By, Bob Lefsetz (To join Bob's email newsletter list, please go to www.lefsetz.com)
Christina Aguilera needed a protector, someone who would allow her to follow her own vision, she signed with Irving Azoff.
Phish was a band up from the streets, er, frat house floor, they ended up being managed by John Paluska.
Would Phish have been better off with Azoff? Would Aguilera have been better off with Paluska? No. Each had the perfect manager. Which one do YOU need?
By time Irving got ahold of her, Christina Aguilera was already a star. But it appeared her career was being run by her label. She wanted to call her own shots, she needed a buffer between her and her record company. Also, someone connected enough that they knew all the players and were owed big time favors. Is there an awards show Christina DOESN’T play?
Phish needed to belong to the people, not the system. They needed someone who could build them from the ground up. Their game was the road, not discs. They liked to improvise, it was about the concert experience. If they had played an awards show early in their career it would have killed them.
In other words, you don’t need the heavyweight, well-connected manager to make it. Unless you’re playing the traditional radio/TV hit single game.
If you’re playing the old wave game, sign with someone who’s got the chops, who knows the ropes, who isn’t reinventing the wheel so much as applying what they know to your situation. You might grow, but your handler, he already knows the game.
Whereas if you’re not signed to a major label, don’t want to get signed to a major label, don’t make Top Forty singles, then you don’t need a manager connected so much as one who is savvy and HUNGRY!
The established management players are akin to mini-conglomerates, they’re the new labels. They want to get paid, right away. If you’re not delivering cash, if they sign you, you’re not getting much attention. Or, you’re getting attention from the untested newbie. If that newbie is truly great, break off and do it yourself, as Irving Azoff did with the Eagles. Otherwise, you’re probably going to get lost in the shuffle.
If you’re starting from ground zero, no name manager will probably be interested. But that won’t hurt you.
What do you need most if you’re a developing act?
Gigs. You need someone to get on the horn, go down to the venue, and cajole and connive ’til they get you a shot. Then you must deliver, but it’s the manager that creates/midwives the opportunity.
Where are you going to find such a bloke?
Look around you, he’s probably already a friend. Or that dude who comes to each and every show and hangs backstage and won’t leave until you do. THAT’S your manager.
Oh, don’t throw out your instincts. After all, Paluska went to Amherst, he’s no dummy. But find someone committed who will do the job for you.
So much of what Phish did, they did first. Or their spin on an event made it unique. They did their destination festivals. They released live albums of their shows, and then downloads. Elektra didn’t deliver these, rather their manager and agent, Chip Hooper, did.
Yup, Chip saw the numbers, he wanted to represent Phish. He didn’t care about record sales, but TICKET COUNTS! Most agents feel the same way today, but fifteen years ago, the focus was on the label.
Yes, after you get your manager, and he gets you gigs, he tries to get you an agent. And the agent you want is not the one with the name, the one who wines and dines you so much as the one who BELIEVES in you.
As for music… In today’s market, you’ve got to allow recording and trading, you’ve got to give the music away for free, you’ve got to let the seed grow into a tree. If you can’t get significant airplay, THIS IS THE ONLY WAY!
It’s not the way of the major label, and not the way of the old line manager. But it’s your way. You know the Net, you’ve got friends, both online and offline. You have to create something incredible and give your peeps the tools to spread the word. Not through fake incentives, you’ve got to trade purely on their belief, your honesty.
It’s all about the music when you’re doing it yourself. Everything must be subservient to the music. And you must create the best situation to experience the music.
When Phish played the Santa Monica Civic ten plus years ago, the police frisked the attendees. Paluska vowed to never play the building again, and his band DIDN’T! He didn’t shrug his shoulders and say he couldn’t do anything, that it wasn’t his fault, he took matters into his own hands, to defend his band’s relationship with its audience.
And when Phish started selling its music online, it offered FLAC files, so its fans could own the best sounding versions. Isn’t it funny that EMI is offering 256 kbps AACs supposedly sometime in the near future when Phish sold CD quality YEARS AGO!
So don’t lament that the manager with the name isn’t interested in you. There’s a good chance he might not be right for you.
Inexperience is no longer the handicap it used to be. Drive and appreciation of the band/fan relationship are paramount for today’s touring acts. That’s more about instinct than big time experience. Furthermore, you want someone who can develop on the fly.
Maybe you outgrow your manager, you end up signing with one of the big boys, who wrings out every last dollar for you.
Or maybe you stay with your guy, who delivers for you.
Or maybe your guy makes a deal with Irving, and uses Frontline’s power to get you what you want and need.
It’s a new game. It’s the sixties all over again. The wheel is being reinvented. Don’t be hamstrung by the old wave players and the old wave rules.