SOME SOUND ADVICE FOR BANDS STRAIGHT FROM OUTERLOOP MANAGEMENT OWNER MIKE MOWERY
When I first began making my list of all the people I wanted to interview Mike Mowery was one of the first names I added. His management company-Outerloop Management-is rapidly growing and becoming more and more successful at a time when so many others are failing. Outerloop’s current roster boasts some of the hottest names in the industry right now including Periphery, Darkest Hour, Veil of Maya, Dying Fetus, Misery Signals, Oceano-and the list just goes on and on. (For the complete roster click here).
You fucking trolls will of course say alllll those bands suck and they’re allllll gay. Well you know what, fuck you. You can act like a bunch of little assholes and pick apart each little band and cry like babies about why you don’t like them but you CAN NOT deny that those bands are becoming more and more successful. In fact, that’s what makes your pussies hurt so much-they’re out in the world playing todays biggest and best metal tours and you’re at home playing a tour on Guitar Hero.
For you bands/musicians out there that are looking for some great advice-this is for YOU! Mike Mowery is a fucking management WIZARD. So, listen up because the man himself is getting ready to drop some very useful knowledge on you…..
I’d love to know some background on how Outerloop got started. Can you tell me a little bit about the history of the company?
Mike: For a long time I tour managed a band from Sweden called the International Noise Conspiracy. If you’re not familiar with them the singer of the band Refused started after they’d broken up. I had a long standing relationship with him from back in my hardcore days and they were coming to the states and needed somebody with, actually all they needed was someone with a van, and luckily at the time I played in a band-a hardcore band-and I had a van and so I signed up and all of a sudden I was told I had to do all these other things and those responsibilities were what people called a tour manager. I didn’t know what a tour manager was, in the past I thought that that was just like, the bass player *laughs* the dude that didn’t really add any talent to the band but needed to justify his existence. *laughs* I was the bass player in a hardcore band so that’s why I can make that joke. So, I toured with them throughout the world you know, literally we went to China, Indonesia, Australia, all over the US, and all over Europe. We did that from about 2000 to 2004. In 2004 my good buddies in “Darkest Hour”…you know…it was a time when bands in the metalcore scene were really starting to get looked at for more serious/bigger tours-a lot of bands were starting to do Ozzfest and things like that. I had known Mike Schleibaum from the band for a long time, we had lived together in various group houses in D.C., and they kinda came from the hardcore punk world. A manager at that time was like always this big bad dude thats gonna come in and take 20% of our money and not do anything for us. So, they knew that I came from their same world and kinda had a mutual, you know, we kinda looked at things the same way so it was sort of a natural fit. I was a looking to get off the road because it just served its time and I had been on it for 4 or 5 years. I was looking to be able to focus on some things while staying at home, and so it sorta worked perfectly cause I was in DC, they were from DC, and so when I had agreed to kinda work with them they said “hey you should really meet our attorney-Jeff Cohen-he’s working with a number of bands as well” and so I had a conversation with Jeff and Jeff had helped bands like Misery Signals, The Agony Scene, Strapping Young Lad, etc.. He had helped all these bands do their deals with their various labels and often times those bands were turning to him and saying “ok we got this deal done, what’s next”? Jeff wanted to be able to advise them on what was next, and so it kind of worked perfectly in terms of the timing. Instead of having just one client with Darkest Hour I immediately stepped in to the bands Jeff was working with and sort of took on a more proactive role with those bands. Simultaneously Derek Brewer who still works with us, was working a full time job outside of management but was managing a couple bands including one of the bands from the area-“Dog Fashion Disco”. Derek and Jeff had had a previous relationship so the three of us kind of circled together and said “hey, you know, D.C.’s a really small place, we might as well all sit here and do it together” and that’s really how we started.
That’s awesome. It seems-while there have been some acts that have broken out from here-that the Baltimore and D.C. area is finally starting to really have something, kind of, going on here in terms of bands that have been making a name for themselves over the last few years that are from this area.
Mike: Yeah, I mean, I think more than ever it doesn’t really matter where you’re from-you’re from the internet essentially. If you can generate a buzz on the internet it could translate to not only your local area but other areas as well. I do agree though and I think that between D.C. and Baltimore there is a thriving music scene. Luckily, you know, Darkest Hour as well as Periphery and a number of other bands are really starting to, I guess, get their moments in the spotlight.
Absolutely. What traits does a band have to have for them to be considered as an addition to the Outerloop roster?
Mike: That’s a really good question. *laughs* That’s not one that’s necessarily easy to answer. I’ve said that for me personally, I want to either like the music or like the people, and in the best case scenario I like both of them. You know, that’s really where I feel like I’ve struck gold and with a lot of the bands it can start one way and move to the other. I can like the music and then get to know the people , or I can like the people and then get to know the music. It helps to have some sort of relationship with us in some capacity. Often times the bands that we already manage will give us a recommendation. We also have to be able to believe that we can eventually do something for the band so they’ve got to essentially offer something that’s unique or different or something that we can hone and push in a particular way. They’ve got to have drive and dedication and to have that proven in some capacity. A lot of bands come to us and say “hey we have a 15 passenger van, we’re ready to tour”, but you don’t really know if you’re ready to tour until you’ve already toured. One of the hardest parts I think about management in this era is that there’s a lot of managers out there. People-ourselves included-are sometimes getting in very early with bands so if we see anything that we like we kinda wanna hop on because we’re afraid if we don’t hop on then by the time that the potential we first saw in them starts to flourish they’ve already been on the radar for 5 or 6 other people and somebody’s gonna come in and snag them up, if you will.
Do you actively go out looking for bands either via shows, social networking sites, forums, etc. or do you find that once a band is ready to be found they sort of find you? I don’t mean that in the sense that they’ve contacted you, I just mean that they’ve built their presence up to the point where they sort of appear right in front of your face.
Mike: Reverting back to the, to the last bit of the last question, we have to be very proactive so we are looking at social networking sites and we are looking at forums. We’re looking for some sort of buzz. And then to me what is very important is to see a band live and speak with the individuals. Management to me-if its done right-is about forming a very tight relationship with someone, not unlike a relationship you have with a significant other. The difference is if there’s 5 or 6 members of the band, you’re having that not only with the unit, but you’re kinda having that with each individual member as well. So for me it’s very important if I’m going to take on a band that I can see them and see, for one, that they’re real and they have the ability-the potential-to pull off what it is they’re recording. You and I both know that it’s very easy to manipulate and manufacture recordings now-a-days. So, you can sound 15x better than you actually can perform, and that’s ok. There’s plenty of bands that I’ve worked with that have had to hone the skills necessary to put on a great live show over time, but to me it is very important to have seen them and interacted with them. Sometimes its the lateral move that we’re looking for, a band that’s gotten rid of their old management for whatever reason and they’ve heard good things about us. Luckily, a lot of our bands do speak highly of us. One of the things I really appreciate about Misha [Mansoor] is he consistently tells me that he’s happy with what we’re doing which is always a good feeling, when an artist that’s getting recognized in turn recognizes the role that the team surrounding them plays.
It’s really interesting you mention that because people, they do always seem to speak highly of you and Outerloop. It’s the same thing I always hear about Sumerian Records. Usually it’s the opposite. People are dogging their label or managers, always complaining they don’t get enough support or whatever it may be. You guys seem to really work for the bands that you have once that you’ve brought them on.
Mike: Yeah I mean its one of things I like to pride myself on. I mean there are examples of bands that the relationship has not been able to sustain and I think it’s really hard nowadays because there are so many bands and so many are being given an opportunity because there’s a lot of people trying to make a living in the industry in one way or another and the quickest and easiest way-in all honestly-is to step into “management”. There’s little to no overhead, I mean I do have an office and I do have staff, but when I started I had a cell phone and a laptop and I had some space in Jeff Cohen’s office that I was paying minimal dollars for. So, it’s not like a record label where you’ve got to come up with capital, and you’ve got to negotiate a distribution deal. It’s not like a booking agent. With booking agencies-while there’s not really a barrier to entry there as well-you’ve gotta have connections with the clubs and the buyers in the clubs. To be a manager all you really gotta do is know a band. That doesn’t make you a good manager but it does allow you to be a manager. I’ve played in a hard core band that didn’t know what a manager was, you know, I became a tour manager and saw how a band on the road that’s trying to make it really does struggle. So, I’ve always tried to conjure those experiences when I’ve been handling the bands that I am handling. I’ve learned so much as I’ve changed into the manager role over the years, but I still try to use those previous experiences to sit where they’re sitting. That way, if they call me from the fuckin’ road in Idaho, I’ve probably been on the same road, you know? I’ve sat there and said “well, this is nice, sure are beautiful mountains around, but fuck I’m really far from home, I miss my girlfriend, I miss, you know, x y or z”. I try to channel that and really understand what it is the individuals that make up the band are feeling and that I think allows me to have a very unique perspective, not necessarily unique, but it gives me a genuine perspective on what a band wants and needs. I really do try to pride myself in caring quite a bit for the entity as well as the individuals.
That’s awesome. You know, a lot of “big” record companies and management companies are so adamant about not being sent unsolicited material and if they do get some they don’t listen to it. You seem to embrace it though-if a band sends you their CD will you give it a spin?
Mike: It depends. I’m a human and the other people that work here are human, and like most humans there’s times in life when I’ve got a lot of time, and there’s times in life when I’ve got absolutely no time. Timing is everything in this world. There can be the time that I’m sitting around and somebody sends me something and I’ve got the time to click on it and I listen to it and I’m like holy shit, that same band could send me something two weeks later when I’m up to my ears in a certain band’s release, or a tour, or I’ve got an issue going on with my house or something, etc. As much as we embrace that, there’s just so much of it and really, it’s almost too easy for bands to solicit material. My email address is all over the internet so people will email me and, as much as that’s good, it’s also just too easy. It doesn’t take long involved thought, and it doesn’t take that real energy of truly soliciting the material, so it’s kinda of a hit or miss with that. There’s not often times that people solicit stuff and it ends up ending up on our roster-It’s more so we’ve sought it out, or it’s come as a recommendation, or it’s come through a relationship. I’m not necessarily shying away from it either.
What do you think is the single biggest misconception about the music industry that a band starting out today gets in their head?
Mike: That there’s a formula or a magic dust. There is no one factor that makes it happen. Again, it comes back to the timing of everything and so what’s important to me as a manager is building a very strong team around a band. We can use Periphery and Sumerian as an example. I think they do a fantastic job of providing a presence on the internet, they take care of all the normal stuff that a label would do. They’ve got their records in stores, you know, the distribution component of it. They are an active member of helping us promote the band and I trust and respect them, so if I need an answer I go to them. It’s like a big team approach and you can have the best team in place, you can have every single person that Periphery has and it isn’t going to guarantee the same results for you. Part of that is Periphery has something very unique that people want, but they could have been around 5 years ago or 5 years from now and it might have been a different thing. The timing of them worked and they have a good team around them. What happens a lot is a kid sees, ok, this band has this and this band has that-that equals success. Periphery has never stopped working a day in their lives, they are all consistently and constantly working and I think that’s the misconception of young bands is that the access to the people like us is important but if you work hard and rise above the creme-we will notice you.
Well with Periphery, you know, in my opinion-and it’s not just because I’m friends with them or you work with them or whatever-they have great music. To me, as far as any band in that genre, they are the best at what they do. So many bands just regurgitate the same formula. I mean, how many bands have copied Periphery?! They have originality and are the best at what they do-there’s really something to be said for that that other bands might just not “get”.
Mike: No, you’re totally right and, you know, you can flip it on it’s head at the same time. I mean, I know so many talented musicians that it hasn’t worked for. Not that many people play music, so what most people want is, if its heavy music, they wanna be able to move or mosh to it, so bands that play break downs become big. It doesn’t mean they’re the most talented people, but you know, they’re playing a break down. In the pop world its “can I tap my foot to it? Can I whistle along to it? Can I sing that chorus time and time again?” Nobody cares about the underlying drum beak or bass line, they don’t even really hear it. They know that there’s something like that going on, but the vast majority of the public doesn’t pay any attention to that. They just want something that’s kind of memorable. I think Periphery has done a good job of melding the incredible talent that they have with doing stuff that is also appealing to people that don’t play music.
That’s very true. You know, something else too-and we’ve all seen it in history-there have been bands that have been amazing that are hard workers that have a great team and ultimately what happens is that it’s totally up to the fans to decide. You’ll have an incredible band come out and just, nothing happens, nobody seems to take to it. Then, you’ll have some piece of shit band that’s writing crap music that just becomes huge. To me Dredg is a great example-I just think they’re amazing and it, it almost hurts me that they aren’t more successful than they are. I just don’t get it sometimes.
Mike: Well that’s sorta the thing and you know, part of it is a gamble. You’re a musician so often times you’re going to appreciate the musical component of things more than the general public. Some of it’s timing. I mean, how many bands are “ahead of their time” and 5/10/20 years later people are like “holy shit if this band was around now they’d fucking kill it”. Part of being in a band is it can be hard because you’ve got multiple individuals with multiple priorities in life. Part of it’s persistence, you know, you work and you work and you work and you work and to some bands it comes in the first few years and some bands it takes a decade. Its like Darkest Hour; this past year they did their legacy tour-their15 year anniversary tour! It wasn’t an overnight success by any means.
If you could give one piece of advice to the independent/local level bands out there today what would it be?
Mike: Work as hard as you can. Network with the bands in your area and the people in your area. Don’t see it as a competition-it should be friendly, it’s not “oh well we did this today, and such and such did that, and therefore we’re better than them”. I sort of believe in the karma of the industry. I think really having your intentions in the right place and setting some goals is very important-if you don’t know where you want to be you’ll have no clue how to get there. Some bands want to be on Warped Tour, or Mayhem Fest. Ok, lets break it down into some real baby steps. I’m practicing in my mom’s basement with my 3 best friends. Your first goal shouldn’t be “I want Outerloop to manage us”. It should be, you know, “I wanna figure out how to play live and I wanna figure out how to write fantastic songs so when we play them live people react”. All of that will bubble up to how the management companies/labels/booking agents etc. find you-if you have something to offer that they want.
Before we go, anything else you’d like to say?
Mike: Thanks for the opportunity to let me speak. I’m happy that there are people out there that even give two shits as to what I have to say.
Awesome. Thanks so much Mike for taking the time to do this interview-it’s much appreciated!
Mike: You’re welcome!