19 Nov Interview with The Trews Manager: Larry Wanagas of Bumstead Productions
In this interview, we learn about:
- Bumstead’s first management client
- Meeting k.d. lang
- Managing multiple clients
- Having staff
- Living in different cities from your clients
- Meeting The Trews
- Long-term management
- Managers roles
- Financial stability through touring
- Radio success vs. touring
- Negotiating venue fees
- Making a living
- Best lesson
In 1979, after 2 years of successful on-campus concert promotion and spontaneous crisis management Wanagas left college life behind and opened a recording studio, Homestead Recorders. He also launched Bumstead Productions, focusing on artist management, an independent record label and a publishing company.
In 1983, Wanagas met a young singer named k. d. lang. Within days of hearing her sing he signed her to management, recording and publishing agreements, known as a 360 deal. That arrangement marked the beginning of a 15-year rollercoaster of successful tours, multi-platinum album sales, accolades, GRAMMY and JUNO awards and more crisis management.
As of the time of this writing, Bumstead Production’s client roster includes; The Trews, Tim Chaisson, and The East Pointers.
The Trews are one of Canada’s most loved rock bands. Forming in 2002, the past 15 years of their career have brought them many great successes. Their 7th and most recent album, Time Capsule (Sept, 2016), a 20-song album of fan favourites and 4 new recordings, debuted in week 1 at #1 on the alternative sales charts. They’ve headlined over 1500 shows selling over 25,000 tickets (by 2015), and have opened for KISS, Rolling Stones, Robert Plant, Kid Rock, Guns n’ Roses, Bruce Springsteen, and Aerosmith/Slash. In addition, they’ve had 17 top 10 radio hits at active rock in Canada, 2 Gold Albums (350,000+ sales), and 2 Gold Digital Singles.
Let’s talk about your first artist management client. How did the relationship come about?
Prior to working with k.d. lang, I signed a band in Edmonton called The Modern Minds. They were my first clients. Now, the thing to be noted about that was the principle songwriter and front man in The Modern Minds back in about 1980 was Moe Berg. He worked in the Edmonton area for a while then moved to Toronto. Once he got to Toronto he started a band called the Pursuit of Happiness. I didn’t work with Pursuit of Happiness in Toronto but I worked with Moe Berg’s previous band The Modern Minds when we were all based in Edmonton.
How did you sign them?
I think that’s a good question but I’ll tell you what comes to mind for me. I could be wrong but at the time I owned a recording studio in Edmonton called Homestead Recorders. Which is still there. I sold it when I left Edmonton but the name remains and the studio is there. I think they came in to do demos. Could have been at a gig, I don’t recall. I think we worked together for about 18 months and put out one single. This was prior to k.d. lang.
When did you meet k.d. lang and why did she want you as her manager?
I think I met k.d. lang, in about ’83. The way that I met her was also because of the fact that I had a recording studio in Edmonton. That was the catalyst for me for a lot of things because it was a one-inch eight track studio at the time. The other studios in the market were like 24 track studios so they were more expensive. More significant and probably better studios, but I was focusing on the lower end of the scale. I attracted a lot of developing bands that couldn’t afford the bigger places. This was a real catalyst for me and meeting artists.
There was a guy in Edmonton who was putting up a kind of swing band. He asked if he could rent my studio for auditions. He put an ad in the Edmonton newspaper looking for a female vocalist to sing Country swing. Then he rented my studio to audition singers. KD answered the ad and came in to audition. That was the first time I ever heard of her. She was 19 years old. She sang like k.d. lang. At the time she was k.d. Wright. She was amazing what can I say. We all know she’s an amazing once-in-a-lifetime kind of vocalist. She got the gig, the guy did one show, and then he folded the band and never did another show.
I was at that show. After the show, he told the band he was folding. k.d. looked at me and I looked at her. She said, “What am I going to do now?”, I said, “Well, I’ve got a few ideas, come see me on Monday”. She came and saw me and that led us to working together for next 15 years.
And at that point you decided that she was going to be a solo artist?
Absolutely. Once I heard her sing I knew that she had a ton of potential. We started working together immediately. She knew a few people, I knew a few people, and we put a band together for her and immediately started working. That being said, I’m just going to look at my wall because I have the original contract for her first show. Her first show was on November 17th, 1983 at Side Track Cafe in Edmonton.
How long did you manage k.d. lang before you brought on your next act to manage?
I think I then signed Colin James in 1985.
How many artists do you think you can manage at the same time? What’s comfortable for you?
For me, well, personally I would say two. I have a couple of staff we can handle four. I’ve done both. I have done it by myself. I’ve done it with staff. Right now, we have three artists: The Trews, Tim Chaisson, and The East Pointers, and three staff.
Have you always had staff?
Well, that’s a tricky question to answer because I’ve normally had staff, yes, but I’ve also moved around. I moved from Edmonton to Vancouver, to Washington State and had an office in Bellingham, Washington. I then moved from there to New York, and I moved from New York to Toronto. So because of these moves; every time I moved I didn’t take staff with me. Staff can’t move. I can move from Vancouver to Bellingham because I have dual citizenship.
So you haven’t always been in the same city as artists’ that you’re managing, can you manage effectively if you are not in the same place as them?
I think it can be done if you’re not in the same place. I mean the answer that I’ve given in the past was, even if the artist lives in the same city as I’m in, they should be on the road 10 months of the year and I should never see them in their hometown anyway. If you’re not doing your job, and you’re living in the same city as your artist and they’re home all the time, something is wrong with that picture.
I don’t think that it makes a lot of difference with the touring act if they’re living in the same city or not. That being said, of course there are benefits to be able to spend face time with your clients so that when they’re not on tour it’s great to be able to see them. I have always had artists that have lived in different cities and I do now. For example, when I moved to Vancouver from Edmonton k.d. was still in Edmonton. She followed but I went first. She then moved to LA and I stayed in Vancouver then I moved to New York and she was in LA all that time.
It can work as this works now the Trews and I are based in Toronto area but Tim Chaisson lives in Charlottetown as do two of the three members of The East Pointers. It works both ways. It made a difference to me back in 1998 when k.d. and I split up. I was starting over with Big Sugar and Susan Aglukark it made sense to get to Toronto not only because of the financial situation it never had such a big impact. It wasn’t much difference as it is now. You know 75 cents from the dollar but it also made sense to have that connection. and to be you know, in close proximity especially when it’s a new artist. You need that face time and you need to kind of think of both work with the common knowledge and a common goal.
How did you meet The Trews?
I saw them on morning television. I was having coffee one morning flipping channels as I watched the news, sports and everything else. There was a band playing on—what’s the local channel called? City TV? There was this band was playing. They sounded good, they played well, the vocals were good and it caught my attention. As I’m sitting there watching, my wife Sheryl called down the hallway to me from the kitchen and said, “Are you watching the guys on channel 8” and I said, “Yeah they are good!”. It was funny that we both landed on the same show catching this band.
As it turned out the band was called “Trouser” and they were playing that night at Jeff Healey’s pub. I went to see them and I fell in love with them. Just loved them. That very night I told them I was interested in meeting with them, and asked to get together for a meeting to talk about managing. I saw them in the morning on TV, I saw them at night and loved them, and it started from there. It’s lasted now for I think twelve years.
Why do you think it has lasted so long?
I think the reason why it’s lasted for so many years is because we’ve both done our jobs and it’s been successful. I mean success usually leads to longevity. If it hadn’t been successful they probably would have found somebody else and let me go. But it’s been successful you know, the band members have homes and families, they tour constantly. They’ve got a reputation. They’ve had sixteen top ten singles across radio in Canada. They have careers. So, to establish a career for a band that didn’t have one when you met them, there is a good chance they will stay on. But success is why we stick together.
Does it have anything to do with personal compatibility?
I think the success is more significant than the personalities but I would acknowledge that the personality situation is important. The guys and I get along and the band and I have both common goals and common interests. We’ve got music in common that we are fans of. I mean The British Invasion played a huge impact on them as a band and me as their music manager. I got to it a little earlier than they did. I heard it when it was released and they heard it on their parents’ vinyl collection. But it impacted both of us so there’s a lot of things in common. The music we like. Our personalities. The things we do. It does have an impact on being a successful manager, but I would say the results and successes are more significant than personality. Now, if I had a personality that they hated and I was just you know a jerk and they continually got feedbacks from family friends and industry that the guy represented and was a real jerk that would probably not work for my benefit but since its not the case. I can say our personalities mix well and it adds to the overall success.
When you first start working with an act are there some things that you always make sure you start working on right away? Do you have a strategy in place?
Well it differs depending on the act but the first thing that comes to mind is in regards to “what is the first thing I look for or focus on”. The answer to that is songs. In the case of The Trews for example; they have great songs and as long as we provide them with opportunities to write and co-write and record those songs, that has been one of the strongest points. The first thing you have got to look for is the song. If you don’t have songs, you’re going to have a lot of trouble. Even if you are great performers.
Do you act as agent and publicist when you first start working with an act?
In some cases, yes. I don’t do it anymore but in some cases I have. You have to remember I have been doing this for over thirty years, so depending on who the artist was and what the market was, I booked shows. It’s important to find an agent of significant stature to take on the band as their priority. Two key words: stature and priority. Which is not very easy to get for a new band.
If you do it yourself the band will end up making a little more money in order to survive. So for example if we booked bands ourselves we don’t take an agents commission on top of the management commission. We just do the booking as part of our management commission. We don’t hit them twice. Therefore technically they make an extra 10% because there is no agent taking that commission. so that’s part of it. But we have better things where we can spend our time as managers rather than as agents.
What are other things that you spend your time doing as a manager (and not as an agent)?
Working with the agents to focus on the concept of the tour and what you want to do. I will go to an agent and say for example I need The Trews to do thirty shows in forty five days in these markets and this is the money we need to make. And then you start strategizing with the agent to find those shows. You then work with the publicist to advance the show you start raising a profile. You work with the band to get your publicity photos shot as part of the marketing. For the tour, for the album you do a new bio, you do a new one-sheet. All the marketing and promotion of the artist for the release. That’s where I tend to focus and because it also translates into the touring cycle and the tools needed for touring. All of that gets done while the agent is putting the tour together that you’ve asked them to. If the agents can come up with 80% of what you’ve asked for then you grind on how to fill the other twenty percent. You look for television and other media channels as well. All of that ends up being taken care of by third party consultancy whether the publicist or radio promotion person looking for airplay.
The label might be bringing the publicity and promotion depending on whether the artist is signed directly to the label. Sometimes they are strictly licensed to distribution and so we bring the third party marketing and promotion. Each case there is work to be done to help market and promote the albums and tours. Additionally, trying to make the band international. Focusing on how to find a team in foreign countries and foreign territories. So, all of that is what I focus on.
From the beginning until now, how have you kept financially stable?
My artist tour end of story. If the artists aren’t touring I’m in trouble. That’s how we’ve maintained. Tour, tour, tour.
Now, I’ve been doing this since the late seventies. I’ve always been focused on touring, I’ve always made a living because I have had bands tour the world. k.d. toured the world. The Trews will do over 150 shows a year. So now we are in a situation where the industry is finding that it’s hard to sell music. Labels don’t—most labels don’t exist anymore. But it doesn’t impact me significantly because I never relied on commissioning my artist album sales to survive. I relied on commissioning my artists touring to survive and if I can commission their album sales that’s a bonus but it’s never been my bread and butter.
Do you need to have commercial radio success to tour?
No. k.d. lang was never a commercial radio artist. She had one hit single in the fifteen years I worked with her. Granted it went to number one internationally. That was the number one single in America. So that makes a huge impact. You don’t have to have radio success to tour but you have the profile. You need to be on print everywhere. You need to be on television. But you don’t need to have radio in order to tour. It’s probably the best way to make more money, but you don’t have to. What you do need is a profile, people need to know who you are.
How do you get a venue to pay more for your act?
Usually they pay more the second time. If I have a top ten single and I ask for my agent to book me 20 shows, he can have the leverage of saying to the promoter “we’ve got a top ten single in your market, people are going to show up”. The people know who they are, but if you have no airplay and no profile and the ‘local entertainment weekly’ the ‘Now Magazine’ and each market has never spoken about you or reviewed your record, then you’ve got a problem.
You start by giving the agent as many tools as possible to convince the promoters to spend money on your act. Then go back a second time, and the agent says, “Hey, my band came in last time, capacity was 200 people, they sold a 150 tickets at 10 bucks, we’re going to put the ticket price up to 15 and we’re going to sell 200 and we need a raise”. The way to make money the second time? Sell out the first time. Get the clubs name in the paper along with your bands name, and they’ll bring you back in. You made as much profile for them as you did for yourself. Like it is with anything else in this world, be successful the first time and you’ll be successful the second time.
Another factor that has a huge impact is having success in other markets. You can have international success that translates back to Canada. For some reasons, this country likes nothing more than to see success internationally before they embrace you domestically. It’s always been that way, always will be that way. It’s not strictly that way, but it happens.
How much can an artist and a manager expect to make as a living?
I’m not going to give you numbers, but I can say this, by commissioning what The Trews make, I am able to keep an office open with four full time staff. By touring to the extent that The Trew’s tour, there’s four band members all of whom either have families, homes or both. So if you do 150 shows a year and you tour constantly, you can keep a lot of people afloat. The other thing though to consider is the band, especially a band like The Trews, that have had 16 top ten active rock singles (2 number ones by the way), they make significant income from performance royalties. When they are getting that amount of airplay and doing that many shows they get real nice quarterly cheques from SOCAN for performance royalty income. It’s their second biggest form of revenue aside from touring. And there’s merch, which falls under touring. And every once in a while you might do an endorsement of some kind but it’s touring that keeps the doors open.
Last question, what do you think is the best lesson you’ve learned over the years?
Well, here is what comes to mind. You’ve got to love the artist. If you don’t see a band fall in love with that band and find yourself prepared to go to the walls and bang your head against it until they are successful, then you shouldn’t be working with them. You’ve got to love the bands.
I think once in 30 years, I might have signed an artist when I didn’t really love them but I thought they were going to make a killing. Good looking, professional you know this that and the other thing but I didn’t really love the material or the direction. Guess what? It didn’t work out.
I mean if you can’t pick up a phone call at 3:30 in the morning and tell the band how to get the van out of the ditch, you shouldn’t be doing this. I mean I’m not saying the only thing you do is to solve problems. But it takes a love of the bands in order to be creative, in order to put in the time and motivation and the commitment. This isn’t a 9 to 5 job. This is a 24/7 job. There’s time in between to have a life and do things with your family and do the things you do, but you’ve got to love the band.
There are probably some very qualified managers out there, that could take a band they don’t really care for and make them participate in their success, just because of the contacts they have and the abilities they have as managers, but I couldn’t do it. I personally couldn’t do it. What I’ve learned… love the bands, then you can do the work.