I'm often asked what advice I have for young musicians. Sometimes I merely quip "Don’t quit your day job," half-kidding, though more commonly I've delivered a variant on "If you are even questioning that music is the main purpose of your life, then you should just forget it, because it doesn’t get easier; it gets harder."
More recently, however, a simpler, more straightforward answer struck me.
I have read more biographies of musicians than I can count. Coupled with my own experience in the music business, these biographies have convinced me of one thing: no band makes it without a manager. Not just any manager, mind you – the manager in question needs to be at least as visionary, as enthused and dedicated, and as willing to go to the wall as the artists are.
Though they may not be playing an instrument on stage, these managers are an essential part of the band. They struggle with and for the artists. And ultimately, if they've done their jobs right, they get ditched when their band is ready to make the step from regional to national success.
In Buffalo, we've seen this scenario play out often over the years. The Goo Goo Dolls had Artie Kwitchoff at the beginning. Ani DiFranco benefited greatly from the tutelage and support of the late Michael Meldrum and, later on, Scot Fisher. Moe. had Jon Topper. The Restless had Bruce Moser and Doug Dombrowski of Could Be Wild Promotions. Aqueous had Josh Holtzman.
All of the above contributed immensely to the success of their artists. In the case of Topper and Moe., the relationship endured for 25 years, during which time Moe. became one of the leading lights of the jam-band scene.
I have some firsthand experience with this. The Tails, the group I played guitar with from 1989 through 2000, claimed Ron Eggleton as band manager for most of that time. Eggleton was brilliant, creative, hilarious, and as dedicated to the band and its music as any of the rest of us.
When we lost him to new artistic adventures in the late '90s, we never really recovered. Ron did so much more on a day-to-day basis to keep the dream alive than we, in our rather rabid focus on music-making, weekend touring and beer-drinking, realized. It was a tough lesson.
Musicians are not necessarily the best when it comes to disciplined organization, despite the fact that the rise of the internet and the demise of the traditional music business has meant that the "DIY" ethic is alive and well – sometimes for better, often for worse.
These days, everyone is their own record producer, publicist, and in many cases, road manager and booking agent. I respect people who wear this many hats. But I don’t envy them. And I wonder when they find the time to work on their songwriting, their musicianship, and whatever interpersonal relationships they've managed to assemble and maintain.
Tour routing alone is a nightmare, and in an ideal world, one full-time person would handle it. The fact that you are a totally sick dude as a guitarist does not mean that you will be able to route a tour in a fashion that doesn’t make your band- and van-mates want to beat you unconscious and leave you by the side of the road in the middle of Ohio.
Promoters and club owners, despite what they may claim to the contrary, are less inclined to book a relatively unknown band if one of the band members is the one doing the cold-calling. They'll take you far more seriously if you have a manager calling on your behalf. Getting your band into, say, the summer festival circuit is probably not something that you are going to be able to do yourself. Your manager should handle that. If that person has built some sort of reputation in the business, he or she will hook you up with a booking agent.
I don't care how many YouTube plays or Instagram likes you've got. You just can’t do this on your own.
Don’t believe me? Ask Pearl Jam and Kelly Curtis, U2 and Paul McGuinness, Bruce Springsteen and Jon Landau, or moe. and Topper.
It's true that every artist and band in the early stages of their career in the current climate is, by definition, an independent artist. But you can’t really go it entirely alone. You need someone to ride the river with you who has just as much to gain or lose as you do.