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Interview with TOMMY MANZI, manager at Umbrella for Eagle-Eye Cherry, Neneh Cherry, Grant Lee Buffalo - May 7, 2001

"[Meat Loaf's comeback] was considered a joke as far as the industry was concerned. But it proved that Ďonce a hit, always, always a hití."

picture As the owner of The Umbrella Group, Tommy Manzi manages Eagle-Eye Cherry, Neneh Cherry, Dubstar, Grant Lee Buffalo, Melissa Ferrick and US3. He has also at various stages in their careers, managed Duran Duran, Meat Loaf, Eternal, Luther Vandross, The Cranberries and Richard Marx.

What has been your route to become a manager?

Iím a musician, thatís how I started. I canít remember at which moment I decided to become a manager, it was probably a lot later on in my career. I went to school in New York at NYU and luckily, NYU offered an internship program which offered me the opportunity of working at Blue Note Records. Bruce Lundvall gave me my first job, he was and is the president of Blue Note Records and thatís where I started and got a great deal of hands on experience which is invaluable, I highly recommend it to anyone. I went from Blue Note to EMI records where I was hired as a product manager and where I later became director of marketing.

After a few years of working, it became obvious that I wanted to have a more hands on role, working with artists. I didnít really like being departmentalised and dealing with the territorial nature of the company. I had responsibilities I was supposed not to stray from. In 1989 I left EMI to move to Los Angeles and help build a company called Leftbank Management. I got close to the president of that company, Allen Kovak. I was in charge of project/product managing. Then in 1998 I decided to move back to New York to start my own company, The Umbrella Group.

What characteristics do you consider necessary in order to be a good and successful manager?

First of all you need a good deal of experience, I tremendously value the experience I had. The other side, my side is being and knowing the artistís side.

But you still have to deal with being a business yourself, so are you any different from the major record labels?

Yes, because I have a different perspective, the artistís perspective. It would be actually better for all of us if record company executives had management experience. I think managers make the best record company executives simply because managers deal with everything, they are forced to. And if they donít, then they are not effective managers.

I have offered many record executives the chance to come out on a world tour and spend a week or two to really see what goes down, because for them itís like Ďlooking down from the ivory towerí. As an executive, you think you know how everything runs, but to really know you need to crawl into the gutter. In terms of an effective manager, itís definitely a question of experience. Itís also being able to move easily and swiftly between a micro view and a macro view, big picture and small picture. When youíre working on a single, you are very much focused on that 3-4 month window or shorter in some cases. But at the same time you need to see the bigger picture too, the career goals of the artist in mind. And you need to balance the continual clash between art and commerce.

Another responsibility of the manager, is teaching the artist how and why the music business does what it does. Thereís nothing better for an artist than to have a sold out show, but thereís a lot of work that goes into that. You have to pay a price (marketing, promotion, dealing with journalists) to enjoy the fruits that it will bear, sold out shows and record sales. The artists that have enough maturity to understand that quickly, are the artists that are going to succeed. Everyone has to deal with money. That doesnít mean they have to be some suit or some stiff, they just have to take particular attention of business.

Are there any large misconceptions about being an manager?

There are massive misconceptions, the first being, you canít trust a manager, that all managers are scumbags. That is really soul destroying for me, because itís not true. There are always bad apples in the bunch, but that doesnít mean everyone. There is a basic structure to management deals anyway, in terms of commission, in terms of contracts if you decide to sign contracts, and really the best way around that is to really get to know the person you are thinking to have manage you. I always tell prospective clients, ĎThis is no different than a marriageí. Donít ever get into business or a partnership with a manager without truly knowing them inside and out. I always go for a trial period.

Itís about trust.

Yes itís totally about trust and at the end of the day if any artist is unsatisfied about my performance, well then I donít want to force them to work with me. And vice versa. The second misconception probably is ĎManagers take money hand over fistí. Itís tough to run a company when thereís no weekly pay check and record company people often donít realize this. They just think we sit around and collect money all day and cash cheques. But when a record sells, that, dramatically impacts a manager and the company. We have a lot of costs too and its hard to forecast because of the nature of the record business. No guarantees.

Also thereís a third misconception, ĎAny powerful manager can break an actí. I just donít accept that! In any success story there is team effort. Itís very rare that something happens with one person pulling all the strings. It starts with the artist, moves to the manager, booking agent, attorney, finding a great record company.

Which tasks, typically, does the job involve?

If you are a good manager it involves every single task there is. Looking after rights, finding producers, image, marketing promotional campaigns, itís just everything, touring, video, song selection, publishing, wardrobe, finding crew for the tour.

Do you usually work with acts that are already signed to a record company or do you find and build acts yourself?

Working with debut artists these days has become very difficult, mainly due to market pressures that exists and weigh heavily on major record companies. It seems that there is not a great deal of time and effort put forth in developing artists over a course of two, three, four albums any more. Major labels want an immediate return, and often most artists need time to develop into great artists. Also most bands with an overnight success usually donít have the experience or maturity necessary to deal with the burden of responsibility.

As a manager the only real commodity is time. There are never any guarantees, no weekly pay checks. So if an artist you sincerely believe in only gets to make one single or worse, itís not only devastating for the artist but for the manager too and it makes the manager think twice before getting involved with a brand new artist.

I generally donít work with debut artists any more as I canít run the risk of the time and resources of my company with only my fingers crossed hoping for success.

How do you find new talent ?

Anywhere and everywhere. I get material from everywhere. Its difficult to find management, legal representation and a booking agent. Itís tough out there. Itís difficult because it takes a lot of time to bring the artist to fruition and then have a label pull the plug.

I recently signed a singer/songwriter going by the name of Joe Davidson, an artist I have been following for a while who I think is an immense talent in terms of songwriting, singing and performing. So Iím going to have another go at it. But Iím not planning on taking on anything new right now.

What would your advice be for a wannabe artist who wants to get noticed by the industry?

Always work on honing songwriting abilities. Develop a strong work ethic. Real music talent which is more than writing a great song, is actually paramount, but there is such a ridiculous level of competition out there that you really need a well-rounded mind to approach it. Artist get put under massive amounts of pressure and they need to be able to bear that pressure and succeed, have a good grasp on how the business works.

Do you work with the artists image and how important is it?

Sometimes and itís important.

What are you currently working on and how were you approached by these acts?

Iíll start with Neneh Cherry. She was a client that I pursued because I was a massive fan, and my love for their music drove me to pursue them which took a long time, but finally it worked out. I started working with her at the end of 1995 and it was a period when I hadnít heard anything about them for a while is what happened with Duran Duran. I was also on very friendly terms with Virgin Records in the UK. They gave me some names and numbers, and very much like a detective, I finally connected with Nenehís creative partner, Cameron McVey. Following that, we had many conversations, meetings and discussions.

The same thing occurred with Grant Lee Buffulo. We had contact and then talked about our visions and goals and got on extremely well which is very important as a manager.

Eagle-Eye and I met in the process of working with Neneh. He had just recently moved from New York back to Stockholm. His feeling was that he could focus more on his music away from the hustle and bustle of New York and he was right as he was working mainly as an actor in NY. He kept talking about the record he was making and I told him I couldnít wait to hear it. And being the perfectionist that he is, he kept the album under wraps until it was virtually complete, and when we heard it, it blew all our minds. That debut album was 90% done only working in his bedroom studio with an acoustic guitar. A lot of the recording was complete too. Moving to US3, it was really the work of a very talented booking agent. Sony signed them.

I thought they were on Blue Note?

Well the first two albums were on Blue Note, which is owned by Capitol Records.

What happened?

Sony simply signed the band, they were free agents because US3ís option wasnít picked up.

Could you explain a bit about options?

When an act signs one of these atrocious recording agreements which are six, seven, eight albums long - which is a joke in itself - usually a certain number of albums will be deemed Ďfirmí which means that no matter what, the artist will get paid for those records. Usually a band gets one album Ďfirmí, but occasionally depending on how much momentum the artist has or how many labels are chasing the band you can up that to 2 or 3 albums Ďfirmí. This means that if the label wants to drop you they will be forced to pay you off. Sometimes they call this a ĎPay or Play optioní.

Once you deliver those albums defined as Ďfirmí albums, you enter a new phase, the option period. Itís usually 30-120 days following the release of the artists last released album. The record company has to notify the artist to tell them exactly what they are going to do. Either giving a ĎYesí, we want to pick up your option and here is an advance for your next album or ĎNoí. Many times they will try to buy extra time and try to get another 30 days to play with which is more often than not a fair request. But they only have a small window of time to make up their minds to contact you. If they miss that window, which is usually about 30 days, then you are out of the contract with them and there is nothing they can do about it.

In the case of US3, Capitol let them slip by not contacting them during the Ďoptioní phase, giving space for Sony to pick them up. There were no hard hard feelings on either side.

Pretty democratic?

Well sort of, but presently, these days of the Ďone way street, everything goes to major labels or no wayí, are ridiculously outdated. For the life of me, I canít figure out why the music business isnít patterned after the film industry. Actors and actresses banded together and fought the system and they won. It entailed a strike. Perhaps the musicians could take a page out of that book.

What deals did the actors in Hollywood broker in the end?

They stopped the film industry from forcing actors to sign long term contracts. The Golden Age of film is very much like the music business today. You signed on and they owned you for a certain amount of time or films. I think the whole issue has to do with trust. The labels never trust the artist but artists are supposed to trust the labels. As I said, if an artist is unhappy with the service Iím giving them, then I donít want to force them to be with me. I donít want to put a gun to anyoneís head. Lifeís too short and in this type of creative business you canít have that kind of dark cloud hanging over you. If there is a situation where things are just not working out between the artist and label, why should artists be bound almost like slavery? Like Ďyouíre here as long as we want you here and if you are unhappy, well thatís too badí. Itís just wrong, especially when you consider that the fuel of the music industry are the artists. Without music we will be selling shoes.

Which previous acts have you worked with and what were your experiences from that?

I have worked with Meat Loaf, Duran Duran, Grant Lee Buffalo, Lisa Stansfield, Luther Van Dross, The Bee Gees, Eternal, Whale, Clint Black.

It was a very enlightening experience to resurrect dormant periods for both Meat Loaf and Duran Duran. I mean that in the best possible way. It reminds you of the market value that artist with name recognition possess, yet the industry is so willing to overlook them. Thereís always industry perception and consumer perception. Consumers hear a great song and either like it or not. But the industry is focused on the next hip band. The industry laughed at us, while I was working at Left Bank Management.

Duran Duran came back with ĎThe Wedding Albumí (1993), probably their best work to date and that record went on to sell 4 million units worldwide. Meat Loaf was even more staggering as their record sold nearly 16 million units ("Bat Out Of Hell II", 1993 - ED). That project was considered a joke as far as the industry was concerned. But it proved that Ďonce a hit, always, always a hití.

Do you accept unsolicited material?

Yes I do and I find it hard to listen to it all. I receive probably 3-4 packages a week. One recommendation to any artists out there is to keep it simple. More artists waste time and money on elaborate packages that just end up in the bin. I need one CD with the 3 best songs and an email address.

Can you offer some words of advice to unsigned artists, in regard to contracts?

Number one, never ever sign a contract without consulting a lawyer/attorney. Iím surprised how many artists know this, but donít do this. Always try to build a team. Every artist needs a team. Get that booking agent, attorney, manager. Never take on a manager without really getting to know that person and even then do it on a trial basis. Understand the real work comes once you get the record deal, like being at the foot of the mountain and its time to go mountain climbing.

How involved with the repertoire and production are you, and how do you go about choosing it?

It depends on the artist. Usually I am quite hands on, although I tend to gravitate to artists who do this on their own. Iím a big fan of the songwriter. A Grant Lee Phillips or Eagle-Eye Cherry. Sometimes I can give them some perspective on which songs are really strong and those tracks that are interesting, but not for singles. I give input on pairings with the right producer or remixer. But with pop acts itís totally different. Iím looking for the right types of songs, I need to put on my publisherís cap.

Are there any major differences between working with the European territory Vs The American?

I think the basic structures are the same, but I find the territories outside the United States have a far better focus on global artist development. Americans have a rather insular view, but granted, a hit in the US can move 5, 10, 15 million units which is staggering. When you talk about artists career development, you have to focus on the world. Most other countries have a more global perspective. But going the other way round, European artists when approaching the US need to grasp its size. To break in the US is hard work and difficult to understand. To start with, itís not a three week tour, but three months thatís necessary.

How do you think the internet will affect the music industry?

I think itís already playing a role, but the big shifts will take place in the future. The software and hardware is just not there yet on the consumer level to really make a difference.

Grant Lee Phillips and I used the internet to release music. He recorded an album in his home studio, it was a thank you to his hard-core fans. Initially, he wanted to make it as a limited edition of 5000 pieces. We didnít do a traditional distribution deal, we basically sold the album on the Internet. Over the last 10 months we have sold over 30,000 albums running it through Grantís independent label Magnetic Field Recordings. He earned more on those sales than he did on any one of his Warner Brothers albums. It was a question of direct marketing with little or no overhead. His royalty moved from 20% to 90%. This strikes a chord with times to come. Artists are figuring out that itís they themselves who will be able to lead.

We also use it ourselves at The Umbrella Group, aligning ourselves with aggressive marketing-minded e-music sites. And of course using each clients website to contact fans as that is a crucial connection. I work closely with web designers of the sites too.

Which has been your greatest moment(s) working in the music industry?

Getting my first job at Blue Note, signing Grant Lee Philips, having the Meat Loaf album sit at the top of the billboard album chart for 5 weeks when everyone swore it couldnít be done, having a client in Meat Loaf who was incredibly gracious and thankful, working with Duran Duran who everyone sneered at and helping them rise from the ashes of a major career crash to come back, meeting The Cranberries for the first time, Eagle Eye Cherryís first single going number one in 18 countries.

Interviewed by James Burke

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