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. 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.
Dear Not Chumbawumba,
This is kind of just one problem seemingly masquarading 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, helps implement it, does the business-side dirty work and looks out for your interests and ultimately tries to get money in your pockets and keep it there. I have known and worked with managers like this, who sometimes struggle with helping a band up the manager's version of the ladder of success.
He may be more interested in you doing legit shows and legit tours because it's ultimately going to provide more money to him, 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? LETS 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?
You are between albums, which is a good place to try and shop for new representation. When you meet with folks you need to be able to give them your top three goals. Make plain that you want to work with likeminded folks who are rooted in a DIY ethos but can be fluid and creative in the ways of getting there; do not bitch about the manager–it's a bad look, just say you were not the right match. You are a band that has a track record of resourcefulness and hard work, which makes you a better prospect. Don't be afraid of working with someone who only has a couple bands that are your size or bigger. There are plenty of managers out there that would be delighted to work with a band that isn't shooting for major label stardom in 2013.
OR! Say “fuck it,” save 15% of your income, pair up with a booking agent who does house shows and bars, manage your own hustle, only issue your recordings digitally, and skirt this hassle entirely. If you cannot think of a compelling reason why you need a manager maybe you just peace this dude out, delegate management duties between the members of the band and then you are only beholden to your own best/worst judgement. If you need a little extra help babysitting your career, hire an intern for $12/hour.
All my best,