A Rock Star's Guide to Networking: Randy Nichols

Connections count in the music industry. And all the talent in the world can't overcome anti-social tendencies. Here's how to create those relationships, one fan at a time. 

Quit name-dropping and start building grassroots connections from the ground up. In the music business, slow and steady often wins the race, says Randy Nichols, CEO of Force Media Management, a New York firm that’s best known for managing pop-punk and hardcore groups including Bayside, The Startling Line, Underoath, and The Almost. Collectively, Nichols’ groups have sold more than 4 million albums worldwide and played sold-out shows on six continents, but that level of success is earned one personal connection at a time. Mastering the ability to establish real and long-lasting relationships with fans, club owners, booking agents, vendors, partner artists, merchandise designers, and the countless other cogs that make the music machine run is crucial, he says. Here’s how to network like a rock star, and what it takes to move into music management.

Get In Media: You’ve spoken in the past about how there’s a specific way that a band should approach a club manager where they’d like to play. Would you mind going over what bands need to know about booking a gig?

Randy Nichols: The most important thing is, when you’re approaching bookers or other managers or other bands, just be honest. Everyone in this business uses little smoke and mirrors to make themselves appear a little bit more important than they may be. [Be honest] when you’re telling people what your numbers are, what you can draw, because when you show up [to do a show], you won’t draw those numbers if you don’t actually have the fans that you claim to.

We all know each other, talk to each other. If you say you did a certain amount of tickets at my club in another town, I may call that promoter and ask them, “Hey, they say they did this business with you. Is this band really worth this business? Should I book them?” … You need to make sure that you’re being legit and honest, because you will get found out and you’ll end up hurting yourself, not just with that new person you’re reaching out to, but the other person that you may have already had some kind of relationship with, you could end up damaging it.

A great example of that is, I had a band reach out to me who told me that an agent was flying in from a big agency to come see them, he was planning to sign them, and they now need a manager and I should come see them as well, literally fly out to go see this band. I immediately shot an email out to the agent who said that he was considering checking out this band, but he was extremely far from about to sign them and wasn’t flying out [for them]. He was already going to be in town there and just agreed to check out the band. That could blow up in that band’s face very quickly because they’re running around using this other guy’s name to try to get people’s attention and it’s without his knowledge.

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GIM: When a band approaches a venue operator, what metrics do they need to have ready?

RN: If anyone watches Shark Tank, [the investors ask contestants] a bunch of questions about their business—how it runs, how everything works, where you make money, where you don’t make money, what your strengths and weaknesses are. You need to know all that about your business and be comfortable with your business. At the end of the day, being in a band is a business.

GIM: Where do bands really need to focus their networking efforts?

RN: The first thing bands need to do is connect just with other bands, but before that even, with fans. You need to have music that people care about and react to, and that may be just five or six people that are reacting to you at first. You need to have music that people actually care about, and quite often you see young bands … who just think that [if] they meet the right people it’s going to make them have a career. Before they should even worry about who to meet and who to get to know, it’s making sure that their music makes a real connection with people, and the first people are going to be friends and family. They tend to be extremely kind. They like anything, but the next step is strangers actually appreciating your music, people you meet because they actually love your music.

Once you can hit that, which a lot of artists never can get to that level even, it’s getting to build relationships with other bands in their area. After you get to know bands locally, start to try to get to know other bands nearby in neighboring towns and cities and using those relationships to help both the people in those other bands to play in your town, and try to get them to bring you to their town as well.

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GIM: How early does a band need a manager?

RN: The realest answer to that question is you need a manager when you can’t run your business yourself anymore, and that doesn’t mean you don’t want to run your business anymore. It means that you’re so busy making music and running your touring business and doing everything else that you know you don’t have time to do anything but play shows and do press. At that point in time, it makes sense to bring in a manager to partner with you, but a manager isn’t there to make you more popular. They’re there to help you run your business and be your business partner.

GIM: What does your day to day as a music manager look like?

RN: Everyday is going to be different. I’m the CEO of the corporation, so I’m overseeing touring, merchandising, publishing, recording music, international marketing as well as U.S. marketing. It’s going to depend on where you are in the life cycle of an artist. [As of the time of this interview] I have a tour that’s almost wrapping up for one of my artists in the U.S., so the basic setup work on that’s done. [Now] it’s just tracking sales, doing any finishing marketing around shows, we’re just starting to ramp up marketing for international, starting to coordinate international press, making sure that we have merchandising set for international and securing our travel in the U.K., coordinating with our U.K. crew that’s slightly different from our U.S. crew. … Then I’m more focusing toward getting a new music video made, coordinating the next round of press, coordinating some additional recording for an additional release that we may work on next year … it’s just always changing depending on what’s going on. There isn’t a typical day of a band manager.

GIM: For your position, what goes into setting up a national tour?

RN: The very first thing that you’re going to do is figure out what markets you want to play in based on where demand is. After you choose that, you’re going to contact your agent saying that you’re planning to go on tour and these are the markets you want to hit. You’ll probably work on choosing some of those markets together with your agent. Then after you choose the markets you’re going to tour in, the agent calls all the booking agents [and] gets holds in all the rooms. You’ll be first hold in some, fifth hold in others, and just figure out a routing that works based on the room availability.

Once you have a routing, you then got to decide are you going to do any kind of pre-sale ticketing? On this last tour I just did, I contacted a pre-sale ticketing company [and] put together pre-sale VIP ticketing packages. From there, we launched those packages and had an on-sale date that was about two weeks after the pre-sale. We had all our marketing elements approved and sent out to all the promoters about 10 days before each tour date [goes on sale]. Promoters then sent back marketing plans and final artwork. … From there, tours will go on sale, we get an idea of how the tour’s doing, then we’ll work on merchandise designs and merchandise ordering based on projected ticket sales for the tour. Once we have a really good, strong idea of what we think the tour’s going to do in tickets, we finally place our merchandise orders. During that time, we’re also hiring a tour manager, a sound guy, a merch guy, securing a tour bus, making sure the tour bus will be available to pick up the band on the right date and that all that stuff’s set, and then from there, bus rolls up, tour manager gets on, and the tour manager takes over planning duties from there until the end of the tour.

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GIM: Is touring where the money is for bands now?

RN: That’s a very vague question because there are bands making money in every area of the business and there are bands making money in YouTube. There are bands making money in touring. There are bands making money in recorded music. There are bands making money in songwriting. There are bands making money in merchandising. There are very few bands who are making money in all those areas, but bands need to figure out where they’re connecting, where it’s working, and build upon that business.

GIM: Do you feel that bands need labels right now?

RN: You don’t need a record label, but you need a bank to spend money to market you. If you have someone who wants to invest X number of dollars for a certain return, you can certainly do that. The whole concept that bands don’t need record labels and they can do everything themselves is kind of a fool’s game because you still need marketing support. If you want to be on the radio, if you want to have online advertising, you need some level of marketing support, and that takes money. There are the very few rare examples where a band is making money, has no real life expenses and can slowly, slowly build. Usually, you’re going to need someone to throw in some kind of marketing dollars to help support you, and that can be a record label, that could be a bank loan, that could be investors into your band, that could be a rich dad or mom. There are plenty of different ways to go about it, but without money, you’re going to have a hard time. 

GIM: As bands get bigger, there’s more to manage. What management tips do you have for bands that are growing?

RN: As things get bigger, remember that it’s your band, it’s your project, and make sure you keep some level of control of it. Don’t let a bunch of people just tell you what you have to do. Ask questions, trust your team around you who’s telling you why you need to do something, but ask why. Don’t overwork yourself. I’ve seen young bands as they start to break, they want to please everybody and say yes to everything and they reach a point where they’re having trouble just getting through the day because they said yes to every possible opportunity. They’re just unable to keep up and get massively exhausted. You know, if you do 12 interviews, 12 hours of interviews, and then try to get on stage and sing, you may have no voice, and if you have no voice, you can’t play your show, and that’s the whole point of doing everything else. You need balance.

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