In our latest Industry Interview, Infectious managing editor Joe Ballard recently had the chance to pose some questions to a true “jack of all trades” – Victor Valle, founder of Counter Culture Management, marketing specialist at Live Nation, and blogger with award-winning publication The Bay Bridged.
Victor discusses how Counter Culture got started, the differences between marketing for large and small companies, where the music industry is headed in the coming years, and much more.
Hi Victor, thanks for taking some time out to answer a few questions! Can you tell us a little about your background and how Counter Culture Artist Management got started?
Absolutely! Thanks for having me. I’ve had a pretty eclectic history with music in general. I grew up in a musically inclined family: my father plays multiple instruments and has been playing professionally since he was 12 years old. Naturally, I learned to play piano before I could talk and things just went from there. I watched my dad tour around the continental Southwest; I played in bands throughout middle school and high school, and inevitably toured around playing shows with my own bands.
All along the way, I worked at DIY venue spaces, a record label, a management company, a larger promotion/production company and had a couple of stints doing music writing. Needless to say, music and the music industry is in my blood.
After all this experience, I did see a need to combine the traditional ways of approaching the music industry to more modern techniques. There will always be the necessity to understand how to advance a show, how to make sure a team is on the same page and how to properly weigh and navigate opportunities. However, now there is access to analytics, data and audiences that haven’t existed before. I thought, “If I see this need, why not figure out a way to address it myself?” A couple of months later, I was working with my first artist. That’s how Counter Culture came to be.
Who was the first band/artist you managed and what did you learn from that experience that you’ve been able to use ever since?
The first artist I ever worked with was Morgan Manifacier, an awesome, experimental folk singer-songwriter originally from France, who I met in Oakland, and who then moved to New York. I actually met him while I was running a music website called We Move Against The Tides (now defunct). We were able to get some good work done together, especially in the eve of his full-length release. We did some good tour dates and even set up a tour in Japan, which was great.
Specifically, he and I both learned to navigate the mass amount of data that one can get from places like streaming services, social media and beyond. That was how we found out about his following in Japan, and what led us to book a tour out there. Ever since then, I swear by the numbers and data for guiding future plans and opportunities, along with everything else. I also learned that in the industry, sometimes paths go in different directions and that’s absolutely okay and normal.
You initially grew up in Los Angeles but have since moved up north to San Francisco. Are there any major similarities or differences you’ve noticed between the two cities’ music scenes?
I actually field this question often. Haha. It’s hard to compare, to be honest. The Los Angeles scene is really the Los Angeles County scene, which spans about an hour radius from downtown in almost all directions. It’s inevitable that the San Francisco Bay Area music scene is so tight-knit and supportive – there’s a lot of people and not too much room in between. Both are special in their own ways, though. They both have iconic venues that hold renowned statuses, they both have some household names that have come from the area and they both have a strong independent music scene. They’re both home, for me, in terms of music. I just acquaint them differently.
A lot of musicians, I think, don’t have a clear cut idea of what exactly a manager handles. Can you give us a basic rundown?
This is actually a great question, and one that people ask whenever I tell them I work in management. As a musician, you have different branches that follow from the music you play. Unless you’re looking to be a weekend warrior, which is fine if you do, then there’s business to handle, logistics to deal with and other, confounding factors that go beyond just playing music. That is essentially what managers handle. We work to navigate, with musicians, the tumultuous, and sometimes convoluted processes that come along with being a part of the music industry. This can mean negotiating or bringing up new opportunities. The idea is to best understand each artist’s long term and short term goals and making steps toward best achieving those. If an artist already has a team set-up, then you also make sure that each person is doing his or her job and everything is running smoothly. If they don’t, you’re in charge of getting the best people possible onto their team – a publicist, a label, licensing companies, etc.
You also sometimes get a bigger role in providing suggestions and ideas for the artists’ performance and music. It’s fun to be a part of the larger production and A&R process, too.
What’s an average day at Counter Culture like?
Emails. Tons of emails. Usually I wake up and spend most of my time piling through my inbox and trying to figure out new, creative ways to say “make sure to hit reply all, please!” On a busy day, I’ll touch base with the other managers on the team, Heather Matheson and Martin Hirshland, and make sure everyone knows what they have on their plate. The best part about working on a management team is that you have other people involved who can provide you with help or resources if need be.
If we have a show that night, we’ll spend time prepping with the artist/band and getting stuff ready. If it’s a local show, we also serve as the day of show contact and make sure everything runs smoothly.
Otherwise, we’re usually spending time meeting with artists, on the phone to talk about possibilities with people or to hear pitches or behind the computer screen shooting out tons of emails. It’s more fun than that sounds though, promise. It’s the best being able to work with dedicated and passionate musicians. Sometimes we all go out as a staff to scope out some new talent or to show hop around the city.
What do you find is the biggest misconception bands have when taking on managers?
I think most people think that by taking on a manager, their wildest dreams are going to magically come true. It’s hard work to be consistently making it in this industry (note the use of “making it” rather than to “make it”). Bringing on a manager gives you access to a rolodex of contacts and connections you might have not otherwise had, as well as someone to help think about ways to navigate your career in different and creative ways. That doesn’t mean the artist can stop working or go in thinking they can work less. If anything, taking a music career seriously requires one to work more.
In addition to management, you also produce content for San Francisco’s award-winning online publication The Bay Bridged. What made you decide to go into the journalism side of the industry and how did you specifically choose The Bay Bridged?
I have been writing about music since I was in middle school, and spent most of my time when I wasn’t playing writing about local DIY bands in the backyard gig scene back home. Coming up to San Francisco, I started a music publication called We Move Against The Tides that focused on in-depth coverage of local artists and bands. We had a huge staff and did some good work while we were in existence. I guess it came naturally, writing about music. Being able to dissect a chorus and verse, being able to comprehend the technical aspects of riffs and melodies – writing about music gave me a deeper love and understanding of it.
After I closed We Move Against The Tides, I still wanted to have my hand in music journalism, even if it was in a smaller and less hands-on role. I hit up The Bay Bridged because they’ve been doing amazing stuff for years and they brought me on as a staff writer a couple of weeks later. It’s an awesome place to write and I’d recommend it to anyone who is interested.
Having worked for blogs such as The Bay Bridged and The Deli, do you feel that’s given you an edge in artist management?
I think knowing what music writers think about – how they analyze and look at the lyrics and the composition – has given me the tools to take that into every production that our artists put out. I do separate the two worlds as much as possible, but it’s inevitable that when I sit down with a new demo one of our artists sends to us I think about it as a music critic. The ability to deconstruct meaning and the technical aspects allows me to think about how we can push the envelope and try new possibilities with our artists music.
My experience with music journalism has also allowed me to give some pretty detailed and eloquent feedback. Haha.
You also do marketing for Live Nation. How have you found working marketing at such a large company, versus the marketing aspects of smaller companies such as Counter Culture or The Bay Bridged?
Live Nation is one of the top companies in the concert promotion and production sector. They were built from putting on shows at local venues to expanding further and further. It’s an interesting story, the start of Live Nation, so it’s pretty great to be at a place that has become the leader in putting on amazing concerts (along with a bunch of other things). It’s definitely a different experience, but it’s great to get the best of both worlds – working at up-and-coming companies that are building from the bottom up and a larger, worldwide company that is well established.
Generally, marketing budgets are completely different and so are resources, since Live Nation definitely has more of both compared to Counter Culture or The Bay Bridged. But I see it more as a goal rather than a disappointing fact.
What major changes, if any, do you see coming in the music industry in the next 5-10 years? What is one change you’d particularly like to see?
I see it happening already, but I think there is going to be a huge shift toward accepting new and unorthodox ways of doing things that have been done the same for years. Brand sponsorship is taking on a whole new role in the industry, along with the advancement of technology companies such as Pandora and Spotify. I think there’s been a lot of backlash at these things, and while I understand why, I see them as only playing a bigger role in the industry in upcoming years. So why not figure out ways to work with them and alongside them to better advance the industry as a whole?
I’d also like to see people respond back to emails in a timely manner. That should be an entire industry shift. I include myself in this shift, as well.
Although you already have vast experience in so many different facets of the industry, are there any other areas of the music biz you’d like to get into someday?
I actually asked myself this the other day, just out of curiosity, but I think it’d be beneficial to get more experience on the technical side. I’d really like to teach myself some components of production and engineering. I know the basics, and have worked sound at a couple of places before, but I think some really detailed knowledge would be great.
With the marketing side of the music industry constantly changing and evolving, what skills/traits should aspiring students hoping to break into the business have?
Students should be “jack of all trades”. Nurture an eye for design and aesthetic, make sure you’re extremely detail oriented, learn efficient and effective processes for getting work done without sacrificing the quality of the work. I think this, along with gathering a larger understanding of social media and online platforms as tools for understanding audiences and seeing potential growth, is really key to the future of the music industry. The basics will never change. You’ll always have to know how to route a tour, how to book a show, how to get press, how to make a good song, etc. But the way those are deployed out into the public is completely changing. Familiarize yourself with up and coming tools and news. I have a blogroll of music blogs that I follow and keep close eyes on so that I stay current and ahead of the game.
Thank you again for taking the time out to do this interview! Is there anything else you’d like to add for all the readers out there?
Thank you for having me! This was fun. I’d recommend checking out our website (www.counterculturemgmt.com), liking us on Facebook, and following us on Twitter (@CounterCMGMT) and Instagram (@CounterCultureMGMT). We have some cool stuff we post (including great pictures of us hanging out and around the city), and more information about our roster. I think our artists are pretty great, so I also recommend checking out their websites (you can find this on our website) and staying tuned for the 6 releases we’ll be having this year. I’m a bit biased, though.