Interview with CHAD JENSEN, manager for Colbie Caillat - Jun 23, 2008
“We started shopping Colbie Caillat to labels in 2007 and met with immediate attention”
Chad Jensen's projects seem to go from strength to strength. From the moderate indie success of the first band he took on, to working with Grammy Award winner, blues musician Robert Cray, and on to his No.5 US breakthrough Colbie Caillat.
Jensen is the kind of manager that will not hesitate taking on board an unknown artist if the chemistry and commitment is there.
He talks to HitQuarters about striving to work long-term with his artists in an industry facing much more competition over the consumer's wallet than ever before.
Could you describe your background in the music industry, and what route led you into artist management?
It was basically a summer job that I took which turned into a career. The summer job was doing some data entry for a music attorney named Ron Goods. That turned into a job where I was clearing music for television and film, and then I got into music publishing, which led me eventually to artist management.
Was there a specific artist that enticed you into management?
Yes, I was doing some independent music publishing as an administrator, taking care of a particular catalogue, and of some others, independently, and I was working with an artist at that time called Big Bad Voodoo Daddy who had just fired their manager. They asked me if I wanted to take over managing them, which I’m still doing today.
There was a little bit of a learning process. I actually already had an affiliation with the Fitzgerald Hartley Company through the work I was doing – I was already taking care of some music publishing for their clients.
So the transition was helped in that I had that association. But you still have to learn a lot more, because there’s obviously a lot more to the business than just music publishing. But it was a fun learning experience.
Luckily I’ve been able to do some good things for Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, and those guys make a good living now. They have a strong touring base. I initially focussed on them for a good three or four years before I looked to take on another artist, which is when I took on Robert Cray, in 2006. I made sure I was definitely ready for that challenge. Then I took on Colbie Caillat in 2007.
Did you start out with any strategy for breaking artists? Were you focusing on any particular area, such as touring, radio-play, etc.?
With Big Bad Voodoo Daddy they already had a platinum record under their belt by the time I took them on, so they had already established a touring base. So with them it was more about taking it to the next level, which was a big challenge. Touring is such a big part of the business, so the ability to play live is something I’m going to look for when I’m looking at a new artist.
I’m always looking for long-term touring possibilities, not just a flash in the pan. I don’t want a pop artist who isn’t able to go out and recreate his or her music live on stage. If they can’t do it on stage and make it sound reasonably like the record, then they’re probably not going to enjoy a long touring career.
How did you first come to hear about Colbie Caillat?
With Colbie it was something that happened really quickly. There was an introduction, a referral, and she had some things going on over the internet that I really couldn’t ignore. So I moved to sign her very fast. It was actually a friend of her father’s who turned me on to her music and her Myspace page.
Her Dad is Ken Caillat, who co-produced Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Rumours’ and ‘Tusk’ albums in the late ’70s. I invited her into the office and took a couple of meetings with her, and then I went to see her play live a couple of times. It wasn’t a hard decision to make.
How impressive were her early live shows?
They were great. Although, you know, I don’t want to say they were completely perfect, because she’s still developing as an artist and as a live artist too. But I could tell just by the vocal performance that she gave that there was a lot of potential going on there. It was a flawless vocal performance on stage, and it sounded even better than on the demos. So that was a really good sign to me.
We came to an agreement that we were a good fit together, and that I was a good fit for her as a manager. Her dad obviously has a lot of connections in the business, having made those two massive Fleetwood Mac records. So it was about making sure that he and Colbie were comfortable. We started shopping her to labels in 2007, and we met with immediate attention.
We had meetings with almost all the majors on the West Coast and the East Coast, and we also had a lot of interest from UK labels who wanted to sign her direct. The whole process took about two months. In the end we hammered out a deal with Universal Republic and were able to take it from there.
Was Ken Caillat keen to be involved on the production side?
Yes, he did produce, and he was very much involved from the beginning. He was executive producer on this first record, and he spent every minute in the studio with her. He has an amazing talent as a producer.
And so does Michael Blue, for that matter, who was also producing and engineering. It was that special combination of Ken and Michael, together with the combination of Colbie and vocalist/guitarist Jason Reeves that really created a special record.
Were there already demos in place for the album songs by the time you first talked to Colbie?
Yes, she had great demos. In fact, the demo for ‘Bubbly’ really didn’t change too much from how it first was to when it went out to radio. They added some electric guitar, but the vocal performance on ‘Bubbly’ is exactly the same vocal performance that I heard on the demo, they didn’t change it at all.
The demos were very strong, and the fact that she wrote or co-wrote these songs just made it all the more attractive for me.
Do you typically get very involved in the album-making process as a manager?
I don’t usually get involved in the process of production much, since it’s not my real area of expertise. I let the people who are good at that take care of that.
With song selection, I’ll absolutely put my two cents in, but I’ve also learned that an artist has a very good idea of how he or she wants their album to be, and I don’t push too much if there is any difference of opinion. It’s their record, and they’re the ones who are going to live with it forever.
What stage is Colbie at right now with the album?
She’s due to go on tour with John Mayer this summer in the USA, which is a direct support. She has a date in Paris beforehand, where the record is doing well, and she’s going on her own headline tour throughout Europe in September.
She’ll hit all the major cities, and then we’ll head over to Japan for some shows there, before heading on to Australia for another tour. Then she’ll come home to California and we’ll focus on record number two.
What other artists are you managing at the moment?
Well I work in the Ventura office of Fitzgerald Hartley, but we also have a national office and an office in Austin, Texas. The company has a lot of really big country acts, like Brad Paisley, LeAnn Rimes, Vince Gill, Kelly Pickler. Here in the West Coast office I just take care of Colbie, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy and Robert Cray.
How do you search for new artists, do you accept demos?
Right now, because things are extremely busy, we do everything on referrals. Most things come from people who I know. It’s funny, but when you have a hit or a hit artist who you’re working with, it’s almost like every single singer-songwriter in the country is sending you emails with their music.
And there’s just not enough time in the day to go through all of the material, unfortunately. There are so many people out there who want to break into the music business. So we’re referral-only at this point.
Do you look for a specific kind of music when you’re working with artists or are you open to any genre?
I’m pretty open to anything, especially on the pop side. I have very diverse tastes, and I’m just looking for a match really, personality-wise, and whether there is real potential there. I’m also looking for an artist who’s not afraid to work hard, and who has realistic expectations about the industry.
How well-prepared or well-established does an artist have to be before you’re interested in working with them?
I think if something knocks my socks off, I’m going to want to get in there and help develop it. But you know, Colbie had less than 10-15 shows under her belt by the time I got involved, and she still had a lot of work to do onstage with her stage presence, and with figuring out who she was as an artist in general.
She had these amazing songs and these amazing vocals, but other than that she was still developing. She wasn’t one of those artists who had already ground it out in clubs for three or four years trying to make it.
I’m definitely interested in artists who have already developed themselves and who have a touring base, artists who have supported themselves, have done shows and built up a regional profile, and where the songs are really great, as well as the performance.
But at the same if I heard something that just blew me right away and all the elements seemed right, I’d be just as inclined to get involved with it at an early point as well.
It’s takes a lot of time to work with a developing artist. I definitely want artists who I can get really involved with, who I can work really hard and really closely together with. You want longevity in their careers, both for them and for yourself.
What with the changes in record sales and marketing, etc., how is the current climate of the music industry affecting the way that you do your job?
It’s affecting all of our artists. For Big Bad Voodoo Daddy and Robert Cray we look for ways to maximise our income from our existing fanbase, from the fans we know are going to buy our records.
So we self-release using distribution, and we can pretty much count on a certain level of sales and on a certain level of touring. That way it’s relatively easy to predict what the income’s going to be.
For Colbie, it’s harder to tell based just on her radio play and on her popularity on the internet, etc. She’s approaching 2 million sales here in the US, but with her radio audience and with as big a hit as ‘Bubbly’ was, and the follow up single to that, ‘Realize’, six years ago she would probably have been approaching 4 million units.
So it’s a little sad that we’ve come to this point. I don’t think it’s all because of pirated music, though I think that has a lot to do with it. But as technology advances, and as there are a million gadgets available in the marketplace, and videogames, etc., there are just so many more ways for people to spend their leisure time these days.
Whereas in the ‘70s and ‘80s, listening to music, buying records, and going to the record store to browse for records were the biggest ways people spent their leisure time.
I think that technology has advanced now, and though music will always be a huge part of people’s lives, and it will always offer a soundtrack to their lives, there is an awful lot of competition out there for their dollars.
Do you have any other ambitions in the music industry?
Eventually I’d like to book shows. I live in Santa Barbara, where there aren’t a lot of choices for those mid-level artists who come in if they can’t play the Santa Barbara Bowl, which is a 4500 capacity room.
So I’ve thought about trying to develop a 750-1000 seat room in town to give bands a place to play in-between Los Angeles and San Francisco. But we’re so busy at the moment that that opportunity has to sit on the back burner right now.
What are the best and worst aspects of working as an artist manager?
The worst aspect is being told ‘no’, because you’re being told ‘no’ a great deal of the time. And contrary to that, the best aspect of the job is when you’re being told ‘yes’.
That’s when you’re going after something that you know is going to be perfect, and you get it right and you can see it through to the end, whether that’s with an opportunity, a tour date, a deal with a particular record company, or a commercial, or placing a song in a movie, etc.
Being told ‘no’ to any of those things is definitely the worst part. Plus, if the artist is in on your plans, breaking it to them that it’s a ‘no’ is hard, because they don’t really understand. To them their music is the best thing ever, and it’s hard for them to understand sometimes that there’s just a lot of competition out there, and that they’re going to be told ‘no’ a lot more than they’re going to be told ‘yes’.
Interview by Denny Hilton
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