Are you a musician? Is your band having issues? Our new advice columnist, who we’re going to call Fan Landers (a.k.a. Jessica Hopper), is ready to give you Real Talk about any problems your musical outfit might be having—whether professional, practical, or sartorial. Send your problems to sotc at villagevoice dot com; confidentiality is assured, unless you want to use your drama as a ticket to Internet microfame.
Thought you might have a fresh take on this: I am the only woman in my band and when I get off stage fans normally compliment my band mates about how they played and then turn and tell me how great I looked. They sometimes seem shocked that I am not delighted by the praise. Do you have a witty comeback? How do I deal with this? I am a guitarist. It’s not like I am the tambourine player or something.
The real temptation is to scream up in their face “FUCK YOU AND THE PATRIARCHY YOU RODE IN ON, BUDDY!,” isn’t it. Many people (I think we can say men in particular) do not realize that telling you that you looked hot, pretty, cute, or fuckable up on stage is not the highest form of compliment. They have been raised in a culture where they’ve been told their entire lives that there is a high value to attracting their attention, to drawing their male gaze. Why would they know any different when that is what their believe to be a kind of social currency? They do not realize that it can make women feel like they are not being taken seriously, that their art or musical skill is not appreciated—or at least not as much as their ass, tits or face. It may have never crossed their mind that this “compliment” feels like a insult, or at least a painful reminder at best. I remember this happening a few times back when I was in a touring band; sometimes I felt so stunned I could just sort of blankly stare, and sometimes I just walked away flustered and frustrated. Any gal has the right and permission to react however you want, including telling the dude to fuck right off if you are so inclined. Other tactics might be more effective in potentially flipping their mind-script “What, you don’t think [insert male band member] is hot, too?”—this is good if you can put them on the spot with another band member right there. You can also ask them “Why are you complimenting my looks and their playing?” point-blank. It’s not your job as a woman, or a feminist if you consider yourself one, to explain to people why and how they are offending you with their sexism—to fix the situation. Sometimes the best way for people to understand their BS behavior is to have to bear the brunt of the consequences of it—and if that consequence is having the guitarist of their favorite band roll her eyes to the heavens and stomp away, so be it.
When is the right time to get a manager, tour manager, etc., and stop doing everything yourself?
This is the sort of thing I approach on a case by case basis, but here’s the simple answer: When your band’s business becomes more than you can safely handle. Given where your band is now—you already have a record deal, you tour often—I am little surprised you don’t have either, but that makes sense given you have been in other bands before and know the game.
I would suggest you assess your necessity. Are you on the road so much that you are having missed opportunities and need someone coordinating back home? Are you on the road months at a time? Are their logistics involved that you feel like are above your expertise? Are you getting approached with more complicated deals—publishing, sponsorships, contracts that require negotiation? Are you at a place where to stay on the road as much as you do, you need someone sussing out other opportunities to keep money in your pocket so you can tour and build you career momentum? Those are good reasons to hire a manager.
That said, there are quite a few caveats and other possibilities.
If you have the knack for what you are doing and are savvy, good at communicating and understand your choices and ramifications—self-managing your band is good. There are some artists—Cat Power’s Chan Marshall, Kate Bush—that have done well with their own hands on the reins. There are some artists who just hire an assistant or procure a helper during album set-up or tour times, just to deal with the dirty work of advancing shows and updating the Facebook page with tour dates. Maybe that is the solution rather than having a full-time 15%-er on your payroll.
Some bands need managers because they have no music-business acumen and will wreck themselves and their futures with the bad choices. Or if there is one iron-willed dictator in the band making unfair or poor descisions for the band that are costing you money and gigs. Hiring a manager to manage the band’s burgeoning diva, and to look out for collective interests—sometimes that’s what you have to do to keep your business afloat.
For some self-managed bands, having a good lawyer is enough. Though, generally, I believe that having a manager who has been around and had success with other bands (not just yours)—or at least a trusted professional resource akin to a manager, like a publicist, a promoter you are tight with, your or booking agent—as a second opinion independent of your lawyer is important. If you are using a lawyer for certain types of business transactions, just make sure you use a music business lawyer of good standing. Do not hire your mom’s real estate attorney, or give the bassist’s tax attorney cousin $50 to look over a contract, because while they may know law or what seems like a “fair” contract clause, they do not know industry standard or why a 6% royalty rate might be a totally fucked place to be in five years.
If you want to try and get a deal with a major (and who does these days, save for rappers and Lana Del Rey?), you need a manager who has experience on that side of things. That is not something you wanna navigate yourself.
It’s a hard thing to parse, knowing when to hire a pro. A lot of bands mistakenly think if they get a manager, the manager will just make it happen for them. Managers are good for when you already have something tangible going but need help in getting to the next level, or maintaining what you have got going. I often think the best thing is to try your hand at managing yourself before you hire someone, because then you have a better idea of what that person will be doing for you and you will better be able to assess if they are doing a good job and/or the right fit for your band—which is one of the most important things when you are paying someone to work on your behalf. You do not want to be the spoiled baby band emailing with constant complaints about why they are not making things happen for you (often a function of ignorance about how things work or getting a manager too early on), and you also don’t want to be telling other bands “Yeah, I don’t really know what our manager does for us”—which is something you will hear from other bands, often. Good luck and keep up the good work.
Got a problem? Ask Fan Landers (a.k.a. Jessica Hopper) at sotc at villagevoice dot com.