Those who've participated in one way or another with the planning and execution of an actual gig — whether at a big outdoor festival, the local watering hole, or the keg party down the block — know quite well that there's far more to it than the strumming, drumming, and singing going on for 50 minutes on stage. There is gear to haul, cables to run, lights to clip, amps to repair, strings to tune, beer to chill, vans to park ... the list goes on.
Up-and-coming musical artists learn how to manage themselves as they go, booking and promoting their shows, loading equipment, making their own arrangements. They end up dealing with promotion, accommodations, parking, soundchecks, food buy-outs, and gig money, among other issues. Some are better suited for managing these things than others. A musician may be able to pen a killer tune or rip an amazing solo, but he or she may not be so talented at keeping a schedule straight or calling an agent back on time.
Capable, trustworthy, loyal, genuinely enthusiastic band management is a small but vital part of the Charleston band scene. There are only a handful of people doing this kind of thing around town, and Travis McNabb, 36, is among the busiest, working with Jay Clifford, Steven Fiore, and singer/songwriter Owen Beverly. He also takes care of his own indie label, 33 and 1/3 Records.
"One thing that people may not realize is that managers often talk with the artists about their personal situations and their finances," he says. He's speaking by phone from New Hampshire, where he drove a van full of gear straight from Charleston the night before. "They pretty much always know exactly how much money they have and their situation on being able to tour and record. But, like with any other relationship dealing with art and money, it's also combined with the feelings involved. There's a personal side that people may not but be aware of."
After a brief stint in the Army from 1991-'94, he graduated from U.S.C. and worked in his hometown of Columbia as the concert commissioner for the university. He managed a college band called Shades of Grey and a rootsy band called Sourwood Honey before landing a club manager job at the legendary Elbow Room.
"I started booking the Elbow Room during the heyday of the one-hit-wonder alternative rock bands," he remembers. "When Jump signed with Breaking Records, I sold my interest with the Elbow Room and went on the road with them."
McNabb managed Jump's numerous tours and various business dealings for over three years before working briefly with John Mayer and taking a gig as tour manager for Howie Day.
"For Owen, Steven, and Jay, I do managing," he says. "With the Blue Dogs and a band called Woodwork Road Show, I do consulting and special projects. I try to work hard on presenting what my bands are doing, more than shouting about what they're going to do."
According to McNabb, one of the most important aspects of good management is making himself available to agents, media folks, and music biz types on a daily basis — from early in the morning until late at night. He makes sure to respond promptly to messages from fans, colleagues, club managers, and label execs.
"It's different for every artist," says McNabb. "For younger artists, you tend to explain what went on before, and the pros and cons of things ... letting them rely on your experience. With others, it's more like comparing experiences and bouncing stuff off of each other. It's much less of a mentoring or supplemental situation, combining experiences to make sure things don't get chaotic." —T. Ballard Lesemann