Article by Miles Hurley
Photograph Taken at Adirondack Independence Music Festival by Miles Hurley
Band managers are sometimes the unsung heroes of our beloved, ever-growing live music world. Fanbases, even of the most devout variety, might at times not know just all of what the manager of a touring music act might be responsible for. Schedules, meet and greets, gear transport, hotel arrangements, festival itineraries—the list goes on and on for what a manager might be in charge of keeping together. And it’s all in service to that sacred hour, or two hour or three hour, live set that we all do get to see. In our appreciation towards music managers and what they do, we’ve set out to interview those in the trade to learn about their backgrounds.
Many music fans are well familiar with the name Eric Gould as one of the most veteran and capable bass players in the jam scene today. Gould’s incredible musical talents, starting way back with the formative jamtronica group Particle, have blessed countless audiences, venues, and memorable shows for over twenty years. What some might not know is that he is also a music manager, currently of the mega popular tribute act Pink Talking Fish (which began and continues as his personal musical vision) as well as the rising jam funk outfit Kung Fu, out of New Haven, CT. For several years now, Gould’s work and passion have extended beyond performing music into helping other performers become the most successful touring artists they can be.
As part of this ongoing interview series, The Poke Around talked with Eric Gould about what he’s learned over the years about the managerial side of touring and performing. Check out our conversation here below, and ICYMI, you can check out our first few installments of this series here.
The Poke Around: To start off, can you give an overview of how you found yourself become a manager in the music industry?
Eric Gould: It’s interesting, on tour buses people play video games, watch movies or whatever, and that’s fun and all, but I found myself a little bored. I have a little bit of a high functioning personality, haha. I wanted to do more than just what was going on. So when I would wind up with a little bit of time, I looked for something to do in addition to the music industry, and I got into the financial planning world. I started a business in the financial sector. So during that time, I worked with business owners, and families, on everything from insurance and benefits planning, investments, I worked with venture capitalists to enhance their businesses…And I’ve learned a lot about business outside of the music industry. I decided to form Pink Talking Fish as a pet project, and it gave me my musical outlet. And, what had happened was, once that started to happen it became something very special, both to the people playing it on stage and to the audience. And I decided to manage it as well, because I’d developed certain skillsets and certain relationships, through my years with Particle, and it fit like a glove.
What’s nice for me, as a manager, is that I’ve been in the trenches as an artist. And I still am, I still do shows all year with Pink Talking Fish. So, I have more face to face with venue owners than the average manager out there, actually. A lot of managers know people more online than face to face, but I have something a little easier because I’m out there doing it. After awhile, I was approached by Kung Fu. Actually I was approached by a lot of other bands but I turned them all down. I just wasn’t ready at the time to expand. But Kung Fu, I just think they’re one of the most talented bands in the industry, and they’re just such good guys. So, I wanted to hype them, and I wound up going for that, and it’s been a great ride ever since.
As manager and a performer in Pink Talking Fish, do you find that the workload has doubled down?
Oh it absolutely doubled down, as being a manager and being a band leader and being a musician are three very different things. Fortunately, they’re synergetic. There’s a flow within my work that is just a really positive entity within it. The other thing is, the booking agent for Pink Talking Fish, his name is Michael Weinstein, and he’s one of my best friends in the world. We were actually college roommates. He and I, we have a trust that goes beyond the business, and our communication is so good because we’ve known each other for decades. That’s really been a big part of Pink Talking Fish, developing a team of people who are like minded, and who can communicate efficiently and with positivity. And that’s been the case all across the board with it. There’s Michael Weinstein, and then there’s Katie Fox heading up the marketing team, there’s our crew members, and our family in the Boston music scene. I’m always a little hesitant to use the word family with business, because I think a lot of people use that a little too lightly sometimes. But I feel like Pink Talking Fish has put that in a nice place. The relationships are very strong within it. I’m fortunate for that, I’m very fortunate.
All the agents and publicists and others I’ve talked to all tell me that everybody’s job is easier when the different roles work together rather than against one another.
That’s how a business runs, and you know that’s a big philosophy of mine as a manager. These artists are business owners, they are the CEOs of a company that they are building here. And, one of the most important roles I have as a manager is to build up a board of advisors, a team of experts that are making this business the best it could possibly be. And also, I have a role is to empower these artists as business owners. I don’t feel that, as a manager, holding an artist’s hand is the right thing to do. You have to make sure that they’re doing some of the work as well, and that they’re not sitting back and just being an artist. They need to have some sense of their business, or at the very least know what’s going on. That doesn’t mean they should be doing certain grunt work that should be hired out, or other professional work where they’re not experts and other people are. But, if I was gone tomorrow, the artist should have a sense of their business and know how to take the ball until they get another quarterback.
So is it fair to say your work as manager of Kung Fu has been a chance to test that philosophy out and see it in action?
Yes, and it’s going really well. They’re working really hard, and I’m really proud of what they’re doing. I do a lot of consulting with other artists and businesses in the scene. There have been a lot of bands that I’ve worked with on a regular basis, and my line is always open to them. So I enjoy it. I’ve been working in the music business professionally since late 1999. It gives me joy to spread some of the wisdom from my accomplishments, that I’ve learned from, and my mistakes, hahaha. To offer other people the opportunity to utilize that wisdom so that they can have their own accomplishments, and maybe make a few less mistakes, its a pleasure to do that.
Being a member of this scene for many years now, you must be friends or close acquaintances with many of the people you work with from your role as a manager. Do you find that makes the job easier or more difficult?
It depends. There’s some relationships that I’ve worked on, personal relationships brought to professional, where its hard to have a certain conversation around that, where you haven’t had to have that dynamic before. But for the most part, concerning the people with whom I’ve worked in the industry that I was friends with beforehand, for the most part its been a good experience. The biggest success story would be my my relationship with Michael Weinstein, booking agent for Pink Talking Fish and Kung Fu. It’s nice because we have a collective think tank going on that helps develop the business. I do a little bit more to help him on the booking, than the average manager would do, and him vice versa on the managerial and business end. We sort of blur the lines a little as a team.
As a manager, do you ever give any input towards artists’ creative side of things?
Absolutely. Well, of course for one out of the two bands that I manage, I’m the founder and band leader, and so obviously that element is strong there. But even moving towards Kung Fu, I’m definitely working with them on thinking up ideas that could help them, whether its doing some concepts for a show, or a branding scenario, or even just talking about the direction of their music. But I make it clear that ultimately—and I like to reiterate this—anything that happens on that end, it’s their decision. They’re the business owners, they’re the ones who make the choices. I’m going to offer my best advice and my input in any way, shape, or form that I can, but ultimately its on them to decide what it is that they want. The one thing that I would discourage artists from the industry from doing is being too reliant on their business team. It’s important for them to understand that they’re the leaders, they’re the CEOs. Some artists understand that more than others.
Have you ever faced a scenario of of too much business or too much intervention?
No, I’m pretty sensitive to that, because I am an artist and a working musician out there. I always go out of my way to make sure that I’m not overstepping my bounds on that end of it. You know, I could offer something that I think is a good idea, creatively, but if I sense that hesitation from the artist, then I back off. Because it’s their world, and it’s my job to enhance their vision in the best way possible.
What is one piece of advice you’d offer to those wanting to work as a manager in the music business?
Make sure that you know exactly what you’re role is within that business, because every business is different. As a blanket, the role of a manager is to generate opportunity and maintain the health of the business as it rises up towards success. With each business being different, you really need to know who it is that you’re working with, and you need to adapt so that you’re the best professional you can be for that. And that’s an ever-changing, ever-shifting scenario as far as businesses go. So you have to be adaptable. And, there’s no coasting in the world of management. It’s a constant flow, and a constant change. The other thing, to say again, is to make sure that you’re empowering your clients to be business owners. Because that way, no matter what happens, you know you’ve done the best you could do.
If you could be the manager for any touring band today, who would that be?
I already am, it’s called Pink Talking Fish, hahaha. That’s my baby, I love it. There’s no other band that I have put more heart and soul into. The beautiful thing about PTF is the different generations of fans. You know, there’s fans in their forties and fifties that have been into these bands, and there’s also younger kids in their teens and twenties that might be just discovering this music. So, just to be able to build up the business behind this thing that so many people love, it’s an absolute pleasure.
Were there any early concert experiences in your life that were particularly formative towards your own career?
I had a handful, but there was one that really got me in a big way. I had just graduated college, and I drove out to Los Angeles. I drove out there immediately after college, and I didn’t know a single person out there. I just had a feeling like that was where I was supposed to be. I was a film major in college, but I was also a musician, so L.A. made sense. So I get out there, and I’m actually taking one private course at USC, and I was staying out there for four weeks, while I was taking that course. U2 was playing at the stadium at USC, and it was great because I could walk to the show, and Rage Against The Machine opened up for them. This was U2’s PopMart Tour, so they had this gigantic screen, the biggest screen I’ve ever seen to date, for a live music experience. And, the way they incorporated video and media into their live music show took me to another level. I was at a crossroads at the time, because music was in my heart and soul, but I’d just gotten a degree in filmmaking, and I was in a city where anything could happen on either of those ends. So I was at a crossroads in my heart as to what I was going to do, and seeing that collaboration, it got me there. It inspired me to pull out this notebook, which I still have to this day, and I started drawing storyboards of something that I could see creating in my life. It was a multitude of different things, and I’ve made a handful of those things happen in my career already. I’m proud to say that’s what I got out of that.
Another note on that U2 show was that I was all by myself. So it was just me and the experience and my thoughts, which doesn’t really happen all that much anymore. Usually I’ll go to a show and have my friends or whomever with me. But back then I’d just gotten out there and didn’t know anybody, so it was a unique scenario.
Can I tell you my favorite Eric Gould performance that I’ve seen? It would be the Herbie Hancock tribute set at Catskill Chill 2015.
Nice! That was so much fun. That was what started The ChillFam All-Stars thing, and the next year we did Michael Jackson. And that project has remained steady, I’m actually building a lineup for it, for something in December. And one of my all time favorite festivals, Catskill Chill. I helped found that one, with some of my old college buddies. One of the guys, his family had run that summer camp for years, and so he grew up there. And we would go there in the off season and play music, and just get jam sessions going. We’d be up all night, sitting there as the sun came up, and we’d say, “Man, we could throw a festival here someday.” And years later, when I formed Particle, the guys were still with me and I’d bring them all back stage and they started forming their relationships, and they wound up going for it, and starting the festival. So yeah, that one is born from my brothers there.
Pink Talking Fish picks back up on the road starting next weekend, with appearances at Wormtown Music Festival and Resonance Music Festival, and then will have tour dates along the east coast throughout October. Kung Fu will also be performing at Wormtown Music Festival, and will also tour the east coast through the first half of October, before a tour out west in later October.