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Jeff Risden: Behind Those Who Rock (Part 1)

Jeff Risden
Artist Management - Relient K and House of Heroes

GMA '05 Nashville, TN

InReview: So, what kind of management do you do. Road management?
Jeff: No, we do artist management. We look over their careers to help them navigate the waters that make the music business and hopefully help them develop and build artists and careers.

InReview: Ok, I used to think you just have a band, a road manager, and a promoter.
Jeff: The road manager is part of it. The promoters have nothing to do with the artist. The promoters have their own little deal. They have their own companies and they promote in their areas. The road manager just deals with stuff on the road so I don't have to do it. That is what Scott [Cannon, Relient K's road manager] does. I make sure the guys are OK and that the record label is doing their job and the booking agent is doing their job and the publicist is doing their job. To make sure that everyone around them is paying attention.

InReview: So you are kind of the liaison between the band and everybody else?
Jeff: And we make sure that the radio team is doing what they are supposed to be doing to get the [latest] single played on the radio station and the publicist is pitching for the right articles and the right interviews and then helping to schedule those with the band when they get them. And make sure the marketing department is following and executing their marketing plan.

InReview: So, if I am a band and I want to do the management by myself, what would you say to that?
Jeff: It depends on the band. It depends on what their situation is and what they want to do. I think for most bands, it is really a time issue. Artists are artists. Often times when you are in a band, you want to make music. They do not want to spend twelve hours a day talking to promoters or to labels or this sponsor or whatever. So what we do helps [to] free them up to take care of what they love doing - playing and creating music. We take care of the business side. We take care of making sure that, when they go on the road, everything is taken care of.

So when they show up at the venue, there are tickets sold, there is [merchandise] there, there is sound and lights at the place, [that] there is security and staff that is running it. Often as artists, they do not have the time, first of all because they could be writing music on the road, or going out and doing interviews, [etc.]. An artist cannot handle all that and do what they do great.

The other thing we have is the connections. We spend a lot of time cultivating and building relationships on behalf of the artists. And all those relationships help their career along. It is not always possible for the artist to establish those relationships right off the bat.

And a third thing is a lot of people want to hang out with the artist, but they don't want to deal with the artist. They don't want to necessarily talk shop. Some people do but the labels don't want to get down and dirty with an artist. Especially if things are not going well because they don't want to have to have those hard conversations. They can have them with management because we are the buffer. And we are supposed to be that objective viewpoint that kind of filters both sides of the story. So if the band is upset about something, instead of the band calling up the record label and yelling at them about something, they can express their frustration to us, and then we can go in and [say] "Here is what he really meant to say," kind of thing. But we will see what the problem is and see how we can solve it.

When bands fly in to do a date, they have a rider that says we need this kind of amp, this kind of drum kit, this kind of piano or whatever. And most promoters, they want to save money where they can. So they figure, "Oh, well a piano is a piano." Or, "A keyboard is a keyboard." Or, "That Fender amp is as good as that Marshall amp so we do not need to get that exact one." But they do not realize how much of that is a comfort aide or a piece of mind as an artist where he you can come in and go, "Ah. Exactly. I use that dual electrifier. I know exactly how to set my knobs now." It is more a psychological thing. It is like having to have a security blanket for all the years they have been touring and doing fly dates, to arrive at a festival and not have the gear.

It is more of a respect thing at this point. Because the [Relient K] guys are at that level where they can pretty much just get whatever they need. Because they are headlining and the headliner always gets what they want and everyone else has to use whatever the headliner is using. But Matt [Thiessen - lead singer] has not really experienced that yet and especially on the general market side. On the general market side, you will get whatever you want, whenever you want because they just do not want unhappy artists.

But with Christian promoters, they do not want unhappy artists but at the same time there is a whole feeling of [the fact that] it is a ministry. In the general market, they have so many other issues they are dealing with, if they can get the artist set up by getting the right amp or the right keyboard or the right drum kit - if that is all it takes - you got it. You will have exactly what you want because they have got fifteen other issues that they have to deal with that are more pressing than whether or not the artist has the right amp or not.

InReview: So what is one of the hardest things you have ever had to deal with in talking to an artist about something as a manager?
Jeff: Probably why they are not selling records. Every one has an ego. We all have our own ego about whatever we do or this and that. And artists have huge egos. You have to have an ego in order to get up in front of thousands of people each night. An ego is not necessarily a bad thing, it is how you handle it and whether you flaunt it or not. But all artists want to be accepted. They all want people to like them and what they are doing. And it is a hard thing when records don't sell and then the artists never want to look at themselves. They always want to point the blame at the manager, at the booking agent, at the record label. And often times it is just a matter of, "Look. You are doing these things, you should not be doing this," or, "You are doing this wrong," or, "You have made these certain decisions."

And that is one of the big things that managers do. We have to look at the big picture. An artist is in their world where they are focused on creating art and performing and getting in front of people and artist managers step back and look at everything. We look at the big picture from the label and the touring, from the publishing and the merchandise and how that all works together. When we make recommendations to artists, it is based on everything we see around us and how it is all working together. And what is not working and what areas need attention. And some artists are great - they will let the manager take it and run with it. Others want to be really involved with that. And either one of them is fine.

You just hope that at the end of the day that they can be as objective as you try to be. And unfortunately, a lot of artists can't be objective. Like any of us when we are dealing with our own situation when someone is coming at you and saying, "This is why something is wrong" and trying to put the blame on you, nine times out of ten, you are not going to take that objectively. You are going to fight back. And it is a difficult conversation when you are like, "This is not working. You need to address this." And just try to explain to the artist why, when a lot of times they do not want to look at themselves.

I would have to say, we do not have those conversations very often. We have been very fortunate to work with good artists. [We have] artists that are able to develop and turn into something bigger and things are working for them, so we don't have to have a lot of these conversations. But those are hard to have when you have to have them.

InReview: So it sounds like sometimes you have to be parents to them.
Jeff: It is kind of derogatory but they call it babysitting. And it is not that artists are babies, but it is the fact that you are watching over everything and you are having to make sure that, "Hey, don't get yourself in trouble over there. If you make that decision, this is what could happen." When we sit down with an artist and explain to them what we do, we are there to counsel. We are there to bounce ideas off of to help choose lines. If you do this, this and this, you will end up here. This will be good. You will end up here. If you do this, this and this, is it is your decision but it could be bad and you will end up over here." And one of the frustrating parts of being a manager is [that] you still have to support that artist. At the end of the day, it is their career so they are going to make the final decision on whatever they do. And if they decide to do something that you don't feel is in their best interest, you are still going to support that.

Part of it, too, is that hopefully you are working with an act that you have a relationship with them, that you kind of know what they are about and what they want to do, so you do not have situations like that. It is very team oriented. You set the goal, and everyone is looking toward that goal - management, the band, the booking agent and the record label. And that makes what we do a lot easier. If we have issues with the record label who want to do one thing with the band, and the band wants to do another, and the booking agent is trying to book something completely outside of what anyone wants to do, and the publicist is doing completely wrong interviews for the guys, or whatever, then it is just a big mess because no one is working together. And there is not a focus of moving forward. And that is when you are having to regroup and get everyone together and say, "Ok, what is going on here?"

Please continue to the second part of the interview with Jeff Risden.