Interview with STEVE FEINBERG, manager at A Fein Martini for Good Charlotte (Top 10 USA) - Jun 20, 2005
"The first time I saw Good Charlotte play was in front of twelve people in Annapolis, Maryland. They pretty much hadn’t done anything yet,"… says Steve Feinberg, manager at A Fein Martini for Good Charlotte (Top 10 US).
How did you get started in the music business, and how did you become a manager?
Before I was an artist manager I was a talent agent representing actors, and then I became a talent manager for actors. I met Benji and Joel Madden, the twins from Good Charlotte, through a friend, Mike Martinovich, who later became my partner in A Fein Martini. We had a good conversation over dinner and the next thing I knew I was their manager. Within a year they had a record and a publishing deal. Then I slowly stopped representing actors to devote my time to music management.
What experiences have helped to develop your skills as a manager?
I came from the talent agent world, which mostly deals with contracts and legal protection. But I was a musician when I was younger, so I put the business side and my knowledge of music together and that’s what helped me become an artist manager. Although I didn’t study marketing, I’d advise people who want to be managers to do so.
What is A Fein Martini?
My company was originally called Fein Music, after my surname. As I mentioned, I now have a partner, Mike Martinovich, and when he joined a few years ago we became A Fein Martini. We manage three artists, we have five employees, and in January 2005 we partnered with Chrysalis Music Group UK.
I personally run DC Flag Records with Benji and Joel from Good Charlotte – we’re partners in DC Flag, which is now part of Sony Music. Benji, Joel and I also have a clothing company called DCMA which is run by us and their brother Josh.
What kinds of artists and music do you focus on?
We don’t focus on any particular kind of music; it’s much more about the artist itself. For example, if you look at Good Charlotte and another band we manage, My Morning Jacket, who are signed to RCA, those two bands are musically very different from each other, but they are similar in that they both work hard, their music sounds original yet familiar, and we have a relationship with them that feels very natural. Those three things are important for us.
What artists do you manage?
We have Good Charlotte, My Morning Jacket, and a new band signed to Warner Brothers called Charm City, which is the solo project of the guitarist from Avril Lavigne’s band. Apart from those we have another two bands that we work with but who aren’t signed to us.
How did you first learn about Good Charlotte?
Mike, who was working for Epic Records at the time in the Washington DC area, was told by a friend about the Madden twins. He suggested that I go down there and see them. My musical background is very similar to theirs, which is why he thought I should meet them. I did, and it just worked from there.
This was in 1998, and at that point they were basically just out of high school. They had a four-song demo tape and when I saw them play it was in front of twelve people in Annapolis, Maryland. They pretty much hadn’t done anything yet.
What made you want to work with them?
There’s something about the twins that is incredibly unique. They have business smarts as well as an incredible, seemingly tireless, creative stream. When I see them play they seem to be the best at what they’re doing. I also like their attitude and their work ethic.
And as we have similar socio-economic backgrounds, we all came from torn families where our fathers had left, we got along on many levels, which for me helps because we’re full service here and we really take care of them in all aspects. I run their clothing company, their record label, and I manage their band. If we didn’t get along it probably wouldn’t work. I must have been asked by fifty, if not more, pop/punk bands in America to manage them, and none of them had what I think Good Charlotte have.
When they got going, what did they do in terms of self-promotion, getting gigs, etc?
Benji and Joel were incredible self-promoters. They’d got their music played on their local radio station, which happened to be one of the biggest in America. It had a show that played only local music, and they were played there once a week.
Basically, they were just always out with their demos at local clubs and local bars. They played on the street, at the local church and they played at any charity show that people would let them play at, as well as a lot of basement parties amongst their friends. They did whatever they could – exactly what you’d hope any young band would do.
But when I met them, their fan base consisted of maybe a hundred people in total.
What is the story behind them signing to Epic?
When it was time to look for a record label, I didn’t know anyone, so I basically went to every label I could arrange a meeting with. Someone at Epic Records had heard about them through Mike. We met with seven major labels, but Island, Atlantic and Epic were the ones we were most interested in, so we gave the three of them a proposal instead of waiting for an offer. The one that came back with the strongest answer was the one we signed with.
And to their publisher?
They’re signed to EMI, and again, I didn’t know anyone. I met a guy who introduced me to Rick Krim, who at that time was the president of acquisitions at EMI US. He’s no longer there, but he also signed Sum 41 around the same time and he had a bunch of hot young bands. Rick had a great attitude and he was really helpful; he definitely helped us get to the next level.
What was instrumental in breaking them?
The Madden brothers being VJs at MTV definitely helped their fame, but I don’t know if it actually helped their record sales. More important was that on their first album they toured for sixteen consecutive months without a break, which was five times around the country. They started as the opening band, the next time they were the middle slot, by the third or fourth time they were headlining, and by the fifth time they were co-headlining with A New Found Glory.
By the end of that cycle they were considered one of the more profitable touring bands despite having sold only 100,000 records in the US, which is pretty much nothing. They were commanding great prices and doubling their fan base every time. After the shows they talked to their fans; they would stay outside until every fan got to meet the band, got an autograph, a hug, etc.
We didn’t come to Europe until the second album and then we played a sold-out show at The Barfly in London, which takes 250 people, and the next visit, which was only three months later – because we convinced the label that we really wanted to break in the UK – we played another sold-out show at The Garage, which takes 600 people.
The next time they played The Mean Fiddler, which takes 1,200 people, and after that they did two shows at The Astoria, which takes 2,500 people, and then two nights at Crichton Academy, which takes 5,000 people. Every time they returned they doubled their fan base, and they’ve toured like that since I met them. They’ve never had more than 21 days off in a row.
If they were a new, unsigned band today, would they have to do anything differently to how they did it in order to get signed by a major?
The Internet is much more important than it used to be, and rock radio in the US is shrinking. But all in all it’s not that much different from before. Touring is definitely part of the key to getting die-hards, people who are true fans. And you want someone to be a fan of your band, not just of one song.
How do you find new talent?
I have a couple of people who work here who are very instrumental in making sure that we get as much new music as possible. So, it’s sent to us, we hear about shows through friends of other bands, and we hear a lot from other bands too. I’m friends with many bands, whether it’s the guys in Good Charlotte, A New Found Glory or Hoobastank, whoever, and often I’ll be with them and they’ll be talking about a new band. A lot of the bands know about the other bands.
You accept unsolicited material then?
We do. Matt Winkler in my office screens pretty much all the new music; he’s the contact for that. We don’t receive that many, maybe up to ten a week. Some weeks we don’t get anything and others are busier. They’re sent both to the record label, DC Flag Records, and to the management company. So, we hear it for two different reasons.
What makes you take note of something?
For me, it doesn’t matter if you sound heavy, like Linkin Park, or if you sound like a pop star: it’s about the hook. Melodies are important to me, and lyrics matter a lot as well. If I don’t like a band’s lyrical content, I don’t want to represent them because I feel that we don’t have the same understanding. I need a hook that I want to hear again and again and again. Talent is built into that, because you can’t do that without having talent.
Do you expect the labels that your artists are signed to to help out with tour support, especially for new artists?
In the beginning they all do. I put it in our artists’ record contracts that the label will help with tour support. Labels understand that it’s a crucial element.
Should labels that sponsor tours get a return from the touring income?
No. Although a lot of labels are now asking for that, I would do everything I could to avoid it. It’s a recoupable expense and they get 50 cent on the dollar back from us. If we borrow $100,000 for a tour they can charge us for $50,000, but I wouldn’t give them a piece of the touring income.
What should aspiring artists learn more about if they’re to stand a better chance of building successful careers in the music business?
The more they understand about the music business the better. A lot of bands we meet expect fame and fortune to come fast, but it doesn’t happen fast anymore, unless you’re a pop star. It takes time to build a true fan base. Most bands feel that they did the hard work before they got signed, but that’s just phase one.
The hard work never stops, that’s important to know. They think that because they have a manager, a record deal and a publisher, they can just go on tour and it will all happen. But it’s just not that easy and Good Charlotte are an example of a band that come up with something new and clever every day to keep it going.
How do you view the current music business climate?
The US is currently a very difficult place to make money in. Downloading is one thing, but that at least seems very fan-driven, so it’s okay. But record labels are making it harder and harder for artists to make money, and touring is now the way to go. It’s a difficult climate, but it goes in cycles and we’re just in a slump right now.
If you could dramatically change any aspect of the music industry, what would it be?
I liked it when a band had to have everything to be a band worthy of fame. When albums mattered more than separate songs, when good artwork on the albums was needed and when they had to be a good touring band and write catchy songs. With the immediacy of the Internet, kids only care about the songs, and it becomes very fickle.
What’s been the greatest moment of your music career?
There was a three month period in the United States where Good Charlotte won the MTV Video Music Awards, they were on the cover of Rolling Stone Magazine, and they played on Saturday Night Live, the TV show. Those were the three things that I wanted in my career when I started and they all happened to Good Charlotte in a very short period of time. At that moment I felt that the band and myself had come together, working as a unit, really doing something special.
What do you see yourself doing in 5-10 years’ time?
I hope to have a bigger company. We’re also going to get into TV and music video production, and I would like some of the people who work here to be managers. And I would like people to respect the list of artists that I represent. I see myself doing what I do now, but a bit wider in scope.
Interviewed by Kimbel Bouwman
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