‘Manager Spotlight’ is a recurring feature on Rollo & Grady in which we speak with rising stars in the music management business. This week we caught up with Ian Wheeler of indie outlaw management in Brooklyn, New York. His clients include Deer Tick, Wye Oak, and MG&V. In addition to running indie outlaw, Ian is also co-owner of Partisan Records, home to Paleo, Mountain Man, Holy Sons, Delorean, JBM, and Deer Tick. Wheeler is also co-president of Knitting Factory Records.
Deer Tick (l) and Wye Oak (r)
R&G: How did you get your start in the music business?
Ian: I played in a bunch of rockabilly and bluegrass bands as a kid and in college. At a certain point I realized that the musical talents of others were much greater than my own and I naturally developed an interest and passion for helping those folks out. I managed some bands in the South and put out some records through my first label/management company, indie outlaw. Eventually I felt like I wasn’t getting enough first-hand experience and I ‘moved’ to NYC— crashing at a friend’s place. I got a job teaching sailing in NYC and quickly lucked into an internship at Rough Trade Records as it was being sold to World’s Fair. It was myself and one other person, and there was plenty of experience to be had there. From there, I became a publicist for a couple of years before going independent with my management company and also starting Partisan Records with my business partner Tim Putnam— who I am obligated to tell you is the greatest business partner in the world as well as my best friend.
R&G: What advice would you give to aspiring managers?
Ian: The only way to learn how to manage is to actually do it. The majority of the job really comes down to dealing with various personalities, and the only way to learn that is by experience. Pick up a client, learn how to read them. Spend a lot of time with other industry folks; learn how to read them as well.
R&G: If I had known then what I know now, I would….
Ian: I actually ask myself this question a lot after a few glasses of wine and the consistent answer is that I don’t think I’d change a thing. I know it’s a cliché, but I’ve really made a point to learn from every fuck-up that I’ve made… and there have been quite a few. Ultimately I feel like those lessons are the best, because the terrible feelings that come with screwing up badly condition us to never make the same mistake again. Maybe that’s a bit dramatic, but learning from mistakes is something that I hold in high regard. I also really make a point for our staff here to value that. I really want all of us to be improving together every day.
R&G: How important are social media sites like Myspace, Facebook, Twitter and music blogs in promoting your acts?
Ian: Extremely. Those sites serve as a direct connection between the bands and the fans, which is increasingly important as the world’s population explodes and the number of bands on this planet does alongside it. Fans increasingly want to feel like they’re part of something, and they need to be treated as such. MySpace has become a wasteland, but Twitter and Facebook are fairly spam-free still and, if handled properly, fans can get a really personal experience— especially Twitter… People can have a very intimate relationship with the artist, all the way down to the minutia of what they’re eating for lunch. As silly as it may seem, fans really enjoy that connection— increasingly so in an atmosphere where the “mainstream” big commercial stuff is becoming more homogenized. The bands that really have lasting power are the ones that have dedicated fans who will buy every record, t-shirt, beer koozie, concert ticket, etc. that they can get their hands on. It takes a lot of work to win a fan over to that degree, and social media is really the only means of achieving that right now. Music blogs have been a major force for a long time. They break indie bands and are really the gatekeepers at this point.
R&G: Most interesting or humorous situation you’ve dealt with as a manager?
Ian: Well, managing Deer Tick, there are quite a few stories… Not too many appropriate for this forum though. Newport Folk Fest was a really big moment. There’s so much history there… That’s where Dylan went electric and where Cash, Dylan, Joan Baez, and Jack Elliot traded tunes in a motel room. There’s a really mythical quality to the thing. George Wein, the original promoter, is still really heavily involved and there was some debate over which stage Deer Tick should play. Newport is local for Deer Tick so we had a feeling that there would be a nice crowd, but it wasn’t worth pissing off George, so we settled on the smaller stage. As soon as Deer Tick started, the tent was way over capacity and the festival had to bring in extra security in a bit of a panic. It was really overwhelming seeing Deer Tick up onstage at Newport with all of this event staff swarming in to try and keep things under control. We all just stood at the side of the stage with our arms folded, beaming with pride. The band didn’t flinch… I think the chaos got them even more fired up to play a great set. Deer Tick also made a “How’s My Driving?” bumper sticker once with my business partner’s cell phone on it, and it was a real treat watching him field all of those calls. Also, the first time I ever saw Wye Oak was really special. My brain couldn’t really comprehend how Andy could play keys and drums at the same time, and seeing Jenn for the first time felt like watching an “Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere” era Neil Young, but female, of course. I really love the moments when a band steps onstage and just totally takes control of the audience… Everyone leaves the show with the exact same feeling. Jenn and Andy from Wye Oak are masters of it.
R&G: Blackberry or iPhone?
Ian: iPhone. I like pretty things.