Manager or Musician? The Great Debate of Modern Bands- Leadership Week on BTR

ADDITIONAL CONTRIBUTORS BTR Editorial

BuzzUniverse band photo courtesy of BuzzUniverse.com

Being in an active band is not easy. Being the manager of an active band is difficult. Therefore, it pretty much goes without saying that taking on both jobs is infinitely challenging. Whether it’s due to lack of funds or desperation, many bands these days have to do the grunt work of a manager and publicist all on their own.

However, is this the most beneficial way to run a project? Are managers becoming a luxury for only the successful and accomplished artist? Or should bands be in search of management as soon as possible? In a time of intangible promotion and attention spans no longer than that of a goldfish, this may be a good opportunity to explore the new methods of band management, and if you really need a manager at all.

Bassist Mitch Beer from the Philadelphia-based progressive jazz-funk band BAM! thinks managers are still 100% necessary. While BAM! has seen success in their hometown and are expanding their reach northward, Beer finds it very difficult to be in the band while managing and promoting it.

“It’s complicated because you are writing all the music, preparing it, you are on the inside so it becomes very hard to assess objectively,” says Beer. “Having an advocate speak on your behalf that feels as passionately about something they are not the creator of makes your selling proposition so much stronger. Anytime a third party believes in you and takes an aggressive approach on your behalf, it makes you look so much more professional.”

While Beer may be able to secure gigs, hand out fliers, make posts online, and then some, a manager can do all of these with more gusto and less emotion attached to it.

“Musicians are not always people persons or good at hearing ‘no’. We are emotional and get our feelings hurt, or feel our art isn’t good enough for people. A manager can organize everything and be business about it. At the end of the day, I just want to strap on my bass and play, so we need someone that believes in us, that wants to do the grunt work so we can play music.”

Self-management is certainly a trying task for any band or band member, and more often than not, the musician is forced to choose between one or the other. Perhaps the double-duty is feasible for some time, and maybe it’s even effective, but when the band begins touring regularly or producing more and higher quality music, a question of where priorities lie arises.

Greg McLoughlin, bass player for the band BuzzUniverse, was wearing both hats for seven years before he and the band decided they wanted to employ outside management. After some egging, they convinced a long-time fan and lawyer to take on that role, but the transition hasn’t been easy.

“I’m still doing a huge amount of work, but the thing that I like the most about David [manager] is that I’m not a business man,” says McLoughlin. “I know we’re not going to get screwed and I can count on him for that. A lot of the promotion on the Internet, getting people to shows, and doing grunt work I still handle. I do a lot of the booking too.”

Though having a manager has made things more reliable for the band, McLoughlin hasn’t just been able to hand off the responsibilities with a clean break. Since 2003, he had been doing everything the band needed done, baby step by baby step while trying not to worry about how big the band got, but how many contacts they made instead. And years later, though there are still things their new manager could learn from him, McLoughlin has decided to refocus for the sake of his band and audience.

“There was a time when my band mates had to say to me, ‘stop being manager, start being musician.’ And I have to say to myself, ‘I’m a performer, I need to perform.’ The audience is the most important part and I can’t let them down by doing managerial stuff on stage, but our manager can’t be at every show and sometimes those roles go hand-in-hand.”

Since their manager came on board, BuzzUniverse has seen a steady growth and are almost to their tipping point. McLoughlin hopes that with the release of their new record, and David’s tactful planning, things will really take off and he can focus on his musicianship.

For both BAM! and BuzzUniverse, the managerial debacle rages on. The most efficient, cost-effective, or easiest route may not always be so clear, and may vary from band to band. Ultimately, at least in this market, it seems like a manager is still very necessary, if not for the band than for the music.

Written by: Carly Shields

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