Interview with JEFF BATTAGLIA, manager for Disturbed (US No. 1) - Nov 4, 2002
ďGetting the record deal is probably the easiest part of the whole process, and thatís when the real work beginsĒ
Based in Chicago, Jeff Battaglia manages rock bands Disturbed (US multi-platinum), Stereomud, ‹nloco and A Colder Year.
How did you get started in the music business and how did you become a manager?
I started as a tour manager for bands in the mid-90s and got a local Chicago band a record deal. I then crossed over into management.
What experiences have helped develop your skills as a manager?
Thereís a new experience every day and I probably couldnít single out any in particular.
Jeff Kwatinetz and Peter Katsis were both very influential and supportive of my career.
What do you think has made Disturbed so successful?
Itís real and the songs are about everyday issues that people can relate to. Itís genuine and not something that has been put together in a calculated way to try to sell records.
Where you surprised when they debuted at No.1 on the Billboard Album Chart with their second album (ďBelieveĒ)? In what ways do you think you and the band made it easier for that to happen?
Yes, we were all pleasantly surprised. The record-buying public has a shorter attention span these days, and you never know if theyíre going to forget you or not. But our fanbase seems to be pretty dedicated and hardcore, so I think theyíre going to be with us for a while.
First and foremost, youíve got to write good music. It doesnít matter how hard you market and promote it, if itís not quality stuff, people arenít going to buy it. It all started with the talent within the band and then the record company did a great job setting it up and everything fell in place.
How did you find the bands you now work with?
Years ago, I managed a local band, with whom I remained friends, and it was two of those original members who went on to start Disturbed. I bumped into one of them some time later and he gave me the CD.
With Stereomud, somebody sent me their CD before they had released their first record, and Iíve been a fan of theirs ever since. They had another manager, but it didnít work out, so when they were looking for somebody else they gave me a call.
‹nloco were picked up by another manager here.
How do you find new talent?
The easiest way is just to send us your demo. Unsigned bands worry about sending their demos to the right people, but the truth is that I donít know of any manager or A&R who isnít constantly looking for new talent. Believe it or not, we listen to everything we get.
So you accept unsolicited material?
Absolutely. We get between ten and twenty demos a week and while I donít listen to all of them for very long, I do get to every one of them. Iím not interested in the sound quality; Iím looking for a good song and not how well the demo was produced. Unfortunately, I havenít stumbled across that many things recently that I've thought were very good.
How useful is the Internet when it comes to searching for talent?
I know there are lots of people who live by that now because everybody has a web site, but I donít really use the Internet that much to find talent. I prefer the old-fashioned method of somebody sending me a CD so that I can pop it into my truck and listen to it.
What do you look for in an artist?
More than anything else, youíve got to have good songs. Then you have to be able to pull it off live, and a good look helps. If youíve got those three things, youíre on your way.
Do you think unsigned artists are knowledgeable about the music industry, or is it something they need to learn more about in order to stand a better chance?
Unfortunately, they donít know enough. Many unsigned artists are naÔve, and there are people who will play on that. One misconception is that if they get a record deal, they will automatically become rock stars. Getting the record deal is probably the easiest part of the whole process, and thatís when the real work begins.
How would you advise unsigned acts to build their careers at an independent level?
Youíve got to go out and let people know youíre around. Youíve got to play live and have a web site people can go to. The Internet plays such a huge role these days and giving away your music for free is of the utmost importance.
Scrape together every nickel and make as many CDs as you can. Then hand them out, not only at your own show, but also at any other shows that are in the same genre of music as yours. Put your web site address on the CD and hopefully kids will start coming and you can build a fanbase. And if that starts to happen, believe me, somebody in my position or from a record label will hear about it.
We talk to local promoters and club owners and we like to know whoís making a little noise on the scene. Thatís how Disturbed did it: they spent three to four years making their own music, doing shows and handing out CDs at every possible club. Itís just a slow build-up, during which you have to make people aware of your existence.
As a manager, do you devise strategies for your artists in terms of what they should develop and how to strengthen their brand name?
Absolutely. You have to and itís extremely important, at every level. It means deciding what songs go to radio first, what tours you take, what the image should be, etc. Everything involves strategy and it means constant dialogue between management, the band and the label. Everybody has got to be on the same page in order to come up with the right plan to break an artist or to continue an artistís career.
Once signed to you, do you support a band financially so that they can focus on the music?
I have no flat answer to that question, because every situation is unique. But if itís necessary and I really believe in the project, I would, to an extent.
When you find a band you like but that you think are undeveloped, what is it they usually need to develop?
The songwriting. Sometimes I come across a band where parts of a song are good or where the arrangements are a bit long. At other times I hear a song thatís pretty good and I talk to the band, try to guide them as best as I can and generally just keep an eye on them. Songwriting is something you canít force. The band will develop and either they have it or they donít.
Has the amount of time labels give new acts before they break decreased in recent decades?
Yes. A decade ago, a band was given two to three albums to actually break out, but now thereís more of a letís-throw-as-much-stuff-we-can-at-the-wall-and-see-what-sticks attitude, rather than actually taking some time to develop an artist over the course of several records. I feel there are a lot of bands that, if they had been given time to develop, could potentially have done more damage than just releasing one non-selling album and then getting dropped.
If major label A&Rs spend less and less time developing artists and instead want a ready-to-go package, how does this affect managers and unsigned artists?
If we, as managers, want a band to be a long-term project, if we want them to have careers, then we need to be patient and take a more active role in keeping a label presence away from the band until weíre convinced that they are fully developed and have a legitimate shot to take.
An A&R stumbles across a band he or she thinks is pretty good and, all of a sudden, everybody finds out and it becomes a race to sign them. Unfortunately, when that happens, bands seem to be getting signed before theyíre ready and will therefore have just a short-term career
What marketing tools are most important in breaking a new rock band?
Radio is the tool for a so-called baby band. It all starts and ends with radio, but the Internet and touring are also important.
Is it fair that artists pay for promotional costs like, for example, videos and the making of the album?
Certain promotional costs, yes. At the same time, some of the responsibilities have to fall on the record companyís shoulders. MTV sells a lot of records, but a new band donít have the funds to make their own video, so thatís where a record company comes in and thatís where you talk about sharing the costs. And if you share the costs, you should share the profits, if any.
If artists share the costs of making the album and the videos, should they also share ownership of the masters?
Do you think the royalties recording artists receive from record sales are adequate?
Not at all. From a managerís point of view, of course they should always be higher.
How do you think the Internet will affect record companies' business model and what will this mean for managers?
That remains to be seen. Obviously, it has already negatively affected the amount of records sold, while sales of blank CDs continue to rise. Thereís a trend there and how are we going to get around it? With respect to record companies, as managers we are looking at it from a different angle, and trying to come up with our own solutions.
What has been the greatest moment of your music career?
When Disturbedís second album ďBelieveĒ debuted at No.1 in September.
What do you see yourself doing in 5-10 years?
The same as I am doing right now and with the same people.
interviewed by Kimbel Bouwman