‘It’s a gut-in­stinct busi­ness’

Man­ager Joe Clarke talks to Niall Byrne about the y busi­ness of build­ing artist ca­reers

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - MUSIC -

The suc­cess of a mu­sic man­ager for an act is built on re­la­tion­ships, strat­egy and work­ing hard to get the best for your artist, says Joe Clarke, who man­ages the likes of Le Galaxie, Mark Mc­Cabe, The Bl­iz­zards, The Strypes, Kor­mac and Bitch Fal­con.

“There’s loads of peo­ple work­ing in man­age­ment who are like the fourth mem­ber of the band,” Clarke says. “That’s not what a man­ager is sup­posed to be. A man­ager is sup­posed to be one step away look­ing at the big pic­ture.”

Clarke’s man­age­ment work is one of three strands of his com­pany CWB, which can in­clude putting on an air­show, pro­duc­ing events for coun­cils or arts or­gan­i­sa­tion, or tour­ing big or­ches­tral shows across Europe, such as The Le­gend of Zelda: Sym­phony of the God­desses. CWB’s man­age­ment ros­ter also in­cludes RSAG, Maud In Ca­hoots, Stomp­town Brass, Jerry Fish and Jack O’Rourke, and five peo­ple over­see the acts.

En­thu­si­asm, op­por­tu­nity, avail­abil­ity and ac­tiv­ity are fac­tors in adding a new band to the ros­ter. The process starts with about 80 ques­tions about what the band want, what they can do and what their per­sonal sit­u­a­tion is: how flex­i­ble they are to tour in Ger­many at the drop of a hat, for ex­am­ple. Man­age­ment is of­ten about see­ing what others can’t as was the case with two bag-wear­ing Lim­er­ick co­me­di­ans.

Around 2007, the Rub­ber­ban­dits were be­com­ing known for their prank-call record­ings. Clarke talked to them for two years be­fore hatch­ing a man­age­ment plan with Paul Webb, that started with “a great 10-minute live show”, and ex­ploded with the 2010 vi­ral sin­gle Horse Out­side.

They cap­i­talised on the in­ter­na­tional in­ter­est that fol­lowed and Blind­boy Boat Club and Mr Chrome’s ca­reers were steered to­wards reg­u­lar live gigs, MTV ap­pear­ances, an Aus­tralian tour and a Chan­nel 4 pi­lot. “You’re get­ting phone calls from all over the world and you try and get that into a strat­egy to pro­long a ca­reer into some­thing that doesn’t be­come just a flash in the pan.”

While Clarke and Rub­ber­ban­dits no longer work to­gether, the split was am­i­ca­ble enough.“I think a mis­take man­agers some­times make is they hold on for dear life to an act when the act re­ally needs some more ex­pert ad­vice,” says Clarke. “It’s a hu­man busi­ness, we’re manag­ing hu­mans and we have to con­sider that at all time.”

When CWB got in­volved with The Bl­iz­zards, who had gone on hia­tus in 2009 and re­turned last year, Clarke was faced with a dif­fer­ent kind of chal­lenge than grow­ing a band’s ca­reer.

Play­im­ng­pitch

The Bl­iz­zards’s singer Bressie had be­come a men­tal-health ad­vo­cate and a TV per­son­al­ity in the in­ter­ven­ing years but while the band did well in the time be­fore his celebrity, the play­ing pitch had changed com­pletely and so had the age of their au­di­ence.

“The chal­lenge there is not to dwell too much on the nos­tal­gia be­cause there is a great love for them,” says Clarke.

The plan now in­cludes a pub­lish­ing deal be­cause Clarke says their song­writ­ing could open up fur­ther op­por­tu­ni­ties in the in­dus­try. “We are show­cas­ing their new songs as much as their live shows.”

It doesn’t al­ways work out though. A man­ager may love an act but some­times things don’t click or an act won’t break through as ex­pected.

“Maybe you were wrong, maybe the tim­ing wasn’t right,” says Clarke. “It’s a gut in­stinct busi­ness and when you go out on a limb for some­thing that you re­ally like and it doesn’t click, it can be heart­break­ing.”

If things do work out and a band get an in­ter­na­tional record­ing con­tract, then there’s other things to worry about. Le Galaxie’s soon-to-be-re­leased third al­bum has a US record deal and that la­bel has dic­tated that the al­bum will be re­leased in March 2018, de­spite the band hav­ing fin­ished it in the early part of 2017.

A band can’t con­tinue to play the same old live songs as fa­tigue can set in so Le Galaxie have cul­ti­vated op­por­tu­ni­ties as DJs through reg­u­lar par­ties and monthly mixes. Those par­ties keep both the band and fans sated while they wait for the al­bum.

“The DJ gigs have been spec­tac­u­lar at keep­ing the band’s vis­i­bil­ity out there with­out over-sat­u­rat­ing them in live shows. Le Galaxie built their rep­u­ta­tion as a live band and we needed to find some­thing that scratches that itch.”

Clarke warns that you can’t rely on stream­ing ser­vices like Spo­tify to do all the work when the al­bum does come out. Get­ting mil­lions of plays on a plat­form is great but there needs to be plenty of hard work to back it up.

“There are bands out there who have five mil­lion streams who can’t sell 100 tick­ets in real life. It’s quite easy to get a good run on Spo­tify but it’s about what you do with that suc­cess; that’s what a man­ager does. They har­ness small suc­cess into a ca­reer. It’s what hap­pens next that’s im­por­tant.”

There are bands out there who have five mil­lion streams who can’t sell 100 tick­ets in real life. It’s about what you do with that suc­cess; that’s what a man­ager does

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