Lesson #1…It’s about being famous

Ask Mr. Manager “It’s all about being famous”

By Brad Morrison

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As I sit here and type this I am listening to Traffic, a sixties, white soul band featuring Stevie Winwood. You may have heard of him. HE IS FAMOUS.  This may sound obvious. You may not have heard of him. I assure you that he is very famous. He played in a bunch of super groups, had numerous hits and even, against all odds, came back after twenty years to record more hits in the eighties. Great voice, brilliant musician, good looking cat. 

If you wish to toil away in obscurity, maintaining the purity of your music then this blog is not for you. Go away and read something else. Thanks. Now for all of you that remain I will be taking questions from readers about how to make yourself successful in the music business. Why do I get to do this? How do I know these rare secrets? Well I did this professionally for musicians for a long, long time. Ever hear of a band called Phish? I thought so. That ends that argument.

Success in the music business is based on being famous. People must talk about what you do. They must pay attention or you will get nowhere. Here’s an anecdote  to start us out.

In the late nineties I was producing a band called Bully. They were a run of the mill Alt rock band.  We had cut all the tracks, done the overdubs, mixed the record and were in the studio putting together the sequence so the record could go off to be mastered. I got up that morning and the news from New York (they were a New York band) was all about some little kid that had been hospitalized. It turns out he had been beat up by bullies on the playground.  Eureka! I thought the band had a shot at the top. I immediately cornered the band and told them that they should do the following:

1. Release their record using the title “Your mother’s worst fear!”

2. Rent an expensive, more than they could afford, room at an upscale NY hotel

3. Send out a notice to every NY beat reporter saying that they were holding an important press conference covering the topic of the bullying of children in the NY schools.

4. Show up at the press conference, late,  dressed in the most outlandish fashion  they could manage and declare that they were there to defend the bullies! Take on the press and tell them “Life is all about survival of the fittest” “Only the strong lions can rule the playground!” Tell the press that you are there to speak up for the bullies since no one understands them and no one gives them credit for running the playground in an orderly fashion.

This idea comes solidly from the Malcolm McLaren (RIP Malcolm) school of rock management. He managed the Sex Pistols. The Sex Pistols weren’t really a band they were more of a traveling insult performance. McLaren understood that rock music was a show. It is a type of fiction and it’s the story that counts. A great story sells.

The band was appalled. They talked about how they could never do such a thing. That they didn’t believe in supporting bullies etc. In short they were wimps.  Needless to say they didn’t do it and they missed the boat. Ever hear of Bully? Do you think the Sex Pistols would have missed a chance to piss off every mother in New York and make every kid know the bands name?

Here’s story number two:

In 1994 I was managing a band from upstate NY called the Figgs. They were a great three piece alt rock band, kind of a mix between Elvis Costello and the Beatles with bit of punk thrown in for good measure. I produced them for a few years waiting for them to grow up and for the bass player to actually graduate from High School. One day I decided they were ready. I signed them to a management deal and set up a single showcase. The showcase was at a Manhattan rehearsal studio and they rocked so hard that the A & R guy called the label owner on the spot.  They didn’t even make it through their set before he stopped them and started to talk about a recording contract. The next day we had a meeting with the label owner Terry Ellis, ex manager of Jethro Tull and Billy Idol, founder of Chrysalis Records.  So we go to New York, enter a skyscraper, take the elevator to the top and are immediately shown into a huge conference room overlooking Central Park.  Terry is sipping espresso from fine china and eating fresh fruit flown in from god knows where.  We go through the usual niceties, bullshit really, just feeling each other out.  I let the band do the talking. I know that the A & R guy has recommended that the band should be signed. Nothing I can say will add to that fact. This meeting is critical. Terry will be looking for some kind of signal that the band has what it takes. Very quickly Terry figures out that Mike Gent leads the band and he focuses on him

Terry says to Mike “So why should I sign your band?”

I hold my breathe.  I know that Mike is a rock star. Does Mike know it?

Mike smiled looked him in the eye and says ” Well Terry in ten years your daughter will be playing my songs on your piano at Christmas dinner.”

‘Jackpot! ‘ I thought.

“Have your lawyers call me. ” he says. He stands up and offers Mike his hand. “Welcome aboard!” Three weeks later the Figgs are on a theater tour with the Cranberries.

So if you walk around and talk about “all I want to do is make a living playing music” then you better think about studying computer programming. The music business is looking for the band that wants to be the next Stones, the next Zeppelin.  The Next Beatles. Ambition is the key.  If you don’t want to be famous then you don’t want to be a rock star…………………………….

© Brad Morrison/Billiken Media 2010


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