Lesson #10 How to Find a Manager ( or how to be one) (pt 2)

[ Ray Charles “Lonely Avenue”]
Copyright Brad Morrison/Billiken Media 2010

So now I’ve looked at some anecdotes of how some bands came to be the proud owners of a manager. I’ll look at it a little differently now.By management I mean a whipping boy, designated asshole, dreamer of crazy schemes, loser that gets to hang around with the stars, parasite that sucks the band dry and the glad handing salesman that a band has to tolerate. Managers, good and bad are all of these things. The description is based solely on whether the band is going up, down or sideways.

Yes, a band can manage itself. It’s rare that it’s done correctly and usually a band managing itself translates to one of the girlfriends doing all the work and getting shit for it.

[Jimi Hendrix”Crosstown Traffic”]

Managers may very well be parasites but they do not kill off their host. Bands that have managers on the whole do better than bands that do not have one. Someone has to do the business and promotions end and a pro, in my opinion, is always the best.

[Thelonious Monk”Ugly Beauty”]

So how does a band get a manager?

1. Look around the SCENE that you are part of, if you’re not part of one then you should correct that error. Look at small time promoters, big fans that are also accountants (that’s how The Pixies met Ken), College station DJs, fanzine writers, bouncers (Zeppelin’s Manager was rumored to be a small time collector of cash for jukebox companies), bartenders etc. Look for two things. A head for business and honesty. That’s it. A Manager doesn’t need much more. Being a hard worker will come automatically or he’ll wash out. The job is always busy, busy, busy. They must also love your band.

I will be outlining manager tricks, techniques and methods in later blogs. The bottom line is that some of the best managers start out as a buddy of the band and then grow into the position. Make sure if you go this route to give the person plenty of time to sort out their job – six months to a year. You got to let him make some mistakes that’s part of learning. After a predetermined time period then look hard at what’s gone down. Has the band moved up? Talk about moving up means nothing. Be brutal. If they can’t cut it fire them. Make sure that you have a contract and it allows the band a way out after six months to a year.
[The Clash “Brand New Caddillac”]

A good trick is to talk two people into being a management team. Sometimes these work beautifully. The usual outcome is one of the two eats the other one alive. This is a good thing. It shows which shark to employ. If you hire an amateur make sure that he agrees that you will be his only act for at least the first year. After that time if he doesn’t pick up someone else then he may not be a good manager. Any manager worth twelve cents is being constantly to manage new bands.
(I’ve had over a dozen requests since I started this blog)

2. If you have any kind of label deal have the label solicit pro managers. This will make more headway than a band trying to contact them directly. Remember all managers ARE NOT LOOKING FOR NEW ARTISTS EVER. Their roster is always full. Yet, miraculously, they will find a slot for your band if you convince them that your rocket is about to leave orbit.

If you speak/write/fax/contact via talking drum a real manager YOU MUST TALK ABOUT HOW POPULAR YOU ARE AND THAT YOU ARE THRILLED WITH THE PROSPECT OF SOMEONE TAKING 15% OF YOUR ASS. A band that is defensive and cagey about money makes a manager very nervous. This is why managers always work out deals where they get paid as the band gets its cash.

Here’s a story to back this up. I saw a band open for the Figgs. They were called Super 400. They sounded like an updated version of the 60’s supergroup Cream. To make it better they were decked out sixties outfits that were way over the top. The bass player was a hot woman with ass length blue black hair that played the bass like James Jamerson. I was hooked.

I started to talk to them about a deal. They immediately got evasive and get bringing up the fact that the drummer’s brother was Lenny Kravitz’s bass player. According to their version of reality he just had to ask for a major label deal and they would have it. I told them to have the brother manage them. Well, of course, he was so busy…. I went round and round. Finally they agreed. Then they started to fight about my cut. I’m a manager and I’m thinking I’m gonna make you a huge pile of cash and you’re gonna weasel me out of my share?!

[The Clash “Hateful”]

In a moment of Adult Onset Stupidity I continued to talk to them. They very cleverly maneuvered me into setting up a showcase for a label before they had actually signed the deal. I very cleverly knew that this is what they were doing and had my own plan. I figured that a showcase cost me nothing other than a few calls and an invite to an A & R guy. They, feeling that their pants had grown awful tight, DEMANDED to have a list of the people were going to attend. I, of course, refused. If they wanted me to prove that I “knew some guy in the music business” I would go through with the charade.

I set the showcase up in a small club in the East Village of New York. They acted as if they wouldn’t play the showcase and in general acted like horse’s asses. It’s interesting to note that it never occurred to them that I had set up a gig in the middle of the afternoon in one of NY’s hotspots. The owner had agreed to open early and BRING IN STAFF. Had they had any smarts they might have wondered how I had arranged with two days notice that a nightclub would open two horus early and would be waiting for the band with waitresses, bartenders, soundman and bouncers. Gee, what did Brad tell the owner of this nightclub?
[Traffic “Rainmaker”]

I had played the band’s demo to the VP OF A & R for Warner’s music. I had told him truthfully that I had come to him first. He loved it. He told me if they didn’t shit themselves on stage we had a deal. He trusted ME to know what was hot. He asked one thing. Give him first shot. Don’t turn it into a bidding war for the band’s contract. He’d pay big but he wanted to avoid some kind of sick payout on a band that had nothing other than a good manager that had a great track record. Of course the band didn’t know this. They didn’t wonder about the club. If they had they might have figured out something was up.

Now I knew that Warners were the band’s dream label. I also didn’t have a signed deal. This gave me one option, A private showcase. I told the band that they would be playing for a few writers and maybe a real A & R guy if we were lucky.
[The Band “The Weight” My current fav]
So I arrive in a chauffeured town car with the VP of A & R for Warners. We walk in the club and the bar is packed with the stoney faces of every A & R scout, wanna be scout, junior A & R rep and indy label A & R guy in New York. The VP of A & R glared at me. Three of the guys sitting at the bar worked for him and were so far down the food chain that they had only met him once or twice.
“What the fuck is this? Some kind of sick joke?” He turned on his heel and stormed out. None of the people left in the room had ever signed a band. None of them had the power to sign a band.

The band, being much smarter than me had told the drummer’s brother about the showcase. The drummer’s brother being much smarter and better connected than me had told the band that they shouldn’t sign with me and that he would get some real A & R guys to see the band. This would result in a deal. He, of course, had never signed a deal for himself or anyone else. The news that I had set up a daytime showcase in a hip club was enough to set the jungle drums throbbing.

I’m not sure if the VP of A & R has ever forgiven me. He has continued to answer my calls. Much more slowly than in the past. Since Adult Onset Stupidity is incurable I went on to sign the band to a management contract. I managed them for one calendar year. The whole time I represented them they continued to argue with me that the drummer’s brother’s advise was much better and he wouldn’t rip them off. In the first three months of my contract I produced a record for them and then signed them to Island Records. After a year of constant battles and efforts by the band to keep me from earning any money from them I dropped them. They were mystified by my actions.

[The Feelies “The Last Roundup”]
They hired the almost famous brother to manage and produce for them. A short 7 years later they released a self released EP. They still sell out a little nightclub in Troy NY. They are the only band in the area that has ever been signed to a major label deal.

Ok more on techniques to attract and keep managers in the next section. I hope to have that online by Wednesday evening……stay tuned………….

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2 thoughts on “Lesson #10 How to Find a Manager ( or how to be one) (pt 2)

  1. This blog is helping me out a lot. Thank you for sharing your insights and experience. My question is simple. Local college radio disk jockey’s really that easy to talk to? I mean you say they are always excited about discovering bands. I just want to hear more about this before I make an ass of myself. Thanks again-John

    • Hi John,

      The short answer to your questions is Yes, they are easy to talk to. The short answer does little to help you out so I will say quite a bit more.

      College Radio is a goldmine for an independent band. Tons of great bands have broken through via College Radio. That’s why all the major record labels started up College Radio promotions departments in the early 80’s. One of the reasons that it is so useful has to do with the numbers game when promoting a band. Let me explain that cryptic comment. Take a particular small city. I’ll pick one I know to make it easy on me. Hmmm.. Let’s see …New Brunswick, NJ. The city’s got about 50k (I just guessin here) population. There is a club that’s been there for 30 years, The Court Tavern. There have been other clubs in the general area that come and go. At any given time there might be three places to play. There is a major college, Rutgers which means that there is a hopping night life. There used to be an underground newspaper. Now there is just a regional Rock Paper (if they haven’t folded yet) called the Aquarian. And lastly there is a college radio station WRSU. Let’s say you’re from Pittsburgh and you want to start to play around the NY area. New Brunswick might be a good choice of a town to try to get set up in. You won’t get FRI/SAT in New York to start with so if you’re lucky you land a gig in a NY dump on a thursday. Suddenly a gig 45 minutes outside NY sounds really good. It sounds even better if you can swing a Firday night playing second on a three band bill.

      So how do you make that happen? Call the phone number of the promoter you found on some web guide? Gee that’ll be easy right? Call the Aquarian and send them a disc for review and hope you get some ink 9 weeks from now. Call the guy that’s booked THE COURT TAVERN for the last eight years? Gee that’ll be easy huh? Let’s count up these contacts, one, two, three, maybe four possible people to try to get on the phone. Oh wait a minute. None of these people want to talk to you. That sucks. Hmm, let’s look up WRSU, Rutgers on the web. Look at that -there are twenty names of people that are on the air. All of them are students. All of them are familiar with the local scene even if they play electric Kleszmer records for an hour a week. They all, without exception, party on campus and in the surrounding clubs. Two of them aspire to be in the business side of music, the program director and the music director. Those two guys even keep office hours and post them on the website next to their phone number and office extension. Gee that’s convienant.

      So now we have twenty other names. What next??? Holy Shit!! They actually broadcast the fuckin’ station over the interweb thingy that is hooked to my computer. Let me click on that “Listen Live” button. Oh god, it sounds like they’re playing two experimental avante garde electronica records at the same time. Now the DJ is saying that the request line is open. Hmm let’s see if my cell phone works….”Yeah, Hi, how ya doin’ are you the DJ??” “Wow you are??” “Yeah I’ve got a request. But can I ask a question first? Do you ever interview bands on the air?” “Oh, I see, only Joel Glattbergerstein does that cause he’s the music director? Oh and they are always bands that are playing WRSU night at the Court Tavern? When’s his show? Great. Thanks. Yeah I got a request, can you play some Robert Wyatt?…..No you hate him because he uses actual songs on his records…Hmmm..How about Soft Machine? Oh I see you played them last week..Hmm how about Edgard Victor Achille Charles Varèse’s – Poem Electronique?? Yeah it makes me nervous too..but sometimes I like being nervous…. Oh by the way if i want to send the station a disc for the library who do I send it to?”

      See this is where the numbers game comes in. Most college station have twenty plus people doing shows. One of them always fits what your band does. They all take requests. They all love to talk on the request line. Trust me on this. I did it for five years. Now that the web is part of the picture no self respecting DJ will turn done an incoming request from Nome Alaska or where ever you tell him you’re’ from. Every DJ will give you info. It may take a series of calls to start to figure out who are the key people at a station but it’s easily done. Is calling a promoter easy? Would it be easier to call him if the local station is playing your stuff ? How about if they are giving away some promo copies of the band’s altest release? Many stations have bands play live on the air. i could go on for another two thousand words.
      Think of it this way, every college station has TWENTY FIVE DIFFERENT PEOPLE PICKING OUT THEIR OWN PLAYLIST. Gee can you weasle your way onto one of them? Seems likely doesn’t it?

      Ok I’ll end this lengthy reply with a story. In 1980 I was on the air at WPKN. This was a big radio station. It covered all of Connecticut and all of Long Island. I got tons of requests. One night a guy calls in says he’s from Mugwump or something and requests the Dead Boys. Now I was on a kick of playing Dead Boys. I’m sure he knew that from listening. The next week he calls in, says hey I requested the dead boys last week can you play Gang of Four? I was also a big fan of the new Gang of Four disc. Then he says, hey I’m in a band. We have single. Can I sent it to you? Yeah sure thing I say.
      The next week the single is in. The band is called Cracked Actor. Good start since it’s the name of a Bowie song and I play lots of mid seventies Bowie. I listen to the A side. It’s ok. I listen to the B Side and it’s kinda catchy, it’s called “Nazi School”. So I spin it. Of course, the phone lights up from Mugwump. So the next week i spin it again and now the single is getting requests from all points. Six weeks later the single is hot. The band calls and says hey do you know anywhere we can play? Gee I book the punk club on weekends so a month later they play a sold out show…….. Get the point John? Make the calls…………………………………….Oh by the way some of them will be complete assholes. Just skip them and move on to the next DJ.

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