Archive for the ‘ Taking Your Music Seriously ’ Category

Who Needs A Manager? – Interview with Tommy Merrill

The music industry is changing, and quick. Artists and musicians take on more and more of the roles and responsibilities traditionally held by record labels and managers. If via various internet platforms, artists can skip the intermediate steps and connect straight with their fans, what’s the point of shelling out money (or a portion of profits) for a manager, booking agent or publicist?

Tommy Merrill spent 7 years as Talent Buyer at Rockwood Music Hall, helping to develop (and vet) artists from the ground up in New York City’s famed showroom on the Lower East Side. More recently, Tommy jumped to The Press House, where as President of Artist Development & Booking, he works directly with artists on the upswing of their careers.

As someone who works with tons of independent artists, Tommy answered some questions about what relevance management and representation has in the DIY music economy and how artists can make the most of those sorts of partnerships.


In the do-it-yourself music economy, what do managers and booking agents have to offer that artists can’t provide for themselves?

TM: Two things, relationships and assistance in planning strategy.  A good manager and/or booking agent can get you in the door somewhere you haven’t previously been.  Managers are wonderful for coming in and really laying down the short and long term goals and strategies needed to accomplish those.  Whether just starting out or being further along in one’s career, introduction to the right people in the right situations can really help.  

Artists were coming to me regularly expressing their frustration at not being able to get an agent because they hadn’t toured in the past.  They just didn’t have the background to know what venues made the most sense and who to contact. There was a huge gap between developing artists and those that were starting to gain traction with larger agencies. This is one of the primary reasons that Dawn Kamerling and I launched this new division of The Press House to come in and assist. We’ve been able to get artists into outside markets, both around the US and internationally, with a good level of success for the past year because of our relationships. 

What do you look for when taking on new clients at The Press House? Besides “raw talent”, what makes a viable artist?

TM: I look for a couple of things when taking on new artists.  First and foremost, there certainly needs to be that raw talent that you describe, but I also think a very strong work ethic is needed to be successful or to even lay the foundation to be successful.  It’s a pleasure when artists bring more than talent to the table.  I’ve always thought that knowing the ins and outs of one’s industry, no matter which aspect you focus primarily on, makes that person infinitely better at what they do.  
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Don’t Get Caught Talking the Talk!

It doesn’t take long playing music to have heard it all– the A&R people coming to the next gig, the big national tour, the record deal right over the horizon. The fact is, sometimes those things happen and (often) they don’t. Name-dropping, telling people about opportunities that haven’t yet materialized, or about all of the gigs to come damages your credibility– and your credibility is some of the most valuable currency there is when it comes to having others take you, your word, and your music seriously.

I’ll be the first to admit that I sometimes catch myself “talking the talk”. It’s tough to avoid in an industry based so strongly on people’s perception of status. But when I do catch myself, I feel awkward, as if I’m wearing a mask. It’s critical to take a step back and realize that gratuitous, unfounded talk is not only cheap, but also cheapens you and your image. Whether or not the possibilities on the horizon come to fruition, hopefully, you’re enjoying the gig for what it is now and putting in the hard work required to take your music to the next level.
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Having People Take You (and Your Music) Seriously

It seems simple, but it’s what we all want, right? Taking your ideas and your skills from the bedroom and releasing them out into the world to be judged can be intimidating, but the rewards are invaluable. Reminding yourself of this fact can help inspire you to push yourself to the next level and can get you through even the crappiest four-hour gig playing to three people in a bar with a drummer who can’t hold it down.

The best way to have others take you seriously is to show them that you take yourself seriously. Investing time in good preparation, putting value in developing your skills, and respecting others’ time demands that others respect you. If, as an artist, you throw together unlistenable voice-memos and email the tunes at 11:00pm the night before a rehearsal, or as a musician, if you listen to those tunes for the first time on the way to the gig, you give others the impression that music is not your priority.

The same principles stand for performing and promoting your music. If, on stage, you come off as disinterested, disconnected, or unprepared, how can you expect an audience to feel engaged? Best to bring a positive energy to the stage and to all of your interactions in networking and promotion. Others will feed off of your energy, and will thus foster a lasting connection with your music.
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