When I was first getting into the music industry, there were three people I really looked up to. I got to work with two of them. The third one ended up being a jerk.
One of the good ones was Jillian Newman, best known for managing Taking Back Sunday but also instrumental in the career of Midtown, Recover and The Honorary Title. Jillian is just one of those great people who comes to the office every day with a new idea. She also cares about her artists to the extent that they’re family. It’s a pretty awesome combo, intelligence and passion.
I get a lot of questions about how I started working in management and the interesting thing about this job is that it seems like there’s no universal way people end up as managers. The best ones seem to start at other places though, and learn the industry first. The other common thread is that the good managers usually found someone to mentor them (I was lucky and got Jillian as my first mentor). I asked Jillian to give a little background on her own entry into management, and about the bands she chooses to work with.
Hey there. My good friend Mike asked me to write up a guest piece for his hilarious blog about how most of us fumble through these careers we’ve wanted our whole lives – working in music. I’m not as funny as he is, so you’ve been warned, but I decided to write about being lucky enough to get to pick the bands I work with.
After my failed attempt at playing clarinet in 7th grade it became clear…. Skipping ahead…. Since I didn’t possess the talent to be a musician I realized pretty early that I wanted a career helping the musicians I had aspired to be. During college I really didn’t understand which job did what so I interned at various places including KROQ in LA and A&M Records. That second internship eventually led to a job in Artist Development, working for the perfect boss who really understood how to both develop an artist and mentor people like me. My boss also had a boss who had developed not only a lot of musical talent but a lot of talented music business executives so I knew that I should stay put, absorb as much as I possibly could and work my butt off on anything they put in front of me.
Our department was basically in charge of helping all of the bands who weren’t instantly on the radio and MTV and helping them develop a following of actual fans by getting in front of people. Back then that meant playing as many shows in as many places as they possibly could because we didn’t have things like YouTube and Twitter to help out. I actually felt like I landed in the perfect spot and loved that we got to spend most of our time working for the underdogs. Back in the pre-Napster days labels actually had a bit more money to spend on their developing artists and we could help support them going into every college town in the US and playing for free on the quad at lunch and in the record store in the afternoon like my boss did with the Gin Blossoms. When it worked there was no better feeling. It was around this time that I really figured out that my passion was also a little stronger working with bands I completely loved musically and personally vs. the ones that were a priority because they were signed for a stupid amount of money.
So how do you do that? Find a job where you get to pick the bands you work with? I’m not sure if there’s a specific way but mine kind of found me. I didn’t start out to be a manager but the label jobs I had at both A&M and Vagrant Records put me in the position to be working for 3 different incredibly smart people who also managed bands. It was such a higher learning curve to see every aspect of what was going on with an act. And on the management side I finally felt like the bulk of my day was being spent helping the artist. Now I didn’t just decide that I was a manager and go find bands I loved to manage, I stuck with what I was doing for several years until I felt like I had something to offer as the business partner to these bands who were working their butts off. I learned early that they had to be willing to tour and put the time in and I still believe in that and look for bands who want that.
Anyhow fast forward and I still get to manage one of my favorite bands and Mike who I was fortunate enough to have worked with early on seems poised to take over the world. So I feel pretty good about reaching a few of my music business goals. Good luck to you with whatever yours are and remember put in the time and learn from great people so if you’re lucky enough to get to do this, you are also lucky enough to stick around for a while.
When I first started working for Jillian she had just signed Taking Back Sunday. Using her experience in artist development, she led that band to two platinum albums with hardly any television or radio support (FUSE was a huge supporter early on, as were some fine folks at MTV and a handful of radio stations, but not many). Stop for a minute and think about what that must entail.
Jillian, thank you very much for taking the time to write an insightful piece here. If you ever want to speak further about some of your early strategies in breaking bands, you’re welcome back any time!