Interview with JEFF HANSON (part 1), artist manager and head of Silent Majority Group label - Sep 13, 2010
“The most unpleasant experience for a band is when you do a deal with the label, sit down with them, and they have a vision for you that is not what you want.”
A celebrated stable for cultivating a new breed of radio friendly rock bands, independent Silent Majority Group is a refreshingly honest and artist-friendly alternative to the big brash majors. At its heart and head is Jeff Hanson, former manager of Paramore (USA & UK No.1) and Creed (USA No.1), who is masterminding the rise of Framing Hanley (Top 5 US Heatseekers), Transmit Now, Candlebox and Tantric by taking the unconventional tact of listening to the bands – not simply their music but what they want to do.
Hanson talks to HitQuarters about his upfront artist deals, the benefits of being a band’s manager and label, his atypical A&R techniques for discovering bands like Framing Hanley, and how he turned Creed from a covers band into million sellers.
What's your position with the bands you work with?
I'm the manager and the label. I have an interesting spin on deals with my bands - a 50/50 joint venture net profits deal. My deal with the bands is just recording, and then I manage separate and don't commission the recording side. I manage the publishing, merchandising and recording. So when they do a deal they don't have to have a manager.
Are you not interested if a band already has a manager?
Some of the bands I work with have a manager, like Candlebox. With Framing Hanley and Transmit Now I'm the manager. It makes it more affordable for them because I'm making the money on the records equal share and they don’t have to pay a manager for anything they make on recording.
So the 50/50 deal isn’t a 360 degree deal?
No, the 50/50 only applies for the records - not on anything else. If I'm involved as a manager then I get a management fee on publishing, merchandising and touring. If they have manager on the recording side, they cover the manager after their part.
Are bands happy to have their label manage them as well?
When I was signing Framing Hanley and Tantric they were like, “Why would we be going for a manager if you can be our manager?” I wanted to work more on the label side but they said, “You are handling everything anyway so just keep doing it!”
I wouldn't necessarily do it for free because right now I'm spending a lot of money on the recording side and it would be nice to get something back. But I'm on the cheaper end, I charge 15% on the management commission side.
Is that the standard deal?
We’ve done different deals - for some bands we did 10% of the gross touring instead of 20% of the net, which a lot of people charge. That way we don't have to stand behind for whatever ridiculous expenses the bands want. If they want to ride around in 14 tour buses that’s fine with me as long as I'm not having to share in that expense. On the publishing side we charge 15%.
My philosophy is let the bands do what they want. I can tell them what sucks and what doesn't.
I created my deal with the Kings of Leon’s lawyer and told the bands, “Here’s what we are going to do, I'm a small company and I don't want to have billion dollar legal fees.” Some of the bands I deal with don't even have lawyers so we are coming up with an agreement that is completely fair - something I would accept as a manager of a band.
I just show the bands the deals the other bands have signed and they don't call a lawyer but say, “If it's good enough for them it's good enough for me.”
Labels normally start with, we're going to ask for the world and then, depending on how dumb the band is, we are going to get as much as we can. I give them everything upfront and say, “I'm never going to make a dime more than you are.” In that mindset they know it's all your money and when you go into recording you are not interested in wasting money. You’re getting paid when I'm getting paid.
If they come in and want an advance and this and that then I'm not going to give it to them.
Do you front all the money for videos, tour support etc?
Oh yes, I front all of that money. That comes back to me before we split all the money coming in from the record sales. On the least expensive side I’ve spent $50,000 and on the most expensive side, $300,000.
In the music business nowadays you have to go in with the mind set that not everything is going to completely blow up. You have to recognise that you are going to lose money on 9 out of 10 artists.
It's interesting almost all of the bands I worked with outside Creed ended up being bigger in the UK than here.
How much of your income is generated in the US and how much internationally?
In the beginning you start nationally because that’s where you find whether band and artist have a following.
Framing Hanley have made 99% of their business in the US. However this is starting to turn. Now people abroad are really excited about them, and from the touring perspective it is already doing better in the UK than here in the US. Transmit Now is already getting more love in the UK than they are in the states.
We put the Framing Hanley shows on sale early this summer and everything sold out 4 months in advance and then we moved to bigger venues and they are selling out right now. We also just confirmed dates with Good Charlotte.
Are you going with the bands to shows abroad?
We have a global deal with ADA that are based out of the UK, so for the UK tour I go over there so I can sit face to face with the publicist, the plugger and label people.
Everyone we have there working for us are doing incredible jobs - ADA, as well as Owen Packard, Mel Young, and Nelly Liger. They are the dream team if you're a new band in the UK.
How did you come across Framing Hanley?
Brett Hestla (HQ interview) is a producer and a friend of mine and he’d recorded two of their songs and I signed them literally after hearing those songs. It was ‘Hear Me Now’ - I flipped out when I heard it. I was in NYC with my partner Rick Smith who is a radio programme director on a bunch of big stations.
I asked him what he thought and we both agreed that it's a hit. That was on a Thursday. I got home on a Friday, called the band and they told me they were playing that night so I called Rick, he was in Tampa, and said meet me tonight in Nashville. We literally we wrote the whole deal down on a napkin and signed. That's my life, stupid and simple [laughs].
What impressed you most about the band?
I was just a big fan of the songs. I was always a big fan of rock music with pop sensibilities. What irritates me about the whole pop format is that you have stations that refuse to play anything with guitars in it. Look at The Beatles, Oasis, Pink Floyd, even Michael Jackson, the greatest pop songs of all time featured guitars.
How important was that they had a local following, a certain number of hits on their MySpace etc.?
Honestly, I don't care. I don't think Framing Hanley had a MySpace at the time when I met them and not much of a local following either. Creed didn't have a MySpace and only played cover songs. Paramore wasn't even a band when I signed Hayley Williams [to Jeff Hanson Management & Promotions].
I go with my reaction and instinct. I only work with things that I love. I've been offered a lot of things that could have made me a lot of money but I just didn't care for the music. When you work with a band you end up listening to the songs a million times and I would shoot myself if I didn't like it at the beginning.
What advice would you give to a band that want to break into the record business?
I would tell them, “You need to be successful despite the record business.” Bands that try to align their hopes and aspirations with the music business ... it's not going to happen.
Even reading people on HitQuarters that say, it needs to have a following, a buzz on MySpace etc ... but it's like, “Okay, so what’s your job as an A&R then?” To me it's about building a following with the band, giving them guidance to make the proper record. You develop it and turn it into something. I developed Creed, Paramore and Framing Hanley , it wasn’t just straight to radio and that’s it.
How do you find your bands then if they don’t have that following or that buzz?
I like to find my music from producers. It's not seeing them live or looking up stuff on MySpace or YouTube. I can't stand going on these sites. There is so much crap out there that you just end up sifting through stuff in two dimensions.
I don't know how you get an emotional attachment to something unless you’ve met the people, heard the songs. I love finding stuff out of the studio. I guess that’s why I'm different and have an independent label. I run my distribution and promotion through Warner Music Group but I'm not sitting in an A&R office somewhere listening to demos. I would rather be on the ground, talking to producers, seeing shows, meeting bands.
I have an interest in the studios. I manage three different producers - Brett Hestla on the heavier rock side, Dan Malsch on the alternative side, and Lu Rubino in the Christian market - and they now turn me on to about 20 bands per year that are fantastic.
Brett told us that beyond the scouting process you also have a working relationship with him in then recording the bands that have been signed ...
I go through the process of what projects we work on with the producers. I will say, “What do you think of this? Can you turn that into something?”
My whole thing is from the music fan perspective. You can teach a band to be better live and develop a live personality and charisma, but you can't teach a band to write something meaningful from the heart. You can put them through writing a formulated song like Nickelback all day - verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge and out, switch between clean and dirty and sing with an American voice ...
To me ‘Leader of Man’ was Nickelback's best song and ‘Mudshovel’ was Staind’s. Those were the first songs I heard of them. I'm sure by commercial standards they may have been flops but they gained the marketplace and got people's attention. When you hear Framing Hanley's ‘Hear Me Now’ – that song reacted the same way with me and what made me sign them.
Some of the best songs a lot of artists have are the ones that didn't get touched by a bunch of people formulating it, overproducing it, spending millions on remixing it and taking the soul out of it.
What was the process from having signed Creed as a covers band to then releasing a full original album?
First step is finding the right producer for it. Some bands need help with songs and some bands need help with production styles and quality ...
So what exactly happened from the moment you signed them?
They were playing live in a bar I own in Tallahassee, playing cover songs and two original songs that I thought were really good. I called my friend John Kurzweg, who I thought would be a really good producer for them.
He was not an aggressive kind of producer who is going to try to change everything. Some guys make everything sound super-heavy or indie, or some guys only want to do everything analogue and won't use digital. He seemed to be the right fit. He is a multi instrumentalist and songsmith. So I called him to make an inexpensive record, a $6000 record that eventually sold 6 million copies.
All we did was add a track and remix the record. I sold 6,000 copies in the first two months just in Florida. Every radio station played it immediately.
So what did you do between recording the record and releasing it?
My choice back then was to take it to radio stations and get them to play it. If it was good enough for a major label to sign it then I thought it's good enough to be on the radio. I had relationships for promoting concerts on radio stations and they played the song.
14 labels passed on Creed. I was always prepared to do it myself as I continue to do in my music career. You have to be prepared to do everything yourself - even if a label signs it they might just shelve it.
Wind up finally signed them, they just happened to believe in it 100% and the owner did everything in his capacity. They had the same mentality as I did, don't take a no for an answer. They shoved it right down people’s throat and it reacted.
Did they tour right away?
Oh yeah. My idea was to pick between half a dozen and a dozen markets that we could actually drive to on the weekends and use Tallahassee as a home base. Play those markets multiple times to see whether we actually have something or not.
The first time we played to 100 people and had a bit of play on a local radio station. Then when we got on main rotation, we played again for 500 people. Then we really got some spins and played for 2000.
The proper artist development story works when you have the right tools, the right songs and have the right look. For a band to be ultimately successful you have to have all the elements: an image, something that resonates with the fans, be able to play live - you have to have the desire to do it because some of the bands don't want to go on tour. In any given scenario there’s a lot of potential for things to go wrong.
When I heard the 3 Doors Down song ‘Superman’ the first time I thought, “That's a great song!” I knew that when it got on radio people would like it.
How much are you involved in the music and the marketing?
100% the marketing and music side. What I don't necessarily care about is the accounting side. I hire people to do that. I wouldn't have started the label if I didn't love the A&R and marketing side. I was always the creative and artistic guy.
Do you sit down with the band and say, “Let's work more towards this image, have the songs more in this kind of style...?”
The band and I literally sit down and work out the career path and identify, “Who do we want to be?” My mantra is always give the band the best information to make their own decision. It's a lot easier when you are all on the same page. Your band is the greatest source for ideas - marketing and touring ideas, too. You normally have 4 or 5 guys that are all creative people and who know their fan base.
The most unpleasant experience for a band is when you do a deal with the label, sit down with them and they have a vision for you that is not what you want.
Tune in to the second part next week when Jeff Hanson reveals the true behind the scenes story of Paramore’s first steps, and how their success ultimately came as a result of the label listening to the band’s 14-year-old singer.
Interviewed by Jan Blumentrath
Next week: Jeff Hanson on the birth of Paramore
Read On ...
* Former Paramore manager Jeff Hanson documents the band's first steps at Atlantic
* Producer Brett Hestla on working with Framing Hanley
* Wind Up Records A&R Joel Mark on signing and developing Creed
* Former Tantric manager Dan Colucci on how an unsigned band should approach the music industry