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A Chat With Music Confidential’s Susan Butler on Life Expectations and Finding Her ‘Groove’

todayDecember 16, 2022 1

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Billboard boasts a long list of big-name alumni, having helped launch the careers of power players like legendary executives like Seymour Stein and Jerry Wexler, record producer Israel Horowitz, songwriter Kara DioGaurdi and author and filmmaker Nelson George, to name a few.

But in the music publishing sector, one of the best-known alumni is Susan Butler, a former music attorney who wrote for Billboard from 2004 to 2008 before striking out on her own to launch an intensively researched newsletter called Music Confidential in the year she left.

For 14 years, Butler has kept it very confidential — she personally approves subscription requests, denying access to other journalists and excommunicating subscribers who share the letter without permission. But now, in her first book — entitled Groove Found: Susan’s Business Journey, available at most eBook stores — Butler reveals the story of how she started selling her unique analysis and created what’s become a must-read newsletter PDF for music publishing executives around the world.

Butler’s highly personal memoir offers a window into what it takes to start and build a business — and while she doesn’t reveal the type of market-moving insights she sells in her newsletter, her devoted fans will enjoy the behind-the-scenes look at her shoestring operation, while budding entrepreneurs will likely come away inspired to dream big and strike out on their own, too. 

Susan Butler

Beyond building her business, the book also covers how Butler built the lifestyle that she wanted for herself. In it, she describes her travels, during which she’s visited many places she longed to see around the world. She just returned from a nine-country trip, including her new favorite place to hike — Plitvice Lakes in Croatia, as described in a blog on her website.

In her own inimitable writing style, Butler remains true to form as the author of a publication called Music Confidential; other than her own family, almost no one discussed in the book are is named. She takes that journalism tactic to the extreme, refraining from naming one of the places she sometimes hangs her hat in for weeks and even months at a time — a house in France that’s merely identified as “The House With A Name.”

So I was going to lead my questions with why did you write this book but when I got near the end, I see your mother — on what would sadly be her deathbed — said she wants you to write a book about the lifestyle you built. But was there another impetus to author the book?

Well, that was part of why I wrote the book, but it’s also about what was going on during the pandemic, right? The pandemic caused a lot of changes. So I really wanted to inspire readers who are frustrated with any part of their lives to take a close look inside themselves, at their memories and their dreams, and to then look around to see the possibilities for change. And then to move on to imagining how they might turn dreams into realities. I had that tattoo burnt onto my shoulder: first dream and then reality.

For a lot of people in the world, their frustrations exploded during the pandemic. But my frustrations exploded a decade ago, so I was actually ready for the pandemic in that I could work remotely and also work while traumatic things are happening around me. Because of the pandemic, people were then experiencing a lot of things I experienced. So I wanted to share that with people and hopefully inspire them.

One thing you definitely made me aware of is how my inability to do public speaking has hurt my career. So thank you very much for that. 

But that’s the whole point. You can still reimagine your career, even now. I was not 20 years old when I started this Music Confidential business 14 years ago. That’s why even in the first chapter, I relayed how I was feeling so tired and wondering do I really have the energy to do this — start my own business? But then I recalled in growing up, I had learned more about my future in business from competing in horse shows than I did in school. So in the first chapter, I share how I imagine this horse race, which actually inspired my business model. It shows that we just need to really tap into our past experiences and find ways out of our frustrations and it doesn’t matter how old you are.

How would you describe your book?

So it’s a memoir, but it’s not really about me. The way I see it is it’s a true story about reshaping expectations. So a creative person can figure out a way to turn that creativity into business, and feel really good about a life that doesn’t separate work from a life with friends and family, but kind of brings it all together. But it’s not a “how-to” book; it’s not a music business book.

It’s about, ‘how can I can tell a story that helps readers learn from their life?’ So at the end, hopefully people will think and learn how to reshape things and expectations for themselves because that’s what it’s about for me. We are all always either driven by — or we’re fighting against — expectations we have for ourselves, or expectations other people have for us. About a decade ago, I chose to reshape expectations, and came up with my own definitions and rules for business journalism, for business relationships, for business models. I got [past] all those expectations that I just found so frustrating to try to live with.

And that move left you in a better place apparently?

Look, we create our work lives, and when we find a way to blend all parts of our lives with what we really want out of life, we feel better about ourselves. And we all know, when we feel better about ourselves, everything and everyone around us benefits in the long run, right? This story is how I figured out a way to do that.

Who should read this book?

I hope to inspire readers who are frustrated with any part of their lives.
And you have done an audiobook version too?

Yes, and that was interesting. I created a recording studio in my small closet at home to get better sound quality. For example, during one recording session it started thundering so I had to stop until the next morning, but then there’s the damn birds chirping so loud. The microphones are so sensitive that if your stomach makes any noises, they pick it up. I had to make sure that all background noise was eliminated so it took quite a while sitting in my closet to get it done. And in order to record the audio version, I learned all the software to record and edit it. And I even mastered the recording myself. So that was an interesting experience.

How are you distributing it?

The e-book version I distributed myself. I did all the research into ebook distribution and audiobook platforms. There are a lot of blogs out there of self-published people who did their own distribution. Music Confidential has paying subscribers in 47 countries, and there is no single platform that could reach all those countries. So after researching it, I had to figure out how many countries and which countries Amazon, Apple, and Google Play are in. I had to do the combination of the three to reach all my subscribers. For the audiobook version I used a distributor, Findaway Voices, which Spotify acquired last year so now the audiobook is on, I think, 21 retail platforms, including Spotify, Apple, Google Play, Amazon — and 14 libraries.

You also wrote about how feng shui plays into your business model. What’s that about?

It’s about how our surroundings are — that really impacts us. During the pandemic,  people were working from home and then eventually some are going back into their offices. So if we’re working in a cubicle, an elegant office, in your home, or on a train with your laptop, I think it’s really important that we acknowledge that surroundings are going to impact how well we do and how content we are. I found that I write better at night, so I put up all these pictures that I have of Northern Lights that I have from Lapland [Finland] as described from my experiences there in the book. I recreated my office space so that now I am always working at nighttime, which has helped me in writing.

You hardly talk about your life as a lawyer in the music industry, even though you go back to certain instances here and there. I would have been interested in reading about that period, too. 

Well, maybe that’s the next book. Who knows? But so many people who have written memoirs about being in the music business tell me that their books didn’t sell very well—unless you’re really well known.

Let’s talk about your approach with names, or rather not using them.  Are the readers supposed to guess who the music executives you mention are? Why did you take that approach? 

Because I’m a journalist. And nobody’s ever on the record. 

There are editors who will tell you that is not a good way to do journalism. But I rely on anonymous but knowledgeable informed sources all the time to get the real deal. 

That’s part of my business model. It’s called Music Confidential for a reason. If I don’t reveal names, we get to talk about the real issues. And the reader can be confident that the sourcing is from someone in the industry who has direct knowledge of the situation. Is the reader going to learn more because somebody’s name isn’t there? Yes. Besides, not naming names in a book— that gets people talking, right?

What’s next, another book?

Oh, yeah, definitely. I just got back in September, from going with my niece, cycling down the Danube. I ended up going to nine countries. And you know, now I’m starting my Summit in Rio de Janeiro in April. The following week, I have another summit in Geneva. I’m starting a number of research projects. I have set up the website,, and I put one post up on it but that was ages ago. I’ll start blogging about experiences on there. And then, you know, at some point, I’ll turn that into something, another book, another audiobook. See where it goes from there. 

Okay, finally before we wrap this up, I have one complaint—not about your book but about you. How is it that I had to read this book to learn about your proclivity towards buying fedoras?  How come I’ve never seen you in a fedora?

You’ve never seen me in one? Oh my gosh, I must have 60 of them.

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