Guest post: Jillian Newman, manager of Taking Back Sunday

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!

On interning: “If you’re just going to make copies all day, at least work at Kinkos and get paid for it”

Those were the first words I ever heard from Warped Tour creator Kevin Lyman’s mouth.

Funny enough – and completely unbeknownst to Kevin – I got that first internship after stealing leftover food from his back stage lot on Warped Tour earlier that year. I ended up in a huge office building interning for the TV/Film department trying to get my big break as a music video director. At that time everyone ran their company on buzzwords, and the word of the day was “synergy,” so the company I worked for also owned a record label, a management office, a sports agency, and a touring division, where Kevin worked. The thinking was that by putting all these great creative people within shouting distance of each other that their work would start to overlap and everyone would end up helping one another. A year after I finished interning the company went bankrupt.

I guess that’s how I got the position in the first place. They were short on money and needed someone to make the coffee and run the photo copier. Not a single person there knew my name but I couldn’t blame them, because there were ten other interns just like me making coffee and running the copier. One of the execs – he was always ‘dating’ some aspiring actress and sleeping with them during lunch breaks – had bad eyes and would make me photo copy his novels at 125% so he could read them easier on an airplane. If the pages were crooked I’d get the whole thing physically thrown at me and I’d have to start over.

It was no wonder the interns all hid in the break room. The job was pretty thankless and if you looked available you’d get grabbed and sent on some God awful task. If you hid or acted busy, well hell, you’d still have a good bullet point on your resume. It became a game to see who could find the most creative ways to get out of doing work. But no one was learning anything.

If I was a pretty cute girl, this would be a picture of me happily making photocopies while my boss banged actresses in his office.

It was about this time that I met Kevin Lyman. He caught me at the Xerox and joked I should go around the corner to Kinkos where at least I’d get paid for my work. It was an eye opening perspective. Kevin was the only guy at the company who realized us interns did all the shit jobs around there and he was the only guy who treated us well and learned our names and gave us any respect. His words and his attitude inspired me and it made me want to find a way to get real value from my experiences before I burnt out. Was my only experience at this major company going to be learning to use all the features of the photocopier?

Half way through my internship the company I worked for had to move offices. There wasn’t any money to do it so I got volunteered to use my weekends packing boxes, putting them in my car, and then driving them across town to the new building. Most of the other interns didn’t bother to show up.

On my lunch break curiosity got the better of me and I cracked open one of the boxes I was moving. There was all kinds of good stuff in there and I spent the rest of the day sitting under a desk and reading. I saw what a record deal looked like and why certain movie scripts got axed and I learned how much everyone at the company was making.

After that, my whole attitude changed. Instead of hiding in the break room I volunteered for every photo copy job and read everything that crossed my path. I’m pretty sure I learned more in that six months than I did after four years of school. All my volunteer work started to gain me some notoriety within the office and people began asking for me by name. It was a small thing, but that little boost of confidence grew me some balls I didn’t know I had. At the end of the day before I left I’d knock on all the executives’ office doors and introduce myself and find one interesting thing to tell them about. For the music department, that meant bringing in CDs from artists no one knew of yet. My first batch was Taking Back Sunday, The Used and Brand New.

This little album got me a meeting with the president of a major record label when it ended up going platinum.

When those albums did well, it led to me getting an offer to run my own major label imprint. It also led to me telling the biggest lie I’ve ever told to get out of it. I’ll save that story for another day. But looking back, I don’t think any of the other interns at that company stayed in entertainment. Or if they did, it was surely at an assistant level, where they took what they learned as an intern and applied it to a 50-hour work week. Most of them used their internship as one more bullet point on their resume and moved on, and I feel really sorry for them. And I was almost one of them. But what makes someone successful is their perspective, and Kevin Lyman changed mine. If all I was going to learn from my internship was how to photocopy, I should have just taken a job at Kinkos.

Funny side note, over a decade later and Kevin and I share an office and are partners on a bunch of projects. When I had my nervous breakdown and fled California, Kevin was the only guy I would have come back for, because he was the only guy in the entire industry who bothered to talk to me while I was an intern. And when that company broke down and everyone got laid off, Kevin’s strong relationships ensured he didn’t skip a step keeping Warped Tour moving.

I’ve tried to keep that same philosophy. If you ever bump into me feel free to stop me and ask me questions. Or leave some in the comments below and I’ll write you back or save them as topics for a future post.