Kris Kristofferson once branded Johnny Cash a “walking contradiction,” but he could have easily applied that statement to almost any country artist who rises from poverty to command a high income. That disparity becomes particularly evident in April.
On April 15, the Academy of Country Music will present its 53rd annual awards with such artists as Miranda Lambert, Jason Aldean and Chris Stapleton representing middle-income culture. They generate a lot of money for their efforts, and as a result, their federal income taxes — due the day after the awards — will likely require them to file in a higher tax bracket than if they had remained in the cultural environs from whence they came.
It’s for that reason that Nashville’s highest-profile business management firm — Flood, Bumstead, McCready & McCarthy (FBMM) — might be the only company of its kind in Music City that counts a therapist, Ted Klontz, Ph.D., as part of its staff. Country artists sing songs that celebrate both fresh love and broken hearts, but their own relationship with money can be just as complicated. They may never fully understand why, because Americans are taught not to discuss their finances.
“It’s more taboo than anything,” says Klontz in an FBMM conference room.
And yet, it’s a vital part of everyday life.
“The truth is money is like water that fish are born into,” he says. “It’s really hard to take a look at it from a distance because we were in it from the very beginning. It’s a part of everything.”
Those unspoken beliefs about money are one of the reasons FBMM was founded in 1990, and, by extension, one reason that Klontz, who maintains other clients apart from FBMM, joined the staff. Co-founder Mary Ann McCready had watched during her employ at CBS Records in the 1980s as numerous acts racked up huge paychecks, saved little and kept overspending even after their commercial peak years ended. Outside of maybe balancing a checkbook, no one had ever taught them how to manage their money.
Klontz, in turn, discovered around 1999 or 2000 that he and his wife had a money problem. They had developed a plan to save for their future years, but while they wrote out the monthly investment checks, they failed to actually send them about 80 percent of the time.
“I knew I wasn’t stupid,” he says. “I knew I wasn’t crazy. I knew there was something going on that I didn’t understand about me and money. And so I began asking myself questions about that and trying to find ways of getting help. Back then, nobody talked about a personal relationship with money.”
In addressing his own needs, Klontz and his son, Dr. Brad Klontz, became early practitioners in the burgeoning field of financial psychology, delivering lectures, consulting with high-level clients and writing three books: The Financial Wisdom of Ebenezer Scrooge: 5 Principles to Transform Your Relationship With Money, Wired for Wealth: Change the Money Mindsets That Keep You Trapped and Unleash Your Wealth Potential and Mind Over Money: Overcoming the Money Disorders That Threaten Financial Health.
Klontz collided with the country world when McCready placed an emergency call about a client who had lost tens of millions and was spiraling aimlessly toward bankruptcy. In short order, Klontz determined the client needed a physical presentation, rather than a pile of spreadsheets, to understand the predicament. They drew images on paper to represent the artist’s wealth and started hacking off parts and tossing them to the floor until there was little left.
FBMM had been trying to tell the artist “for years, and it was the first time they actually saw what was happening,” notes Klontz.
Country artists, he says, aren’t particularly different from the general population, but when they rise to new levels of wealth, they encounter unique circumstances:
• Many come from family units where everyone is struggling and sharing the burden is widespread. When the hits start coming and concert profits soar, they feel obligated to give much of it to their relatives, whose economic position, in turn, never changes.
• If they decline to give large loans to their families, they’re labeled “sellouts” and rejected.
• Their big income-generating period may last only three to five years.
• There are so many associates who are paid a fee or commission — managers, agents, musicians, publicists — that once the costs are deducted, they may be making very little. (Klontz tells of one artist who grossed $3 million in a year but still had to live in her parents’ basement.)
• An artist’s lifestyle is so uncommon that there are few people, outside of other artists and some executives, who can provide experienced advice.
Thus comes the trap for some country artists: They find themselves onstage playing the role of a public cheerleader while they’re stressed about paying their business partners and propping up their relatives. If they’re still experiencing hardship, they may not fully understand why. If they’ve become wealthy, they may be at odds about living a life that is the antithesis of what they sing about.
“The conflict is very real,” says Klontz. “When you come from a background of no money, there’s certain attitudes about people who have money, and they’re not all that complimentary. So if you become one of those people, you pretend like you’re not. Unless you can find a way to feel comfortable with it, you hide it, you play it down, you’re susceptible to taking incredible risks to try to help other people.”
Klontz is familiar with the shaming. When he started focusing on financial psychology, some traditional therapists belittled him, though they had some of the same issues that spurred Klontz to explore the topic in the first place.
“If you looked at their relationship with money, it’d be like going to a marriage counselor who’s been married 13 times,” he says with a smile. “It’s sort of ugly. The founder of the entire therapy movement, Sigmund Freud, said that he knew he had money issues, but he didn’t want to talk about it.”
Even today, some country acts don’t want to discuss it, though FBMM still finds ways to utilize Klontz’s knowledge and develop appropriate plans.
“Every client has access to Ted, if they would take advantage of it,” says FBMM chairman Julie Boos. “More importantly, we have access to Ted, so we’re able to pick Ted’s brain about certain client habits and potentially help that client without them having to sit in the office with Ted [if they] have a big aversion to therapy.”
And some clients may never need it.
“Ted comes in,” says McCready, “when information isn’t connecting.”
The difference, especially in a creative industry, can be as simple as lifting that information off of a static spreadsheet and framing it in an entertaining format.
“The decision-making part of the brain doesn’t do words, but it does do pictures,” says Klontz. “So we turn the information into a sensory experience. It’s the difference between reading about Paris and going there.”