Today’s indie artists are facing a unique problem in the music business. The hold of the big record companies has been broken, and new conglomerates not interested in artist development, are also not interested in giving out recording contracts. This leaves unsigned artists in a quandary. “In the late 1960s and 70s, artists were allowed time to experiment and try new things which helped them find their voice,” says David Polemeni in his article for Music Biz Academy.com. However, artists today don’t have that luxury on the record company’s dime, which Mr. Polemeni confirms in his statement, “Today the artist has to walk in with the masterpiece and so the importance of development before you present to the industry is even more crucial.” Where do we go from here? Where do we start? Today’s A&R doesn’t want potential, they want what is already selling and established, making it crucial for everyone to bring their A Game.
No one knows this better than Adam Shaw, Artist Manager for Steady Riot Management. He’s also solely responsible for day-to-day operations and management of the career for the band, The Drowning Men. From handling their daily needs, future appearances, endorsement deals, and all other aspects of managing a band on the rise, he is also a rising star in the industry, in his own right. Hailing from Plymouth, Massachusetts, home to a diverse musical subculture in the 1990s, and a short jaunt from Boston, the long-time home of American rock and roll, Shaw describes the era as a time when “Kids were owning their music and in love with their music.” That passion for the music and the desire to stay connected to the scene led him to Northeastern University in 1996, where he studied music business administration and worked part-time for a local venue on the weekends. Eventually he worked his way up to full-time and later dropped out of college to better pursue the music side. While he readily acknowledges there were lessons learned through the school of hard knocks, he eventually understood that while music is an art form, it should be considered first and foremost a business. Aspiring artists and other industry start-ups don’t often grasp this vital concept, and overlook its importance. Stepping out of his role with the venue for awhile brought him to a new level with Boston-based Lost City Angels as a drummer, where he quickly garnered local and regional attention, and later an opening slot on tour with a major label band, The Living End. According to Shaw, more hard lessons followed as the band took on the challenge of being road warriors seriously. He toured with them almost non-stop from 2001-2005, however, his venue experience still stayed in the background with no real connection until later. He eventually tied all of his experience together into his next step, as he could see the band’s eventual demise and described it as, “One of those things you can’t do anything about, your hands are tied and you have to let it happen.”
When Lost City Angels disbanded, their former manager, who had been Shaw’s confidant and ever increasing source of information and guidance during the Lost days, approached him with an offer for managing a band. Still operating from the East Coast and working again for his original venue, Shaw fully embraced the world of artist development and management. He describes it as a “crash course in management learning as I went along.” The next year and a half was spent progressing the band from regional fame with good potential, to fully signed artists on their way to the top. His decision to again step back from artist management was another learning experience in the industry. Signing on first as drum tech, then working his way up to production manager and eventually tour manager for the Mighty Mighty Bosstones was his biggest and best learning experience to date. He learned not just from the touring and hands-on, but from the band members themselves. After finishing with the Bosstones, returning to venue management on the East Coast didn’t seem like the best way to keep his momentum going. On a whim, with a lot of hope and fingers crossed, he packed up his family and headed to California. Initially working out of his garage, scouting venues, acts and making his name known landed him a gig working show productions at a venue owned by a member of the group Flogging Molly, in Carlsbad, California. This is where The Drowning Men were first brought to his attention. His initial impression from the 5-song demo wasn’t the marketable sound he was looking for, but trusting his instincts, Shaw booked them for a show at the venue. The difference between the demo and their live show was a total 180 degrees, and he describes his first experience of their live show as a defining moment. “The EP did not capture what they were capable of when they were live. On stage, they poured every ounce of their being into this amazing show,” says Shaw. The rest, as they say, is history. With the band now on their third release, All Of The Unknown, this put the finishing touches on their plans for a European tour starting in the next few months and running until fall.
From all his experience, Shaw shared a few nuggets of wisdom for successful band management. “Back in the day, that record contract with a major label was the big dream, what everyone strived for, but we don’t have that anymore. What’s amazing now, is that a band can be their own label, keeping 85 percent of the profits instead of the micro amounts of the past.” This flexibility, coupled with the advent of social media, and a greater variety of options, helps any band and their representatives control and conduct the path of their careers like never before. His formula for getting signed is simple, “Have an amazing live show, have that great recording, have that all-out passion for the music, and be willing to do the hard work that goes with it.” He also stated that a band has to be able to see through the glitz and cut to the bottom line when dealing with the business. Connecting with the fans, developing that fan base, and converting them, “one person at a time” is what will get talent to the next level. He cautions however, that management must be ever wary and watchful as an external party for any internal band problems. Stating that as a manager, “You have to step outside of yourself, see the problem approaching before it blows up, use that external perspective to see it happening, then take it 100 percent head on, deal with it and be honest.” He prefers to keep the core band in their own bubble, while at the same time foster the camaraderie between the members. Always remember at the end of the day, the music is the most important, “The music is why we are all here in the first place, that can never be forgotten.” Citing his previous experience in the industry, and first-hand experience as an artist are what makes him most effective in his role as manager. His final words of advice, “It’s a marathon before you get to the sprint, so get ready to run.”