How To Get Your Band Out Of The Garage And Into Bonnaroo (Part 2 of 3)
Real True Confessions With Padre Pienbique
When I think of the good old bad days, before the sweet stench of success was over-ridden by the inevitable odor of youthful invincibility mixed with the criminal mind run amok; I remember moxie. The Big Wu was mixing newly-minted originals in between Grateful Dead tunes, both receiving equal votes of confidence from the audience. While we might have ventured out to the coasts to spend a week and all our money, our bread and butter was Midwest college towns.
We would drive in separate cars (we didnt have the cash for tour vans, or better yet, busses at the time), meet at late night diners for post-show greasy eggs or maybe hook up with some unsuspecting young lass if fortune smiled. Either way, it was fucking exciting.
As an aside, dont read me wrong, making money was cool too: I bought one of those cool Mercedes that a James Bond villain or an oil sheik would drive. I had always wanted one of those.
No matter how much fun cool toys are, the real kicks are to be found on stage. Once you get the bug youre doomed. Regular life passes you by like a slow motion black and white movie with no discernable plot. Nothing can erase the pale uselessness of the everyday until you get back on stage. Like I said: The real kicks are found under the lights.
For the record, this is the absolute reason why musicians will sell their souls and their songs for pennies on the dollar: The milquetoast milestones of everyday reality arent worth a mule-load of rubber Pesos next to the sensory goldmine of stage time. Beyond that, if you do a good job in the work-a-day office, the best you can hope for is not getting the hairy eyeball from your boss. If you kick ass on stage, you might get a blowjob. You make the call.
So if youre in the garage, yet want to get to Bonnaroo, how do you find the way?
We covered the first steps last month: Write good songs, dont be fooled into thinking myspace.com is the answer, put your music in the hands of people that will listen, and dont let the leader of the band get too big for his britches. The first three of the list are easy to achieve, but the last is harder than it looks.
Bands are full of creative folks, generally supplemented with rather mercurial dispositions. Since everybody makes sacrifices for the greater good, its only a matter of time before someone feels that their sacrifices are of the even greater than the others.
How is this, along with every other idea- for good or ill- mediated? The answer: Managers.
There are as many variations of what functions a manager performs as there are managers. These people come in all forms, and unfortunately, theres no one-size-fits-all model that covers the bases. Some are money men, or rainmakers, if you will: They keep a tight grip on the purse strings and quantify success with profit and loss statements. Some are lawyers, and others are hybrid music producers with a background in record company politics. If nothing else, a manager may be a fan of your band that happens to have the inventiveness and cunning to break your band past the cozy confines of the local club.
Most of these folks work on a percentage of your bands gross earnings; usually 10-15%. Theyre responsible for just about everything under the sun, including (but not limited to): Merch, CD sales, dealing with the booking agent and getting you hooked up with Snapples new line of hippy-dippy soft drinks that speak to your demographic because Its all-natural, man. Not to mention that its fortified with ginsing and mixed with the sweat that drips off of real Tibetan monks while they do Tantric yoga. And thats the flavor your thoroughly-researched section of the population, I mean… ummmfans love. Just sign here
However, were talking about the kind of manager thats willing to get you out of the local beer hall and on the road, or to Bonnaroo, and everywhere else the road takes you. Thus, lets forget this foolishness about rainmakers and gross percentages. What you need is the gal or guy that arms themselves with the only silver bullet that counts: The one person that has as much belief in you as much as you do.
There is no, and I mean no, substitution for the genuine and contagious enthusiasm a homer brings to the table when your band needs to solidify its creativity into a focused posse of wandering minstrels.
First off, youll need to free up a little cash. $200 buys a shitload of phone calls, post cards, and burnt CDs to send to anyone willing to listen. Quite frankly, if your newly turned fan/manager is doing their job, theyll need more money before long. So listen, and listen up tight: It takes money to make money. And it takes more than that to get where you want to go. Get used to it.
Secondly, your new manager is going to need something more important than money to pull the trigger on shows and weigh the outcomes of various schemes band members whisper in their ears. Theyll need an unending amount of support for their efforts and an unprecedented amount of empowerment to settle various visionary disputes between warring factions within the band.
This brings us back to a point I touched on last month. If you havent figured it out yet: Every person in the band is a genius. However, if you dont believe that the neurotic guitar player knows more than the snooty drummer, who happens to think more of his own opinions than the quasi-alcoholic bass player, who in turn fears the keyboardists penchant for lame plans will ruin the band forever, then you dont really know your band mates. Like I said: Everybody in the band is a genius.
But that doesnt mean every decision has to be a cluster-fuck of bad debates and useless insults. This is where the manager comes in. Somebody has to be able to listen objectively (a feat impossible for a musician), yet direct creative traffic with all the aplomb of a Chicago cop after a Cubs game.
Lets make up an example: Band X is based out of Rhode Island, does well there, but wants to reach out to the bright lights of New York City or Boston. Lets even go as far to say that by the grace of God, Band X gets offers to open for Natural Breakdown (currently winning the poll on jambands.coms New Groove of the Month, so well go with it) in both New York and Boston on the same weekend.
But, the guitarist cant change his manpon fast enough to tell his girlfriend that he has to delay their two-month dating anniversary. And to make matters worse, the drummer has fifteen unpaid parking tickets in Boston (accumulated while fucking the guitarists girlfriend since shes attending school in Bean Town), and has become so paranoid that he thinks the police will crash the gig and arrest him the minute he crosses the Massachusetts border.
Theres a great opportunity at hand, yet the individuals forget that bands are more like Robin Hoods band of thieves than people that deserve to make their own weekend plans.
In this case, a good manager hears several different opinions, yet magically finds a solution that thrills everybody. Perhaps the solution is borrowing the bass players uncles van (supposing the van has no violations in Mass.) and hiring the guitarists girlfriend to sell the t-shirts. That way the drummer can play coy while playing it cool and the girlfriend gets backstage. A good manager will sell this as the best of all worlds to the whole band. Maybe hell even have to help win the girlfriend over without winning her over as much as the drummer.
The one quality every manager has is that they are all natural born sale people. And the one thing anybody in sales knows is that people buy into people before they buy the product.
Oh, theyre also tenacious.
Just like the yawns or the giggles, enthusiasm is contagious. Ill never know how many High Sierras or Gathering Of The Vibes bought into Big Wu because Paul Hagen just wouldnt be denied.
One cannot underscore the importance of having a shameless cheerleader speak for the band. First, having a third-party preach the Band X party line lends some validity to the bands music. Second, bands that talk that way about themselves come off like chumps. Hey man! Check out our CD It rocks! Its just like were the new Phish!
(Sure. Lets just not forget that new Phish sucked.)
Your new manager/cheerleader (Hagen preferred the term Executive Skid-Greaser) should bring excellent communication skills. This includes, but not limited to: Writing, photography, silver tonguing on the phone, and an eye for band image. They should own a computer, a printer and a phone, and a fax. If they dont have the above, buy it for them. A plumber cant fix the crapper without a wrench, and a manager cant work your band without a phone. Oh, they should also be motivated enough to go to Fed Ex five days a week.
What else should a manager do, or better yet, what should a band do to a manager? Simple: Pay them. How much? I dont know. But when someone outside the band is willing to work as hard as the musicians, they have got to be rewarded.
I know, I know: Come on, man! Were just getting our feet wet If he/she doesnt do it for love, then theyre just sucking off the teat. Yeah, well Ive been around musicians since I was ten and made my living in music for sixteen years. And if theres one thing I know, its that theres no form of life on this Earth as lazy, helpless, irresponsible or self-centered as a musician. (Dont forget: Theyre all geniuses too! Dont believe me? Just ask em.)
So give your executive all the grease they need to move your genius down the skid, tight-wad.
What did we learn this month? Lets recap: – Young bands need champions in their corner. – If youve got gigs, see if somebody cant invest their time and love the music business as you do. – Let them play both the good cop/bad cop for you. – Give them respect, and just as importantly, resources.
Next month we are going to tie all the loose ends from both columns together. Finalizing a battle pan, if you will. After all, without a plan and the soldiers to carry it out, youre not getting into Bonnaroo without a paid ticket.
Speaking of battle plans: Jambands.com and I are featuring a contest for the Band With The Plan. Stay tuned! Details next month.