Rethink Music Preview: Ralph Jaccodine on the Future of Artist Management – We All Make Music

Rethink Music Preview: Ralph Jaccodine on the Future of Artist Management

[Editor’s Note: Next week, we’re going to be covering Rethink Music up in Boston. To get you in the mood, we thought we’d reach out to a couple panel moderators and get some advice/information out of them. This second and final piece is a Q&A with artist manager Ralph Jaccodine]

For all the upheaval that the music business has experienced in the past 15 years, the work and priorities of the artist manager haven’t changed that much. “I remember I saw David Byrne speak about the Internet,” veteran artist manager Ralph Jaccodine recalls, “and he said that the fact that it’s a level playing field doesn’t mean anything.”

Even though the landscape may have changed, managers remain responsible for two things: hustling up business opportunities for their clients, and exploring ways to augment, supplement and realize those clients’ creative visions.

In that sense, the panel that Jaccodine is moderating on Tuesday, Artists and Managers – Our Perspective, is less about looking into the future and more about comparing notes on the present. The strategies and outlook of a panelist like Bertis Downs, who represents REM, are likely to differ considerably from those of Fenway Recordings‘ Mark Kates, who represents bands ranging from MGMT to Bodega Girls.

We grabbed a few minutes of Jaccodine’s time to discuss his upcoming panel, and here’s what happened.

Let’s begin with the panel you’re moderating. A lot of the panelists are managers who represent artists who have been lucky enough to carve out careers as artists. But the nose-dive that record sales have taken has a lot of people supposing that a long-term career in music may no longer be possible. What stable, sustainable revenue streams should managers be looking to secure for their clients?
It’s interesting because my fellow panelists, who manage U2 and REM and Dixie Chicks, they’re in a really interesting, privileged part of the industry. But the kinds of artists I’ve been with for 20 years, we didn’t have huge royalty streams, and huge record sales, so we kind of had to do everything ourselves, and that means we had to tour our asses off, and we had to be really smart about merchandising, and we had to try and get our music into television commercials, and movie directors, and advertisements, things like that.

The smart managers are trying to replace income streams, and they do it mostly by creative touring and off-shoots of touring, and trying to find homes for the songs in non-traditional ways. You’re not going to get it on the radio, so maybe it is through YouTube and maybe it is through advertising or the movies. So I’m all about that, I’m all about finding homes for the songs besides the radio and MTV.

Could you give me an example of what you mean by “non-traditional touring”?
Well, in my case, there’s a whole series of house concerts around the country. I can get my artist in a living room in front of 30-50 people, he can make several thousand dollars, and he doesn’t have to burn out his e-mail list, and it’s not another club in another city, and it’s a real intimate environment. And we do private shows for people, and we do workshops. My artist, Ellis Paul, put out a kids’ record, and he’ll do a family show during the day and an adults show at night, or we’ll do a songwriting workshop, or we do cruises. In the summer we have a week-long intensive fan week at a bed and breakfast in Vermont, so for five days, they get all Ellis, all the time. So we’re trying to do some non-traditional things. It’s still getting in front of people and playing music, but it could be a family show or it could be a songwriting workshop.

That’s a pretty big contrast between the shows your co-panelists’ artists might put on, where they have a backline that only just fits into three 18-wheelers. What can one side teach the other?
That’s why I’m really glad I’m on the panel. Because in my world, which is basically the folk and acoustic singer-songwriter world, we have to be really savvy in everything, and we do everything ourselves. And I’m a little motorboat going through the harbor, but when you’re a big ocean liner like U2 or REM or something like that, you can’t be as nimble. I want to know what Paul McGuinness has in his arsenal that a start-up band needs to know. And I don’t know how street he is, I don’t know how street any of these managers are when you’re managing hundreds of millions of dollars in income per year for bands.

But for my own edification, I want to know what these guys can teach the little guys. I know I could go on all day with these creative things I do for my artists, but my artist is not U2, so just by default I had to get aggressive and find different income streams. I can do things a little bit non-traditionally, because I don’t have a big multi-national corporation that I’ve signed deals with, either.

What aspects of Rethink Music are you most excited about?
Well, I’m thrilled. If I was not moderating a panel, I’d kind of want to be in the same room as these people. I want to breathe their air, because some of the panelists and speakers are people I’ve been looking up to for years and years and years. And I think we have a really intimate chance to learn from some of the people at the top of the mountain, and I’m fasctinated by some of these people and their careers.

Rich Gottehrer is excited by the mix of technology and industry. Is that something you’re excited by?
Yeah, I have spoken at Harvard and at MIT, and they come at it from a different way, a much more technical, much more technological, much more academic kind of way, and I love that. The industry needs more of that. I think that these days, the people who have the brains will win.