It’s Not What You Know, It’s Who You Know

I’ve come to know this phrase as a daily part of my life.

I used to hear it all the time in my twenties and one day I decided to actually pay attention to what it really means.

So wait a second, I went to college, got a degree and you are trying to tell me it’s not what I know, it’s who I know? Whatever.

Well it’s true. Don’t get me wrong, I think getting a degree is a necessary experience and comes in handy when you least expect it. But what knowledge you have in the business world most times only takes you so far. It’s the relationships you develop along the way that help get to where you need to go with that well earned knowledge.


Working in the music industry for the past 20 years has taught me a lot about building and maintaining relationships. The do’s and don’t’s and everything else that comes with it. I’ve made major rookie mistakes when I was younger thinking I was all that and a bag of skittles. I’ve learned along the way that treating people with respect and being authentic is key to getting the job done.

I will be the first to tell you I’m not a detail guy. I’m a big idea guy and a connector at the core. I can get things done when the task at hand calls for it but knowing who to go to get a problem solved and to get a task done is key for me.

Any time I’m talking to people getting started in the music business about how to do well in Nashville. I always tell them this story.

When Big Tent Revival was one the road, along came a recent Belmont University grad named Mike. Mike’s first job in the music industry was being our merchandise guy. He was a great guy. Hard working, looked professional, a great hang and most of all he had an incredible attitude. We became fast friends with Mike. Mike eventually became our road manager. Because he was so good, he got snatched up by Jars Of Clay and eventually landed a job with another management company. Today he manages Casting Crowns.

Why is this important?

Because along the way, Mike and I have worked together with other artists he has managed and the partnership served us both well.

What’s the point?

You treat people who work for you and with you well because one day you might actually need to work for them or work along side them in a completely different capacity. In the music industry, people move around jobs like it’s going out of style. And learning how to treat people well is huge.

Right now, there are a good number of guys who worked for our band in the beginning stages of their careers who went on to start management companies, production companies and handle some very great artists from Matthew West to Taylor Swift.

When you walk into a room where people know you. A good end result is that they know they can trust you and that you are the guy they want to work with when the time comes.

An even better part is that they are actually your friend and would do anything for you because of it.

But be careful, the tricky part is to never use a friendship business gain in a way that makes your friend feel used. I will cover that in another post.


The views expressed here are those of a personal nature and do not reflect the corporate view of my employer or anyone else who employee my services.
  • Steve Wiggins

    Totally agree. To springboard…in essence, the “college degree” is your first credible foundational “relationship”. Advanced degrees being the exception. It is simply a piece of paper issued by a (hopefully) respectable institution that says “We have tested this person in various ways and they have been found trustworthy.”

    When you leave college, hopefully, the first “Who you know” is the institution that will vouch for you! But then, you must start networking other “who you knows” in order to get ahead.

  • Steve Wiggins

    …as the saying goes, “Be nice to everyone on your way up, because you will meet them all again on your way back down!”

  • Kyle Chowning

    Great post Spence. Love this key sentence: “You treat people who work for you and with you well because one day you might actually need to work for them or work alongside them in a completely different capacity.”

    • Spence Smith

      thanks Kyle! Some days i think we should all go back to kindergarten and take a lesson on treating people:)

      • Kyle Chowning

        Sometimes it takes a simple mind to get what we’ve made too complicated. I could do Kindergarten again. :)

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