The ultimate prize a recording contract..II….

The last section covered how a recording deal is structured.  Please read it before reading this blog. If you don’t I guarantee that you’ll be confused.

As I mentioned in the last blog the deal is structured as a series of options. These lock the band into a consecutive series of time periods when they are bound to the label and are working on creating a set of recordings that meet their obligations laid out in their contract. I realize that sentence is pretty complex and may not make much sense without a great deal of head scratching. Let me put it another way.

A recording contract says that the band can only record for the label and no one else. This is absolute and final. There is no scenario where the label will allow the band to record tracks without the label being in absolute control of those masters. I have run into these kind of conflicts while managing bands. For example the band Miracle Legion was on tour with the Icelandic band The Sugarcubes. As is natural on a tour the bands became good friends. Soon they started to join each other on stage. The logical next step? I get a call saying that they would like to record together.

I immediately knew the problems that would come once the labels got wind of this plan. Miracle Legion was signed to Rough Trade at this time and that label, perhaps the only one in existence at the time that would allow it, I knew would work out a compromise. The Sugarcubes on the other hand, were signed to Electra. Electra, like all majors, had no capacity to compromise.

As soon as the bands brought it up I booked the time and rearranged the tour to free up a recording block. I then set about doing my best to cover up what we were doing. I started some false rumors. “Miracle Legion was leaving the tour” “There was tension based upon who was sleeping with whom” etc. All the rumors were untrue of course, but I tried to make them as plausible as possible knowing that any potentially harmful rumor would grab the label’s attention. If they were concerned about who Bjork was sleeping with they might not spend the time to notice exactly why a hole had appeared in the band’s schedule and it conveniently left both bands in New York for three days. I knew that the key was to get the bands into the studio and get the tracks cut before the label could stop them. That’s exactly what we did.

The end result was 4 wonderful songs and years of war with electra. We put the tracks out under Rough Trade and said “Sue us”. So they did. At least the fans got to hear it. The point to this little tale is that once you sign with a label they own you. What I did with the Sugarcubes was basically unheard of… no one signs with a major and then records without their approval.( well Hendrix did and Miles Davis, and a few others…) They never, ever, ever give their approval unless it is their idea.

So if you sign with a label you are their possession, their slave. If this doesn’t sit well with you then DON’T SIGN WITH A MAJOR LABEL! I am sure some of you are imagining that your stubborn son of a bitch personality will allow you to manipulate them into allowing whatever you want. This is extremely naive. They have enslaved bigger egos than yours, bet on it.

So now lets look at the second half of a recording contract the section that covers royalties and payments. This is the heart of the agreement and this is the section where the band gets screwed. Yes the first section that controls everything you do is bad but the second section where the deal outlines how the band is paid is the part that really guts the band and controls them.

The way that royalties are paid and accounted for is based upon the way records were sold long, long ago. As a result the language used and the system used can be confusing. The first thing to understand is that everything is based upon MSRP. Manufacture’s Suggested Retail Price. This is a price, agreed by the major labels and representatives of retail music chains. It is a fictional price that is somewhere near the real average price that CDs sell for on a daily basis. I have been in the business for twenty-five years and I am unsure exactly how they decide this number. I expect that I could find out more about the process but I just don’t care to. The only thing that matters is knowing what the number is. For the balance of this blog let’s just assume that the MSRP is currently $14.98. I have no idea if this is current but it doesn’t matter. The number is a basis for calculating what a band is paid.

A typical contract my say that the band will be paid 12% of MSRP. This works out to $1.80. So it appears that for each CD sold the band, the artist, you will be paid $1.80. Sounds great doesn’t it. So you sell a 100,000 CDs and get paid $180,000. Fantastic. Well it would be. It’s just that the balance of the of the language in the contract takes this simple formula and starts to alter it. So what is the real formula? Well it goes something like this……. The first thing they take off is called a “packaging deduction”. This is a fictional discount that the artist pays for to “package the CD”. ???? What the hell does that mean? Well, quite simply they are charging you for putting the CD in a jewel case and putting a booklet in the case. The standard seems to be 25% currently. So now we add this to the formula and it looks like this $14.98 x 75% =$11.24 $11.24 x 12% royalty = $1.35. So that little trick cost you $.50 of your royalty.

So now you sell those 100,000 CDs and you get paid $135,000 right? No, not so fast. It seems that the sales figures and not just a simple count of CDs sold. The first 50,000 CDs get half the normal royalty rate….What???!!! what the fuck???!! Oh yeah, don’t worry about that you’re gonna sell millions right?

So let’s look at the formula again….100,000 sales now pays $106,000. Ok still seems like you can get by on this kind of money. BUt that, of course, is not what the band is paid. The band paid the producer, 40,000 and the studio 90,000 so that money is still owed. Yes, that’s right, the fees for production and recording come out of the band’s share. Doesn’t sound fair does it? (Let’s not get all trapped in the whole “fair” thing…it’s just too complex) This little fact looks even more outrageous when you consider that the band pays for the recording sessions and producer, engineers etc but the label owns the recording. In fact even though the band is paying the producer the producer answers directly to the label. Any band that thinks otherwise will learn a quick lesson.  It might be workable if this is where the band’s debts ended but, of course, it doesn’t.  The band also pays for promotions costs. Yup, that’s the costs that the label incurs to promote the record. The band pays for radio bribes. The band pays for print advertising. The band pays for the generation of artwork. Let’s just cut to the chase—- the band pays FOR EVERYTHING THAT HAS TO DO WITH THE ALBUM!!!. Yes that’s correct. I didn’t just make it up. 

So the A & R guy flies out from LA to visit the studio while the band is cutting tracks. He stays a few days a goes back to tell the label how brilliant the band’s new tracks are….. and sure enough 18 months later the costs of the flight, the hotel he stayed out, the car he rented (and boy was it a nice one), the meals he ate and yes, that nice meal he treated the band to… they are all deducted from the band’s cut.

Here’s another possibility. The record starts to get some college airplay in the Northwest on a half-dozen college stations. The head of College promotions jumps right on this trend. He jets out to Seattle, rents a car, gets a pocketful of cash and starts to make the rounds of the radio stations. he hires as many of the music directors and program directors for these radio stations.  He pays them to put up flyers for the band on campus and more importantly on other campuses and to talk to other DJs and staff at other college stations about how they too could have this cool, lucrative job putting up flyers. As a result the band’s record climbs from 36 on the Northwest college charts to #11.  This whole little exercise costs $43,000 over the course of two months. two years later the band discovers they must pay back $43,000 before they earn any money.

Here’s another angle.  The band hears about the scheme to promote the record in the Northwest and says “hey we got a better idea. Why don’t we play in Seattle and Tacoma and Portland and Vancouver!!”  So you rent a bus and gear and travel around and play all these towns and your record goes from #36 on the college charts to #1 on the college charts. The label, orgasmic over this cosmic stroke of luck decides to celebrate. They fly a third of the staff out to Seattle for a rocking celebratory show. Here it comes… you guessed it kiddies…two years later the band discovers that their tour support, the chartered plane, the hotels, the bribes they still insisted on handing out to DJs etc. are all being paid back out of the bands cut of the royalties. It all comes to a whopping $211,000. Are you starting to see the picture here?

Let me be extremely clear about this blog and this particular topic. IF A BAND SIGNS A MAJOR LABEL CONTRACT EVERY SINGLE DIME SPENT TOWARDS MAKING THE RECORD OR PROMOTING THE RECORD OR PAYING ANYONE COMES OUT OF THE BAND’S CUT!!! As a result, unless you become Bruce Springsteen you will make nothing from recording for a major label. There is only one exception to this rule. Whoever writes the songs and controls the publishing of the songs on the record may very well make some money. Since the law demands that labels pay for the use of the songs the songwriter is the only one that gets paid consistently when a record sells.

Well that’s enough for the moment. I realize that I haven’t been posting lately so I am now back in the swing of it……….

©Brad Morrison/ Billiken Media 2010


What’s so great about a recording contract?

[If you like this post please “Digg it”]

We live in the age of the death of record companies. They may not know it. You may not know it but retailers do and many, many artist mangers are fully aware that the end has already come for the mega star record companies that ruled the music world from the 1920’s until 2001.

In 1999 I was retired from managing and owning a label and was living on my royalties. It wasn’t a huge income, I have never been rich but twenty-five years of managing and producing had set me up to retire. I had invested in musical copyrights. That means I owned lots of recordings, or parts of recordings.  Like most people I had worked hard and earned some time off. By 2002 my income from royalties had evaporated. The age of the file trader had come.  I am not relating this story to get sympathy. I am telling you this so that you can understand the magnitude of the changes that we are living through. People are  no longer willing to pay for recorded music. Let me rephrase that, people are no longer willing to pay Major label prices for music. Instead they will pay for music when convenance and connection with the band’s aura can be balanced against money. Let me rephrase that,  price your full length record at 5.99 with artwork or as a download, make the music amazing and you may just redefine the concept of the gold record.

This brings me to the general subject of recording contracts.  I have quite a bit of experience with these kinds of contracts and relationships. In 1993 I was managing The Figgs, an upstate New York band amongst other acts. They were extremely young and, of course, extremely ambitious. They wanted to be rock stars nothing less. In point of fact, they were rock stars, they had everything you wanted in a rock star and enough left over to produce other rock star’s records. Great band, nice guys, at least in the beginning.  They wanted to get signed to a major label. They wanted it bad. I warned them repeatedly that they didn’t have a clue what getting signed would do to them and it might very well destroy their music and destroy the band. Being young, wanna be rock stars they listened and didn’t hear a word.

I produced and released a single for them . We produced some indy sounding tracks and released them on lo fi cassettes. I booked them into places they only dreamed of playing. They learned faster than I could teach them. I filled out their musical knowledge, taught them a ton of studio tricks and got them lots of stage time so they could work up a show. (always remember you are putting on a show…if you’re not then stay home and play guitar hero on your couch..) In the late summer of ’93 (I think, it’s all a little hazy now) they moved into my house for a couple of months to record a real record. They spent their days smoking bongs, watching planet of the apes movies, playing under the covers with various female fans and eating my cooking.  Every night when the sun went down we went into my studio, Morrison Hotel, and cut tracks.  They were fuckin’ smokin’! I’ve recorded lots or sessions. thousands of hours of sessions and I gotta tell you these kids were burning it up.

We had a few rented pieces of nice gear, a couple of mics, a mic pre and a few compressors. I was recording everything to 16trk 1″ tape at 15ips. This may mean nothing to you but I’ll translate–we were laying down big, fat, rocking tracks. Whenever I hit playback the speakers almost melted. After we recorded about 25 tracks they cornered me and demanded to know when I was going to get them a record deal.  I repeated my warning about record labels. They basically told me to go fuck myself. Then I knew they were ready. If I hadn’t done it to them they would have dumped me and found some sleaze ball that didn’t give a damn about their music to do it. There was no doubt they would get a deal.

We were mixing the record down. It was tentatively called “Waiting for the Bugasaurus”. We had pared the tracks down to 15 and come up with a sequence. It was going to be a fantastic indy record. It would make them. I had tons of contacts in the indy record world and we could find a home with a cool, well-connected label. Maybe start with an English release then get the record played on every college station. Everything was in place.

I talked to the band about labels and tried, in vain, to warn them for the last time. They demanded a major label deal ignoring all of my warnings and logic. I made two calls and set up a showcase at SIR studios in Manhattan. The band played a set for a major label A & R guy. Halfway through the set he phoned the label owner and told him he found the label’s next big signing. For the story of how they met the label owner and got offered a deal see my first blog “It’s all about being famous”. This evenings blog is about what went wrong.

The Figgs signed with Imago Records. Now let’s pause for a moment and remember that the band has a great album done, it just needs to be mixed. Now the band has to deal with an imbecile A & R guy that knows nothing about music. He listens to the unmixed record and hears one major problem. Even though he listens very carefully, through an extremely expensive stereo at ear shattering volume he just can’t hear enough of HIS OPINION in the record. As a result it just sounds flat to him. So he immediately demands that the band rerecord the record. Then he demands that we use his sequence. When one of the band members points out that he sequenced the record with the first 5 songs in the key of D, one after the other, he looks at them like a dog watching a Fellini movie and says ” Tell the engineer to change the key of the songs in the mixes so that it’s not a problem anymore” . Now the band wants him dead.  

Of course the album is rerecorded and remixed. It does well but the label does not. The label folds in the middle of their second guaranteed album. So The Figgs move to Capitol Records, following the same A & R troglodyte. At the new, bigger label they are much smaller fish compared to the bands the label is making money off of.  Whole departments of Capitol Records listen to demos and rough tapes of the album that is in the works and come to the conclusion that the band is utterly lacking these departments opinions and should start over. The art department wants to change the name of the record. The radio promotions department wants to change the band’s idea for artwork. The distribution department wants the band to reschedule the release for 16 months from now when they are certain they will not be busy since they operate on a 15 month in the future calendar. The band gets stoned one night and decides that the most important thing to argue about with the label is what color the paper label of the band’s vinyl release will be even though vinyl is only 1% of the sales at this point in history. 9 Months later they release an album with the original title “Bando Macho” (an inside joke so it means nothing to the fans), Artwork that they never approved and makes no sense, a really cool rear cover photo which was the only thing the band did. They get their special colored label on the vinyl release and the label immediately drops them. The fact that they battled to a standstill with the label president over the color of the vinyl record’s label certainly contributed to his decision to drop them despite their guarantee of three records.

This illustrates many of the problems that come with every recording contract with a large label.  I can’t even claim that it only happens to smaller bands that have no clout with the labels. Phish signed with Electra when they were well on their way to being a stadium act. Electra treated them like crap.  For example, the band wanted to get some play for its videos. So their manager put pressure on the label to get them some attention at MTV.  Did the band get medium rotation? No. Did they get a few plays on the alternative video show? No. Instead they got an offer to be the house band for a pilot for a children’s show! The label even argued that they should be thankful since the show would pay each member a regular salary of $800 a week for the 13 week run if the show got picked up. Phish turned down the offer and were angry. The label was mystified. Perhaps the fact that the band was routinely selling out theaters and earning $100,000 a night had something to do with it.

Now let me touch on another point about recording contracts. It is a point that I will expand into a complete blog at a later date. Recording contracts are set up in a way that all the benefits go to the label while all the risk is the band’s. The band pays for everything but the label ends up owning it. The band pays for everything but the label decides everything that is important. Even with the advice of a talented knowledgable lawyer the band ends up signing a deal that largely is a massive con job. Why would any band do this? The labels control the gateway to fame. Once an artist becomes famous the relationship becomes a battle with the band winning sometimes and the label winning sometimes.  Fortunately for everyone reading this blog, the earth has opened up and swallowed the record labels. It couldn’t have happened to a nicer bunch of guys.

In the post web world the labels no longer hold all the cards nor do they control the keys to fame. The only traditional system that the labels still control is commercial radio. There is even light at the end of that tunnel since radio is in a confused desperate period. They have no idea what to program and the cracks have appeared under their feet – satellite radio, web radio, podcasts and many more trends have begun to destabilize commercial radio.  So the last of the Major label strangleholds is on the way out.  Where does this leave the record labels?

It leaves them stripped down to what they have always been, marketing companies. For decades the labels have argued that they were powerhouse artist development machines, starmakers (not to be confused with star fuckers!), distribution geniuses and creators of musical trends. Little of this bragging has been true. Certainly a label like Blue Note helped popularize certain jazz trends and Rough Trade/4Ad rewrote the rise of post punk. Dischord defined hardcore and rap, hell the rap labels have tattooed numerous street trends on multiple generations of kids but in the end they are just marketing companies. They don’t make great records they promote great records.

Now, with the web you too can promote great records. This blog proves it. In the nineties, your access to the advice of an experienced manager/label owner would depend solely on your connections. Now it depends on your broadband connection. So in the 21st century learning to be a rock star on a web blog is one of the magical ways to succeed at rock………….

©Brad Morrison/Billiken Media 2010     Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.                     ZMVTCS8QHAVF

Lesson #11 How to get out of town…..

So far most of the blogs I’ve written are designed to be a basic set of helpful hints for bands that are just starting out. If you are further up the food chain some of my comments should help. No one has written a comment that says something like “the wife of this guy wants to sleep with me and she’s maaried to the President of the Major Label the band is signed to so what do I do? She’s smokin’ so I’m a little confused”. If someone does write about Major Label problems including the one I just mentioned I’ve got a strategies. Since most of the comments have been about basics I’ll stick to that for signedfor beginner bands and some are for bands that are further on. No one has written a comment saying “the wife of this guy wants to sleep with me and see he’s the President of the Major Label the band are designedSince I am just building up a small catalog of blogs to choose from there is not much variety yet. I’m workin’ on it. Stay tuned and feel free to suggest topics.

Let’s assume that your band has conquered the small city that you live in. You’ve played the local venue enough to have a drink named after your drummer and you’ve played the shitty free local rock station festival thing that always sucks and you’ve played at some rich kids house for remarkably good pay and you’ve reached the point where you have to limit how much you play so that you continue to pack in the punters. What do you do? You get the hell out of town that’s what.

This is how you do it. (well at least this is some of the tricks and techniques) Get a map. If you’ve never seen one and you slept through that class ask your dad. He’ll be thrilled that you are asking about something like a map instead of a bail bondsman. Take said map and tack it to the wall of the band’s practice space. Now put a marker, a large bowie knife will work, where you live. Next draw a circle about 60 miles outside town, then another 120 miles outside town, then 180, then 240. If you live in the middle of a vast desert and these circles contain no human life go to chiropractor school and give up the band. For all the others, start with the smallest circle. List the biggest towns and cities. You’re only listing towns and cities that are at least as big as the one you currently play in. Also list any colleges. Now scratch your head and think about the first list. Are any of these towns worth playing? Yeah, maybe two, and there’s a community college about thirty miles away. Now move on to the next large circle and do the same thing. What you are looking to do is come up with ten cities or towns to play within about 4 to 5 hours of home. Once again colleges are key.

So now you’ve got your list. You can easily fill in the hip club that everyone plays that’s two hundred miles up the road. Ok that’s an A list target. So you’ve got ten lousy big towns and one lame city. That’s perfect. Remember each of those towns and certainly that city contain bands looking to play outside of their local hell hole.

I’m sure some of you are thinking, Brad you don’t understand what it’s like in Central Iowa. You’re right. But I do know that this works in most places. If you must travel eight hours to buy batteries then I’m not sure I can help you. For everyone else, yes i know that a twelve hour drive takes you to that great city two states over but that will cost 4 times your gig money in gas. What we are trying to do is expand our base in a region to start with. This will increase all your other options greatly. Just think of how many rich kids are inside those circles. They’re all gonna have birthday bashes and some band is gonna get the 5 grand that daddy thinks is the going rate for live music.

Now you do some of these things.

1. Google the college radio station contact info for any college within striking distance. Do a little homework on any station you find. You are looking for the Program Director and Music Director. These guys are always key players in the local music scene. Once you have the names you call them and send them the usual promo pack and cd. NO PICTURE. Do you think you are that pretty? These guys are on radio. Let them imagine you are their fantasy band. You can also listen in on the stations on the web and call in to DJs that you think might like your stuff. Young DJ’s love to discover bands. When you talk to anyone at the station this is what you want to know. Are there any clubs? If so who books ’em and what’s the key to getting to the guy. They know. Is there a “Concert committee for the College? ” Is it just a group of idiots? This is usually the case. Get the contact info. When you talk to the station guys treat them nice. Be humble and tell them you’re looking to break into their area. THEN TELL THEM YOU COULD OFFER GIGS TO BANDS FROM THEIR TOWN. This message will usually get a response quickly. This message is the bait that you are going to spread all over those circles you drew.

If you get the concert committee and they are idiots tell them how popular you are. If they bring up any concert, even playing for the special ed dance, you immediately take the most you’ve ever been paid and multiply it by 5. This is your college gig fee. If you never made scratch your band plays for $2500, minimum. They have a budget and they have to spend it. I have seen concert committees pay has been drunkard hacks 100k and think they got a deal. College gigs are gravy. That’s why all of the shows will have real agents trying to lock them in. You are trying to get a middle slot or an opener. These pay too. If the committee of fools is paying some has been 60k then your 3000 will seem cheap.

2. Start to compile a list of venues, bars, theaters inside these circles. YOU ARE NOT TRYING TO PUT TOGETHER A TOUR. You are trying to expand your base. You are trying to find gigs that are in the “so painful to drive there” zone. That way, if you are offered something that is good visibility or status and it only pays $50 then you will take it. Now do some research on the towns. Are there papers? Fanzines? Does any of these towns host a Rhubarb festival? You may not play these things. It all depends on what your band sounds like and what kind of contacts you come up with. If you just go the lazy route and find out the name of the promoter at the really cool club 4 hours away, then you call his number every day for a year you will get nowhere. Once again remember that promoters are impossible to get on the phone. You are looking for contacts that you can convert to being one of your disciples/minions/slaves/groupies/fans. You want the promoter to hear about you from someone else first. If that happens to be the music director of the local station and he respects his taste or even better the promoter wants to butter him up to get his shows plugged then his mention of your band will open a door. The first time you talk to a promoter he should always say something like, “Yeah I heard of you guys. Didn’t your drummer have to be rescued by a military chopper or something?”

3. Put an ad on Craigslist/Facebook looking for bands, or put the word out through your contacts that you are looking for bands. Remember the bait. You need some fresh blood to open for you. Yes, it will piss off all your friends in other bands but in most cases you are going to dangle the bait and not get someone a gig. The key to this whole operation is that you want to get as savvy about all these other towns as you are about your home town. You want to make some friends in other bands. I’ll assume that you already have learned the earlier lesson and you are befriending any band that comes to town. You are letting them sleep on your floor and showing them the best late night pancake place. These are the kind of relationships that will get you gigs elsewhere.

4. You need to be able to land a gig for someone else sometimes. This means working it out with a local promoter. This takes times, effort and a little creative dealing but it can be done consistently, I know because I did it. One solution is to organize your own gig in a rented hall and bring in two of three openers from out of town. Now it never pays to help out shitty bands. You are looking for talent. This is always true.

So there are some pointers to get you started. If you work this for three to six months you
able to spread your band’s name around the region. This will move you up to being a bigger band. This is where you need to be to land a manager, or a label or to pull a rabbit out of a hat and get on a tour. If you try it it’ll work then you’ll be succeeding at Rock…………….

What should I blog next?

Copyright Brad Morrison/Billiken Media 2010

Lesson #10 how to find a manager (or how to be one) (pt3)

So far I’ve covered some scenarios where bands have ended up with a manager and talked about personality traits that are good in a manager. In most cases the possibility of a manager is one of the first serious issues that a band has to deal with outside of the band. This is often the first contract that a band will have to consider. It’s often the first of many relationships that can make or break a band. Is there a surefire way to have someone interested in managing the band. The answer is YES.

All you need to do is become a major national touring act and it’s certain that someone will step up and offer to take a cut of the money. Nice joke huh? Well in it’s essence it’s the key to all of the things I will be talking about in this blog. You have to work all of the different facets of being in a band to make the band grow. By grow I mean become more popular and increase the band’s ability to get a response from fans.

It is a band’s draw and popularity that will attract attention from a manager. In short your band must have a big buzz. For years I ran an indy record label and managed bands. I listened to thousands of demos. Let me correct that I listened to tens of thousands of demos. I found a few bands for my label through demos, I found more bands to produce and I found no bands to manage. All of the bands that
I decided to manage I first heard of through other people. It is very rare for an established manager to sign a deal with a band that is unknown.

I’ve had many bands ask me if they should send demos to management companies. They generally are talking about management companies that have large rosters of well known artists. These are the only management companies that are public enough to end up on industry lists of contacts. Smaller companies of one or two managers are never widely known outside of the record labels. So, think about it for a second. You send a tape to an agency that has 14 managers covering 60 bands. The tape may get listened to but what motivation does the large agency have to pursue this artist that is completely unknown? The answer is none. A large agency’s time is always better spent making more money for their client list or signing the hot new thing. So they may listen but they won’t sign you. That leaves smaller on or two person operations. They may very well be interested in developing a band or two. The problem here is that you will never find these companies without extensive contacts in the music business. (oops there’s that pesky who you know thing again) But there is one opening for bands – you may not be able to find them but they certainly can find you.

Through the years as I got more and more experience managing I looked further and further for acts I was interested in. That’s how I met Shelleyan Orphan an English band. How did I find bands? I listened to what bands fans were talking about. I listened to the buzz.

What is buzz? It’s the band’s story. The better and bigger the story the more substantial the buzz. OK let’s take a high school band as an example. What is this fictional high school band, The Turd Chompers, story.

Well, let’s see…. Oh yeah they played Jimmy McDonald’s keg party and the singer poured a pitcher of beer over one of the prettiest cheerleader’s head. Didn’t they make some tapes with that A/V dick that claims he has a studio in his dad’s basement? I also heard that they are playing at the school spring dance and the school paper is supposed to write about it……………

Now let’s try a brand spanking new Alternative band Big Toxic Blast… Hmmm this is a little easier…I saw they played the local venue opening for Chu Chu Rodriguez and that show was packed, how’d they get on that bill? I heard the drummer humps beer behind the bar on Tuesdays. Don’t they hang out at the Faghanistan Cafe with all the other artsy assholes? Someone told me that they are doing demos with that kid that’s starting a label… I see their posters all over. I heard that the Rum Swagglers are pissed ’cause their drummer split to jion that band. Isn’t the main guy some sort of druggy? It sucks that the paper keeps mentioning them . The review of the Chu Chu show said the opening set was rocking. That guy that writes all those reviews is an idiot he hated our latest CD…..

The buzz on a band that’s just about to move up to regional tours and, perhaps, the big time is a larger version of the same thing….We’ll call this touring machine Battleflag Pickup….Shit man did you see battle flag pickup is opening on both the Cornpone Festival and the first slot for Jeepers Creepers at the Marlybone Theater. They suck. There is no way that they can draw that much. I think it’s cause The Art Fart magazine got all excited over their newest release when it was featured for a day on I Tunes. What the hell man, it was only one week. Sanchez says he heard from George’s girlfriend that it was actually a mistake and that’s why it was only one week. And he said that their guitarist was acting big at the Guitar Graveyard, he bought both the sunburst 61 Paul and the Blue flame strat. That sucks because I put $50 down on that strat. It doesn’t matter since Rolph from Gnome army is probably gonna kick the stuffing out a him for stealing his girlfriend…….

Buzz is Buzz. It doesn’t matter if it’s high school or hollywood in many respects it’s the same. The main thing to notice is that someone is talking about the band. They are talking about the bands STORY. This is what promotional consultants do, they generate and define a band’s story. They then package it in a way that the press, radio, TV and the internet can repeat easily. What a band does onstage is part of creating this story. If you are unfamiliar with the early history of the band then here’s a link. Genesis They were led by Peter Gabriel who is a master showman. They combined theater with rock and were one of the early great bands that put on a show that was something that people talked about.

All of this brings me back to a manager. In order to get a manager you either have to recruit one from the circle of people you know and work with him to get him up to speed or attract one. If you want to go the route of luring one in then you need to do lots of the things that a manager would do for you, get press, get talked about on the radio, get gigs, get arrested…. As the band raises its visibility the chances are that someone will come out of the shadows to scout your band. Most bands that get signed are seen by industry people long before they realize it. Labels hire scouts and a good manager will always be asking around to find out which band is worth seeing.

Copyright Brad Morrison/Billiken Media 2010

Lesson #10 How to Find a Manager ( or how to be one) (pt 1)

Note: Please don’t copy and paste my blogs into emails to friends. Please send them to my blog the old fashioned way via a link. Hits make me giddy.

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”]

1. Miracle Legion and me. Miracle Legion was just starting out although the band leaders were well known in the Connecticut scene and had played in successful bands. I was a promoter, had already managed one artist and was a DJ. We knew each other. (Gee isn’t funny how all of these stories involve people knowing each other rather then meeting through random demos sent through a great uncle’s elementary school teacher’s friend?) I approached Miracle Legion because I heard a hit in their set, a song called the Backyard. I was right. The record sold and sold and was licensed and sold.The record would be selling today if the lead singer wouldn’t fight with me every time I try to remaster it for I tunes. I also saw in them a band with ambition and connections. I felt I could use their connections to expand my already large pool of contacts. I was right. Through Miracle Legion I made Legions of friends. The list covers people like Bjork and Michael Stipe and continues on through tons of labels like Rough Trade, Mute, 4AD, RCA, Warners, Atlantic etc. and even covers lots of great producers and writers. I used Miracle Legion shamelessly and they used me back. I landed everything a band could want for the band and I also was careful to make sure they had a fuckin’ blast along the way. I only wish I had taken more pictures. The reason I didn’t take more pictures is that pictures are known as “EVIDENCE” in the music business and that’s not always a good thing. Lesson to be learned here – make connections, lots of them, meet everyone that you can, always. These connections will attract young, up and coming managers. These are often the best choice for a band.
[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.


                                                                                                                         [Stevie Wonder “Living for the City”]



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”]