Tag Archives: Taking Back Sunday

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!

How I Accidentally Got Started As A Music Video Director

This one day in 11th grade English class, we had to go around the room and say what we wanted to be when we grew up. It seemed like such a stupid exercise but as my turn was coming I panicked. I was 16. How the hell did I know what I wanted to do for the rest of my life?

The only thing I could picture myself doing was making movies. I loved them. To me, a good movie is a poem in motion. It is art at it’s highest form.

So I went with that. “I want to be a movie director.” The room got quiet and I heard the kids behind me blinking.

But saying it out loud actually made me affirm what I wanted to do. And from that day on, all I’ve ever really wanted was to be a part of great story telling.

When I got to college, I second guessed myself. There was no career in the arts! So I studied Economics and hated it. To distract myself I’d read a lot of books, watch movies and listen to music. My favorite bands could tell the best stories sonically. It was a hobby that consumed me until I had no choice but to ignore my mind and submit to my heart, dropping out of Economics. I switched to Film and Communications.

I was splitting my time between class work and SRTV, the college television station that I ended up running. For class, I re-edited the movie Pi to music from Nine Inch Nail’s The Fragile. I also followed a group of rich, morally reprehensible high school drop outs and made a real life version of Kids. I never got clearances from their parents though so for all intents and purposes it doesn’t exist.

At the TV station I had access to equipment I never knew existed. My favorite part about college was that if you were real passionate about something (or acted like it) you could go to the Board and request funds for anything you wanted. Over the course of twelve months I found an excuse to stockpile all kinds of movie making gear that I kind of needed an excuse to use. It seemed to me that music videos were just short films and with my new found interest in music I figured I’d leverage one against the other and become a music video director.

One thing no one ever tells you about being a successful director is that A&R is almost as important as how good of a director you are. There were a lot of directors back in my day who were terrible but they did videos for successful bands, so they kept getting work. Yet I’d go to class with some genius film makers with a terrible ear for music who made these great videos for artists that never went anywhere. They stayed undiscovered.

There was this little band out of Long Island that had no album out, just demos I found on Napster that I fell in love with. They were playing, literally, in a shack down the street from my dorm room and on a whim I wrote them to ask if I could do a free video. The only other band who I had ever written up until that point was Midtown, to tell them they were my #2 favorite band of all time after Jimmy Eat World. Midtown had never written me back.

The Che Cafe, one of the best venues in San Diego to see small shows.

About a week later, I got a response to my latest request from Adam, who I took to be the singer, and was told they’d love to do that video with me. They had no where to sleep so could they stay on my floor? And just like that, this little band no one ever heard of called Taking Back Sunday was sleeping in my living room.

This was scary. I had never actually directed or produced a music video before. I was still probably 19 or 20 years old and I put my ambition before my talent. I was eager to get started on my new career path as a director but I didn’t necessarily have all the pieces in place before I started writing bands. I didn’t look at it like that back then. As a close friend put it, none of us had any fucking clue what we were doing, but all of us thought we absolutely knew what we were doing.

So here’s one thing I never told anyone before. I didn’t settle on a final treatment until the day before the shoot. I had a lot of great ideas and like any aspiring auteur I wanted something unique, original, captivating. A video that would turn the video world on it’s head. And I had $500 bucks.

$500 back then was a lot different than $500 now. Not because of inflation. Because we didn’t have Digital Everything back then. If you wanted to shoot a video, you needed film, you needed a camera that you would feed the film into, you needed to develop that film. You needed an expert who knew how to feed that film and develop that film. You needed a guy who could light for film. It was a big complicated mess of things that I didn’t know how to do. And as a director, I didn’t necessarily need to know how to do that (and I didn’t), but it always helps when you know your craft inside and out. So instead, I spent most of my time as a producer, finding really talented people who would work for only a dream.

I spent so much time sourcing people and equipment that the day before my video shoot I had a moment of clarity and realized my treatment sucked. It was overly complex, convoluted and was probably going to be cheesy. I panicked. I didn’t even care if I looked bad, I just didn’t want to waste the time of one of my favorite bands.

I was going mad with frustration. I was doomed! Literally the night before the shoot I had an epiphany. I must have been pacing or driving or something to calm my head. I figured, well, if I’m going to have this crazy action setup and a lot of potentially cheesy shots from people with no acting experience, maybe I could just compile all the best scenes into one short burst. Kind of like…a movie trailer.

So I had the band come out and do interesting things I had seen in movies. Jumping through car windows, running towards the camera all dramatically, sticking a knife into a mirror (but not too hard because I didn’t have any money to replace it). We had fun. There was lots of booze and I made sure we had girls over. Even if the video came out poorly, at least everyone would have fun drinking and talking to chicks.

For $500, the video came out OK. Looking back on it now, I can’t even watch it without cringing. Back then, for an indie video from a first time director/producer, I’d like to think it wasn’t horrible. I realized I was probably better as a producer though than a director (an idea I fought for about two years before ultimately failing catastrophically as a director and starting a very successful production company). Fighting to make that video developed my character. And even if the execution was poor, I’d like to think the concept was good, because I think someone saw that video and re-imagined it about six months later, launching the international careers of some other very talented musicians.