Should We Fire Our DIY-Hating Band Manager?
Are you a musician? Is your group having issues? Ask Fan Landers! Critic Jessica Hopper has played in and managed bands, toured internationally, booked shows, produced records, worked as a publicist and is the author of The Girls' Guide to Rocking, a how-to for teen ladies. She is here to help you stop doing it wrong. Send your problems to her -- confidentiality is assured, unless you want to use your drama as a ticket to Internet microfame.
We have a manager that we've been with for a few years now. I don't think he's a good fit for us. He manages a couple mid-size indie bands, one or two big ones, so he has that going for him. But we've clashed with him at many, many points, and come very close to dropping him many times. We've had fights over the validity of DIY shows (which we love), labels, booking agents, you name it. The question has always been this: Where does a band that likes to play DIY shows, also likes to play big shows, wants to make songs that confuse people, but also wants to be more popular fit in? We're constantly at cross-purposes with our own goals, which is a positive and negative thing. We're all way too cynical to play the game properly, and turn over all of our agency to a manager-type, who discourages us from things like DIY shows. On the other hand, we wish we could reach more people. Please help us, Fan.
This is kind of just one problem seemingly masquerading as two. The big one is right there--this manager is not a good fit for you. A good manager is one that helps you articulate your vision in the world, help implement it, do the business-side dirty work and look out for your interests and ultimately try to get money in your band's pockets and keep it there. I have known and worked with managers like this, who sometimes struggle with helping a band go up the managers version of the ladder of success. He may be more interested in you doing legit shows and a legit tour because it's ultimately going to put more money in his pocket or because he has a particular idea about how to get popular that involves all kind of legit/formal routes. Either way it doesn't sound like he has a lot of interest in facilitating your vision going forward. The kind of career you want is entirely possible; it doesn't have to be either or.
Before you fire him, you need to have a band meeting or two and really have some discussion about What Matters To Us. Talk about your grossest most Van Halen wet-dreamiest stadium ambitions, and also what is in your truest artist heart. Everybody go for a good meal and a drink (not too many drinks, like A WINE--we don't want this to be ending in tearful confessions) and air out your art heart about where you want to go with this band. No eye rolling, no shots or snarking and no bitching about bygones or the manager. Someone make some light notes, maybe a list. Where do you want to be a year from now? Five years from now? How are commitment levels? What is the collective feeling on basement shows? It's not so much a state-of-your-union, but more like a convo about how you want to raise the kids, so to speak. It's natural to have some conflicting ideas, but maybe this talk can help streamline them.
Second, start fishing. Who has a career you admire that is within your world? Who handles their business? Anyone? Look at folks like Waxahatchee or Fucked Up or David Bazan--they all are straddling legit routes and punk ones. Find out what kind of teams are behind the careers you admire. More than anything look at the people who are having the kind of career that a) you want and b) seems feasible (not like "WHO MANAGES PRINCE? LET'S GET THEM ON THE HORN!"). Ask around. It might be hard to find someone who has no complaints about their manager, but ask folks at labels, booking agents at clubs--who do they like to deal with? Who are bands who have longevity, have their shit together--how are they doing it?