Cat Herding and Other Exploits

One of the guys working here at the country pub where I am living and working has also managed bands.

As a result we’ve had some interesting conversations.

I decided to stop managing bands after working with The Hellphones until about 2005. But over the years I have worked with:

The General Woodheads
Scabbie Annie
The Blasting Scones
Psycho Reptiles
Dizzy Spiral
The New Academics
Japan and I
The Hellphones

Clearly not one for commercial sounds me! No wonder it was always such a struggle to make a living.

But these conversations with Kevin have reminded me of the good times, the amazingly cool stuff that comes with being a manager. It’s a bit like being a proud father I guess. When the band kills live it is a bit like what I imagine watching your off-springs first achievements are like. Weird cos as a manager I never had anything to do with the music, but it’s just great to watch them go and say to yourself, ‘Yeah, I helped them get there.’

Writing 1,2,1,2 and doing all my subsequent workshops and consultations though I realised that I had never in fact been a very good band manager. I was a pretty good booking agent, and I was good at the media, marketing side of things, but for many years I was basically clueless about the stuff that I now view as of paramount importance: the business relationships, intellectual property management and long term strategy.

I kinda got into the whole managing thing like many things in my life: by default. I was just the guy who was OK to talking to people… be it on the phone or face to face. SO I got to phone venues, go to meet managers and promoters for all the bands I played in. After a while I guess I realised that I was better at that than playing the bass. I certainly practised playing the bass a lot less then I spent on the business related stuff.

I kinda regret that. I coulda been a pretty good bass player. I could keep time and I have always loved the sound and function of bass guitar. I doubt I will ever seriously get into it again, especially now that I have taken up guitar after all these years. But hey, this is the stuff books are made of, and 1,2,1,2 certainly would never have been born without the years spent being a bad band manager!

In the tiny market that is South Africa and in the even tinier niche that was alternative music, I found band management to be more akin to herding cats than anything else. A lot of guys want management, but they don’t want to be directed. They often behave in ways that seem designed to annoy or antagonise. Almost as if they need a parental figure to kick against in order to stay edgy and rebellious. As a result I spent a lot of time acting like an irate parent. Truth is the rules of engagement were never really set up properly. I have come to believe that for a manager to be really effective, the artist and manager need to sit down and actually state how successful they want to be and what they are prepared to do in order to get there.

As a manager, you are always driven to make the artist bigger and more famous, better know, more commercially viable. This is because you earn a percentage of their earning. The only way to make more money for you is if the artist earns more. Many artists baulk at this. At first they love it and want the help, but after around 6 months to a year they begin to resent it.

Why? I guess because, like most of us who are chasing down a dream, we’ve never had a really good think about what achieving that dream will look like. In many ways we have just decided that it won’t happen. When some of it starts to be realised, we get scared and nervous and back away. Also, the role of manager is essentially disempowering for an artist. The sense of a loss of control over your destiny sweeps everyone who has been managed sooner or later. If this isn’t anticipated and handled correctly, it can lead to silly and disastrous things happening.

In my career as a manager, I always handled these things badly. I can admit that now. Yes the artists were being dumbasses. But I handled it badly and didn’t anticipate this backlash. But hey, you live and learn. If I ever manage any artist again, they will live in a cardboard box and only come out when I have thoroughly pre-programmed them in what to do and say!
No really, kidding!

Now I am more concerned with establishing the lessons I learned from management and trying to apply them to my own career as an artist: writer, poet, performer, musician and speaker. The games may seem different but many of the rules remain the same. And I sometimes resent the pre-determined, controlled stuff I have set up for myself as manager to me the artists. It’s a joke really! So predictable.

So I guess I spent about 15 years in total herding cats. An amazing time. Like seeing Scabbie Annie have such a good set that the legendary Springbok Nude Girls look average afterwards, Like watching The Hellphones play the gig of the festival at Oppikoppi when they were the first band up at sunset on the B stage. Like hearing the New Academics on radio and watching people’s jaws drop. Man, good shit!

Thanks to all the bands for working with me and for all the good times.

There is a book in those years somewhere.

Maybe one day I’ll write it.

Wish I took more photographs dammit!