NOTE: This is a second of a two-part feature with an insider in the music industry, Jeff Risden. Please read the first part if you have not done so already.
inReview: So when you are sitting in an office, and the band or artist is out touring, how do you get to know the band?
Jeff: I try to spend a lot of time on the road with the band or artist. I enjoy the road. Over time as you would any friendship. I consider all of my artists as friends. And I just take the time to invest in them. When they come through town, I hang out. Go to the movies. Go to dinner. Go to a baseball game. Whatever. Just get to know each other better. And we also have very specific conversations about what they want to do and where they want to go — what are their goals. And it is in those conversations where we can start formulating, "Here is what we have to do. Here is the plan we can take." And you can sit down with them and fine-tune it as things go along. It is a process. You are not going to know everything about a particular artist in six hours or in a week. It takes a good amount of time.
Even now, I have been with Relient K for six years, and we are still learning stuff about each other. It is a continual process. You just have to stay in touch. You have to communicate — email, phone, all that works.
inReview: So if I am in a band and I want an artist manager, how do I pay them?
Jeff: Managers are paid based on commission. Reputable managers get paid on commission. Because there are a lot of scams out there where people say, "Pay us a thousand dollars a month, and we'll do this for you." In the music business, artists never pay for anything up front. It is commission based. You don't pay someone to book dates for you unless they book dates for you. You pay your manager if you are making money. The manager's job is to help generate income for that artist. Whether it be touring or merchandise or publishing or endorsements, or whatever else. If the artist is making money, it is most likely the manager who is doing a good job and helping to build that brand and creating value for the brand and that is how the manager gets paid.
It is similar to the booking agent. You never pay someone to book your band for you unless they are generating income. If someone books a $1,500.00 date for the band, that person gets a commission because they actually generated income. They should not be paid something by the band in the hopes of getting a date. So it is all about — is the band making money, then we make money. If they are not making money, then we don't make money.
inReview: Now specifically with Relient K and their general market exposure. Is there anything new with Relient K that you have to deal with as a manager as a result of dealing with the general market end as opposed to the Christian end?
Jeff: The mentality is different in the general market. It is purely about selling records and building an artist. In the Christian market, it is very geared toward the church. And it is very niche oriented. The record labels specifically sell to this one little culture. They try to break out but they really are not equipped to do that. But with a record label like Capitol, they have all the resources in the world to take a band and get them tons of opportunities. Whether it is playing on the Tonight Show or helping to get them on certain tours or making sure their records are in certain positioning in the retail stores — the end caps and things like that. I do not hear, "No," a lot. If you have an idea and it is going to help sell records, they will try it.
And in the Christian market, I have found — with several labels, not just with one particular label — I don't get the feeling that they are looking to break a lot of new ground. They are very locked in to what they do and they are very comfortable with that. It might be the case of they just do not know who to call to get their foot in the door in certain new areas. But there does not seem to be the same type of intense focus that there is on the artist as there is in the general market from the label. That is not to say that general market labels do that for every band. I know smaller bands do not get as much attention than the bigger bands. And the same thing happens in the Christian market. But it seems that the general market labels honestly believe in building the band. Everything they do is going to help sell records.
In the Christian market, we do all kinds of tours and we get outside publicists to help with tour publicity because the record labels do not do tour publicity. Whereas at Capitol, my publicist does everything. She does not want to hire anyone else. Because Capitol — they want to own everything about that band. They want to be able to take the responsibility completely for how the record sells, how the artist is branded, how the artist breaks. And it is fascinating to watch. They have pulled out all the stops. And obviously it helps when they have a lot more money to do those things.
But the more we get into it, the more it shows that the Christian labels are very singular focused and they are not really looking to go out. They will talk about it. They put their records in Wal-Mart and Target and Best Buy. But at the end of the day, they are not doing a whole lot to support that. They are not driving kids there per se, they are still really serving the church, which is fine and necessary. But if we are really serious about taking these bands and taking this message broader, they really have got to start looking at things differently. They have got to start to think about doing these things differently. I think if they do, they will find there is a much more receptive audience out there for some of these bands and it will actually help them with the resources they don't currently have. If they will sell more records and make more money and that is more money for them to do plug into some of these things and they can do some of these things on their own as opposed to having to either lose the band or take the band go to another label and have them do it for them.
Some bands don't want that. Some bands want to serve the Christian marketplace in the church. And that is important. It is important that there are musicians investing into the church because Christians need to be encouraged and built up and edified. And at the same time, some bands feel that they need something different, something bigger than that in terms of outreach and bringing some hope into a dark place. I just don't think the Christian record labels are set up to really effectively do that.
Even if you look at MercyMe, they are a great example because they are signed with INO which is a great record label and Curb is the label that actually put their single to mainstream radio. So they had to have help doing that. And Capitol is helping Gotee with Relient K and Columbia [is helping] with Switchfoot. They still have their deal with Sparrow. But Columbia is the one that has taken them to mainstream and has had the resources to break it open. I think there should be more partnerships out there for labels to do that with certain artists and I think it is a good thing.
inReview: Is there anything else you want to add about being an artist manager?
Jeff: It is not very glamorous. [laughs] No, it is fun. It is a great job to have. It is nice to be able to sit back and do your little part to help the artist have the impact that they have. And to see the results of another life that can change by the artist going out there every night. I used to work for a guy when I was an agent. He said the coolest thing about the job that we have is that we know that every night out there, because of the work that we have done behind the scenes, there is one life being changed tonight. At the time, we had thirty different artists so there was always somebody on the road. That is why we do what we do. Being able to help the artist get their message out.