The Manager’s Corner- June

| June 1, 2015


by Chris Daniels

I’ve managed my own band for 31 years and I’m in the Colorado Music Hall of Fame. All that’s nice but today’s music business is changing at light-speed and you have to be more engaged in the ‘biz’ than ever. Some things have not changed, careers are still built on some tried and true elements: great music, performance and timing. But today’s artists must work harder than ever to succeed. The good news is that we have new tools to help young musicians grow their fan base. The book I wrote for the course I teach at CU Denver on artist management is called “DIY: You’re Not in it Alone.” While you are ultimately responsible for your own career, these days it’s essential to make the most of all the help that is offered along the way.

International touring. It’s weird but for some reason Colorado artists have garnered the interest of fans outside our little borders in Asia and the Pacific Rim, and in Europe. While I have been part of negotiations for Asian tours I’ve not been, but I am writing this month’s column from a hotel an Haarlem, The Netherlands (and no that is not a misspelling – that is the way the Dutch spell it.

First, how do you get there? In the old days you needed to get signed to a record company who was willing to distribute and promote your album in a region like Western Europe or you had to find an “anchor date” – usually one major festival that supported multiple dates around that show. The former has been replaced by YouTube, SoundCloud, ReverbNation and a slew of other internet outlets that make it possible for American acts to get an audience, or at least a promoter, interested in your music. For argument sake, let’s assume that you have a killer live act and you have garnered the excitement of a booking agency, promoter, festival, label or other entity that is going to bring you to a foreign country. The first thing you will be looking for is an “anchor date.”

An anchor date is the one that pays enough to cover your basic costs. Cheap airfare to Europe in non-peak times (peak is late May to mid September) will run you about $1,000 on IcelandAir – the current cheapest way to go. That means your anchor date needs to pay your five-piece band $5,000 plus rooms plus backline just to go over and play and not make any money. (That’s about 4,500 Euros). Then you will want to find an agent (the festival or anchor date should help you with this) that can get you some other gigs in the country that do not compete with their show…and hopefully some TV and radio appearances too. The important thing to know about your backline is that you are not going to get the exact drum set, amp, or keyboard you are used to so – get over it – and figure out how to perform with what you get. Remember Europe runs on DC current so bring a converter for your effects.

Speaking of all that – now it’s time for your survival guide. You have three main responsibilities (1) putting on the most killer show you can for your new overseas fans (2) surviving and thriving both mentally and physically (3) figure out what the hell is going on around you and support the effort – don’t bring a “it’s not my problem” attitude on the road, especially overseas – contribute or get off the fucking bus.

In order to put on the best show possible you need to know what the audience is looking for and — that they are different than your normal Lion’s Lair crowd – and also not that much different. If your song, “Big Ass Fool” is the number one song in Colorado but the one that everybody in Europe is listening to is “Mink Farm,” then for god’s sake build your show around ramping up to that song – making the most of the drama in your set that features that vibe. Have t-shirts made with “Mink farm” – whatever – play to your audience. If the promoter gives you 75 min – then do the best 75 min you’ve got and leave out the power ballad – unless “Mink Farm” is your power ballad… play to your audience. And last but not least, don’t do covers of modern songs the way you might in a Colorado set – play your original tunes – that is what your fans want and in Europe they are kind of put-off by the cover – unless it is obscure and you do a killer job – (see Anne Lenox doing “I Put A Spell On You.”)

Survival, mental and physical: Jetlag is real. Google it. Deal with it. Drink lots of water because that helps. Don’t drink a butt-load of Jägermeister because that doesn’t help. Figure out what you need to travel with to keep yourself healthy in body and in mind. If that is audio books and motion sickness pills – prepare yourself. If that is movies on your iPhone or tablet, get those too. Get the things that make you feel safe and comfortable in any circumstance and you will do well. Make a copy of your passport – every gig will need a copy of that document – figure on getting lost because there are six-million letters in the Danish name for the town you are playing and none of them is a vowel, leave extra time, stay focused. You are there for a reason – performing great music – and if you are physically sick and pissed off, chances are you are not going to make anybody happy. Take your vitamins and any medication you need plus prescriptions in case you lose or leave things in hotels. Take your health records if it’s relevant. If you have a 15 day run with no break, don’t stay out all night in Amsterdam smoking pot, you can do that in Denver when you get home. Just be smart, you should care enough about your fans and your band mates to do that.

Foreign touring is hard, strange food, the hotels are different, most Americans don’t speak foreign languages and a hundred other things make it difficult to function day to day including missing your loved ones a long way away. But attitude will get you through it. Example: I woke up this morning and I had hours before “lobby call” (when everybody meets in the lobby to go to sound check) so instead of sitting on my ass in the hotel room watching bad reruns of “Two and A Half Men” I went out and found the United Press International exhibit in a church just off Dam Square. It was powerful, sad, and heartrending but it made me get on the bus with a new appreciation of how flippin lucky I was to be playing music for people. That is what I’m talking about. Find ways to inspire yourself to blow your fans’ minds with great music, and to help your fellow band mates and crew. If there is shit going on around you all, dig in and help. Your music will grow tighter and your energy will be better on stage.

Last but not least, borders. Don’t screw around with these. Anytime you cross a border into a new country, whether it is controlled (like going from Germany into Switzerland or Switzerland into Italy, or even if it is not controlled like going from Denmark to Germany. Know what the rules are. For example, the Germans take the autobahn very seriously with cameras and motorcycle cops and some cars that will do almost 200 mph. And if you are dumb enough to put your 100 kilometer bus in the left lane trying to pass the Saab convertible to check out the beautiful Swedish blonde, you may cause a serious accident when a supercharged Porsche climbs into your smoking room in the back of the bus – or you might get a 250 Euro ticket from the “green police.” Similarly, The Netherlands controls all their highways with cameras so if you are speeding you will get a very nice expensive ticket in the mail… they know where you live!

International touring is wonderful. You meet amazing people, friends for life, you exchange ideas, music, food, wine and much more. You get to see your own country through completely different eyes. And if you are smart and healthy, you can have a blast, memories for life. And if you are stupid and stoned all the time and a pain in the ass, you won’t remember any of it – but they will remember you – and not in the way you want to be remembered. Oh, and for god’s sake learn some words in the language of countries you are going to visit.


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Category: Shop Talk

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