Speak To My People (Artist Management)

A transcript from Face The Music 2008 session Speak To My People (Artist Management) featuring Bonnie Dalton, Lunatic Entertainment and manager for Little Red; Damian Costin, Booking Agent, Premier Artists; Heidi Braithwaite, Riot House Publicity and manager for Will Stoker & The Embers; Will McLean, NAUSZ (music, touring, event management, fashion) and manager for The Galvatrons; and facilitated by Andrew Kitchen, Artist Development Project Coordinator, The Push.

BD: Bonnie Dalton, Lunatic Entertainment and manager for Little Red
DC: Damian Costin, Booking Agent, Premier Artists
HB: Heidi Braithwaite, Riot House Publicity and manager for Will Stoker & The Embers
WM: Will McLean, NAUSZ (music, touring, event management, fashion) and manager for The Galvatrons

WM – My name is Will McLean. I’m one of the director’s of the NAUSZ agency which specializes in developing fashion, music and creative types from a seedling stage to a level where they can either engage a commercial career or just do as they please as artists do.

BD – I’m Bonnie Dalton. I work for Lunatic Entertainment, I manage the band Little Red and also work with Gotye, Claire Bowditch and the Temper Trap, and we also work on the Laneway Festival. We’re also a booking agent for Holly Throsby and also for our acts Gotye and Claire, so artist management is the general day-to-day of my work, but also some music festival stuff and agency work.

HB – My name is Heidi Braithwaite. I own a company called Riot House, which is primarily publicity, but I also do a bit of management, until very recently, a week ago I think it was, I managed The Vasco Era and I currently manage a band from Perth called Will Stokers and the Embers. I do publicity for artists like Little Red, so I work with Bonnie, CW Stone King and Mick Thomas. I also do touring publicity for another company called Principle Entertainment.

DC – I’m Damian Costin. I work for Premier Artists and liaise with record companies, festival managers and managers, and represent bands like Muph ‘n’ Plutonic, The Galvatrons, Phrase, Sugar Army and a whole host of others. I formerly used to play in a band called Motorace for quite a while, and I’ve worked at radio like Nova and stuff as well.

MC – What does a good manager do?

WM – Every case scenario is different. Every creative person, in whatever genre they come to you, is hoping to develop or present something to the market place so you really have to take it on a case to case level. Every person is different, their sound is different, what direction they want to take, what instrument they play, how they write, so you really can’t say anything until you have the person in front of you and that’s when you start analyzing and developing with a person – once you understand what they want to achieve, and what their goal is.

BD – In an overly simplified list, of general day-to-day things that a manager would probably do; liaising with the booking agent (if there is one), booking shows themselves would probably be a big one, again obviously working constantly with the artist to work out what it is that they are wanting to do, and really you act as a buffer between all the other groups that that artists will work with, so whether it’s publicity, I deal with Heidi on a daily basis, if there’s publicity opportunities coming up, I’ll then go back to the band and find out which ones they’re interested in doing or maybe talk about the importance of doing some versus others and how that fits in our overall strategy that we’ve kind of worked out prior to that. There’s also really boring things like counting the merchandise, which is probably my most hated part of my job. Making sure as well that all the finances are kept under control – that’s not to say that you actually control them at a really macro level, or micro level yourself, because that’s really the bands responsibility in a lot of ways to actually oversee their own funds. But engaging a bookkeeper, in consultation with them, is a really good idea just to make sure that that’s all taken care of. That’s probably one of he biggest things, is managing the budgets of the band so that you can keep on doing the next thing that you want to do. It takes a lot of time and money to get anywhere initially, and so being really mindful of where all that money goes initially. You might play a few gigs, get paid $100 or $200. If you re-invest that back into the band, then you’ll actually have the opportunity down the track to maybe do a national support tour, where you are going to lose money, you know, do those things so, just kind of keeping that big picture all the time and helping make or making the decisions to keep that running is probably the key thing. But there’s lots of other stuff.

MC – Yeah, heaps of other stuff. In some ways it feels like quite an alignment of the moons for an artist that has a specific niche sound to then find a manager who either has that skill-set, or can learn fast enough, to match that and then also match them on a personality level. Because as you’ve already stated, it’s quite a relationship that develops and I guess after some time it has to become something that is quite instinctive. You know a manager can’t be running every single thing past the artist, there has to be a certain amount of “You know what, you tell me, which are the good gigs that you think I should be playing”.

BD – I think this is one of the great challenges. Working out where, you know. It’s going to be different for every band, artist and manager but, when do you go – “ok, you’re just going to do as you’re told and you’re just going to trust me – because I have your best interests in mind”. Then there are other bands that will just go, they want to know absolutely everything that you have planned for them and they have their own say about it as well. That’s a constant challenge I think, managing.

MC – That’s called high maintenance. Ok so, when you are, you know you’ve got 30-40 gigs behind you and you’re like, “We really need to step into that next level and need to work on getting some good supports and that sort of thing.” Damo, would you suggest actively pursuing a booking agent, or actively pursuing a manager? Which one do you think should come first? Or is there no hard and fast rule?

DC – It’s a tough one. I strongly suggest bands get involved in the scene and really figure it out for themselves, especially right at the start because you’ve got to know what you are talking about, you’ve got to know what you want. So getting really engrained in the scene, figuring it out for yourself, what you really want will be the best way that you want to do it. The DIY thing is a really good way to start out. Booking agents, from a booking perspective, like to find bands, especially when they want to go to the national level; you’re going to need help to get there, so that’s probably a good time. If you feel like you’ve conquered Melbourne to some degree, that you want to get out, you probably need a good booking agent, but I think that initially it’s a great time to figure it out for yourself, because a lot of people are happy to talk to you – you just have to pick up the phone and ask or email. It’s an easy way to get information for free.

BD – I think too, that sort of flows into what Heidi was saying about the difference with artists who either just want to hand everything over to a manager and not take any responsibility at all, versus the ones who actually have an understanding of what it is, what the decisions are that you are making, how that’s going to affect the overall big picture of what they’re trying to do. If you’ve actually done a lot of the groundwork yourself, even just at a really early level, then you at least understand what it is that is going on behind the scenes, and what the decisions are that your manager, or even your booking agent, are making for you and why they would be doing that.

AQ1 – I’m from a pretty young band and we’ve played over 100 shows, but I still have a lot of trouble being taken seriously when trying to book gigs at especially nightclubs like Bang, Next and Pogo. How would I go about getting taken more seriously? They look at the Myspace and stuff and they say, “Oh you know, these guys are 16 and 17 – I don’t think they could pull it off live.” How do we convince them that we can pull a crowd? How do we convince them, how do I get people to take us seriously when booking gigs?

DC – If you’re onto a really good thing, then people naturally gravitate towards you anyway. People will figure out that you are really good, if they sense, there tends to be something going on. Initially, straight away I think persistence is probably the best thing, keep going at it. If you give up, then it’s probably not the game for you. The music industry is tough as it is – but I think persistence, you’ve got to keep chipping away at it and eventually you’ll get to someone and you’ll get across the line. Persistence is the key – no doubt.

BD – I was going to say as well, if it’s mostly those kind of club gigs that you are having trouble being taken seriously for, maybe do some shows in other venues where you can prove to people that it is your crowd that are coming to see you if they’re sort of giving you the impression that they think those people would have come anyway. Maybe if you did even just one of the smaller venues around, like there’s so many great venues around Melbourne where you could show that, you know, “it was just us playing, there was no other attraction and this is how many people came,” and once you are able to say, “We’re good for a hundred, two hundred payers, even fifty payers, then at least that’s the kind of the message that will get through to those other promoters.

WM – And the other thing is, as Damo also pointed out, it’s about persistence. I mean – you mention Bang for instance, I mean, that’s a venue on a club night that’s full anyway, so in regards to yourself, you need to get in there and become part of that scene. Maybe one of the promoters there or the host or something, give them your CD, they take it home, listen to it in the car, they like it, they tell the guy that runs the night – BANG that’s how you might get the gig. You know, you’ve just got to try all those angles, as Damo said, persistence, then trying to know people, throw your own shows – which is always the best way to show anyone what you can do – get a dead room, put a show on, and then it also helps you work out where you are at. So, you know, just keep building it, I mean having a show, putting on a show and it’s empty, just gives you a reality of where you are at, so if you really want it as a career option, you are going to push hard and, you know, it’s a hard slog at the end of the day.

AQ2 – I’ve got a bit of a following as a solo artist, now I’m putting a band together, how important is it to keep my own name or get a band name and start afresh?

DC – If you have a fantastic band, it’s great to give them ‘kudos’ by giving them a name as well. If you’ve got a fantastic band, and they come to shows and there’s no money in it for them and they’re really hard workers, it’s great to give them ‘kudos’ by naming them.

HB – Yeah, I totally agree. I mean, that’s the band that I manage – Will Stoker & the Embers. That’s Will, who has decided that he wants to credit his band, like if I had my way, I’d just say “No, it’s Will Stokers”, it’s just easier, it’s shorter, doesn’t take up so much space and stuff, but you know, he wants to credit his band and that’s fair enough.

BD – It also depends on how the band is going to work, for instance with Claire Bowditch & the Feeding Set, she’s the artist and she writes the songs, but she performs, well up until recently, she’s been performing them with the Feeding Set, now however on her last tour she just went out as Claire Bowditch. You could do that because that name was already out there and already well known, so although we took ‘The Feeding Set’ off the posters, people already kind of knew what to expect and who it was that they’d be seeing. I guess it depends on if you are totally moving direction, and you are going to be more of this ‘band’, then I’d probably say “get a band name”, but if it’s more that you are just wanting to credit the other players that will be on stage with you, then maybe think about using the two names.

WM – It’s definitely a massive decision to make, whether you stay a solo artist or become a band as a collective. If you’re a singer/songwriter, as you were saying, if you’ve got your name and you still see yourself doing this in 15 years, with a band as a collective, once that collective ends – for whatever reason, the name goes and you’re starting again. So if you’re a singer/songwriter, you write all your songs, and you’ve got aspirations to be singing for the rest of your life, I’d probably try and keep your primary branding – which is your name, or whatever you come up with. Otherwise you’ve done a lot of work, it ceases to exist and you’ve got to start again.

AQ3 – I’m a guitarist from a young Melbourne band, and you were talking earlier about the venues that you would use to set your own name. When you can just get into the room, fill it with people that you know or who like your music, what are some, can you rattle off some of the venues just around town that are renowned or have a good track record of sort of starting that off?

BD – I’d have to say The Tote.

DC – Yeah The Tote, The Tote is a great one, and Ding Dong Lounge.

WM – The Evelyn.

MC – Do Revolver do a few weeknight gigs?

WM – Revolver front room? But any pub, if people are listening to what you are doing and there’s a vibe – they’ll come, so long as you’re not doing it three hours out of town.

BD – It’s always going to be difficult and you are going to have to convince people. If you can start off in the really little rooms and then build up a bit of a following, those ones like Old Bar and Bar Open are good because in that sort of three block radius, and the Birmingham as well, then you can easily move up to maybe an Evelyn, and you’ll still keep that same kind of crowd, they don’t have to move too far away from where they’re used to seeing you, and you can start building it up.

DC – A really good trick is to start early week. If you can get a Tuesday or a Wednesday, and prove to the booker, there at the venue, that you can pack out a Tuesday or a Wednesday, and say, “Hey, can we come back in 8 weeks, and do a Thursday?” for example, it’s a great way to, especially mid week because there’s a lot of pressure on for bookers to fill the room constantly, so if you can do it early-mid week, they’ll probably give you a chance later on in the week further down the track.

WM – Yeah, the other angle is to approach like-minded artists that are probably a bit further ahead of you in their careers, and approach the management or the artists themselves and try and get on a support. Go on at 5:30pm that evening, or whatever, just so that you are aligned with what you are looking to achieve and the audience that you want to get.

AQ4 – When you’re looking at a support for your band, I often see that you put on your own bands that are up-and-coming. You’ve got an artist who is maybe a bit further ahead than the other and you put your own acts on, it’s very difficult for me, I’m finding, to infiltrate that. Like you’ve got your own list of things and I was just wondering when you are looking for a booker, should you find someone with similar acts, so you can benefit from that sort of thing, or are you better off going to somebody with a smaller amount of artists or somebody like Premier who have got a heap and you’re likely to get in on more?

MC – I reckon that the rule of thumb answer to that would be, you need to find someone who is passionate about you as a player. And no matter how busy they are, if they are truly passionate and you might get picked up by somebody who is completely in a foreign field, but they are wanting to branch out as an agent and get new networks and that kind of thing, and they might be like, “This guy is my guinea pig and I’m really going to get behind him.” I just reckon that it all just gets back to passion to me.

DC – A lot of the time as an agent, I get told by some of my larger acts, “We want to do – on our bill,” because it’s important for them to represent a certain thing that they do and they don’t just want any Joe Blow. We’re under instruction a lot of the time, but a lot of the time we have influence as well, so it’s a 50-50 thing. I would suggest if there are artists out there that you really want to play with, go and meet them, go and shake their hands, give them your stuff, talk to their manager.

WM – Because at the end of the day, we all answer to the artist.

DC – Yeah, a lot of the time. But I just think, actually going to a show and giving it to them, and saying, “Hey, I’m over here, love to play with you, give me a chance.” And a lot of the time those artists will take a CD home.

AQ5 – How do you go about finding a good manager for an artist?

BD – It’s kind of like the agent question.

MC – Someone who is passionate.

HB – They find you most of the time. That’s how I’ve found the band that I’m managing now. I saw them and felt like they needed to be exposed to a wider audience.

MC – It’s building your team stuff isn’t it? As an artist developing your thing, getting it rolling, then yeah, people might say, “I’d like to help you out with your bookings,” but it actually means, “I want to be part of this team – let’s build something. I can see my role in this.”

WM – We have to weigh up how much commitment we have to make to develop you to the point where you might actually make us some money. If you come to us, you’re organized, you’ve already got your revenue streams in place, everything’s just there, it just needs a chip under the bonnet and throw it down the freeway and it will get there, I mean, that’s a massive thing for you guys to look at. Get yourselves organized, try and be your own manager for as long as possible, because also we then respect the fact that you understand what we do.

MC – When you are starting out, even perhaps when you are within your first 50 gigs, myself as an artist, found it difficult to say no to any gig that came up. But obviously there is a time to start going, “You know what, no … that’s not right for us.” What are the things you should look out for as an artist, for when you should actually start saying no? Does that make sense?

DC – I think there’s a case of bands doing too much, especially in the Melbourne scene – it’s really easy to over-expose yourself by doing too many shows in one week. I think that there is a bit of a sense that as many shows that you do, the better you’ll do. I think it’s certainly the case for me where bands, when they should play, it should be about events to make them as big as they can. So by that I mean, it’s great to get supports where you can, it’s fantastic, they’re always added bonuses, but when you’re doing your own stuff, it’s great to promote and have usually 8 weeks, or 10 weeks between shows and make them events and tell as many people. That’s a great way to send a message so you’re not over-exposing yourself.

BD – I think that it’s probably fine to do that initial play everywhere you possibly can, up until the point where you can have your own shows, and then once you start doing that, then you need to start working out what makes sense. So if you are going to have your own show, and you’re going to promote your own show as a headliner, then if you turn around 5 minutes later and play Pony at 2am, it doesn’t, and that wasn’t anything against Pony, it’s a pertinent example because Little Red constantly ask me if they can do Pony at 2am and I tell them, “I don’t think that makes very much sense because you guys just sold out three Corner Hotels”. I think playing a lot of shows is really great, but you want to have a killer live show, and playing a lot of times is a really great way. – And playing in front of a lot of different live audiences, so that you can read a room and know whether people are loving it. If people seem a bit disinterested, you still play a great show, those are the things that playing a lot of times is really going to help with. But then you get to a point where if you want people to come as Damian was saying to your headline show and event, even if it’s just Bar Open, which isn’t very big, then you need to give them a reason to see you that night and not any of the other seven nights of the week that you might be playing somewhere else.

AQ6 – What are some things that you like to see from bands that you are actually interested or considering managing – to make you further interested in managing them?

HB – Just constantly staying in touch and showing that you have a plan for the future, long term goals, rather than just going “Oh, we’re just going to play some gigs, and, you know, see how it goes,” or whatever. I think one of the things that did it for me with managing Will as well was that he just said, ‘I just want to see how far I can take it, basically I want to go as far as I can.’ We kind of thought he might of gone, ‘I just want to stay on an Indie level, you know, keep it kind of cool and under-ground,’ but he was like, ‘I don’t care, I’m willing to do anything go as far as I can,’ and that was kind of like, ‘Great, he’s got a future then.’

BD – I think that’s similar with Little Red, just seeing that ambition, and really seeing, you know, as well as having conversations with bands who while they’ve been managing things themselves, have recognised the need for a manager. If you get that kind of impression that there will be that trust, that Heidi was talking about before, so that you will be able to work together, and just kind of have those conversations as well, about how you both see your roles. But yeah, really I think seeing that ambition, and seeing that people are out there doing things for themselves already, and then you’ll be able to actually help them with that, and that you’ve both got a similar idea of getting all the way or whatever it is.

WM – Realistically we listen to what you’ve got, we look at you then we look at how organized you are. As the girls were saying, it’s just about your interaction with us – keep the persistence up, be professional, just keep pushing – be passionate, because at the end of the day, that’s what crosses the line – passion.

DC – I think if you’re doing something really well, people, as I said, will come to you and it’s really important that you know that. If you’re different, and you’re really exciting for whatever genre you’re doing, people will gravitate towards that and I’ll be as interested as anyone else on this panel.

MC – I also think that no one person is going to be your key to the music industry, so I would just encourage you to continue networking, because what if that one person that you do have some sort of line of communication with hears from somewhere else ‘Hey have you heard of _____?’ ‘Yeah look, I’ve been meaning to get back to them.’ Continue networking – that’s what I encourage you to do.

WM – With The Galvatrons, it’s quite unique because I’ve been working with Johnny Galvatron as a solo artist for about three years. In that time, he was quite young, I sort of sat back and said to him, ‘Work out what you want to do.’ I threw him through all my networks, which was, I’ve run nightclubs for 15 years, I’ve got tour circuits I run nationally, Triple J Presents and so forth. So it was an ideal situation where because he was a rock’n’roll kid from Geelong, I threw him into the dance scene to get that cross over and get him understanding where the market, especially in Australia was heading – I mean look at The Presets. At that time he came to the decision, through watching 80’s films he wanted to do this sort of epic stadium rock band. I said, ‘Great let’s do it’ … he wrote 4 songs, I took him to Josh Abrahams to produce it and the rest is history. Like I said – everything’s different, every person you meet is going to have a different destiny and you have to take it on face value and work out what your product is and what you want to do. I hate to use the work ‘product’ with this artist stuff, but at the end of the day, it’s what you’re actually presenting. And the rest is, sort of, history – they’re doing really well. And he got the band in and someone asked about staying solo, originally he looked at ‘Johnny and The Galvatrons’ but they collectively decided that for the well being of the band that they would make it a collective, became a company. It’s going well.

AQ7 – How much does style, or how you look have to do with the actual band who actually think, or take that into account, when you see a band play, or does it really matter, or is it just about the music.

BD – I think its part of an overall package – it’s the overall act. I mean if you’ve got a band that sound fantastic but you go and see them and they just look they are five different people who have come in off the street, you want to see an act on stage that look great, and that’s mostly about performance. But it’s very hard to say – I’ve seen bands who actually have no style whatsoever, but they’re absolutely unreal.

HB – It depends on the band, like it does work for Little Red, someone like, I don’t know like The Birthday Party or The Boys Next Door, none of them matched each other at all. They’re all freaks from all different areas, but that suited that style of music.

AQ8 – I know that some venues sort of say ‘This is what we pay for your support, or to do a gig, but then there’s other ones that sort of ask you ‘Well how much do you charge for your band or your solo performance or whatever?’ What’s a rip-off and what’s not? I guess is what I’m saying. Where are you ripping yourself off?

DC – If you were to play, for example, Ding Dong on a Wednesday night, they call it a $6 night – the venue takes a dollar. If you think that you are good for say 100 people, then you get $500 for the 100 people that you bring in. That’s kind of what is a great sort of indicative mark of what you can earn, but I think, if you were to take your crowd somewhere else and someone was to pay you, you could say, ‘Well listen I brought 100 people to your venue and we got $500.’ It’s hard to say, but it’s kind of a good measure of saying, ‘You know listen, we’re good for $500 to bring people through the door,’ but then for the venue owners – it’s all about the bar.

BD – There’s also, if you’re doing supports, it will seem like you are getting ripped off for a very long time, and that’s just something that I can’t see changing, because all the bands who have been ripped off in the past then do their own tour and try and actually cover some of their costs and so they, as much as they would want to, can’t necessarily pay what they would have hoped to have got when they were in a support position. I think it will feel like you get ripped off for a while, but I don’t know how else to explain it. It galls me to my very core.

WM – It’s investment.