Being a Band Manager in the Digital Age

This is where it gets tricky aye?  The role of the a & r or band manager has changed tremendously over the last 5 years.  In the early 90’s I gigged with the Spring Heeled Jacks, on the River Rat Record label.  They are no longer and the Jacks are merely a memory sprinkled with nostalgic dust. It was a great run while it lasted and we wrote and recorded some great songs and better yet created lifelong memories.  The early 90’s were great as we toured Montreal,  NYC,  Boston, Hartford, Burlington VT, NH and most towns in New England.  I played probably 15-20 gigs a month and supported myself quite nicely.  Sold a few thousand CD’s and hardly ever picked up a phone or used a computer for that matter.  People babysat me and my band as we pretended to be rockstars when we were at our peak.  Before that I beat on a lot of radio station doors and stapled a crap load of promo posters on walls and telephone poles.  Any free day we had we worked on promoting ourselves and we rehearsed constantly.  Work ethic is the key in this business    How it all ended? That’s another story.  

The times have changed exponentially as I assume the role of promoter, engineer, producer and a & r person for Eric Bee (elephant bones frontman and chief songsmith).  I find myself constantly looking for an edge in promoting the upcoming record.  As we all know, the internet has provided a full grocery store for artists and musicians in terms of digital distrubution and marketing.  What we don’t have is the nice little lady at the check out register collecting compensation for creativity. Now the goal is to submit songs to Tunecore and have your works available on iTunes.  Once you’ve done that you’ve made it…..made it to what?  It’s not like iTunes is going to promote an indie act without label support of some capacity. Believe me i’ve looked into Broadjam, Bandcamp, Reverbnation, Taxi and iLike.  All very creative and innovative but if you don’t pay they won’t play.  Although I like the Bandcamp platform and concept.

So now my primary goal is to create excitement around Eric Bee’s upcoming new record.  Which I’m producing and engineering.  We start laying tracks next week in my studio, Sonic Planet Studio.  I’ve started the Steelesque Movement in attempt to generate a buzz.  The Steelesque Movement is comprised of artists, musicians, filmmakers and writers based in the Pittsburgh PA area.  As you peruse the blog you’ll be informally introduced to the dream team. Hopefully, at some point they will introduce themselves here and get into your heads. I’ve always been a huge proponent of doing work. I’ve always prided myself on that idea and it has paid off in many good forms. Artists that are successful are always the ones that outworked the could-have-beens.  Anyway, here I am hammering away at stone wall, looking for a crack or break to extend my tentacles into to vault this project upon someone of interest (publisher, music exec, label, etc).  I anxiously await for the wine which is dying on the vine. 

How has digital affected the day-to-day roles of artist managers?  Read the below commentary from some big hitters.

Thanks for the ear!!  I appreciate any feedback.  R. Ian Eldridge

Music Ally‘s Stuart Dredge reports live from the MIDEM Manager Summit, starting with the session on how managers can develop their artists’ careers in today’s digital era…

Chris Morrison from CMO Management (centre, Blur, Gorillaz, Grace Jones and many more) and Radius Music’s Mark Wood (right, Imogen Heap) took part in the opening panel session of the MIDEM Manager Summit to discuss the issues.

Morrison said that the advent of digital has made things much more complicated. “But I like to simplify things as much as possible – I tend to take the view that the Internet is a form of communication and a retailer,” he said. He also said it’s hard to define what’s genuinely going to be useful on the internet, or “just another technoman that doesn’t amount to anything – that puts the tool as the result”.

He also said that “there is only one retailer that counts on the net: iTunes… yet we spend an inordinate amount of time feeding the competition, rightfully so because we want there to be some competition“. He suggested that managers should be more laser-focused on what digital stores and tools are genuinely giving them results.

Morrison’s company works with a digital consultant to help it fuel buzz on the web around their artists. “My artists don’t really do that,” he said. “Damon Albarn doesn’t Twitter. Damon Albarn still records on cassette tape – he’s a man after my “own heart!”

However, Wood is in a different position with his client Imogen Heap, who’s famously digital-savvy. “Twitter is not an event – it’s a way of life. You’re either in it and doing it properly, or you’re not. I know one manager who’s Twittering on behalf of his artists, because they’re not doing it… but it’s not real.”

He highlighted the way Twitter has brought genuine access for fans to their favourite artists – Heap apparently checks her tweets before her emails when getting off a plane, for example. “It has to come from the artist.”

Morrison said that his actual relationship with his artists hasn’t changed over the years – “they still don’t know what I do!”. Moderator Ajax Scott asked how Morrison works now on a campaign for something as multi-faceted as Gorillaz – who are the key partners, and how does it differ from five to ten years ago?

“The people at EMI have changed rapidly in that time, so every time we’ve put a record out I’ve had to re-educate,” he said. “Gorillaz live on their website. So when we told EMI on the last album ‘this is going to cost you £15,000 a month to run the website, they had a fit! They said none of our artists costs us that much, but I told them ‘none of your artists lives on their website’.”

He also said that when the new Gorillaz single leaked online recently, the search phrase ‘gorillaz stylo’ [the new single] became the 15th most searched for phrase on Google within 24 hours.

Brands will be involved in the project – Scott asked what Morrison could say about that. “We had a plan and we selected who we thought would be suitable. You have to be very careful about branding – there’s a great danger of music being corporatised at this point, and I see things that certainly worry me considerably,” he said.

The actual brands have not been announced yet, bar a partnership with Apple and iTunes. Scott asked what kind of things Morrison is seeing that he doesn’t like. “The Duffy Coca-Cola ad was abysmal, and Robbie Williams on T-Mobile was terrible… You have to be very very careful with how you associate with brands.”

However, he said he loves the Iggy Pop adverts for Swiftcover Insurance in the UK, to give a positive example, and also said that simple use of an artist’s music on an advert is less troublesome. Blur made “probably 20 times as much as the record generated” from Song 2 from sync licences. The only one that was turned down came from a manufacturer of stealth fighter jets, apparently.

Wood agreed, saying that “an artist is defined by what you turn down as much as by what you do… any association you’ve got to be careful with.”

Imogen Heap has also done well from sync deals – she owns her masters. Said Wood, “there’s two types of sync – you can have a piece of background music in a CSI Miami and be picking up $10-15,000, and no one knows it’s in there… But you’re also chasing the magic sync” – giving the example of a Heap song appearing in US TV show The OC, and sending huge traffic to her website.

A question from the audience asked about how Morrison and Wood see The Hours – the label bought by advertising agency Euro RSCG to associate artists with brands. “My view of that is it’s an extension of Simon Cowell,” said Morrison. “It’s an area of the business I’m not in… The danger of having an ad agency do it is they’ll see it as product. And it’s not.”

How about the data coming from all this online activity? Morrison thinks it should be shared, but isn’t sure that managers should be owning it – “because you have to do something with it”. However, he was equally unsure that labels are best positioned to do it either. “If you have 150,000 people on your database, it’s a lot of manpower”.

Wood says that his company owns all of Imogen’s heap fanlists, and that it’s really useful. Her next tour is being guided by Facebook stats and responses to tweets asking fans where she should play – “our biggest gig this year is going to be in Jakarta. Wood has three people working in his office mining this kind of data.

A final question asked about illegal downloading. Morrison pointed out that the Gorillaz leak could have undone the entire carefully-crafted promotion strategy for the new album. “I’ve become a bit of a Stalinist on it to be honest,” he said, and responded to Pharrell Williams’ claim that file-sharing is like taste-testing. “It’s not. It’s like giving them the whole bloody meal!

He also said he’s worried about where investment will come from in the future to develop artists and their careers. “I just think that illegal downloading and pirating could be stopped, without a doubt. We have to take the gloves off and say it has to be stopped.”

12 thoughts on “Being a Band Manager in the Digital Age

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