My name is Matthew Stewart and I am a 29 year old artist manager. I work in the music industry - an industry that is dying a little more each and every day.
This is my story.
When I was a nineteen year old kid I was working at a department store and going to college. I had no real interest in music for the most part and was just trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. I was very much your average college kid.
I worked very hard and took my job I did very seriously. When I worked at Staples at age 19 I worked in the electronics department trying to sell as many items as I could. Staples at the time kept track of each persons sales and I became very competitive - even though I didn’t get a commission on sales I still wanted to feel good about what I was doing. I struggled a lot at first and wouldn’t even be in the top 25 in the region at sales in my department. I was saying and doing all I could to sell people on anything and everything… I just wasn’t making progress.
After a heart to heart talk with my grandfather he told me to just work hard, give people what they want, and just be honest with them about everything. Hard work and sticking to what you believe is always the right thing to do and it does pay off. Plus, you can be proud of yourself if you know you’ve done everything you could. I took his advice and for the next eight months I was one of the top or the top selling people in the district.
His advice I still use to this very day.
At age 20 I was still in college and no longer working as much during the week. However, on weekends I started training dogs as I’ve always been a huge dog lover and always have been good around them growing up. I studied, learned as much as I possibly could, and was always trying to become better and better at understanding canines. I started working on a few dogs I knew at first. I watched videos, looked up stuff on websites, and then went and just did it hands on. After about two months of studying up and experimenting training dogs I had a website, a few appointments, and things started to go well. A few months after that every weekend I had was fully booked.
Fast forward a year to 2006. I’m training dogs and still doing the whole college thing. Again, pretty basic college life. One random night one of my good friends had his girlfriend come over to my apartment. This girl started playing music while we were playing cards. I had no idea who the bands were - but I really enjoyed it. She told me the bands were called “Cartel”, “Red Jumpsuit Apparatus”, and “Story Of The Year”. I asked her to make me a mixtape and about a week later I was constantly listening to Story of the Year, Cartel, Red Jumpsuit, Hit The Lights, The Used, The Academy Is, Houston Calls, and many others. These are bands I would of never discovered on my own.
I continued to get into music more and more and later that year during the summer I went to a summer festival called Warped Tour. This particular year had Red Jumpsuit, Less Than Jake, etc playing. These were some of the bands I was getting really into. It was my first show of this type of music and I had a absolute blast. What I wore, what I listened to, how much money I had… none of it mattered. Everyone there was there for the same reason and that was to just have a good time. It was like summer camp. It was my favorite day of of that entire summer. I remember it like it was yesterday and it will forever be in my memories as to what first sparked my interest in wanting to be involved in music someway/somehow.
Right after Warped Tour I decided I wanted to be in a band. I didn’t know how to be in a band, why I wanted to play in a band, but I knew I just wanted to be in a band. However, there was a problem. That problem was I couldn’t sing well and I didn’t know how to play any instruments! That didn’t stop me though. I bought a synthesizer, drum set for my friend, and we just started jamming. I was very active at finding members and in less than a month I had a full band together.
It didn’t take long for the other members of the band to know I sucked. they knew it. I knew it. It was obvious. I never gave up though. Due to my competitive nature I started booking shows locally all over. I played in probably four local shows before deciding I wanted to try to tour regionally. Even though our band wasn’t good, I still worked hard and tried to make my band look and feel like a “real band”. I personally worked and paid for tee shirts to be made, helped find a van, and booked everything. The logistics were there on my end, but the talent wasn’t…
During the time I was traveling and playing regional shows with my band there was a local band from Cincinnati called Close To Home. They were the biggest unsigned local band from my area. I started chatting with them and became pretty good friends friends with a few of those guys. One night one of the members in Close To Home asked if I could help them do what my band was doing and help them play regionally. I agreed.
These were during the Myspace days by the way. For me booking shows I would just hit up other unsigned bands in certain cities/areas that had a decent following and ask to trade shows. This way I knew a show would have kids there and it was a fair trade to everyone.
After I finished booking the short 10 date tour I realized the band I was in was going nowhere and I just wasn’t going to ever make it as a musician. My band broke up but I was confident I still wanted to be involved in music and felt good about what I was doing. I was looking up so many young unsigned bands from certain areas and discovering a whole lot of talent. I just had a “feeling” I could get some artists bigger than just being big local bands. I started chatting with them, had a whole region of areas I could have bands go play, and it was most importantly fun and enjoyable for me to do.
So the headlining tour I booked for Close To Home finally became complete. It was joined by a band from New Jersey called Van Atta High (who I really wanted to manage and make my first client), and a band from Maryland called Dropout Year. The tour hit NJ, Maryland, up to Massachusetts, over to Michigan, and finished in Ohio. It was about 8-10 days long (I can’t remember).
During this short tour almost every local band that I booked shows with for the tour I noticed was also looking to go out and tour regionally. They would come up and talk to me saying “we want to do what Close To Home is doing”. It felt good and I felt like I was making a difference and that I actually could do something in the music industry. At this point I still knew in the overall grand scheme of things I didn’t know much, but I found something I felt I could work hard at, do well, and continue to grow from it.
Towards the end of the tour I was on my way to one of the final shows of the short tour. I’ll never forget it… I made my first ever pitch to a band about management and I chatted with the guys in Van Atta High. They all thanked me, told me they loved what I was doing, enjoyed the tour, liked me, but they were looking for something bigger than what I was. I was hurt… but I understood.
After some alone time that day and a lot of personal thoughts I told myself to just keep doing what I was doing and things would work out… just like my grandfather told me.
Well, the very next day in Michigan I met a local band opening the Close To Home/Van Atta High/Dropout Year tour called We Came As Romans.
I watched the band play and immediately went and talked to them after their set. I met with two members in particular (Andy & Joshua) and they were telling me what they were trying to accomplish as a band and what their “dreams” were. Again, it was what Close To Home, Van Atta High, and Dropout Year was doing. Touring regionally and doing bigger and better things than being a local band. However, there was something different about this band. They were so thankful, honest, and just amazing people. I talked to Andy for about an hour about God, I talked to Joshua about life in general, and I could just tell the guys in this particular band are great people. Andy even gave one of the guys in another band his hoodie because a member “liked it”. He still sat outside and talked to me in January with just a tank top on. I couldn’t believe someone was that generous. I got the guys in We Came As Romans numbers and went to Cincinnati for the last day of the small tour.
I started chatting with Joshua from We Came As Romans pretty often after this. They gave me a shot to work with them and were the hardest working band I’ve ever came in contact with at the time. They all had their roles. Joshua was to write all the music and respond/talk to everyone who commented on their bands Myspace. Dave’s responsibility was to keep the van maintained and always take care of all that kind of stuff. Andy designed everything WCAR wise whether that was the merchandise, flyers, or whatever else. Lou ran all of the bands social media daily and added people consistently building the bands name and awareness. Eric consistently promoted the band. It was a group effort and they all gave it 100%.
I started booking and traveling with them down to Florida and back to Michigan. It was a grind, but the band was just so happy playing shows. There were times we’d be 1,500 miles from home with no money and have to go to malls and beg kids to buy tee shirts or burnt CD’s to just get gas money for the next show. I pitched in money, the guys pitched in money, and not one person ever complained doing this. Everyone was doing what they loved and understood they needed to work hard and sacrifice everything to reach their “dreams”.
"Dreams" is something they kept saying to me… Joshua in particular. He questioned if his band was ever good enough to even get signed, and although I had no expertise at the time - I knew with hard work and a vision in this business things can work out very well. I told him this, he trusted me, and he quickly was becoming one of my best friends.
When the band was home and not touring I used to chat EVERY NIGHT with guys from the band. Again, Joshua in particular. I remember chatting on AIM almost every night until it was light outside. We’d share ideas, work on sending Myspace friend requests for the band until we hit our daily limits, and I could go on and on. It took up a ton of time, but it was fun and we were seeing growth so it was worth it. For a bunch of 18 year old kids any myself it was an amazing feeling. Nearby venues started booking the band for $100 and $200 a night and that was an accomplishment at the time.
One night I remember in particular Joshua was talking to me about his song writing. He was stressed. I told him he needed to write new songs and we needed to find a way to have better music recorded. That’s the big step and what needed to be done. The social media and engaging with fans part we had on lock down, but in the music industry the main thing that really has to be great…. is the music. I told Joshua music is art and he needs to be able to give his art the best possible chance to succeed. He agreed.
I then met with the entire band and they kept bringing up Joey Sturgis’s name. He was a producer living in Indiana, about an hour West from where I lived in Ohio, and not far from Michigan. It made a lot of sense to work with him.I reached out about a half dozen times to Joey Sturgis’s management and finally got a response. He agreed to do a 4 song EP over four days he had available for the band. It wasn’t cheap for the band at all during this time of still being unsigned and investing in the band - but we worked and found a way to do it. We booked a big hometown show, other nearby regional shows, pushed as hard as we could, and finally had studio time booked with a real producer.
We all (including me) invested in these recordings.The band went into the studio and recorded a four song EP. The band slept in Wal Mart parking lots at night and recorded all day long for four straight days… but finally we had professionally done music and something we all were proud of. It was honestly something that blew all of our minds. A band that was doing local shows, touring, and doing all they could with basic home recorded music was finally seeing what professionally done music could do for them.
I would like to point out that at this same time I was going through some tough personal issues back home. I was living back at home and I had to make a decision of what I wanted to do with my life and had a lot of pressure on me. My family was getting on me for not doing anything since I wasn’t in college anymore and making no money (actually losing money working in music), and they were worried about me. I had to come up with something that was a game changer.
A lot of the guys in the band needed to make decisions too. One of the guys was accepted to a very good college and had parents pressure to go to school, others were already just starting college, and another had a great job already going for him. Everyone after hearing these new songs was 100% behind our plan… our “dreams”.
I came up with a crazy idea to give this EP we just spent all our money on away for free. We were sitting on the porch of Joey Sturgis’s right after the final song was finished being recorded when I came up with the idea. Joshua immediatly loved the idea and went and got all of the other guys in the band to come out to discuss the plan. With all the built up Myspace friends, etc we felt like if we did this EP right, and worked hard, good things could happen.
We promoted and gave away a professionally done EP for free to everyone who wanted it by releasing it online. It was something never done by a unsigned band in this genre before at this quality. Everyone I talked to about releasing an album that was produced by the same guy who just recorded a full length The Devil Wears Prada for free told me I was crazy. However, the band and I all believed in this plan… and we decided to name the EP “Dreams”.
The band had almost 100,000 song downloads the first week. The bands Myspace grew to almost 100,000 friends as being an unsigned band and things couldn’t have gone any better. Alternative Press told me they were making the band “Unsigned band of the year” right after this and shortly after that label interest started coming from left and right.
I never saw a record label offer in my life at this time and I was speaking to close to half a dozen labels or so before I realized I needed to start looking for outside help. I never had a problem asking for help. As long as I’m doing what’s best for the bands career, that’s the most important thing. Personal pride, selfishness, or power moves are something I still don’t really care about. It’s all about doing what’s best for the band and the people you care about. Whether that’s in business or in life. If you do that - you will succeed.
I emailed about thirty different managers one day that I looked up. I looked up bands I thought WCAR were somewhat similar to and just reached out looking for advice. I got no responses at all. Then another label came forward, asked for a showcase, and again I emailed the same thirty different managers explaining my situation, that a label wanted to see the band, and I waited…
One person called me back one random afternoon. Mike Mowery (owner at Outerloop Management). He said he was driving up to NYC, had a moment of time, and chatted with me. He gave me some advice and I followed it. About a week later he chatted with me again just to see how things went and I told him I talked to the band, took his advice, and now another respected label was coming forward. He then looked at the bands schedule, noticed they were playing a NJ show soon which was a day before he had to be in NYC for something - so he agreed to come up and meet the band and I.
Before the show Mike Mowery came and brought another person with him who was also my age. His name was JJ Cassiere and he was a solo booking agent at the time who was interested in the band. Both of the guys met the band, saw them play live, and then Mike took me out to coffee for a meeting I never saw coming and changed my life. He told me he’d like to work on the band WITH ME. I agreed. Again, I was working with some of my best friends, a band I really cared about, a band that finally had something going for them, and it is my job to do what is best for them so I agreed to work with Mike as I felt that could benefit We Came As Romans in the best way.
I went home and over the next month was working with Mike on a lot of things with the band. He took the lead on a particular label. He introduced me to Equal Vision Records. Immediately the label, band, and I hit it off. They explained how they support their bands vision, traveled to come see the band, and things just seemed to make sense. Mike shortly after this told me he liked me, believed in my potential, explained what he was trying to do with Outerloop Management, and gave me an offer to come join his team. Shortly after that I moved from Ohio to Washington DC.
We Came As Romans signed a record label contract shortly after that and it seemed like everything in the world was great. My best friends just signed a record label deal, I got hired at a real music management firm in my mid twenties, and the future looked promising.
The first couple years at Outerloop Management were going great. I was young and learning but Outerloop always stayed patient with me. My personality sometimes clashed with others and I had some bumpy roads to say the least. I was still new to a lot of this. During my second year at the company and the recent success with We Came As Romans I was able to start taking on new projects. One project I started working on began a relationship with Dave Shapiro and I. Our relationship started off very strong since the beginning. He told me he really enjoyed my work ethic and we ended up starting a tour together called Scream It Like You Mean It. At this time I owned a tour, managed an upcoming band that was selling out shows all over, managed a few other bands, and was feeling good. All was great for a guy in his mid twenties.
With all the early success I started slipping up at times. Not necessarily in any major ways - but in a continue to better yourself and make yourself better way. You can’t do this when you’re a person who is of authority… no matter who you are. I fell into bed habits. I was partying and drinking too much, celebrating too hard, and starting to have internal issues with the most important people in my life, including co workers. I should of continued to keep learning and getting better but instead I was out celebrating. It’s a valuable lesson I learned and something I always keep in the back of my mind even these days.
Soon after this little fallback I lost two clients in the span of a year. It wasn’t necessarily my fault as sometimes artists and management don’t just click, young kids do crazy things, or people have different goals and expectations. Whatever the reason is you have to look at yourself and wonder why it happened though. I had to have a wake up call and it wasn’t easy.
Thankfully I’m lucky to have a company that always stood behind me and treated me with “tough love” during these times. They understood with me being a young man there was going to be mistakes. They continually told me that just because things are going well now - it can all go away very quickly in this business. Mike especially took me under his wing and to this day is probably the closest things to a father figure I’ve ever had since I didn’t ever have my dad around growing up. He continuously told me he was waiting for me to step up.
I have more of a very “work smart” personality and am very passionate about the things I take on. I’m an intelligent guy and put myself in mature big picture situations most of the time. The day to day work very hard thing is what I need to continually get better at. As I mentioned before, all of that is important in my line of work.
Still… my management style I’ve noticed is almost different than anyone I’ve ever met. I work mostly creative, conservative, and overly protective of my artists. I’ve noticed most other managers are mainly very hard workers and a lot of risk takers. I think mixing that type of personality with my style can be a challenge at times, difficult at times, and very upsetting/stressful at times for people I work with - but overall it really does end up meshing very well business wise… because you HAVE TO WORK TOGETHER and you need outside perspectives in this business. No matter what band you are in, label you are, manager you are, or whatever else you do in the music industry, there needs to be a constant team effort working towards one main goal - and that main goal is managing your artists expectations and doing the very best job you can with it. Whether that goal is completing a simple merchandise order for an upcoming tour, or discussing where a band wants to tour in the world next, it all needs to be a team effort to have its most success.
So with that said I’m happy to see We Came As Romans continue to do really cool things. Scream It Like You Mean It just finished its fourth year and continues to be a success. The Color Morale have gone from a band that didn’t know if they wanted to be a band anymore when I picked them up to a band that is now doing well and touring all over the world. I also have a couple younger projects I’m every excited about in 2014.
Most importantly, I’m continuing to learn and continuing to see I can work with all different kinds of people and have things be successful with my vision and personality I started with. Even if my lifestyle, personality, or work style isn’t similar it can end up working well. If it’s difficult, easy, or a headache - as long as the job gets done and is done the best way it can be - that’s what’s important in music.
As I’m 29 now I’m looking back and seeing what all I’ve learned in life and where my life is so far. I constantly ask myself - do I wish more would be happening for me and my career? Of course. Am I happy with what all I’ve accomplished so far? Of course. Am I staying true to who I am and optimistic for the future? Also, of course.
Even before I somehow got involved randomly in music I look back and see that in retail I had to work hard. When I worked hard I had a lot of success. When I trained dogs I had to work smart. I realized when I worked smart I had a lot of success. However, in the music business I have to work hard, work smart, and be better by using my talents by being constantly creative. Just working hard doesn’t matter. Just being smart doesn’t matter… and being more talented doesn’t matter if you don’t use all of your talents mixed with smart decisions and hard work.
The music business is dying a little more by the day. Music sales are decreasing, more bands are touring resulting in markets being over-saturated (resulting in lower ticket sales), and touring continues to get more expensive for the artists. Mix that with an economy that is going through a lot of issues and you have a lot of challenges.
Looking at all of that you may ask why I still continue to do what I do. However, seeing what I’ve done in five years from where I’ve been in my early twenties I have nothing to worry about. I’ve overcome being a shitty singer/keyboardist in a band to someone who just owned a 10 year anniversary headlining tour for Story of the Year - a band that got me into music. I had a band I was selling tee shirts at malls with just to make it to the next show debut on the Billboard top 10 charts this year, and I’m still getting better/learning a bit more every single day. I’d say even thought the music industry is losing a little more each day, I’m still winning because I’m still doing what I love, stayed loyal, worked hard, and am doing what I want to do with my life for a living.
So if you work hard - you can do good for yourself. If you work smart - you can do good for yourself. If you have natural talents - yes, you can do good for yourself.
However, if you work hard, work smart, use your talents, can find a way to work together with a team, then you might just be able to do GREAT for yourself. Take it from me. I was a kid that didn’t know what “Warped Tour” really was until I was old enough to legally drink. Now I just had a band play main stage on the tour this past year that I still consider some of my best friends. Anything is possible.
Hard work, smart work, and using your talents to the best of your abilities will end up paying off. Hell, even if there’s hiccups on the way. I’ve had more than my fair share and It’s about how you deal with them and learn from them. Mistakes SHOULD happen in any career path you first try. How you adjust and learn from them is how your progress.
So always stay true to yourself, have hope, don’t ever give up, do the right things, and always believe your “Dreams” are in reach. I had no “ins” or any sort of connections when I first got involved in music. I just believed in myself. That’s where it all starts. There’s a lot of opportunity and amazing things in each and every person. You just have to search for it. Once you find it you have to do everything you can to make it come to life. Never give up. If it happened for me - it can definitely happen for anyone else.
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