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I guess it is inevitable that I got around to this topic earlier rather than later. For a band management is the key to success. By management I mean a guiding light, a sense of purpose, a game plan, tactical response as a course of action and a broad concerted effort to take the band in one general direction. For most bands just starting out getting a manager is an impossibility. You may be surprised to find out that this problem can continue even though a band ends up with a record deal and gets tours. There are always lots more bands than managers. This seems to be an immutable law of nature. So the question starts out as ‘which bands get managers’?
[Peter Gabriel “Here comes the flood”]
Very quickly it becomes ‘which bands get good managers’? I’ll try to answer these questions in some kind of erratic random disjointed manner. Helpful huh? Let’s look at some real world case studies.
[Neil Young ” A Man Needs a Maid”]
[Stiff Little Fingers “Alternative Ulster”]
To further illustrate that point I’ll use another Miracle Legion story. Miracle Legion’s Backyard EP had run its course and the band was now searching for the next step. (I believe that this was ’86) They were booked at CBGB’s as a headliner. They played a great set to a packed house. After they had pried a few dollars out of Hilly the owner they started loading the van in front of the club. There was tons of fans hanging around and one guy was being particularly pesky. Someone in the band said ” If you’re gonna hang around then at least help!” So this guy started humping amps from the doorway to the van. When they finished someone else said ” We’re going to get something to eat. You comin’ along.” The guy hopped into the van and joined the tour which was heading to Boston, Northampton and then points West.
I wasn’t managing the band at this point although I was managing other artists. This was one of the two periods in the 80’s and 90’s when I had been “fired” for having the temerity to think for myself.
Two days after the CBGB’s gig, which I had been at, the phone rings, quite early. It’s London.
“Hi this is Janette Lee. Is Brad there? ” Holy shit! I think. THE JEANNETTE LEE? Member of the infamous band PIL with Johnny Rotten of the Sex Pistols?
“Yeah that’s me.”
“I’m partners in a UK label called Rough Trade Records. You’ve probably never heard of it. I had only been sending them packages for five years at that point…”She’s kidding right? ” but I’ve got a problem. Our co-owner and founder is missing. He hasn’t called his wife in two days. It’s most unusual. The last time he was heard from he was going to a club to see a band you manage Miracle Legion. Have you seen him?”
[Fairport Convention “Tam Lin”]
The band had mistakenly kidnapped the owner of the hippest record label on the planet. Within a week they had signed a deal and I was back managing them.
2. Phish and John. I won’t use his name so I can at least be a little more honest. Phish met John because he was the local college herb salesman. They recognized in him a wicked smart businessman that was dead honest. Good combination. When they dangled the carrot of rock money in front of him he cautiously bought in. He didn’t have a clue how to manage a band. He made it up as he went along based on common sense rules. This helped him rather than hindered him. Remember Rock is the land of reinvention. Everything you see in the rock world was made up by people posing as businessmen. I’ve worked in the real business world. Most of the people in the rock business are wash outs from the real world of business. The rock business world is a joke from a business stand point. It is only really serious about taking risks and trying to define culture.
[Creation “Pass the Paintbrush Please”]
Phish are a great case study because the music business has hated them since the beginning and they have thrived. This proves that you do not need the Music Business to be a successful band. Ask Ani DeFranco. In the case of Phish and John you have a talented aggressive businessman and a band that wanted to do it their own way. Lesson here? Talented amateurs often succeed at management.
3. Danny and Rosemary and Nirvana and Hole. Jeez where do I get started on this one. Danny, when he signed Nirvana was already a major name in the business. He was married to Rosemary, one of the most genuine well intentioned people in the music business. She also happened to be a great lawyer as well. Nice person, with a heart and a lawyer, a rare thing. Rosemary and Danny had great taste and often Danny found his management clients through Rosemary’s client list. I believe that’s how they met Kurt. So this is a classic case of a band finding a big New York lawyer and this puts them on the path to the top. But what you can’t see unless you were there at the time is that both Rosemary and Danny knew everyone in the underground rock business. Rosemary bailed a drummer out of jail for me in 88. I knew her for years at that point. Her ex husband was the poet Jim Carroll, may he rest in peace. So you see Rosemary was an active member of the SCENE in New York in the late 70’s. In the music business it is always people you meet early on that help you out later. So the real lesson here is to make connections, lots of them and KEEP IN TOUCH. Let me follow that with saying that one ironclad rule in the music business is never call someone unless you have something REAL to talk about.
[Pixies – “Bone Machine”]
When Nirvana signed with Warners the Seattle scene had been hot for a decade. I had already managed and dropped Jim Basnight one of the Seattle proto punkers fifteen years earlier by the time Nirvana got signed. Once again here is a band making it big with a regional scene as a springboard.
My last post was brutally long. So I will break this one up into sections.
[ War “Bolero Live”]