Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Sitting on the sofa in your underpants

"I'm looking at my options... I mean it's a shit time to be out of work but in a funny kind of way it's great to get off the treadmill, look around, see what's out there, you know... It's liberating and exciting."

The A&R man, or currently ex-A&R man, is saying all the things you say when you've been made redundant. He's making frequent use of words like 'options' and 'opportunities' and the ever-reliable 'irons' that are very much 'in the fire'.

There's a couple of us, chatting with him and we are sympathising - we've both been through similar things. After he's gone my pal turns to me and we look at each other, "Why don't people just tell it like it is?" he asks, "Why don't they say, 'I'm sitting at home on the sofa, watching daytime TV, miserable and bored, no one will return my calls - what is wrong with me? Why am I suddenly toxic?!' Then at least we'd all be able to bond with him and say - yeah, been there mate, instead of saying: ' yeah, good for you, nice to hear about your proverbial irons.'"

Last year (almost exactly a year ago in fact) a bunch of us were made redundant from V2 and I was over the moon. I don't recall any sitting on the sofa in my pants, weeping. But I was lucky, I think. I had a little money from them, and Charlie and I were starting the management company that became Riot Act. Our future looked bright. And now? Well, you know what's it's like now, you don't need me to tell you. The world has changed.

For those of you wondering, I am no longer doing the management thing. What!? I hear you scream. What about the Scottish Band?! - or indeed the band we now know as Isosceles? Well, there are still going and they're still great. But for reasons largely to do with money and time, we have agreed to part company. It was their decision, I stress, not mine - they made me redundant. But it's really for the best, it's great to get off the treadmill, look around, see what's out there, you know... It's liberating and exciting!

Seriously though, it is actually better for both of us. I've been busy doing many other things over the last few months, some of which you heard about here, and being their manager was only a part of those things. Although, it's hard to say how managers are going to work full time in an industry where the traditional source of finance in the early days (a record company) is not there any more, doing it part time is still not the best management strategy. The band were patient with me, while I went off doing editorial stuff but it was really hard to manage them, whilst, for example, sitting at a desk making sure the Website's homepage was up to date. Not to speak of being a decent father to my daughters. Remember my blog about In The City and how I didn't go because it was Maddy's birthday? Well, we had parted company when I wrote that, and the children's party seemed the best way of explaining it to myself. I realised, I didn't ever want to have an experience of missing something important like that because of something as transitory as music. Anyway, they are working on new material and I'll certainly let you know when it's ready, because I'm sure it will be great. I wish them all the best and hope they find another manager who doesn't get torn between them and a desire to write.

You see, I am not sitting at home in my pants watching daytime TV. Lord knows, I'd like to try that for a bit. What's been happening over the last three to four months has been the realisation of how much I enjoy doing all the things that were peripheral to managing a band: writing this, doing journalism, and observing the way the music industry is developing. A friend of mine said to me last week that reading this blog was, for him, like watching The Truman Show - with the show being about someone reinventing themselves. And it's true, from writing this initially about managing a band, I have gently slipped into writing about the A&R war stories and the way the music business is changing. And from this I am being asked to review gigs, present stuff on radio... well you know.

Admittedly, I am still some way off from being a proper grown up writer - I mean, even reviewing Hamfatter back in July was hugely exciting for me - getting to the front of the guest list queue and rather than saying I'm Ben from XXXX record company, being able to say I'm Ben from XXXX newspaper. It felt like a huge step forward; I was pathetically excited. Like a child being allowed into the cockpit of a big aeroplane. So ironically, like the former A&R man I mentioned at the beginning of this was bravefacing, I am genuinely finding it exciting and liberating. As well as a tiny bit scary of course.

And what of that A&R man I mentioned at the beginning? Well, he does exist but he is an amalgam of various people I've bumped into over the last few weeks. It's tough out there - record companies are signing less and paying less when they do - they don't need as many A&R folk as they did even a couple of years ago. Arguably, all you need is a marketing person who listens to Zane Lowe, reads NME, and watches Skins. Or at least, that's what marketing people would say anyway...

So despite not managing Isosceles, my observations about the record industry will go on. And of course my Truman Show analysis of what happens to me - but only if it's interesting and relevant of course. I wouldn't want to bore you with stories about my children, would I?

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