The Manager’s Corner- May

| May 4, 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.

D is for dysfunctional. Do you have a member of your band that is taking all the fun out of dysfunctional? Are you so pissed at somebody in your group because he/she is being such a butthead that you are spending the entire drive home after the gig having a conversation with your windshield? Does that conversation last into the middle of the following week? If the answer to one or more of these questions is “hell yes” then you may have a problem that you can no longer avoid. It is not only the elephant in the room – that elephant is standing on your toes. So what the heck ya gonna’ do Vern?

This happens to young bands starting out and to incredibly successful bands. Take Colorado’s own Churchill. Here was a band headed for major breakthrough success and because of interpersonal relationship difficulties – poof – they broke up. There are a number of reasons that this happens in each case but what can be done to evaluate the problem and solve it before it gets ugly? What are the best steps you can take to bring about the best outcome for a crappy situation?

First, prepare for the worst and work for the best. Once you have a project that you feel really passionate that everybody seems to share the same degree of commitment to – and the hard work necessary – make a simple band agreement. It should cover four basic topics: 1) who owns the name and the brand that you are creating and what happens to that name if a “key person” leaves 2) how you will organize the project, one-person one-vote or a benevolent dictatorship – are your decisions made unanimously or just by majority, how are people hired and fired 3) how the content you make is owned (songs, recordings, videos etc.), 4) how you will do your day to day business, meetings, rehearsals, division of money from gigs and merch, who will do what work (division of labor) and if one person is doing a majority (or all) of the “daily business” how will they be compensated? These are very big broad-brush questions but if you have this as a signed document (by-laws if you will) that you will live by – then if somebody “goes postal” you have some structure to use in dealing with the problem.

Don’t try and write this in “legal” language. You are not lawyers (thank goodness). Write it in simple straightforward sentences. Example: “We the members of Band-X agree that the name is owned by all 5 of us. If any one member leaves the name can stay with the remaining majority. If the band breaks up completely, no one member will have the right to use the name. All members will have the right to be known as “formerly of Band-X.” The members of Band-X agree that we are an equal democracy when it comes to business decisions. We all agree that major decisions will be made through a majority vote. We further agree that one person will be the designated “leader” and spokes person for the band through a band-vote. That person shall serve in that position until he/she decides to resign and then the band will elect a new leader from within. The leader shall have the right to call for and set rehearsal times and places, book gigs, negotiate deals on behalf of the band etc. ……. All songs written as collaborations with the other band members shall be considered jointly owned and any profit from their use via publishing shall result in the band sharing in the royalties equally. The band and not any one individual in the group will own all recordings made by and with the band. Any band-member who brings in a song written solely by that member shall retain any and all ownership. The elected bandleader will organize meetings, rehearsals, gigs and recording sessions. Should any one member, including the elected bandleader become adversely effected by drugs, alcohol, ego or become a total pain in the ass, the majority will have the right to confront that individual and search for a remedy. Should the remedies prove unsuccessful the band has the right to vote the offending member off the island.” This is a very rough example – but if you have this much in place you could take it to an entertainment attorney who could turn this information into a legal document like and LLC agreement or a partnership.

OK, so what if it’s too late to do this step, you are totally in it and you have nothing written down as an agreement – what do you do if the wheels come off the bus? There are any number of ways to approach this but I start by asking my students what they think is more important – sanity or the problem? We as humans get so involved in our own drama that we forget the basic gift we have everyday we wake up. This band, this project, no matter how great, is not the most important thing that happened today. As trite or Polly Anna as it seems – the fact that you are reading this means that you are alive and kicking. You only have about 650,000 hours on the planet and submerging into a morass of stress and tension is just times wasted … and lost. So do whatever it is you do to give yourself space away from the drama of the problem: take a hike, ride a bike, write a song, play a video game, just get away from the person who is taking the “fun” out of dysfunctional. If you are out on the road with that person it can be pretty hard. My cellphone has an entire library of audio books that can take me anywhere from Cuba to a Louisiana swamp in a matter of moments (with a good set of headphones.)

Then, when the ass in the group is sober or straight or not so filled with their own ego that they cannot be reached – take him or her aside and make it very clear what you are willing and not willing to do. Example: “Look Jane, I am willing to help you with this problem you are having with drinking too much (or screaming at the road crew – or whatever it is) but only if you are willing to meet me halfway. If not then either I will leave the band for my own sanity or the band will ask you to leave for the good of the project.” Don’t do this in public. Don’t “ambush” them (three or more people attacking them). It should be one on one and at the most one on one with the support of one other person. And you damn well must be prepared to take the action you are discussing – – leaving the project or you have talked with the others to make sure everybody is on the same page to let the destructive person go. These are drastic measures. But sometimes these are serious situations involving the safety, reputation and even lives of the other members of the project.

Last, a note on democracy. Winston Churchill said, “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.” In bands it is probably the hardest way to conduct business. For that reason I strongly suggest you delegate tasks to the people who excel at those tasks. Respect their talent. And if you decide not to take their advice or disagree with what is being proposed – remember that you all appointed that person your representative for that area of business or arrangements or production or road management…whatever. Let them know in a fair and honest way that you disagree while respecting their talent or expertise.

Projects are never easy. The way that I have kept mine together for 31 years is simple. It’s a benevolent dictatorship but everybody is involved in make the decisions. We split our money fairly, we all help with load in and load out, when the gig sucks we all put our shoulders to the wheel and get through it, we laugh a lot at the stupid shit in this business, at ourselves and at the amount of repetition – “same shit, different day.” We all know that the best days are shared by all of us, and so are the worst. We listen, we try and help any person in our little band of brothers that is hurting and, as silly as it sounds, we love each other and the music we play. That is the prize. And we always keep our eyes on the prize.

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Category: Shop Talk

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