The New Music Seminar is returning once more to NYC, hitting Manhattan June 9-11.
Since the music industry is always evolving, it follows that NMS would do the same. The storied conference shifts from Webster Hall to a new venue this year, The New Yorker Hotel in midtown.
In addition, this year NMS is introducing a new program format, one which the founders promise will increase the educational and networking opportunities available. In its new layout, the 2013 NMS Conference will feature 75-minute Movements (panels), interspersed with 20-minute live music sessions, 45-minute enhanced networking opportunities and 15-minute Intensives.
NMS founder Tom Silverman will host a plethora of high-powered execs throughout the three-day conference, including PepsiCo’s Global CMO- Consumer Engagement, Frank Cooper III; Clear Channel Entertainment Enterprises President, John Skyes; VEVO’s President and CEO, Rio Caraeff; Virgin Records’ CCO, Ron Fair; SoundExchange’s President, Michael J. Huppe; plus Atlantic Records’ Chairman and CEO, Craig Kallman, among others.
See the full roster of confirmed “players” at NMS this year, right here.
To register at the $399 pre-registration rate ($499 walk-up), visit the New Music Seminar online.
Every now and again you read something that speaks so profoundly to you that it stops you in your tracks.
It grabs hold of your soul and whispers in your ear, “I am the truth. Ignore me at your peril.“
I just finished re-reading such a book.
It’s called The Power Of Now by Eckhart Tolle.
Maybe you’ve heard of it.
In a nutshell, it explains how we waste our entire lives dwelling mostly on the past, which is gone forever or worrying about a future that hasn’t happened yet and miss out on the only reality that ever actually exists in this life, Now.
How enlightenment is not something you can go off in search of, buried like a secret treasure in some distant Tibetan mountain cave. It can only be accessed by focusing on this moment.
I know what you’re probably thinking right about now:
What is this guy going on about and why on Earth are you reading a book review about some personal growth BS when you came here to SonicScoop to read about all the cool new developments in the New York music scene, right?
Yeah, I hear you brothers and sisters. But there is some madness to my method so hang in there for just a second.
So I’m reading the first chapter of this book again, which begins with this parable:
“A beggar had been sitting by the side of the road for thirty years. One day a stranger walked by.
“Spare some change?” mumbled the beggar.
“I have nothing to give you,” said the stranger. Then he asked: “What’s that you’re sitting on?”
“Nothing,” replied the beggar. “Just an old box. I’ve been sitting on it for as long as I can remember.”
“Ever look inside?,” asked the stranger.
“No,” said the beggar. “What’s the point, there’s nothing in there.”
“Have a look inside,” insisted the stranger. The beggar, reluctantly, managed to pry open the lid. With astonishment, disbelief, and elation, he saw that the box was filled with gold.”
Then the author goes on to say,
“I am that stranger who has nothing to give you and who is telling you to look inside. Not inside any box, as in the parable, but somewhere even closer: inside yourself.”
Likewise, I’m going to do the same thing here at Sonic Scoop and ask you to look inside your own box if you have anything to do with making music.
The first thing that popped into my mind, after reading that story again, was a flashback to my life in music and all the pauper stories I’ve heard over the years from musicians who were convinced they got a bum rap.
It never ceased to amaze me how many of these often amazing players saw a glass that was always half empty. They couldn’t figure out where the gold was hidden.
I include myself here. So guilty, as charged.
The Legend Of The Almost Famous
It all began when I first started playing guitar in my teens and would have to endure what became known in my neighborhood as the infamous kitchen rap by Harry Mass, my best friend’s father, a jazz player who taught me how to play.
This was the era when WASPy names were en vogue and ethnic cleansing had more to do with scrubbing your name of any vowels or impossibly spelled syllables at the end that might implicate you as to your immigrant status and threaten your position on the social totem pole.
While you’re thinking of Joe Pass, give him a listen! You’ll be glad ya did.
It was always the same story. A tape loop stuck on infinite repeat. How Harry was playing a gig up in Bridgeport, CT at the Weeburn Country Club or something like that. Les Paul and his orchestra were in town playing in the next room.
On a break, Les pokes his head into the other room to see who the guy was playing this amazing solo on “Satin Doll.” Harry almost gets the gig with Les. At least that’s his recollection. Then he would play me that legendary solo (the same one I had heard now at least a couple hundred times).
And every gig thereafter always had something to do with those bastards who stiffed him on the bread. The guy could play like Tal Farlow. But he always got the shaft in the end. At least that’s how he saw it.
Self Deprecation: The Ultimate Vibe Killer
Then I was in a band in high school. It was kind of a rock fusion funk jazz thing. We had this sax player who was burning. Except he didn’t think so. So at the end of a great set we’d say, “Hey, Johnny, you were really burning tonight!”
“No, I sucked, man,” he would reply. “I was flat.”
You would try to counter his vibe every time and remind him of how great he was. But he just wouldn’t have it. Well, if you hear the same reply enough times, eventually you just have to accept his position.
OK, I guess you do suck.
East Coast West Coast Blues
When I moved to the West coast in my mid-twenties, my best friend (Harry’s Son) moved to the city. He was a bass player, doing a bunch of different gigs but his bread and butter was the Long Island wedding circuit.
Sure enough, most every gig had some story that digressed into something like pissing in the fountain at the catering hall or a rant about those bastards who stiffed him on the bread. And it was either the band leader or the client who never saw his genius.
I would remind him how he sounded an awful lot like his old man. He would get really pissed off at me, vehemently denying any connection. (No Freud going on there)
But this phenomenon wasn’t unique to local musicians. Famous ones too, who did actually make a lot of bread also caught this disease.
The Benjamins Are Always Greener On The Other Side
When I was out in L.A. I got a gig as an engineer at Ray Parker Junior’s Ameraycan Studios. One day, Ray asked me to give him a ride to pick up his car that he had left over at a friend’s house somewhere in the Hollywood hills.
We arrived at a long, winding stone paved driveway that led to this palatial estate. There sat Ray’s lowly black Porsche 911 Turbo, parked next to a shiny new Bentley coupe. I asked what this guy did for a living and Ray said he owned a chain of car dealerships. Said he was worth like $60 Million.
“Do you know what I could do with $60 million?” he told me. “Now we’re talking serious cash.”
Poor guy. He had only made something like $10 million from the theme to Ghostbusters and everything else he recorded in his career. He only owned one airplane and it was a single prop at that. Not even a Gulfstream. Life’s a bitch sometimes.
For The Love Of Money
Everyone wants to be a rock star.
Or at least they did once upon a time when being a rock star conjured images of feather boas and dark shades. Trashed hotel rooms, limousines and hot chicks.
Or musicians had dreams of being a top studio cat or touring as a sideman with big time acts and making good money was a real possibility.
Yeah, those were the days.
Today you have to develop the hot new video game or you’re a star DJ if you want to roll like that.
But when exactly did playing music become synonymous with making money? Let alone serious cash?
Seriously, who in their right mind ever got into playing music for the bread?
I’ll Gladly Pay You In The Next Life For A Session Today
A few years back, I caught a live interview with producer, Steve Lillywhite, hosted by the RIAA. He was waxing poetic about some of the amazing albums he had produced over the course of his illustrious career.
But one of the more interesting stories he told was about the history of music and making money.
He reminded the audience that in the entire timeline of music history, of which recorded music was but a small fraction, there was this tiny little window of time, during the heyday of the record business, where musicians ever made a dime playing music.
And how this emphasis on music and making money was totally skewed.
You Can’t Touch This
Throughout history, kings and queens, heads of state, social luminaries and titans of industry have always featured the finest musicians and composers at their special events.
Did you ever wonder why the super rich buy priceless artwork?
Why that hedge fund manager who always dreamed of playing music keeps that broken Jimi Hendrix guitar and other memorabilia in a sealed glass case?
It’s not the investment.
Oh sure, their net worth will increase. But the truth is that what they really want is to get a little closer to the dream they could never achieve. To touch the hand of the creator themselves.
Because the real power lies with the artist.
It’s just that most musicians forgot.
Of Hedge Funds And Rockstar Dreams
It all hit home for me when I was attending a trade show last year at the Javits Center. I ran into a client rep friend I had worked with on a project. We hadn’t seen each other in quite a while.
His last memory was that I was about to play the Izod Arena with my band, after just winning a battle of the bands contest. And how cool that must have been. How he had just seen a Foreigner concert and remembered how I used to tour with them. He asked me how the music was going.
I could have gone on and on about what did happen for me and what didn’t. I could have seen that glass half empty. But I just told him I was still rocking. He smiled and said he had to run.
When I turned around, a well dressed man was standing alone, drinking a glass of wine and struck up a conversation with me. He excused himself for eavesdropping on our conversation but started asking me all about my musical experiences.
He gushed how he loved Foreigner and how exciting a life I must lead. I just smiled and laughed to myself.
I was getting ready to leave and he said he was doing the same so we continued to talk on the way out.
Out in the street, I asked him what he did but he just sluffed it off. He said he had something to do with finance. That he just pushed numbers around all day on spread sheets and how painfully boring it all was, just dealing with people’s money.
He went on to tell me how his daughter didn’t really talk to him anymore and his wife was always pissed off because he worked so late. Basically, his life was a total drag but for his love of music and did I maybe want to go to a show sometime?
I said sure as he gave me his card and said goodbye, crossing the street.
When I got home I looked at his card. He was president of some huge hedge fund. Out of curiosity, I Googled him and found out that his hedge fund had won all these awards and he was managing billions of dollars of his clients’ money. The guy was filthy rich. Yet, he was totally miserable.
I remember picking up a guitar and just playing that night. It was hard to take in what had just transpired. This guy saw me as the rich man with this exciting life in music while he slogged through the hell of making boatloads of cash and hating life every step of the way.
Now About That Box You’re Sitting On
So if you’re sitting alone in a studio right now or in a garage somewhere and you’re feeling sorry for yourself because no one’s got any change for you, take a minute and just stop what you’re doing.
Go ahead and take a look inside that box and see what you find. It might surprise you.
Making music is a gift you can’t put a price on.
There are people who would give anything to feel that power. But like anything that really matters in this life, there are some things that money can’t buy.
And don’t bite down too hard on the coins either if you happen to find your box filled with them. You might break a tooth and then you’ll complain how you don’t have dental coverage.
NYC-based producer/artist/engineer/more Mark Hermann spends his life in the professional service of music. He has toured the world with rock legends, produced hit artists, and licensed music for numerous TV/film placements. Hermann also owns a recording studio in a 100-year old Harlem Brownstone. Keep up with him at Rock & Roll Zen.
Next time you’re in the center of a music festival like Coachella, take a careful look around – there just may be Agents in your midst.
Not the menacing Matrix kind with wires sticking into their ears, but booking agents. The people who book international touring acts are renowned for their long hours negotiating on the phone and calculating mileage on maps. But the fact is that these specialized pros have to catch their artists live as often as possible.
For Natasha Bent, an agent for eight years and a Vice President at multinational powerhouse booking firm The Agency Group (TAG), Coachella is a perfect excuse for her to jet from her London office and go out into the field. And she had plenty of company – her bands Passion Pit and Foals were joined by 20+ TAG artists on Coachella’s bill this year, including Dinosaur Jr, Father John Misty, Gaslight Anthem, Lee Scratch Perry, Metric, Rodriguez, Social Distortion, Stars, The Airborne Toxic Event, The Selector and Tegan and Sara.
With another weekend of Coachella to go, we got Bent’s perspective on why agents like her make sure to exit the office and descend on the live scene. Read on for our Q&A:
What would you say is the common thread between all of the artists you currently represent?
I book different genres of acts / music but there are indeed similarities such as: the artists being passionate about what they do, the artists knowing that it takes hard work, that are proactive early on and of course extremely talented.
Ultimately they all write music that I absolutely love and are great live.
What are the most significant ways that the role of an agent has evolved in that time? How would you say there’s both greater opportunity, but also greater challenges?
I can only talk about the past 10 years in which I have been an Agent, but I do feel a bigger responsibility as an Agent with acts. With the music industry facing new challenges, resulting in — for example — fewer album sales, the pressure on earning money is directed more to the live sector.
So it’s our job, as Agents to work on delivering a long-term and financially viable career for our Artists. That has always been the ethos of working with acts, but we seem to be more at the forefront. Its almost as if, in the past, tours were booked to coincide/support an album release, but now releases are done to coincide with touring.
That’s an important reversal! On that note, how do you think the role of festivals has changed in executing an artist’s touring strategy?
I am not sure if the role of the festivals have changed in executing an artist’s touring strategy — but perhaps it’s more down to what stage the artist is at in their career.
Strategy is certainly key, when booking, something that The Agency Group are incredibly good at. Early on in an artist’s career, you have to look at whether the festival makes sense, when that artist isn’t yet known. If your album isn’t out until the end of the year, you also have to consider whether its better playing the festivals the following summer — which is more often the case — because you can’t play the same festival two years in a row usually.
One change I have noticed though is that festivals – some — aren’t selling as well/selling out instantly. There are obvious festivals that do such as Glastonbury/Coachella, but we have also seen a lot of festivals no longer doing business like they used to.
Because of this, it’s even more important to consider what your artist is doing: You have to question whether an artist can do headline touring AND festivals in one album cycle campaign/side-by-side, or is it better to just headline tour/just do festivals.
With the lack of “new” acts being given the headline spots at festivals, it seems to be the same acts again and again, and is that perhaps a change in why sales aren’t as good as previous. That’s why I’m super proud that Foals are headlining/closing Latitude festival (UK). It’s a bold statement, and one that Foals are going to deliver — and that the fans are excited about.
There were over 20 TAG artists at Coachella this year. Why do you and the other agents of The Agency Group make sure to watch your band’s live performances at Coachella – how do you work as a team while you’re there?
Firstly, there was a great number of Agency Group Agents/staff at Coachella, a fantastic presence. We, as a company, have a good relationship, not only with our artists and managers, but with each other too.
So it’s very easy for us all to be together, to work together and go to each other’s artists Coachella sets. It’s a “human” business we are in, and artists will love that we are there to support them. As an Agent too, I think it’s important to feel supported by your company, something I am proud to say The Agency Group are great at.
When you watched your own artists, Passion Pit, and Foals play, what were you watching for in their performance?
There is nothing I am particularly watching for. But there is no better feeling, on putting in the hard work months and months in advance, to then go to the show and see the results of that work — particularly at festivals when you have pushed for the greatest / best slot and opportunity for your artist.
Dave Kaplan at Agency Group New York office booked Foals’ Coachella set, so it was also nice for me to go to Coachella as a fan, and truly enjoy. It’s not uncommon to see me singing at the top of my voice at the front — there is nothing better than seeing a band you have worked closely with, and built over the years, to have a fantastic show and to enjoy themselves.
What are the kinds of things that the agent and artist might discuss after the show – how do you seize on this opportunity to communicate face-to-face?
There is no set thing spoken about — every artist and Agent is different.
Personally, I like to be someone positive to be around, particularly in times of stress at festivals. Before an act goes on stage, there isn’t time for much distraction/discussion, apart from a quick “have a great show!”
So it’s usually when the artist has finished their set, they feel more relaxed, so you can sit down and chat. Some artists will want to speak about how their set could have been better, what was great/what wasn’t. Some artists just come off stage and want to socialize. You have to be ready for all occasions.
You said that the professional networking that goes on at festivals is also important to you. Can you elaborate on that point?
Absolutely. At a festival such as Coachella, there are many people, worldwide, from the music industry that go including managers, artists, and promoters. You aren’t often in a place that has so many people you work with.
Not only that, but you are with your colleagues who can then introduce you to people they work with. Having so many people from The Agency Group down, made networking great at Coachella. It’s always good to “put a face to the name,” for someone not to just be an email address.
Please characterize the artistic range of Agency Group artists that were at Coachella this year. What does that say both about the festival itself, and about the direction your own company is taking right now?
It’s great to have a festival that is open to booking all genres of music.
You can see from the list of Agency Group acts playing, that we book all genres of acts, and successfully. From our great indie acts Foals/Passion Pit/Metric to our incredible long term acts, such as Rodriquez, to hip hop, such as Danny Brown, to rock such as Dinosaur Jr/Social Distortion.
As a worldwide company with offices in London/Malmo/Toronto/LA/New York, we have over 1,000 artists that we represent. Not only in music, but we have a speakers and literary department too. We truly are a worldwide company that embraces the entrepreneur in us, and our acts.
Lastly, you mentioned to me that you appreciate being in a job where you can “completely be yourself”. Why is that important for professionals, whether they’re agents, artists, or any other occupation for that matter?
When I first became an Agent, I was given the “low down” on what an Agent “should be.” To me, that just didn’t sit right, but I promised myself that day, if I had to change who I was to be an Agent, that it wouldn’t be for me.
I feel — and I hope my family/friends and colleagues agree — that by actually being myself, and working to the best of my ability, being totally open and honest, is actually what has helped me build a great roster of acts like Foals, Cage The Elephant, Foster The People, Amy Macdonald, First Aid Kit, Gotye, and Passion Pit for example. They seem to like the way I work.
To me, life is short, and I am so incredibly blessed to have found a job I love, that I believe in, working for a company I love, with acts I’m a fan of and believe in, and managers I respect and enjoy working with. And I’m constantly learning more.
– David Weiss
Music rules this coming Monday in Brooklyn, when New York Sound City (NYSC) will be running a powerful one-day event.
NYSC is being put on by Sound City, the UK-based brand that’s gotten good at holding boutique technology, music and media festivals worldwide.
The central theme of their New York Sound City 2013 conference explores the notion of British Invasion – how the relationship between New York and Liverpool, two accomplished ports and hotbeds of music and creativity have shaped popular music for generations.
Along the way, expect to get caught up on state-of-the-art info on the music biz at Williamsburg’s Wythe Hotel (12-6 PM), followed by a smokin’ six-band showcase at The Knitting Factory (starting at 7 PM).
Tickets can be purchased here, at the following prices: Delegate Pass (All access pass to panels, podcast & showcase) – $80; Knitting Factory Showcase + The Anfield Wrap Live Podcast – $30; Knitting Factory Showcase only – $20.
Just announced is the addition of Brooklyn Nets Music Supervisor J. Period to the hip hop panel. The full lineup of topics, moderators, and more follows, as provided by NYSC:
NETWORKING ROUNDTABLE TOPICS AND MODERATORS ANNOUNCED
Music & Brands: Erika Thomas (Cornerstone Promotion)
Labels: From Multinationals To Cottage Industries: Ray Paul (CEO, The Playmaker Group UK)
The Promoter Vs. Venue Dilemma: Dave Pichilingi (CEO, Sound City International)
Music Tech: Roundtable: Seth Hillinger (Organizer, NY MusicTech Meetup)
PLUS KEYNOTE SPEAKER ANDREW LOOG OLDHAM (ROLLING STONES)
& DANNY FIELDS (RAMONES, VELVETS, STOOGES)
MONDAY MARCH 11 AT THE WYTHE HOTEL (12-6PM)
FOLLOWED BY SHOWCASE AT THE KNITTINGFACTORY (7PM)
Delegate Pass (All access pass to panels, podcast & showcase) – $80
Knitting Factory Showcase + The Anfield Wrap Live Podcast – $30
Knitting Factory Showcase only – $20
Music & Brands: How Brands are Using New Music to Reach Consumers, what are they looking for, where do they find it and how do you get your tunes in front of them?
Moderated by Erika Thomas, Cornerstone Promotion
Labels: From multi nationals to cottage industries: Do bands and artists really need record companies anymore? Moderated by Ray Paul, CEO, The Playmaker Group UK
The Promoter Vs. Venue Dilemma: Promoters want to sell great art. Venues want to sell beer. It’s the great Promotor vs. Venue dilemma. Moderated by Dave Pichilingi, CEO,Sound City International
What not to do: For every music industry success story there are many failures. The truth is we can all learn from each other’s mistakes. This discussion is all about getting those stories out in the open. Moderated by Mita Carriman, Entertainment Attorney, Carriman Law Group, Women In Music
Music:Tech – a multi pronged attack! music:tech products currently offer a huge number of solutions and sometimes an even bigger list of problems! What ways do you engage with technology and what would be an ideal solution to your problem?Moderated by Seth Hillinger,
ABOUT J.PERIOD: As Music Supervisor for the Brooklyn Nets’ inaugural season, DJ/Producer J.PERIOD is redefining the role of the remix as the musical meeting point for fans from every corner of the borough’s diverse landscape. Praised as a “music guru” in the latest edition of Rolling Stone Magazine and called one of the “world’s Top DJ’s” by The New York Times, J.PERIOD’s vast musical repertoire bridges cultures, generations and styles, making his signature sound the perfect compliment to the Nets’ new Barclays Center home. A veteran in moving large crowds, J.PERIOD has served as official Tour DJ for artists including Lauryn Hill, Black Thought, Q-Tip and international icon K’NAAN, performing at venues from NYC’s Central Park Summerstage to Johannesburg’s Coca-Cola Dome. In his new role with the Nets, J.PERIOD is both curator and producer, creating an exclusive library of remixes for the team-an NBA first. J.PERIOD’s resume of remix and production credits includes work with Grammy-winners including Kanye West, Joss Stone, John Legend, and Mary J. Blige, and his “audio documentary” mixtapes have won numerous accolades and awards.
CALABASAS, CA: Music artists constantly strive for balance between the studio and stage. The manufacturers that work to equip them, however, often have a tougher time excelling in both venues.
One company that’s been able to make it work across the board is Line 6, which started by equipping performing guitarists – and more than a few studios – with effective DSP models of amps and effects. Starting with the AxSys 212 and amp modeling amplifiers in the mid-90’s, their brand continued to expand and encompass pedal-based and rackmount tone tools.
Today, the Line 6 portfolio is about not just bridging worlds, but creating integrated systems for artists and audio professionals. More recent launches include the flexibly connectable StageScape M20d digital mixer and StageSource speakers for the live side, while the James Tyler Variax guitar and POD HD 500 system form a formidable – and easily portable – creative pairing for session guitarists and recording studios.
With NAMM about to unleash a load of new stuff for everyone to get their hands on, we sought an inside look at how new solutions come together. Max Gutnik, VP of Product Management at Line 6, weighed in on how his team approaches musical instrument and audio gear evolution.
What is your role and what are your primary responsibilities at Line 6?
I run the product management group at Line 6. Product Management’s role is to take our customers’ input and translate that into innovative products and solutions that help them realize their creative vision.
Line 6 customers run the gamut from the aspiring musician to the professional, from studio owners to people who need portable, powerful live sound production. So our solutions range from individual products to integrated systems.
In essence, we identify problems and opportunities to do things better, and design cool products that make making music better for our customers.
What do you like about Line 6 — what are they doing right, and why is it a good match for your talents?
At Line 6, innovation is in the DNA of the company. The Line 6 culture is constantly and organically thinking about how to change the world.
That kind of thinking aligns with my personal philosophy and passion: There’s a lot of symmetry between the way I personally want to make an impact, and how Line 6 makes an impact.
Can you tell us about the products you’re working on, and what you expect to be developing in the future?
We are constantly developing newer, better and faster ways to serve our customers’ needs. We’re uniquely positioned to develop products and solutions that address our customers’ problems—as well as integrated ecosystems that solve bigger, more substantial challenges.
When we talk about solving problems, we’re not just talking about the guitarist with the POD, or the person who needs a live sound solution. We’re also talking about the guitar player with a POD who wants to record more easily, or the band that wants to run live sound from the stage, or the musician who wants to make his cartage less burdensome when he’s flying to a gig without compromising sound quality.
For example, using a single James Tyler Variax to replace a bunch of guitars when traveling is a big deal for pros that need versatility and great tone. We consider how a solution helps develop the entire ecosystem, so we’re not targeting just one workflow but our customers’ entire creative process. And having that kind of positive impact on your customers’ creativity is what drives us.
What you think are the primary wants/needs of consumers in the pro audio and MI space currently?
First and foremost, customers want amazing-sounding gear. And that’s another thing I really like about working for Line 6—we make great-sounding products!
Our customers tell us they want products that allow them to unleash their creativity with as little tech fatigue or friction as possible, yet they don’t want simplicity to compromise sound quality. That balance is at the heart of what we do.
Last question: What does the landscape look like right now to you in terms of product development in the audio industry — why would you say this is a particularly interesting time to be creating new tools for musicians and audio pros?
Products are far more accessible today. There aren’t so many dogmatic beliefs around what solutions have to look like or where they have to come from to be accepted.
In the old days, there were certain things that a guitar player or a sound engineer had to own, and there were specific ways they had to work. Now, with the way the industry is changing so rapidly, customers are searching out solutions that solve old problems in new ways.
This emerging culture embraces non-traditional solutions. For instance, the Line 6 StageScape M20d mixer explodes the traditional “mixer with channel strips and a rack of outboard gear” paradigm – it’s specifically designed to be a smarter, faster way for musicians to get great live sound, but it doesn’t look or work like anything else on the market. It actually pushes the envelope and presents ingenious solutions to multiple problems in a completely fresh way.
And that’s exciting because musicians can then truly innovate themselves, without feeling trapped by form factor. Which is what this is all about, isn’t it?
– David Weiss
Why do a year-end wrap-up? And why make a big deal about the New Year at all? After all, no matter what it says on the calendar, every day that you wake up is a brand new day.
But there’s something about our species that likes to keep track of what goes on, and marking one full rotation of the Earth around the Sun is a big event to stay on top of. A lot can go on inside that timeframe — and for all of us in the world of audio in 2012, a lot certainly did.
At SonicScoop, taking stock of highlights and lowlights was particularly eye-opening this year: It seems like there was a decade’s worth of action jammed into the last 365 days. Whether the primary viewpoint is tracking, mixing, audio post, crafting new technology or leading a retro charge, 2012 left its mark.
From NYC to LA, and everywhere in between, one of the top barometers for audio biz health is studio comings and goings. On that front, the action was nonstop from wire to wire.
We kicked off 2012 by announcing that Producer/engineer/DJ Louis Benedetti had opened the three-room Thompson Studios in a former bank building in SoHo.
The Bunker launched a new and highly ambitious version of itself in Williamsburg.
Studio G opened up a vastly expanded new facility, with a choice of Neve and SSL.
Meanwhile, the Park Slope recording complex Shapeshifter launched in Park Slope.
Degraw Sound arrived in Gowanus.
Elite engineer Cynthia Daniels brought world-class recording to the Hamptons with Monk Music.
DFA Studios, the former private production suite for LCD Soundsystem, went public in the West Village.
SonicScoop walked in on John King taking over the former Skyline Recording Studios, and converting it into the new Chung King.
Sunset Park’s Industry City offered up space and heavy incentives to audio professionals.
Major Jar Music showed us the ways that a Brooklyn multimedia collective can grow.
Staten Island earned major respect via destination facility Nova Studios.
Greenpoint made space for indie-friendly Spacebar Studios.
Seasoned studios like Dubway undertook serious expansion, displaying unshaking confidence in Manhattan.
Kingsize Soundlabs showed the way to stand out in LA.
The DUMBO studio ishlab re-emerged when Daniel Lynas and Frans Mernick equipped it with a Neve 55 console.
Mobile audio had its developments as well. The Sound Shop, with its heavy portfolio including Bonnaroo, moved its operations from North Carolina to NYC. And Remote Recording started driving its “Taxi” small footprint vehicle at the end of the year.
No longer Tainted Blue, the Penthouse of 723 7th Avenue became Terminus.
The relaunches continued apace with Monsterland’s return to Bedford-Stuyvesant/Bushwick.
On October 18th, we reported on the union of studios Translator Audio and the Civil Defense at the South Sound rehearsal/production complex on the Park Slope Gowanus border.
Just three weeks later we related their destructive ordeal as Hurricane Sandy submerged their well-laid plains – and wondered how many more in the tri-state area would have to now engineer a comeback.
Since NYC refuses to stop, NJ’s Kaleidoscope Studios helped the area stay strong with its opening of its Fran Manzella-designed analog/digital room, The Patio.
Then, the console formerly owned by TV on the Radio started powering an upgraded Studio A at Greepoint’s The End.
Manhattan’s studio ranks were swelled by the latest edition of Sweet Sounds, a stylish new two-room facility sporting a Neve 5088…
…Then were thinned again by the loss of a modern classic, as Stratosphere Sound Studios booked its last session.
Mastering, long a model of consistency in the audio world, continued to move patiently apace. Some additional vibrancy revealed itself, however.
The ongoing resurgence of vinyl – a 39% increase in vinyl sales in 2011! – by necessity brought increased business to mastering. We saw the “Vinyl Revival” from Brooklyn Phono to Infrasonic Sound in LA.
One of the industry’s top mastering engineers, Vlado Meller, launched an intensive NYC workshop at Arf! Mastering to share his deep knowledge of the craft.
And audio pros jumped at the chance to have mastering demystified, at a well-attended May event hosted by Flux Studios, Dangerous Music, Manley, Focal Professional, and Alto NYC.
On a sad note, galaxy-class mastering engineer George Marino passed away after decades of finishing hit records for Sterling Sound.
Audio post didn’t play second fiddle. In NYC, the scene that mixers for TV and film occupy saw plenty of movement.
Post boutique Northern Lights conjoined itself with a new sister company, SuperExploder.
Founded by Sound Lounge expats, Heard City opened its forward-thinking, 7,000 sq. ft. facility in the heart of the Flatiron district.
Each and every audio post business in NY got a boost when Governor Cuomo tripled the Empire State Film Post Production Credit.
We thought that Hyperbolic Audio, in its new midtown location, represented evolved thinking for NYC post.
The legendary Sound One was shut down, a victim of its massive Brill Building overhead and a drastically different landscape than the one that had originally launched it in the 1970’s.
But a light shone across the river: We also noted increased audio post activity in Brooklyn. Fall On Your Sword showed how it was already being down in Williamsburg, and Brooklyn Sound Society invested in the future with the purchase of a three-story building in Bedfort Stuyvesant, slated to dedicate 3,600 sq. ft. to film and multimedia audio post.
Meanwhile, original music for picture had no choice but to keep moving forward, even as competition intensified and the fees that composers command seemed even harder for many to maintain.
Shout It Out Loud Music launched a new studio smack in the heart of the Fashion District.
The collective ManhatPro underscored the NYC area’s myriad offerings via an initiative focused on boosting music for film activity locally.
Highly accomplished composers like Peter Fish diversified, becoming more deeply involved in content creation.
The Production Music Association’s NYC meeting in October made the industry’s many challenges perfectly clear.
Ear to Ground Sound, founded by members of Rival Schools, demonstrated the effective indie rock connection to music for media.
Our look at the ongoing expansion of Butter in SoHo showed how smart business could made a difference for original music.
L.A.-based composers like Noah Lifschey proved that solo creators could still capture big campaigns, as he did with the launch of SportsNet.
And the arrival of TuneSpring exemplified that new ideas and workflows are still abounding in the music-for-picture field.
Speaking of new ideas, SonicScoop was just busting with ‘em all year! We didn’t have time to get to everything on our agenda, but we’re psyched about what did surface. Namely…
Our “Power Sessions” video series was a hit, as Chris Lord-Alge shared his deepest, darkest – OK, maybe just the deepest – mixing secrets.
Upping the ante, we introduced SonicSearch in beta – our new site for studio and audio professional discovery.
Sightings of audio icons were on the rise in 2012.
A-ha’s Paul Savoy was discovered operating diligently out of SoHo.
Another massive hitmaker, Dave Gahan of Depeche Mode, gave us entre to his personal NYC studio.
Super engineer Kevin Killen held us riveted.
Tony Visconti kept things close to the vest (in a most gentlemanly manner) at Germano Studios.
And the legendary Eddy Offord came out of retirement to produce and mix at Pyramid in the heart of Koreatown.
Of course, the nation’s music business is about more than just moving faders. There was plenty to talk about beyond the floated floors.
Retail expanded in NYC with the arrival of Audio Power Tools, and in LA via Vintage King’s new Sunset Boulevard showroom. GC Pro joined the party California way with their own new recording/listening space.
Audio education continued to be a big business and source of fresh talent, with schools like SAE finding new ways to recognize their alumni’s achievements.
Events like the New Music Seminar made a strong push, and attempted to pave the way for the music industry’s next phase.
Live festivals such as Electric Zoo – and dozens of other crowd-attracting gatherings – bolstered the bottom line of live sound engineers and rental companies throughout the region.
While still working hard to maintain its edge, Avid also continued to make some negative headlines. The industry’s undisputed hardware/software giant laid off another 20% of its staff in July.
TuneCore co-founders Jeff Price and Peter Wells were bounced out of the company they created.
SonicScoop raised some serious questions for the AES following the 133rd AES Convention in San Francisco…
…and the AES answered right back.
Superstars and in-the-trenches audio pros alike left us in 2012 as well.
Whitney Houston, whose sessions employed many an engineer and studio passed away in February.
Dance music keyboardist Johann Brunkvist was gone much too soon at age 50.
Beastie Boy Adam Yauch lost his battle with cancer in May.
While the loved and respected NYC producer/engineer Benjy King was laid to rest at the end of September.
And, as noted above, mastering legend George Marino lost his battle with cancer.
Of course, a fair amount of headlines were grasped by the tools we use. Hardware, software, and all things gear had its own breakthroughs and trends.
There was immediate interest in the Universal Audio Apollo audio interface, which featured realtime UAD processing.
The development of AAX plugins for Pro Tools continued to arrive on the market, such as Sonnox’ Oxford EQ and Inflator.
Cloud data storage service Gobbler persisted in its push to assist music producers and engineers, with updates like availability for PC.
Speaking of PC’s, Sound Forge finally became available for the Mac.
You could still see a big console coming out, such as SSL’s beautiful-to-behold Duality Pro-Station.
Innovative products to bridge the gap between analog and digital are always welcome, such as the new Latency Killer from Lavry Engineering.
People went bonkers over the prospect of Slate Digital’s upcoming Raven control surface/interface.
Empirical Labs, maker of the essential Distressor compressor, told SonicScoop that a strong move to digital was imminent for the company.
500 modules came on like a freight train! Radial Engineering seemed to release new units non-stop in the 4th quarter. Meanwhile, Aphex, Moog, SSL, AWTAC (NYC), and JDK were just a few of the companies bringing new 500 module concepts to the marketplace.
Naturally, iPad functionality just got sleeker and more powerful. The Auria DAW for iPad made plenty of waves. Focusrite launched the iTrack solo 2-channel interface for iPad and other iOS devices, and Mackie introduced the DL-1608 digital live sound mixer.
Staying on the live tip, gear got smarter in the form of systems like the Line 6 StageSource L3M digitally networkable live PA, or plugins designed with live workflow in mind. Cerwin-Vega made some noise about its new P-Series of portable, powered loudspeakers with coming-out parties on both coasts.
For many whose businesses were hit square in the jaw or indirectly affected, the trauma of Hurricane Sandy leaves a lingering effect going into the New Year. But it was the way that audio pros responded that shows the resilient stuff that so many of us are made of.
Sound Toys quickly raised $38,000+ for Team Rubicon’s Super Storm Sandy relief effort in November.
A.L.L. Digital Mastering shared its story of resurrection after Sandy leveled its Breezy Point, Queens studio.
And Mason Jar Music transitioned us all out of 2012 on a high note, recording 15 songs in 14 days – by folk luminaries including Roseanne Cash and Bela Fleck – for its Sandy benefit album The Storm is Passing Over. Yes, it is – and let’s look forward to a sweet-sounding 2013.
– David Weiss
Nuclear Blast, the renowned German metal label, has announced a new U.S. partnership with former Roadrunner Records VP of A&R Monte Conner. The new venture is a record label called Nuclear Blast Entertainment (NBE), and will have offices in New York and Los Angeles.
NBE will share most of its major operations with the existing U.S. branch of Nuclear Blast, which is based in L.A. The new offshoot will announces its first signings in the months to come. Nuclear Blast proper is home to a roster of some of the world’s top metal acts, including Meshuggah, Testament, Nightwish (Europe-only), Children Of Bodom, Anthrax (Europe-only), Dimmu Borgir, All Shall Perish, Epica, Exodus and Accept.
Conner became available after being among the dozens of casualties of a Roadrunner restructuring, which began in April following the completion of its sale to the Warner Music Group. The A&R exec is well known throughout the hard rock and metal scene, owing to a 25-year stint at Roadrunner Records where he signed artists including Slipknot, Sepultura, Machine Head, Trivium, Fear Factory, Stone Sour, Type O Negative, Soulfly, Coal Chamber, Life Of Agony, Biohazard, DevilDriver, Deicide, Rush and Gojira.
There are a lot of subjects that lend themselves well to online education, and music happens to be one of them.
In that spirit, Berkleemusic, which is the online continuing education division of Berklee College of Music, announced today that they would be offering six new online courses for their upcoming fall term, beginning September 24th.
All courses are college level, 12-week online courses designed to promote a high level of interactivity between instructor and student.
Berkleemusic is expanding on their online music production curriculum with two new production courses: Music Producer: From Pre-Production to Final Audio Master by Stephen Webber, and Audio Fundamentals by Dan Thompson.
The courses will teach students how to properly set up, operate, and manage a recording studio or live sound reinforcement installations of any size, and provide insight into both the art and the profession of music production.
We’re pretty intrigued with Music Cognition, which studies the mental processes underlying musical behaviors. In this course, students will learn about the influence of emotion, environment, cognitive capacity, personality, individual differences, and more on the perception of music. According to Berkleemusic, this understanding will bring new insight to songwriters, music professionals, and to music lovers who want to increase their knowledge of and appreciation for both music and the brain.
In Business Communications and Music Business Leadership and Ethics, students at any stage of their career will learn to build, monitor, and protect their reputation and the reputation of their business, as well as gain an understanding of the ethical considerations and leadership opportunities in the music industry that pertain to a variety of career paths.
And to make sure the focus stays on the music, R&B Vocals will teach students the vocal techniques of R&B greats including Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin and Ray Charles. Taught by top industry pros, students will gain the professional skills to sing R&B in an authentic way, including proper phrasing, riffing, shouting, scale patterns, rhythmic articulation and much more.
Berkleemusic now has 150 online music courses and multi-course certificate programs, covering all areas of music education.
On July 2nd, when Avid announced that it was selling off multiple audio and video product lines, it was easy to miss the big picture. More Avid layoffs accompanied the news, and many people focused on the negative as Pro Tools users fretted about the future of their long-familiar DAW and I/O hardware provider.
But there’s two sides to every story, and the positive angle was that the respected M-Audio product line, along with the less-visible AIR Software Group, had a welcoming new home: Rhode Island-based inMusic, a company with expertise in the space via its ownership of Akai Professional, Alesis, and Numark, as well as other music production, performance and DJ brands.
It’s been an interesting journey for M-Audio, the company which was founded in the late 1990’s by a California Institute of Technology graduate named Tim Ryan. Originally dubbed Midi Soft and then Midiman, Ryan and his colleagues quickly grew their baby into a competitive manufacturer of audio interfaces and MIDI keyboards. Avid, suitably impressed, bought Midiman (which had been doing business under the M-Audio name since 2000) for a cool $174 million in 2004.
But even with a number of successful recording and DJ products (KeyStudio, Fast Track, Torq) and high-profile users (Black Eyed Peas, Skillrex, The Crystal Method), at some point M-Audio no longer fit in with Avid’s plans. M-Audio changed hands earlier this month, with a new HQ just down the road from Avid’s Burlington, MA base of operations.
What drives mergers and acquisitions (M&A) in the audio sector? In an industry where the users have had to deal with what seems like a nonstop downgrading of their music’s value, it’s interesting – and not a little bit validating — to know that the builders of audio tools still are seen as valuable.
We interviewed inMusic’s Director of Marketing, David Frederick, about the market forces that led to his company’s new acquisition.
How would you characterize the inMusic group of brands — what is the common thread of the products that you supply to the marketplace?
I would characterize them as diverse and synergistic. All of our brands blend leading technology, innovation, functional usability and creative inspiration across all market segments and price points. Combining that with our drive and passion to deliver world-class products, we strongly believe inMusic is uniquely positioned to deliver the most innovative and creative tools available to musicians, composers, producers and DJ’s all over the world.
The common thread we supply to the market is a family of premium brands that reach across a broad market segment. In many cases, our products leverage common intellectual property which helps democratize creativity and functionality across all our product and brand lines. The biggest thread is our passion and focus on delivering products that meet and exceed the needs of our customers. This thread drives everything we do at inMusic.
When did inMusic become interested in acquiring M-Audio, and why? How did you see it complementing the brands you already had such as Akai, Alesis and Numark?
inMusic is always on the lookout for unique and complementary opportunities that help us deliver world-class products.
Our interests and Avid’s aligned in regards to our acquisition. We were interested in M-Audio and the AIR Software Group because they not only offered unique, market-leading products, but they fit our model of growth and product strategy. Further, both M-Audio and AIR Software Group have unique and extremely valuable technologies and intellectual properties, which inMusic will be able to leverage for the benefit of its other brands and their customers.
In the pro audio/consumer audio space, what are the primary considerations that a company thinks about when deciding about an acquisition? What are the benefits, and conversely what are the liabilities that you have to weigh?
Of course this question is different for different companies. For inMusic we look at a variety of tactical, strategic and growth considerations. For us, it’s all about delivering world-class, innovative products for our customers.
Things like IP, technology enablement, synergistic or complementary offerings, cross utilization of IP, market share and position, human capital, growth opportunity and sustainable competitive advantage all factor into the calculations of an acquisition like M-Audio and AIR Software Group.
In all acquisitions there are assets and liabilities. These must always be weighed against the overall tactical and strategic objectives. It also goes without saying that one company’s liabilities are another’s assets.
Along those lines, M&A on this level is relatively rare in the pro audio/consumer audio space. Why would a product line like M-Audio no longer be essential to one company — Avid — but still worth investing in for another, inMusic?
I can’t speak to Avid’s thinking outside of what they have discussed in their press release and announcement call. In regards to inMusic, making investments in quality, innovative and dynamic brands is what we do. Again, it’s all about innovating, delivering and offering the best products in the world.
How many M-Audio employees will remain with inMusic? How will you decide who carries over?
As a private company we do not disclose our financial information or the terms our acquisitions. However, having said that, we are retaining key personnel from M-Audio and AIR Software Group that will help support, develop and further innovate and extend offerings both at M-Audio and AIR Software Group and our existing brands.
What is your view on the long-term prospects of the pro audio/consumer audio sector that M-Audio, and inMusic’s other brands, occupy?
My view is that the pro audio/consumer audio sector is always rather volatile and evolving. Those companies that can adapt and leverage the shifting sands seem to do well. Those that can’t, well, they seem to drift.
It’s a tough market sector. You have many factors that influence its behavior. In one regard, the democratization and enablement of creative technology has empowered a new generation of customers to engage in the creative process. In another, the market seems to be bifurcating into discrete pro and consumer segments with the “prosumer” segment dissolving away or at minimum having its lines blurred between the tradition triad market segment: consumer, prosumer, pro. This creates opportunity for some and disaster for others.
For us, we are laser-focused on delivering world-class products for all our customers across all market segments. That focus enables us to be responsive versus reactive in our approach to how we serve the market. This model has clearly served us well.
We are truly excited about the long-term prospects of our industry. inMusic is growing by leaps and bounds. We are leading and engaging in our respective market segments. We are developing innovative and exciting products, and we just acquired a fantastic brand, product line and amazing technology.
For us, both our near term and long-term future is bright. For our customers, dealers and partners, our family of brands delivers quality, innovation, value and in-demand products.
– David Weiss
Scratch below the surface of almost any producer, and they’ll tell you they’d love to find The One that can propel their artistry and careers to new heights.
No, they’re not talking about songwriters, vocalists, or A&R VP’s. The human resource many producers, mixers, and engineers crave the most is a manager. And as elusive as this goal may be for many hard-working studio pros, for others having a producer manager is a reality.
Peruse a partial list of audio achievers who have managers, and you’ll see a common thread of great creativity and platinum sales. Here’s just a few: Ron Anielo, Howard Benson, Steve Booker, Michael Brauer, James Brown, Chris Carmouche, Bob Clearmountain, Chris Coady, The Dust Brothers, Stephen Hague, Nic Hard, John Hill, John Holbrook, Trevor Horn, David Kahne, Kevin Killen, Holly Knight, Ryan Leslie, Chris Lord-Alge, Tom Lord-Alge, Lawrence Manchester, Paul Northfield, Paul Oakenfold, William Orbit, Hugh Padgham, GGGarth Richardson, Andros Rodriguez, Dan Romer, Jesse Rogg, Geoff Sanoff, Elliot Scheiner, Matt Shane, Chris Shaw, Trina Shoemaker, Sly and Robbie, Randy Staub, Tony Visconti, Andy Wallace, Josh Wilbur, Alex Wong, Brad Wood, and Emily Wright.
While having a manager is no guarantee of a multi-platinum career for a producer, mixer or engineer, there’s an undeniable connection between hits and the people in the above list, all of whom employ a manager. But can a producer manager actually get more – and better-paying – projects for their clients? And how does an emerging audio pro snag one of these desirable wingmen for themselves?
The most common expectation that audio pros have for hiring a manager is that their workload will increase significantly. Most managers see that as a primary function, but also point out that their job description has many diverse aspects which go far beyond that benefit.
New York-based music industry veteran Joe D’Ambrosio started his full-service management company 10 years ago, and has grown a roster that includes Tony Visconti, Hugh Padgham, Kevin Killen, Elliot Scheiner, Joe Zook, Larry Gold, Rob Mounsey, Jay Newland, Lawrence Manchester and many more producers, mixers, arrangers, songwriters and engineers.
“A manager really does three things,” D’Ambrosio says. “33% marketing you, 33% getting you work, and 33% getting you paid. That last one is quite important: You’d be surprised how many people, big and small, don’t get paid — or get paid in an untimely fashion.”
By removing his clients from discussing finances, D’Ambrosio explains, it allows them to focus solely on their craft. “The first thing I attempt to impress on the clients I represent is, ‘If you’re going to allow me the pleasure of representing you, you cannot talk about money. If people ask you how much to mix, tell them three words: Talk to Joe. He’s there to handle the business.’”
On the “gets-you-work” tip that D’Ambrosio lists, tuned-in producer managers can be a major asset in the current climate, where the plentiful major label projects that once kept everyone busy have slowed to a relative trickle. “The whole industry is smaller and more compact,” says Alia Fahlborg, Executive VP of Nettwerk Producer Management. “It used to be that if you were a producer, you didn’t have to worry about not getting the big pop or rock record, because there was plenty to go around. The challenge now is you have far more producers and mixers competing for less work, with smaller budgets than ever before.
“I’m always on my soap box saying that the producer is the next-most important person in the industry, besides the artist themselves,” continues Fahlborg, who counts Howard Benson, Bob Clearmountain, Chris Lord-Alge, Tom Lord-Alge, Mike Shipley, and Victor Van Vugt among her 21-client roster. “The rest of us are expendable, but the producers, mixers and engineers are the ones actually making the product that everyone else is selling. So their part in this whole thing is invaluable.”
But supply is at an all-time high in proportion to projects, as noted by Sandy Roberton, who is widely regarded as a pioneering force in producer management. Currently, Roberton’s L.A.-based firm World’s End represents a long list of audio pros including Nick Launay, CJ Eiriksson, Matthew Wilder, Atticus Ross, and Peter Katis.
“At any one time, there are only a handful of producers or mixers who are in demand at that moment,” he observes. “Bearing in mind that a good producer or mixer doesn’t suddenly become a bad producer or mixer, they are simply in and out of fashion. A good manager is constantly in touch with labels, A&R, artists, and managers to keep their clients’ name in their thoughts.”
As producer managers go about their task of marketing their clients to artists, managers, and labels, they strive to articulate an audio pro’s value to an upcoming project, while making their connection to successful past projects crystal clear. In the process, managers maintain a link between their clients and the outside world.
“Hopefully they’re in the studio all the time, so while producers are trying to be creative and focus on their current project, they need someone out there promoting them,” Fahlborg says. “It may take a year for a record to get made, and it can be really difficult for them to come out of the cave and say, ‘I’m here!’ So it’s really helpful for the manager to be out there, interacting with the industry, and keeping them in the loop.”
Debbi Gibbs, who heads up Manhattan-based Just Managing, and along with Dan Backhaus represents a nine-client producer/mixer/engineer roster including James Brown, Chris Coady, Geoff Sanoff, and Matt Shane, agrees that providing a conduit to the outside world is a key function. “What a manager does,” she says, “is to make sure that everyone can find them, that the artists who work with them are kept informed and responded to in a timely manner, and that the best projects that come in are scheduled and organized in the most effective way. So producers can do more of what they want to do.”
Of course, audio pros don’t just want a nonstop stream of projects. They want projects that fit their skillset and creative outlook, and a good producer manager will keep on top of their clients’ personal evolution. “You think about the combination of projects that they’ll be doing, how those projects will use their skills, and what will be the most effective musically,” notes Gibbs. “But a record producer often sees himself going in one direction, while the artist who’s interested in them likes something they did a year or two ago. Part of my job is finding projects that are halfway between where a producer’s been and where they’re going – rather than something that’s strictly about what they did in the past.”
When Working with a Producer Manager Makes Sense
So how does a producer, mixer, or engineer know when they’re ready to take that next step, and legitimately vie for a spot on a manager’s roster?
“Essentially, if a producer has gotten to the point where they are so focused on the artists they’re working with that other projects are getting away from them, they need a manager,” Gibbs says. “There’s a lot to be said for producers taking care of themselves, so they know the logistics of the business. But once that gets in the way of them doing the best job in the studio, they’re ready for a manger — if the business is taking up their time or distracting their headspace, they should start looking.”
In addition to getting them the kind of work they know and love, producers and their brethren may look to a manager for help in diversification. Ollie Hammett is an NYC-based producer manager for Sir Elton John’s Rocket Music. “I think we’re in a unique position to help develop the careers of producers,” he says, “in both traditional ways i.e. producing records for artists as well as new ways, too, through opportunities in digital, interactive, film, television and theater. It’s an exciting time for music producers and there are many opportunities to rewrite the rule book.
“Anyone capable of providing music production, engineering or mixing services to the highest level (needs a manager),” Hammett continues. “You could be an up-and-coming producer who needs development but shows great potential, or someone who is self-managed and at the point where you need help. You could also be someone who is unhappy with an existing or previous management relationship and looking for a fresh start.”
Chris Lord-Alge, the world-class mixer whose massive platinum discography includes everyone from James Brown, Tina Turner, Stevie Nicks and Green Day, to My Chemical Romance, Snow Patrol, Shinedown and Daughtry, is represented by Alia Fahlborg. “Getting a proper manager is something you build up to,” he says. “I recommend it as a way to keep yourself in the talent pool – and not just the ‘worker’ pool. When you do make a decision as to who will represent you, it’s got to be someone you trust.
“But the other point to consider is, are you willing to give up a percentage to have someone work with you? If not, then a talented manager won’t work with you. A manager is worth the cut they take, but you also need someone you can call 24 hours a days. If a good manager will take a cut of your income, then they should pick up the phone when you need them.”
Winning a Place on a Producer Manager’s Roster
Once an audio pro has targeted a manager, the next step is to make it onto their roster. With fewer projects available, managers can be expected to be even more discerning than ever in their client selection process.
In D’Ambrosio’s case, the formula is a mix of “excellence, skills, communicative ability, accomplishments and earnings.”
Similarly, Gibbs of Just Managing looks at intangibles just as closely as the balance sheet. “I have a lot of really good producers come to us, but I don’t always get a handle on what we can do to help them,” she says. “Picking the right clients is an ongoing challenge. We think we’ll take another two clients at some point this year, and choosing who that will be is always a big decision for us. It’s very crucial that we understand our clients musically, but I can’t take on a client just by looking at their discography.
“If it’s someone who’s skilled technically, but doesn’t feel strongly about the music they make, I probably wouldn’t know what to do with them,” Gibbs continues. “Producers have so many different techniques, and their studio experience is what allows a band to produce the best performance possible. You need to know your client’s m.o. in order to put them together with the right people.”
“I would say you need undeniable talent and an incredible work ethic,” advises Hammett. “Rocket’s core business is artist management and the producer roster is still small, but I think the common thread and what we look for in general is exceptional, unique clients whose work speaks for itself. We’re actively looking for new clients as part of our expansion. Personally I’m very proactive at making contact with producers/engineers or mixers that I’m excited about, and building relationships with them. We do get quite a few people reaching out, enquiring about representation too.”
Of course, the age-old chicken-or-the-egg quandary can come up for young producers, mixers or engineers who know they have the skills, but haven’t had the breakout hit yet to prove it. “There’s a Catch-22 sometimes for producers and mixers,” Fahlborg acknowledges. “They feel they could benefit from having a manager, but the manager has to have something to run with – chart success or something that’s really buzzing. There needs to be something I can grab onto, or else I can’t be effective.
“A new client also has to be the right fit,” continues Fahlborg. “You want to have a roster that complements one another, and doesn’t compete to each client’s detriment. Ultimately, if I think I can help a prospective client long term, I want to work with them. If I can’t, I won’t want to be involved.”
Falhborg receives several emails a week from audio pros hoping to get onto her roster. “I think that’s fine — they need to hustle and get along in their careers,” she says. “I try to look at them all, and if someone catches my eye, I’ll get back to them. Or I might say, ‘There’s no room on our roster right now, but keep me posted.’ Email is the best, most effective way to pitch yourself to me, and we do look at everyone who gets in touch.”
What to Expect from a Producer Manager
For those who make the grade and sign on with a producer manager, they’ll find that outside of the core offerings, each firm may exhibit different specialties and strengths.
“Broadly speaking, we offer full service career management which covers pretty much everything,” says Hammett. “For example, marketing your skills and services, managing your schedule, helping to find new projects, negotiating deals, building strategic partnerships, and handling all communication on projects between managers, labels and lawyers. Rocket also offers in-house legal and finance functions. If something very specific is needed that’s outside the scope of management, such as tax accounting, we’ll help find someone who can effectively handle that for our client.”
At Nettwerk, Fahlborg takes considerable pride in her firm’s in-house project coordinators, as well as their commitment to air-tight royalty tracking. “Our coordinators do the day-to-day of planning budgets, booking studios, booking musicians, and invoicing. And they chase the money, which is an increasingly difficult time expenditure.
“We interact with the attorneys on contracts, and once I’ve negotiated a deal I make sure that the deal I’ve made is reflected in the contract. Then there’s royalties. We often need to track down the statements, and make sure the correct advance is in there. I have one person who does all royalty tracking and analyzing of statements — that’s almost invaluable, because there are a lot of checks that never show up unless you chase them down fervently.”
For Lord-Alge, the biggest benefit of having management comes back to the concept of staying outside of financial discussions. “The biggest problem you have as an engineer, mixer or produce is that you can’t talk business with an artist,” he confirms. “Having proper management representing you is what gets you past being a salaried, paid person to an entity. That way you never have to get involved in negotiating money or time. Then you never have to know anything but one word: ‘yes.’
“That’s important, because as soon as you’re talking money, you’re not the talent any more. You’re really only supposed to have to talk with your clients about the creation of music, and what will make it better. When people ask you your price and you can say, ‘I don’t know – ask my manager,’ that’s one thing. But if you have to say, ‘It’ll cost $2,000 for me do to this,’ then you may as well be behind the cash register. You’re selling yourself. But you want an artist or label to work with you because you have talent – not because you provide a service.”
The Financial Commitment
So what’s it going to cost you? Although there are always exceptions, the typical arrangement is a 15% commission to the manager, on all projects negotiated. If the client is a writer/producer, some managers will receive a cut of the publishing as well, while others choose to keep it simple and stay out of the back end.
Whether or not that 15% will be worth it depends on many different factors. According to one multi-platinum mixer, management became nonessential as major label work grew increasingly scarce.
“A good manager will help you get work, and my previous manager did that to a certain extent, but not a lot,” says the mixer, who asked to remain anonymous. “But I don’t think that it’s a reasonable expectation that the manager will get you work. Remember — the client is looking for you, not the manager. My manager’s value came in for handling the backend and negotiating deals. When I was busy, I needed someone to handle day-to-day business, billing and that kind of stuff, which is a big pain.
“But it wasn’t worth 15% for me. In the past, managers would make really good deals that made it worth it, but with the changes in the business, that just didn’t happen anymore. If you’re a producer/writer who’s guaranteed a backend, then I believe a manager is necessary. But for a mixer, I don’t think so.”
For this mixer, the diminished workload made self-sufficiency the only real option. “With the economics of the music business today,” he says, “there isn’t much of a deal that a manager could make for you, that you couldn’t make for yourself. In order to make getting a manager make sense, you’d have to see way over a 15% increase in income, and its that much more work to offset that. I just don’t see that happening.”
Producer managers who are in the thick of a fast-changing market will be the first to confirm that the act of matching production talent to artist has undergone a major transformation. “When I managed bands, they didn’t have direct access to producers or their discography – artists had to rely on the record company to tell them what Steve Lillywhite was doing, and how to get ahold of him,” Debbi Gibbs states. “But now bands don’t rely on the record companies for that: They rely on the Internet.
“So the vast majority of the decision-making around producers comes from bands directly. They like knowing you’re professional, and knowing that a producer who has a manager will make things move smoothly, and deliver on budget.”
“The most important thing to know about the relationship is that it’s a partnership,” adds Fahlborg. “People think a manager will come in, and all this magic stuff will happen. But it’s hard work, not magic, and the client has to be doing their part as much as the manager. It’s so important for the manager and the client to be in communication, and be working the different situations together.”
The payoff for the team is when a producer, mixer, or engineer keeps moving forward as the two work in tandem.
“The biggest challenge remains managing your client’s expectations,” says Joe D’Ambrosio. “You do that through constant communication, expressing honesty and heartfelt wisdom throughout. The best reward is when a producer, manager or artist calls me and says, ‘Your client did a job for us. I can’t tell you how happy we are, thank you.’ I say, ‘No, thank YOU!”
Debbi Gibbs offers up a picture of the producer manager who can grow their practice in the current industry. “If you like the idea of a low-profile position in the music business that allows you to have amazing people as clients, you could be well positioned as a producer manager.”
In that sense, Alia Fahlborg is very much living the dream. “Like a lot of my clients, I get up in the morning and I’m excited for something that I’ve done for many years,” she says. When you work with so many great producers, mixers and engineers, you get to see what they do on a deep level. You see the demos, their involvement in the studio process, and you see how much better the music can be with a top producer or mixer involved. To be a part of what they’re doing, and making their careers better in some way, is a privilege.”
– David Weiss