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CIRCUS ACT

September 1, 2006
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I took the usual route in becoming a band manager: stealing big brother's Bowie and Velvet Underground albums; buying the first Clash, Ramones and Steel Pulse albums; failing to learn to play drums; hanging 'round bands and using cymbals as pillows in the back of vans; playing records; getting drunk and passionately agreeing to do something the next day; waking up in another city; learning to love bad cafés; loving music; and being a big fan of the Bill Drummond method.Then, I went on to a temp job, stuffing envelopes in a major record-label press office; got a job with and played football for legendary indie label Go! Discs; shouted a lot; did press on great turns like the Trashcan Sinatras, the Beautiful South, Paul Weller, David Holmes and Portishead; then bluffed a so-called promotion to run the marketing department (number of employees: one) based on the above-mentioned theories of Messrs. Strummer and Drummond. Now I manage bands such as Goldfrapp and Ladytron at Midnight to Six Management with my cohorts Minna Halmetoja and Dave Harper.

What's an average day like for you in the office? What are the routine (and not-so-routine) tasks you handle?

The core of management is trying to keep all the wheels turning in the right direction, so we have to coordinate the band members' diaries and schedules — they could be rehearsing, recording, doing promotion, touring or hiding somewhere claiming to be busy. That involves dealing with the label, publisher, tour manager, accountant, lawyer, etc. — that is, if the band has those; and if not, we do it all ourselves while trying to get those people onboard. The key is to build a strong team around the band so that everyone can do what they are good at. Things can go wrong when the drummer tries to be the tour manager or if I tried to be the drummer.

And then we try to stand in the middle, letting everyone know what everyone else is supposed to be doing (that is, if they need to know).

What does it take for new bands to pique your interest enough for you to want to work with them?

The overwhelming view in our office is that it's got to be great music; it's as simple as that, really. But like any relationship, a bit of attitude, ambition, a great sense of humor, knowledge of the route to the bar and attention to personal hygiene can go quite a long way, too.

Say you've agreed to work with a band that wants to shop new music to labels. What's the best approach/selling point to get labels interested?

Nothing's wrong with a good tune, a healthy dose of individuality and a good plan. As for the plan, bands need to have a clear aim and an interesting story. They need to know the audience they want to reach, be clear about their style and know what makes them different from every other band trying to get noticed. Then, there needs to be innovative ways of using PR and marketing to get them known. But the best thing is to have a good answer to the question, “What are you like?”

What are some negotiation tips you can give bands — those without a manager's support — that are working out their first deals/contracts?

Always get someone — a lawyer, an accountant, a manager or any responsible cynic — to advise you against allowing dreams to outsprint reality. A contract can be complicated or simple, but just 'cause it's one page doesn't mean it can't ruin your life for a lot longer than it takes to read it. (Oh, and if you can't be bothered to read it, then either don't sign it or expect to be treated like the mug that you are, 'cause you obviously don't put too much value on your art.)These days, with the wireless typewriter/television-interface thing available to all, the punk dream is a reality; so don't be led down the path of unrighteousness by the offer of the major-label advance. You'll only be paying it back forever, and then they still own your creation. So think carefully, and if you think they're worth something, hang on to your royalty percentages. If they make you an offer you can't refuse, ask yourselves (or preferably that friendly cynic), “Why?”

Can you give an example or two of some mistakes you've witnessed bands make?

It usually falls into the category, “Don't believe the hype” — your own, friends, label, fans, press, etc. It's too easy to believe that the world owes you a living if you believe it when someone tells you that you're wonderful. Only your mum and dad could ever really mean it (and you'd probably hate them for it anyway). Never read your own press. If you do find yourself doing so, think about all the better songs you could write if you read a book (see below).

Do you ever act as family therapist to band members? How do you smooth over internal problems in a band?

Quite a lot. You have to learn to listen and not react when people shout; they're normally just asking for help in a loud voice (could be all that loud music). That's probably why when managers do let it rip, they make a fucking good racket.Sometimes there can be internal mutterings: for example, about songwriting credits or one writer not getting his or her tune on an album. It just takes a bit of listening and negotiation to reach a compromise so everyone's voice is heard (but hopefully not ending up with crap songs on the album). And it's probably why B-sides were invented.Finally, here's some further reading: Check out anything by Bill Drummond, but especially 45 New Edition (Little Brown UK, 2001) and Manual: How to Have a Number 1 the Easy Way (Ellipsis London, Limited; 1999). Also, read The Clash: Before and After (Plexus Publishing, 2001; photos by Pennie Smith, words of wisdom by the late, great Joe Strummer), which is where we got our inspiration and our name.

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