From:The Straits Timesposted on 30 May at 11:42 AM
30 May at 11:42 AM

Music manager Johnny Wright: Man behind the stars

By Melissa Kok

American music manager Johnny Wright has steered the Backstreet Boys, Britney Spears, 'N Sync, the Jonas Brothers and Justin Timberlake towards worldwide stardom.

He has also let one big talent get away: American singer-songwriter Bruno Mars.

Wright, 52, says: "It was about 3 1/2 years ago. He was playing in a little band around Los Angeles and he'd be like, 'Johnny, come see my band, I'm an artist.' And I said, 'Yeah, Bruno, keep writing your record.'"

Mars ended up under the management of Brandon Creed, an artists and repertoire consultant with Epic Records, sold more than eight million copies of his two albums and more than 58 million singles and received many Grammy nominations.

In hindsight, Wright admits he made a mistake with Mars: "Creed saw something that I didn't see at the time."

Wright, who still manages Timberlake, was in town last week as a keynote speaker at the annual Digital & Music Matters conference, an annual trade event that promotes the business of digital and music entertainment through workshops and talks. He spoke to Life! at the Ritz-Carlton Millenia.

Before social media sites came along to unleash a slew of Internet-made celebrities, he recalls going to Orlando, Florida, in the 1980s and 1990s to source and recruit his bands from performers working at the Disney, Universal and SeaWorld theme parks.

"Between Disney, SeaWorld and Universal, you could find the best of the best and put something together," he says.

Florida was where Wright found and assembled the members of the Backstreet Boys and 'N Sync - the boys were playing small roles at the theme parks or, in the case of Timberlake, performing for the Mickey Mouse Club television show.

"Since YouTube and Myspace have been prominent in artists putting up their music, that's the best place for us to go, and you get to see if they have already got a following," says Wright, who still pops by once in a while to see the performers at the parks.

His latest protege is Katelyn Rose, a young pop singer who won an online reality TV competition and is currently undergoing training at his famous facility in Florida called "the compound".

The compound is a 16,000 sq ft building on 2.2ha property which sits on a 202ha ski lake, and boasts two recording studios, five bedrooms, a bowling alley, a movie theatre, game room, swimming pool, basketball and volleyball courts and jet skis.

The place, built in 1996, has been the training ground for all artists managed by Wright. They go there for dance rehearsals, vocal training and exercise to keep fit.

Music purists may sneer at the compound for being a factory producing cookie-cutter pop singers but Wright is proud of the artists he trained in the 1990s, especially when compared to current popular boybands such as One Direction and The Wanted.

"The success is in the ability for my bands to dance in sequence, sing and dance at the same time, and also do harmonies. I have yet, and I'm not saying they can't do it, to see The Wanted and One Direction shut down the music and sing a song in harmony," he says.

"That's the one thing about Backstreet Boys and 'N Sync - we could snap our fingers and they could break into a song. Their instrument was their voice."

He is particularly proud of Timberlake, whom he still manages, for growing as an artist.

There are those who achieve fame "by doing something very risque or tabloid, by taking drugs or drinking or doing something wild or provocative".

"Or they can grow their craft with their songs, with their audience that grow older too - which is the direction Justin Timberlake took. Those who chose the latter are still around today."

Timberlake, who has carved out a hugely successful career in showbusiness as a singer and actor, recently launched his new album The 20/20 Experience, which has already sold more than a million copies, an incredible feat in a time where an artist can get onto the Billboard Top 10 chart for selling just 100,000 copies.

Wright, who is married with two children aged 11 and nine, says: "A lot of artists have big records on the radio, and sell a lot of singles but not albums.

"Justin and I thought maybe people don't buy albums anymore, until British singer Adele came out. Then we knew that if people made great music, people will come and buy it and that was what Justin's goal was."

This article was first published in The Straits Times on May 28, 2013.

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