June 28th, 2010

Manager Spotlight // Ian Wheeler

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‘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 with Brian Wiliamswye_oak-
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.

Deer Tick – Sink Or Swim
Wye Oak – Siamese

June 25th, 2010

Artist To Watch // Lord Huron

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Lord Huron
Hometown: Los Angeles, California
Album: Into the Sun EP (Buy)
Label: Unsigned
Lord Huron – The Problem With Your Daughter

Link to Vimeo Page

June 18th, 2010

Manager Spotlight // Jay Steele


‘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 Jay Steele, Director of Shipping and Receiving for New West Records in Athens, Georgia, and manager of Futurebirds.

Image – Alyssa DeHayes

R&G: How did you get your start in the music business?

Jay: I started out interning at American Songwriter Magazine in Nashville. I pretended I knew about music and journalism and eventually secured a regular gig writing for the magazine. After deciding that I didn’t see myself as a full-time music journalist, I set about getting involved in as many music industry outlets as I possibly could. I hit the road with the Ice Cream Man and interned at Merge Records and the Progressive Global Agency. I then went on tour with Dead Confederate. I also worked as a doorman at Local 506 in Chapel Hill. I now work in Athens, GA, at New West Records and manage Futurebirds.

R&G: What advice would you give to aspiring managers?

Jay: Find a band that you really care about and really believe in. This is obviously very much easier said than done, but it’s important. Focus your efforts on one band. If in the beginning you spread yourself too thin, you won’t be nearly as effective. Try to learn as much as you possibly can about the industry before you start managing. There will still be a lot that you learn on the fly, but it helps to have some idea of what you are doing before you tell a band you will help them out. I suggest finding a mentor. It’s important to create strong relationships with other industry folks. Also, don’t give up if you lose an artist or potential artist. The first artist I tried to manage was Chaz Bundick aka Toro Y Moi. That was back in 2006 when no one knew who he was and I had no idea what I was doing. We were very close to working together before he realized I was totally clueless at the time. Needless to say it worked out for him without me, and I’m more than happy with my current situation.

R&G: If I had known then what I know now, I would have….

Jay: …studied more in college so I could have gotten into the business school at UNC and pursued a career in finance. Right. I would have tried to learn more about the nuts and bolts and day to day operations a manager deals with in the music industry. Most everyone can think of the big picture ideas; if you slack on the details the big picture ideas will never turn out exactly as planned. Trust me: I’ve learned this the hard way on a couple of occasions. You’ve got to know how to lay the foundation and it’s a notion that I am still figuring out on the fly.

R&G: How important are social media sites like Myspace, Facebook, Twitter and music blogs in promoting your acts?

Jay: I think Twitter and Facebook are the most important social networking sites now. They are a great way to maintain the attention of your fans. Artistdata is an awesome site to help you keep all of your social networking outlets on the same page. In my opinion, MySpace has lost a lot of steam. Someone just helped me set up our Bandpage feature on Facebook. It’s just one of many applications that I think could spell the end for MySpace Music.

Music blogs are obviously tremendously important. Blogs like Aquarium Drunkard, Rollo & Grady, HearYa and Harmon Drive have championed Futurebirds since the early days, providing the band with really great exposure. After they started writing about the EP, the Bandcamp downloads and sales jumped significantly.

R&G: Most interesting or humorous situation you’ve dealt with as a manager?

Jay: Hard to say. Nine shows in four days during the band’s first trip to SXSW was a test. There were more than a few adverse situations that the dudes handled very well. The house party they played the last night is a perfect example. The cops showed up as the second band finished playing outside and told us to shut it down. It was Futurebirds’ ninth show in four days. The band was exhausted and we could’ve very easily packed up and headed home. Instead, we cleaned out a twelve by twelve breakfast room and set the band up. There were probably fifty people in this tiny house. People were watching from the kitchen and the living room. There was barely space to breathe. The only light came from a colored projector and the occasional camera flash. No one there will ever forget that show. Folks were blown away.

R&G: Blackberry or iPhone?

Jay: Right now I’ve got a flip phone. The front screen is cracked. Verizon doesn’t support the iPhone. I’m thinking about bringing back Morse code.

MP3: Futurebirds – Megachills
MP3: Futurebirds – Johnny Utah
MP3: Futurebirds – Dirty D

Manager Spotlight // Jay Steele