Interview with RICK SMITH, manager at Wild Justice for Days Of The New - Jan 7, 2002
"If you can sell 3,000 records independently, that’s a magical number that the majors would jump all over."
Rick Smith, owner of Wild Justice Entertainment, manages US Platinum rock band Days Of The New and has previously managed New Edition and Technotronic.
How did you get started in the music biz and how did you become a manager?
I began in 1971 and was a close friend of Steven Tyler’s from Aerosmith. We went on the road from 1971 to 1974 before I began law school at the University of Detroit in 1975. Moved to New York in 1977, where I got work at a Law firm and represented such persons as Tony Bennett, Jerry Lewis and Sammy Davis amongst others. I was mediating a case involving New Edition and in 1982 they asked me to become their manager, which kick started my managerial career and I began to do management on a full-time basis. I had Ten City, which was a big band on the continent, it was a house music band and in 1990, my last band of the decade was Technotronic. I then had two little boys and moved back to Michigan where I grew up and remained a dad for five years until I started manage Days Of The New.
What characteristics do you consider necessary in order to be a good and successful manager?
A manager is one-third psychiatrist, one-third babysitter and one-third probation officer. The definition is that a manager will do for the artist what the artists will do for themselves, if he or she could and wanted to. In the beginning a lot of artists try to manage themselves by ringing radio stations and doing interviews. I always advise them to make up a name because by doing a managerial task a certain bit of their specialness is chipped away. Artists could do this if they are willing to put their talents into the 9-5 world, but the cost of that could be great. As an artist, you grow up being scared of failure, but one thing a manger can’t deal with is someone who is scared of success. You’ve got to represent people that want it more than you. You can’t want it more than the artist because it’s going to be frustrating.
What kind business contacts does a manager need to have?
One thing about the music business is that if you hang around long enough, you pick up contacts. A lot of the managers from the last generation are inside the major companies because once you’ve had your own money at risk and had to live cheque to cheque, they figure that’s a good background to be at a company. I have radio contacts and radio in America is a great thing because the disk jockeys move around and if you keep in touch with these people whether you have a record for them or not, you then have an incredible network. I have made a career of not taking advantage certain relationships. If a record wasn’t right for a radio station, I won’t use my relationship to ensure it gets played because if that happens, you won’t get the benefit of the doubt anymore. I only work with things I believe in even though there are things I could have made more money at.
How do you find new talent?
I get like 50 cds of demos a week. I find new talent through word of mouth while trying to keep a low profile. I also get stuff from A&R guys.
Have the sources of new talent changed over the years?
I think the unfortunate thing today is that there is less artist development and imagination. In the old days A&R guys were like social outlaws, who went out to get deals. They’d hear you and say, “We love you, let’s go make a record.” Nowadays, it has to have the right lawyer, the right manager and the song has to be virtually completed. There’s very little imagination now and few people are practising the art I practised, which is taking a band from the garage to the top. Take a look at a band like Creed; the critics slammed them, no record company wanted them and a small start up company called “Wind-Up” took them and gave them a shot and all they have gone and done is sold 40 million records.
What can the artists expect from you?
They can expect that I will do everything I can for them and I expect them not to let any outside influences get in the way. They should give me five years without drugs, without alcohol and not let anything get in the way of realising that this is a job, not an adventure. This is not a hobby. Let’s get in there, let’s get it done, let’s not have to talk more than once about something. The odds are very remote that a new band will break out from the pack and to do that, you’ve got to be ready to do anything. I demand that they want it, that they want it bad enough to sleep four in a room, that they want it bad enough to eat Taco Bell, to have zits and sacrifice themselves for the art. I ask that they respect themselves and the fans because a gig in front of 90 people is as important as 40,000. If there is one person that pays ten dollars for a copy of their cd then that person is the most important person in their lives. Buying a cd is a commitment.
Do you usually work with acts that are already signed to a record company or do you find and build acts yourself?
I usually find and build them even though I wish it were the other way. What I do is I hand pick the person I feel is best for a certain position in a band.
How did it happen when you signed Days Of The New?
I was judging a talent show for Tom Petty’s Forgotten Harvest which featured 20 bands in two days. Most of them sounding like Hootie and the Blowfish, but the last act was this 15 year-old kid. He opened up his mouth and Jim Morrison’s voice came out and he got me back into management. I made a tape of him and sent it to a friend of mine, Scott Litt and he couldn’t believe it was the voice of a 15 year-old kid. We made a record under the name “Days Of The New” and it was number one for 17 weeks in America’s rock charts in 1997. They toured and sold 1.5 million records in America and another half a million in the rest of the World.
What are you currently working on?
Just recently I found a band called Asher. It’s like Radiohead meets REM meets the Verve. It’s really cool and they were sent by the A&R from Michigan. I think I can handle one or two more acts as long as they don’t all have records coming out at the same time.
I also manage a band called Bliss 66. It’s five 18 to 20 year-olds from Michigan and they rock as good as anybody. They play their own instruments, write their own songs, they’re signed to Epic and hopefully you’ll hear about that very soon. I’m very proud of that record. I have a band called doubleDrive, which is like Seven Dust meets Creed and is a four-piece rock band coming out in March. I also have another four-piece band from New York called The Sound of Merchants on RCA and it’s total insanity. They are incredible musicians who just toured with Tenacious D.
What would your advice be for unsigned artists on how to approach the music biz?
My advice would be to press up between 500 to a 1.000 copies of your record, put a contact name for the band on the CD and establish some sort of following in your area. If you can sell like 3.000 copies, that’s a magical number that the majors would jump all over. You have to have a story or something going on. You have to establish a website and try to send out little snippets of your tracks to a network of people you should have established contact with. It used to be music in big letters and business in small, but now it’s the other way round.
Which are the important marketing tools for you, when breaking a new band?
Radio and a local following are the most important. The most important is to create a local following somewhere.
Do you accept unsolicited material?
Yes. I listen to everything and because I’m in the Midwest between Chicago and New York, anything within four hours is worth driving to. If I hear something I like, I keep it out and measure it amongst the next batch of CDs that come through.
How involved with the repertoire and production are you, and how do you go about choosing it?
I get involved in the song choice. I try to give some input with production, but ultimately the artist has the final say. Depending on what the act needs, I’ll offer my input.
American acts seem to break in the European territory with much more ease than European acts in the American territory, for the moment. In your opinion, if you agree, why is that?
We are snobs. If you look at the amount of foreign records that have made it in America, I think you can count them on one hand, going back to Dominic in 1965. Even though there is a Spanish invasion, songs like “Livin’ La Vida Loca” are still American lyrics. America is the only place with all the different charts. All the different genres have their own charts and it’s all about money. I think it just shows arrogance and the fact that the Americans are playing for dollars which controls the flow of the music.
The Billboard Hot 100 Singles Chart, do you think it’s good that it’s based on both radio airplay and single sales?
I think it can be good in both ways. You can be on top of the airplay charts and not necessarily sell any records and that’s what we call a turntable hit. An example being a band that tops the rock airplay charts but not necessary making any money from selling records.
Do you think that a system for artists, modelled after the actor’s situation (actors aren’t signed to companies anymore but are free agents) where acts would be free to record for any label they would wish, do you think that is desirable and do you think it would work?
I would love a system, where artists had short-term agreements. It wouldn’t change the recoupment factor because this is the only business that gives you money and takes everything back. If you changed musically you didn’t have to worry about the fact that your record company wasn’t behind your new creation. First of all, I never allow record companies to go more than three singles deep with any of my acts, no matter what. For example, Days Of The New wants to put a record out every year and the record we put out last month (September 2001, “Days Of The New III” – Ed), we turned in at June of 2000 and almost had to threaten a lawsuit to get it released, because their release schedule was Marilyn Manson, U2, The Wallflowers and Limp Bizkit. We were assigned fifth. So, Days Of The New has its fifth record written and recorded, but won’t get it released until September next year. That is a crime because these artists have a certain window of opportunity, whether it’s three years or five years and if it doesn’t happen it’s never going to happen.
Does payola play a part in the music industry?
It’s in every element of the music business. It’s in every form, both blatant and understated. Take Limp Bizkit who actually paid for play and everyone jumped up and down because they told everyone. Everyone was like, “That’s horrible”, but what’s horrible is that they had to be the only ones to say, “This is what we do.” The whole business is run on “What can you do for me?” and the reason for this is that there are so many bands and so little time.
If you could dramatically change some aspect of the music industry, what would you do?
I would want one chart. I would like us to be like the rest of the world because it would knock out a lot of these record promotion guys that are making millions and millions of dollars controlling radio stations. I would also take away the need for audience research. There is so much money spent on researching. What people like, what they don’t like, what they’re listening to…they treat the music like they’re marketing a new McDonalds sandwich. In America, we research so much that no one is listening to the songs. We should just have a chart that says what people are playing. It’s the same with the music channels. MTV have created several channels with handpicked play list to make more money. If you look at the top of the video charts all it shows you is who has the most money and can afford to have their videos acquired. There is a science to this unfortunately and they should save the science for finding a cure for Anthrax and let the music be what it is.
What has been the greatest moment of your music career?
One of them was meeting Ronald Reagan with New Edition until Bobby Brown asked him if that was his real hair. Reagan answered by saying, “When I woke up this morning it was.”
I think discovering Days Of The New is one and just basically anytime I hear a song on the radio and knowing that if it wasn’t for me it wouldn’t be there. I feel very strongly about everybody, I work with and it’s not necessarily judged on financial return. I’m proud of everything I’m involved in.
What do you see yourself doing in 5-10 years?
I think I’ll still be doing this. When I see the audience react, I still get off. It’s the ultimate addiction. I’ve sold 40 million records, so I have done something right. I passed up on acts like Eminem, I don’t want to use my talents to put any more negativity into the world that already exists. I’m just tired of explicit lyrics. Music was never intended for that. It was intended to pacify.
Interviewed by Victor Bassey
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