Eric Wiltsher talks to Sonya Webb about the ins and outs of being a manager for her rock musician husband Ryan Webb.
Q1. What would you say your job is working for Ryan Webb?
A: I’m his ‘manager’ – I use the term quite loosely as I didn’t have any previous experience and I’m learning the ropes, albeit slowly. Apart from trying to secure gigs for him, I also book the other members of the band as he uses session players. Also, I cover his social media platforms and I also write his lyrics.
Q2: What would you say is the most difficult aspect of being Ryan’s manager?
A: I think all aspects are very difficult. Trying to get promoters or venues to actually respond to your emails or messages shouldn’t be difficult, but it is. I guess they have so many artists or bands applying that it’s difficult to respond to everyone, but in this technological era, there are ways to overcome this, for example automated messages – they’re better than silence. Also managing social media is quite difficult, and is almost a full time job in itself! In order to secure gigs, promoters quite often check Facebook pages or Twitter to see ‘how many likes’ you have, or how your fans interact on the page. It’s difficult to build on those areas if you don’t get the gigs! I love writing his lyrics though!
Q3: Ryan released an album in 2018. Was this a self-release?
A: Yes, the album is called: STOP THE WORLD! We didn’t see the point in going to any labels, as like promoters, they are inundated with band submissions, and they don’t usually respond anyway. Ryan worked on the tracks himself in his studio. He loves working with sound and also using the most up to date equipment, so spent many hours locked away, sometimes 24/7 in order to produce the sound he wanted.
Q4: Why did he choose to work on this album by himself?
A: Initially he had tried to bring other musicians on board, but they’d either not had experience recording in a studio environment, or turned up without having learned the tracks! He did use a very talented drummer (who we also use for live gigs, when he’s free). James Wise, then only 19, not only learned the tracks, he added his own take and all 9 tracks were recorded within 6 hours and not the 2 days we’d planned for. It’s professionals like James that Ryan would really like to work with. Ryan eventually had to teach himself how to play bass (not his usual instrument) and also how to record it as we were let down a couple of times.
Another reason is that we’d also used a US producer previously for an EP that Ryan released in 2015. It was incredibly expensive and absolutely not worth it. Classic rocks songs were changed to pop songs along the way, extra instruments added (as well as extra payments needed) and we had to put a stop to it. This experience made Ryan decide that rather than waste time looking for someone to work with, he’d do it himself. It’s not that he wouldn’t listen to constructive criticism, but when someone just doesn’t get that you are a rock artist, what is the point in wasting more money?
Q5: Was anyone else involved in making the album?
A: Apart from James and myself, Pete Maher was brought in as the mastering engineer. Pete is well known for his amazing support of unsigned artists. He keeps his costs incredibly low for them, even though he has mastered for bands and artists like, Paul Weller, Rolling Stones, Liam Gallagher, the Killers, and many more. It helped that he really liked Ryan’s work as well. It was Ryan’s first attempt at mixing and he’d sent the first track to Pete for advice, who said he was spot on which pleased him immensely!
2019: A year to think about which direction to go. It’s all become very confusing with music management companies out there, that offer everything, some labels which offer everything.
Q6: What do you find frustrating about the music scene right now?
A: Where do I start? Firstly, no response from people who actually ask you to send in music, bio etc. Not quite sure why they ask to send tracks, when they don’t open up the link you’ve sent them! Also, although we totally understand that in order for venues to run you need people to come along, but it’s rather frustrating that promoters put on bands who bring along a few more people, but they don’t know how to tune a guitar or sing in tune! Then there are those who ask for bands to play at a festival, send you a whole list of things you must abide by beforehand, and then on the day have a sound guy who simply does not understand that no one can hear the guitar and does nothing about it despite being told!
There are also times when Ryan’s been selected to perform at a gig or festival and all instructions have been received, only to find that changes have been made without your knowledge. For example, no sound guy or PA after all, or the main band have put their drum kit up for all to use, when originally told that all drummers had to bring their own kit- it’s not a fun thing for a drummer to pack up all his kit….when it’s not needed!
Q7: Why do you think it’s so difficult to find professionals to work with?
A: I think it’s just because of the sheer amount of people who are connected to the scene. Obviously there are many professionals out there, it’s just a case of being in the right event, meeting or place at the right time.
Q: Is it more difficult for bands today to become known that it was say 20 years ago?
A: It is and it isn’t! There have been so many changes to the music that nothing really is the same. The big record labels don’t take on new musicians as much as they did in the past, and no one hands out money like they used to. But, having said that, there is social media to help us along, which we didn’t have in order to promote. Basically, bands can become successful by using it to their advantage. I’ve seen quite a few manage this….I still have a lot to learn though!
Q8: Going back to the album now. How did you come up with the tracks for STOP THE WORLD?
A: Initially, we had one song for the album. I write Ryan’s lyrics and if I remember rightly we were watching the news and something horrible was happening in Africa. From that I came up with the title Lucky Ones, and wrote the lyrics. Ryan then wrote the music for that. We got the album name through a situation we were facing at work. We’d been having a really tough time and someone emailed me to ask what was happening. When I told them, they literally said ‘Stop the world! I want to get off’ – and we thought, that’s the title right there! The song is also about the madness that went on at that time. Ryan will sometimes record a minute of a track he’s working on and will send it to me to work on lyrics, or it happens the other way around.
Q: What are your plans for 2020?
A: Ryan will be releasing a single called ‘Don’t’, I can’t say what it’s about really as we’re hoping that a certain organisation would like to use it for a charity single, as it’s an organisation we really believe in. Recording for that is starting in November. He’s realised that he feels more comfortable writing and performing hard rock, so that’s where his new music will be going. Apart from that I’ve started booking gigs for him. He’d love to perform in Europe as they have a really good rock scene over there, so I’m looking into that too!
Q: What would you say to other musicians in Ryan’s position?
A: If you truly believe you have music that is good, never, ever give up. If music is your passion, just keep playing and writing. Don’t stop if you feel down about only 5 people turning up to a gig. It’s worth remembering that even those at the top have experienced this. Also, I’d say no matter how many people are there, play as if this is your best gig ever.