to learn how a record label operates and learn how all the different departments make the label function. My corporate background came in handy, but there was still a steep learning-curve that I had to go through in order to become a successful record executive.

If you could manage any artist throughout history, who would you like to have managed?

Destiny's Child. I would love to manage them again. And for the record, I am still officially Destiny's Child’s manager with Columbia and Sony interfacing with them on licensing and other things. But Destiny's Child was a very special act; they had the right sound, the right image, the right amount of passion, and yet they were extremely humble. It was a perfect storm for success. I would love to do that all over again.

What's your impression of music in the Middle East? Have you listened to the music coming out of the MENA region today?

I've been exposing myself to the music, and I’m trying to understand the Arabic sound but I still have a sense of confusion about it. Is it going in a contemporary direction or is it hanging onto traditional aesthetics? I think there has been a great effort to develop the infrastructure in the region, but more importantly, I would like to see the sound develop further, because if you look at Africa for example, it took years to develop afro-beat music, and at first, like most places around the world, they wanted to sound like America, but when you look at America today, the hottest sound is afro-beats music. So it’s very important to develop your own unique sound in the region.