After spending the past 20-plus years as manager of the Flaming Lips, or Oklahoma’s “token weirdos,” as he so affectionately calls the group, Scott Booker is an authority on longevity within the music industry.
From small beginnings working in records stores to CEO of Oklahoma City’s groundbreaking Academy of Contemporary Music at the University of Central Oklahoma – ACM@UCO, for short – he is making an important mark in the next wave of how the music industry is going to work.
Oklahoma Magazine: So you got your start in record stores. What kind of insight did you take away from that?
Scott Booker: I know it doesn’t sound like that big of a deal, working in a record store, but you can learn a lot. I learned about how records are distributed, about marketing music and how records labels think. You can learn about what artists like and don’t like and how shows are set up and booked. I started working at Sound Warehouse when I was 15 and eventually went on to manage Rainbow Records after college. That’s where I met the Flaming Lips.
OM: What is it about your friendship with Flaming Lips frontman Wayne Coyne that has made your business relationship so long-lasting?
SB: I think first and foremost, if you want to have a long-lasting relationship with an artist in the music business, both sides have to agree on what the goals are; the first step in determining goals is asking, “Are they short-term or long-term?” With the Lips and myself, there was never any debate. It was always, “We’re in this for the long haul. This is what we are. This is what we do.”
OM: So I’d imagine you’ve probably learned a thing or two about music from working with an artist like Mr. Coyne.
SB: Oh yes. The first thing I learned – and part of the reason our relationship is so successful – is not to second-guess Wayne’s crazy ideas and just help make them happen. When it comes across as crazy, there is usually a method to the madness. I help take an idea and I go through the logic and reason, then we figure out how we can do it. When Wayne comes to me and says, “I want to make a life-size gummy version of a human skull with an embedded MP3 drive in it and people have to eat the gummy to get to our song,” I don’t even hesitate. I’m just like, “Okay. Let’s go for it.”
OM: You have a degree in education. Did you ever see combining your background in education with your passion for music?
SB: I really thought that after college, I’d become a high school history teacher. I never in a million years thought I would do anything like managing a band like the Flaming Lips. Throughout the years I’d been with the Lips, prior to the ACM, there was always something in my head that thought it’d be great if there was a time when I could teach or be involved in helping people understand how the music business works – to share what I’ve learned from my own experiences.
OM: What sets ACM@UCO apart from an atypical music degree?
SB: It’s about the fine arts versus commercial arts. Most universities tend to focus more on the fine arts, with the sole purpose of turning out great musicians. With the ACM@UCO program, of course we want the musicians to be the best they can be, but we also educate about the music business itself so you can get a job after you leave the program, and you are aware of the various opportunities that are available for all kinds of music lovers, not just performers.
OM: What kind of advice do you have for anyone interested in getting into music?
SB: If you truly want to get into the music industry, it’s important to not only follow your passion for music, but be open to following different paths through that passion as well. I think you can be very successful doing this; I think Oklahoma in particular is wide open for some real entrepreneurial people to get involved in the industry. It’s really your mindset that helps create a situation where you are successful at something you love.