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NICHOLEE SMITH: The Beast Called 'Manager'

Sounding Off
Published November 1996

Manager speak with forked tongue, says Rehearsal Studio co‑owner Nicholee Smith.

Within the music business, there necessarily exists the beast called manager. Left to peaceful slumber, manager is happy to lie dormant, waiting for one of the flock he has gathered unto himself (by means of seriously binding contract) to do something. The definition of 'flock', as used above, is construed as 'the band', who at all times heretoforward shall be known as 'the band!' The definition of 'to do something', for the purposes of all involved parties hereunder, is, or may pertain to, any activity which may bring about or increase the chance of possible fame via leafleting, postering, gigging, radio interviews or sessions, phoning venues, or publicising 'the band'.

You'll know the manager is awake when crusty red eyes are seen rolling side to side, seconds before the slug‑like creature leaps to his feet, waving aforementioned contract whilst reminding aforementioned band of their obligations to abovementioned slimeball!

Strangely, the band is urged to sit back whilst the manager works. Not that he's been napping — he's been mustering all his strength for this moment, when without his guidance, your talent (which he first recognised, and which is why he signed you) is nothing.

Musicians beware! One band was encouraged to take out a bank loan with the manager as guarantor, so that they could put out some product, strictly on the understanding that he would get the gigs to bring in the cash to repay the money. They were told to stop getting their own work, as it would look better if he did it.

Their mistake was to listen. They went on rehearsing, while staying in touch with him. No work came in via the manager, and the loan was due. Their salvation was that as they had also kept the bank informed, they were liable for only a part of the loan. The fault lay with the manager, and his total lack of action.

At our rehearsal studio, we get to hear who's been picked up by management. Musicians are always chuffed when somebody's handling their talent; it's a mark of achievement, and shows they're going somewhere.

From us, they go on to recording studios, or out gigging, before coming back to re‑work their set. For most bands, this is the straightforward pattern of things. That's because the majority of them are, happily, manager‑free zones. What managers will say is that they're so 'original', but that they'll do zip without the right type of guidance.

How often we've seen the scenario repeated with bands. They come in and practice on a regular basis, the manager squirms his way in, says his piece, fills the space between a musician's ears with garbage, and off they all trot in a neat line. They turn up eventually, having had a small taste of success, only to then have the rug pulled out from under them at an early stage. They listened too closely to the manager's hypnotic tones and lost the power of their own minds and wills. They prostituted themselves playing whatever music the old slug wanted them to, in the manner he wanted it played. The most recent one is, "Be more punk, guys. It's the latest. It's really you... Trust me! I KNOW."

Believe me, musicians, if the manager could do what you do, he'd be doing it, not trying to gain status unbecoming him by leeching off you. Managers are too busy listening to A&R departments, trying to take shortcuts straight to record company cash and deals, before their charges are seriously road‑hardened enough to be fruitful in the long term. The bands need time to become practised in their art, sharpen up their skills, learn the art of communication on stage. And managers would be better off concentrating on this kind of thing, getting the gigs and publicity sorted, while leaving the playing for the players to sort out.

The latest band to meet their doom under the (mis)guidance of such management types is drifting back to our rehearsal facility, player by player. They didn't survive. They hadn't heeded our warnings to beware, to follow their own instincts regarding their music and direction. They used to make their own sound. They were one of the better bands. Now they've split.