Featured Department: Jambands Business School:Managers
Over the years we have discussed a variety of topics of import to the jamband world, and how players and the people around them can get a band started and operational as a business. We have reviewed nearly every role in a band from songwriter to publicist to booking agent. We have also reviewed other external roles like record label, promoter, talent buyer at clubs, etc. I would like for us this month to go back and revisit the topic of band management, the role of band manager, and visit with some of the folks who are familiar with this role.
We are lucky enough to have Allen Ostroy, currently the manager of the band Strangefolk and a person who in the New England jam scene has lent his hand to numerous other projects including the folks from Percy Hill and the Boston funk band Two Ton Shoe. We discuss with Allen the role of band manager, and how this person is the conductor of a speeding train, and their quick thinking, experience, and connections will help to drive a band.
The band manager is the person who is coordinating the efforts of all of the people on the band’s business team. This is their chief responsibility. They must formulate the goals of the band’s business. Allen states that these actions must be ‘in conjunction with the band. If the band and management aren’t all on the same page then failure is imminent.’ From there, everyone must implement a plan that is sculpted to realize those goals. The manager then directs the various people within the team to execute the plan.
The manager directs the booking agent as to where the band needs to be performing live. The manager negotiates contracts with record companies and oversees the usage of a band’s music by moviemakers, advertisers, and Internet agents. (This is often referred to as placement, and is an excellent source of revenue for musicians. In today’s changing media world, music placement can be a revenue stream that equals that of record sales or touring, and is the oft forgotten source of income that bands need to survive in a changing industry environment.) The manager supervises the publicist’s work for the band, suggesting media outlets and pulling in connections within the media world. The manager seeks out endorsements and advertising deals that both raise money for the band, and help to position the public’s perception of the band and their goals.
Allen Ostroy: In the beginning the manager does almost none of these things because he/she is also the agent, record company, and bank of the band. You also don’t want to use your connections too early because the band/artist might not be ‘ready.’ It is important for a band’s manager to be able to look outside of the tight knit workings of the band’s dynamics and try to understand a larger picture of what is happening. They must translate the day to day activities into a plan that realizes more long term goals, and to help keep everyone on the band’s team directed to realize these larger goals. This role is often split between confidante, accountant, psychologist, coach, motivational leader, and brain storming giant.
The manager directs the road manager as to what needs to be done to keep the band happy and working well on the road. The manager must facilitate the flow of information between the team members, so that everyone is informed and understands their assignment. The manager must oversee all of these different components, whether they are doing them themselves or are directing outside service providers in how they are to do their jobs to best realize the goal of the band.
A good manager must be able to connect with the musicians who make up the band. It is difficult to turn the vision within someone’s head into a stage production, or a migration of peoples. Oftentimes managers have to take up the fantasies of the artist, and turn them into reality within changing conditions, while risking dollars and the careers of their clients on daily decisions.
Allen Ostroy: ‘Even more often the manager has to bring the artist back into reality without damaging their ego. It is the manager’s job many times to ground the artist without affecting creativity.’ The reason that we are all interested in the artists that compose our scene is that they are able to view the world outside of the way ordinary folks do and to create a commentary on their views. It is the responsibility of the manager to help translate the artist’s vision into a transmittable product so that the vision is shared with others, at the same time earning income for the band.
Compared to the sports world, a band manager is a combination of the General Manager and the Coach. They are completely responsible for all of the actions of the organization, so that the music can flow freely and smoothly, and fans have access to the work of the artist.
Allen Ostroy: This comparison is not exactly accurate. Maybe you can say they are C0-General Manager and the Head Coach. The real General Manager is the Artist or band who can hire and fire the manager. It is an interesting relationship using this analogy because the Artist is both the GM and the athlete and the manager is both the coach and the GM. Obviously the manager/artist relationship is different depending on the needs of the artist.
Many bands in our community have a business leader who is a combination booking agent/band manager. This is common as bands develop, for devoted workers are hard to find on limited budgets. Allen Ostroy is for instance filling both roles for Strangefolk now that they are not an incessant touring machine as they once were. Because the band is playing fewer shows, Allen is able to book those appearances at the same time as managing the macro-events that surround the band. His managerial decision was to limit the number of workers involved and to keep things simple within the Strangefolk organization so that their profits would be maximized. Because Strangefolk is taking a more encapsulated approach- including the four night run up to New Year’s Eve in New England this month- Allen is able to direct all of the activities necessary.
It is not unusual for people to have to take multiple responsibilities in this field, though. Sometimes you have to be a jack of all trades. Darren Cohen once supplied a mixture of booking and management to his clients, who included InaSense, the Slip, and the Miracle Orchestra.
To help me to illustrate this, I talked to Paul Wolstencroft, formerly the keyboardist for Jiggle the Handle. Paul says that he looked to management to, ‘make the big connections with other national acts, seek and negotiate record contracts, and to direct the whole flow of the band’s activities. When we first started out, our manager did everything- publicity, booking, management, everything. But as we have progressed as a band and a business, we have been able to delegate responsibilities to role players that are specialized in those areas. This leaves the manager free to actually manage the band.’
But Allen warns us to remember: ‘Managers can’t blame anyone if goals aren’t met. The buck must stop with them. ‘
All of these tasks are the practical side of management. There is another side of management that needs to be discussed, and it is vital to the success of a band’s management. A manager must be connected. They must be a keen networker with a social flare and an ability to convince others to contribute to the team’s goals.
A manager must be able to attract high rollers in the form of band investors, record producers, and other high profile artists ready to help out the new band on the circuit. With a well-placed phone call and a developed relationship, the band manager can change the course of a band’s career.
For instance, being added to a tour of a national headliner is the goal of every developing band, and a manager must call on their connections and relationships to make this happen. A well known guest musician on an album or live in concert can help to shape the public’s awareness of the artistic goals of the band, while gaining notoriety for developing acts. A manager must be able to deliver. This can be true whether it is something large like getting Carlos Santana to play a solo on your record or it can be something small but nonetheless vital to a band’s monetary flow.
Jason Greenberg has been lending a managerial hand to the band UMelt. They are still developing as an East Coast regional band with multiple tours under their belt and money is tight. Jason exploited a connection that he had with a computer company and negotiated a deal in which the band was paid to include discs of their music in the products that the company was selling. This supplied a much needed boost for the band’s income, and at the same time helped to realize a larger group goal of spreading the band’s music into a target market that might continue to further their fan base. Jason was also able to make the computer company see that the inclusion of music in their product would help to shape the company’s desire to be perceived in a certain way by its customers through this marketing tool. This was no small achievement and really helped the band to continue to focus on the most important aspect of their existence- creating music. While it may not be as significant to the whole of pop culture as getting Carlos Santana on one of their records- it did change their culture within the band for a short time during their development.
More so than other task driven roles that we have examined so far, the manager’s job has a sprinkle of magic to it. The job description calls for the organization of an accountant and the vision of a mystic. Such a person is a rare find, and these skills are developed and refined over many years. Good luck finding one for yourself and your band.
I would like to thank Allen Ostroy for his participation in this article. Be sure to check out www.strangefolk.com for more information on the band and their upcoming run of shows.