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Interview with BRYAN COLEMAN, manager for Nickelback, Default (US platinum) - Jun 15, 2004

"Many bands want a deal right away, but they often forget to develop themselves enough."

picture Based in Midland, Texas, Bryan Coleman manages rock bands Nickelback (US multi-platinum), Default (US platinum) and Oleander (US gold).

In this interview, he talks about his work with Nickelback, what traits the artists he manages share, and what aspiring artists should focus on.

How did you get started in the music business and how did you become a manager?

I was working my way through college by laying tile, and as I was laying tile in this house, all these rock stars came over, including Tom Petty and Billy Idol, so I asked the contractor what they were doing there and he said that the owner of the house was their manager. I didn’t know that musicians had managers, but I thought it was interesting.

I started looking into it at school and, to cut a long story short, I started booking tours, mostly in Southeast Asia, for Tapestry Artists, a booking agency that shared an office with what later became Union Entertainment Group, a Los Angeles-based company.

When I found a couple of bands that needed managers, I took them on and started working with the management company as well. Over the years, I’ve gained a lot of experience and I am now a partner in the company; the other partners are Tim Heyne and John Greenberg.

What experiences have helped develop your skills as a manager?

Being in the trenches with the bands. Tim and John have been a great help over the years, but I really just did it myself by booking shows until the bands were able to get agents, selling their demos to the record stores for them to sell, going on tour with the bands and just getting in there and doing it.

How many work at the Union Entertainment Group?

Tim, John and I are the managers, and we have a staff of about ten people based in Los Angeles, although I’m based in Midland, Texas. Tim started the company in 1987 and I joined in 1991.

Do you also offer other services?

We mainly do artist management, but over the years we have also managed a host of producers, including Garth Richardson, for whom we got the Rage Against the Machine gigs that started his career. We do some movie music supervision, and we’ve had production deals with labels, what you’d call imprint deals.

What kinds of artists and music do you focus on?

We focus on rock, but not we’re not strictly limited to that genre alone. We all enjoy all types of music, so we go for what we like.

I have, for example, just taken on a country artist, Shane Parker. I had been wanting to work with a country artist for years and Shane happened to be friends with my assistant, Leighton King. Shane sent me his demo and at first I was a bit sceptical, being a friend of Leighton’s, but he’s just absolutely amazing. If you can imagine Neil Young and George Jones in one person, that’s him.

What artists do you currently manage?

Nickelback (click on artist or song names to listen to Real Audio files – Ed.), Default and Oleander; Silvertrip, a new band that we’re developing; Shane Parker; Tarsha, a band from Los Angeles that were also developing; and we’ve just taken on Kevin Martin, the singer from Candlebox, who now has a new band.

How did you first learn about Nickelback?

Ron Burman at Roadrunner called me up and said that they had a new band that they were going to break in much the same manner as we broke Oleander. I was a bit surprised and asked him if it was death metal, but he said it was a rock band, that it was meant for rock radio and that I would dig it.

I was a bit apprehensive, but I said I’d listen to it. He sent me a song and I agreed to see them live and it just so happened that the following weekend they were playing at the Vancouver Indy Cart Race, so I went up there, saw them and we’ve been together ever since. That was in 1999.

Did they have a record out at that point?

They had just finished recording an album, “The State”, which Roadrunner had purchased, but the marketing hadn’t started and a release date hadn’t been set.

What did you see in them that made you want to work with them?

They are a very cohesive band, they’re all really solid players, and I love Chad’s voice. You can instantly tell that he’s a star.

What set them apart from other bands who were trying to make it?

Work ethic, commitment, and the songs, obviously. What stands out for me is their positive attitude. They’re good people, good old boys from Alberta, Canada, which is like Texas. They’re well-mannered, they say please and thank you, they hold the door open for people, and they’re just nice people.

Had they toured on their own and released their own records?

They had released and marketed a couple of records on their own. That’s the other thing about these guys, they’re so smart. Many bands don’t care about the business, they just want to play, and that’s fine.

But these guys, when we talk about contracts or any kind of proposal that comes in, they understand what we’re discussing. They’re very business savvy and they bring a lot to the table when the time comes for negotiation.

What was instrumental in breaking them?

Touring and writing hit songs. They probably did more than 250 shows in eighteen months in support of “The State”, which built them a great base, and “How You Remind Me” was the song that pushed them over the top.

Do the artists you manage share certain traits?

They’re all good people. They don’t necessarily all have a do-it-yourself attitude, but they’ll do whatever it takes to be successful, within reason.

All my guys work so hard, they get out there and tour a lot, and many of them have families that they have to leave for long periods of time, which is painful, but again, they work hard. They tell me things like, “I wish we were doing more interviews!”, and that’s nice to hear.

How do you find new talent?

From all kinds of sources: entertainment attorneys, record labels, booking agents, etc., and we also have people who search the Web. We also accept unsolicited material, although it does take a lot longer to get to that, because we get so much of it.

How many demos do you receive?

I’d say probably twenty to thirty a week. Leighton listens to all of them. Actually, this band from Houston, Silvertrip, sent us their demos over and over again and called every other day. Finally, I asked Leighton who it was that kept on persisting and he said that they were very good and that I should listen to them.

When I did, I instantly knew that I wanted to work with them, as was the case when I first heard Nickelback.

When you are considering signing an artist, how important are factors like local independent sales, local airplay, live performance experience and a solid fan base?

It’s very important. If a band can go out there and do it on their own, they’re going to do a much better job when I’m involved—all I’m going to do is to help them do it better.

Once signed to you, do you support artists financially so that they can focus on the music?

It really depends. Many artists, especially at the beginning, sacrifice a lot. Obviously, I wouldn’t have it if someone wasn’t able to feed their kids or something. I help in any way I can, but in general, what we do is to help them make money from this business.

Do you expect the labels to help with tour support?

Yes, I do, and I think it’s necessary. New artists need it particularly: if they’re supporting a bigger band, for example, they might not get paid enough to cover their costs.

Another issue we focus on is safety. To have a band travelling in a rundown van is just not safe. We want them in a bus, so they can get proper sleep and get up in the morning to do interviews, go to the radio station and do an acoustic performance, do another interview in the afternoon, go to the soundcheck and perform that night.

That’s not easy to do if you’re driving all night, so we try to make sure they’re comfortable.

Should labels who offer tour support get a return from the touring income?

They get it from the record sales, in fact, they get the largest part of that revenue, which is why they offer tour support.

How involved with the repertoire and production are you?

It depends on how much the artists want me to be involved. Right or wrong, I always give my opinion and they can do what they want with it. I’m not going to tell them how to write a song or that they need to change a chorus just because I think so. I offer my suggestions and if they take them that will hopefully make the song better.

Do you devise strategies to raise the public and the media’s awareness of your new artists?

Yes, we do, but with newly signed artists, the focus is usually on developing them to a point where they’re able to do it on their own, and that’s when the label steps in.

Many bands want a deal right away, but they often forget to develop themselves enough for a label to just come into an existing system to help them with tour support, marketing, radio promotion, and so on.

How do you know when artists are ready to be presented to the labels?

Just when they feel they’re ready, when they feel they’ve written their hit songs, when they’ve peaked in terms of being the best live band they can be, and when they’ve conquered their town or region. Sometimes they don’t even need labels at that point; sometimes they can do just fine on their own and I find that amazing.

As record labels become less and less concerned with developing new artists and instead want a ready-to-go package, do you think it will be management companies who will to a greater extent take on the task of developing new artists?

Yes, I think so. The manager’s role has increased immensely over the years. You can’t rely on anybody to do it for you. The labels have the distribution channels and the money, but you don’t rely on that, you try to do it on your own and when they come in they help you do your job.

That’s what good labels do. But I also think that the labels should help out with artist development more than they are doing today.

How much do you take radio into account when considering a new artist?

I tend to take it into account a lot. Most of my acts have been successful on radio, hence their success. Radio is still a very important tool with which to market bands, and if you have radio success, you tend to have success with sales, touring, merchandise, publishing, etc.

Do we need new, more cost-efficient ways of marketing new artists?

In a way, we do already have that in the Internet. The problem with the Internet is that how do you, as a band, get people to your website?

If you had the money, you’d buy the front page of AOL and that would be a good way to get people to know who you are, but if you don’t have the money, it’s very difficult. The Internet is still the best tool for bands right now.

What other means of breaking new artists are important?

Touring, in the good old-fashioned way of going out and playing every club in the town, state or country and handing out CDs with a smile. To prove that you can be successful you have to tour, get your song played on radio and sell CDs, whether you’re selling them from the back of your car, at the venue or in the record store.

Are the escalating costs of releasing a record to be blamed for the fact that many artists get dropped after an unsuccessful first album?

The labels just don’t stick with it enough. Lots of bands get dropped and then sign with someone else. It may not be their first album that breaks, it may be their second album or third. The industry should focus on quality rather then quantity.

If artists share the costs of making an album with the record label, with the artists’ share of the costs being deducted from their royalties, do you think they should also share ownership of the masters?

Absolutely. Prince wrote “Slave” on his face for a good reason. If artists create the music and work to sell it, they should share ownership of the masters.

Will online sales in digital formats be a boost for the music industry?

Yes, I think it will. Today’s younger people are used to it, and it is now commonplace to go online and download music. It was illegal for a while, but there are now so many new, quality ways to download music legally.

It’s an easy way to get the music to the kids and that’s what they want. They don’t mind paying for the music, they just want the quality and the convenience.

Do you agree with the fact that the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) is tracking and suing certain file-sharing individuals?

The scare tactic has worked and it’s been an important factor in the current success of the legal download sites. We need to keep educating people on what copyrights are and what’s legal and what’s not.

If you could dramatically change some aspect of the music industry, what would you do?

I’d make it so that the label and the artist perceive their relationship as a partnership. The tide is turning a bit as far as getting labels and artists to work together is concerned, but even still, the artist makes 15% compared to the label’s 85%.

There are many reasons why the labels make more: the costs, overheads, and so on, and I understand all that on the label side, but I think it is a lot more of a joint venture than artists and labels currently seem to think.

What has been the greatest moment of your music career?

Getting my first gold record, which was with Oleander. It was equally satisfying to get a gold record for Nickelback’s first record; so much work went into it that to receive that reward was extremely satisfying.

What do you see yourself doing in five to ten years’ time?

Still doing what I’m doing now, hopefully, with the artists whom I’m working with now. Ten years from now, it looks like I’ll be managing my daughter: she’s five years old and already singing!

Interviewed by Kimbel Bouwman

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