It’s the dream of every rock fan out there to start a band of their own. You’re probably a big fan of Epica. You’ve surveyed the local rock scene and seen a deficiency in power metal bands. And there you find the impetus to start your own musical project. Your journey begins with doing few covers at the battle of the bands and see where you rank among the fold. If things go well you’ll probably start writing your own material and record it. In two years’ time you’ll have produced an EP, heard your songs play on radio and gone on tour. If you’re lucky that continental recognition will also come along somewhere down the timeline. Eventually you’ll produce an album, have a mammoth following of fans and can afford to sell some merchandise and host your own gigs. Easy as ABC right? Not quite!!!
As you will discover for yourself, being part of a consistent rock band is an arduous task. You’ll struggle maintaining your focus and discipline. It may take a few strikes before you find a producer that understands what you want and when you want it. You’ll discover too late that an event’s organizer isn’t your buddy. That in this city there are more than enough fleabags that want to take advantage of you, waste your time and energy and disappear with your hard earned cash before you can say Houdini. Oh, and don’t forget that your performance has already been watered down to half its potential by piss poor sound. Not to forget the occasional ‘mishap’ of missing equipment. Throw in the hassle of keeping your band mates happy and you discover that you got more than you bargained for. So before beginning your journey you might consider it beneficial to have a partner who will handle all this extra baggage, an artist/band manager.
As far as artist management is concerned you may be well advised to follow the lead of the Swahili Hard Rock band RASH. A year or so ago we had a new band enter the scene riding on the wave of a smashing hit called ‘Darkness and Witchcraft.’ They were different. They had great guitarists, a wonderful drummer and a vocalist that sounded like a pleasant banshee. They were doing things different not just musically but also administratively. Working behind the scenes with a similar framework to ParkingLotGrass, they had Mariam Ahmed working as their band manager. A delightful individual with diverse interests and experience, she took on the mantle of tapping the local rock market that is always looking for new material and perspectives.
“Exploring new things has always been a vital part of my life from veterinary medicine to journalism to photography and Zuka travel. Every area of experience drastically developed my management skills importantly. ”
“The role of an artist manager is perhaps the most diverse within the profession of management focusing on one aspect and neglecting others can be disastrous thus not only focusing on the vital needs of the band are important such as recordings but ensuring the setup of venues are to standard a band is a living entity thus the manager needs to be lively.”
Other than establishing a band management framework based on a hierarchical model, it is submitted that what works best is a cordial understanding built on a firm relationship between the band and the manager. The goals of the manager has to be the same as that of the band. You can almost say that the manager should be the band’s longtime partner. Almost a match made in heaven. And it has to be someone infused with enthusiasm for the task, someone who lives and breathes the role, a personal embodiment of the leadership in management.
“My friendship has been a central aspect of my career path. A simple but life changing story started in a café within the heart of Nairobi it was a usual day with a group of mates. The group consisted of Max, Sam, Abedi and Gakosh conversing. Max looked at me and I stared back at him and it was management at first sight.”
That sort of set up will also play into the hands of conflict resolution. That sense of camaraderie in the case of Rash informs even the way the manage disputes. There are a number of foreign and local bands that have had to severe relations with members or even split completely because of this issue. Conflict is an almost inevitable dimension in any social dynamic including a band. When a bunch of people with crazy and most times divergent ideas and needs spend so much time together there’s bound to be conflict. One guy wants things done his way others want recognition or just want their opinions taken seriously. It has seen bands like Guns ‘n’ Roses disintegrate because of the feud between guitarist Slash and the former frontman Axl Rose. Closer home a band that I felt a more personal attachment to fell to the whiles of mismanagement. Bedslum were a band destined for greatness. Their debut single ‘Tears and Frowns’ got massive airplay on Xfm and it did well on the charts too. Unfortunately the band members couldn’t agree on the creative direction that their music would take. One party wanted a more rock and roll sound while the other preferred acoustic elements. The constant bickering dovetailed into a public spat on Facebook leading to the band’s breakup. These are symptoms of a band members thinking as individuals rather than as a band an issue that would have been sorted out with proper management structures. Compare the way Parking Lot Grass has handled itself in situations where they have had to part ways with their former members like Ronjey or their former vocalist.
Mariam, or Maz as her friends like to call her, obviously enjoys being in charge, she quips. However as she elaborates on preferred systems of conflict resolution she adds that
“…authoritarian regimes don’t flourish as much as democratic ones. Thus it is necessary to ensure that everyone’s ideas are heard… to avoid conflict in advance I have developed an open forum where various ideas are stated, opinions added and better ideas develop. Fortunately the open forum has prevented any major conflict from stirring up. Nevertheless in other unfortunate cases I am sure unity and any other management systems and platforms will keep us together.”
Other than conflict there are other external pressures that may hinder a band’s progress. Being part of a band is a bumpy ride. You will have to deal not only with each other but the press, event organizers and even producers and promoters. This will inevitable put undue pressure on you and your bandmates and thus you will need someone to shoulder the responsibility of shouldering such burdens. Before Rash performs at any gig they will have the benefit of someone who will assess the gig and take appropriate action in the best interests of the band.
“Pulling out of a gig basically we do our research on that venue in the past what bands have played there and were they paid if they have not been paid we do not bother with them…It is vital to note that there is no success without pressure. In taking this pressure into account I firmly ensure that all vital areas of pressure fall under my jurisdiction thus with discretion and passion I ensure that all venues are organized to the highest standard. Further I ensure producers deal directly with me. Therefore I firmly feel that my management style drastically reduces pressure on the band”
And as the band manager she will inevitable also arrest any fallout that may follow ranging from disappointed fans who’ve already bought tickets, bad press and in the most remote cases defending a lawsuit.
Different managers follow different management ideologies. What management style will work for the band will inevitable depend on the circumstances ranging from the group dynamics, the market and even the manager herself. Maz focuses more on management systems than role models. She prefers leadership style development and change management and achieving these models gives a euphoric feeling for her.
Depending on your band’s needs the manager can be a member of the band or a third party. With the rock scene being small and still in many respects in its fledgling years, most bands do not have the capacity to have a professional manager on board. Bands mostly carry on the DIY ethos of the punk rock age. A few however like Rash and Parking Lot Grass have concrete management frameworks unlike anyone else in the country. Given that as a band member your priorities tend to lean on the creative and performance aspects, one will be better advised to leave the focus of management dynamics to a third party. Someone who will for instance study the market and specialize in getting your band armed to conquer it. These are some of the sentiments that Maz carries.
“The music industry in Kenya is entering a stage of vital importance with increased accessibility to the internet Kenya having an increased Petorisum to local music the demand for new local rock music is increasing at an exponential rate…to meet this demand a manager is vital factor to ensure that this demand is filled ….the role of any manager is to maximize on opportunity thus without a manager a band may lose focus.”
Furthermore you will require an individual that will ensure the band keeps a sustained pace and achieve the targets that it has set for itself. You don’t just want to be that band that has a cool name but hasn’t gotten to put out an EP especially now that we are in a year that bands have stopped halfassing and are each grinding out hours to produce albums. How you go about meeting these targets however is a matter for your discretion. Even Rash’s management has its own way of getting things done:
“We have deadlines in which we keep we split up and do them. Basically the music aspects is the band; composition, checking how the music is being produced as in if they have any issues in the sound they take it up with the producer then I take care of the gigs etc. I handle but if some discussions need to be done we use our official social media platforms to get our message out there as well as word of mouth goes a long way.”
At the end of the day what you decide to do with your band as far as administration will depend on your needs. But keep in mind that whatever you seek to achieve you are inevitably starting a business and you will save yourself lots of heartache and time by having someone to cushion your falls.