About a month ago, Creative Artists Agency announced the promotion of Brian Manning to full agent; he had been an assistant to Darryl Eaton for three years. Now, one of the bands he shepherds, O.A.R. (...of a revolution), is on the cover of this magazine.
Manning was responsible for alerting CAA to an unsigned college band from Ohio State University that was packing the 1,700-capacity Newport Music Hall every time it played. He, in turn, brought it to the attention of the agency's Mitch Rose, who liked the music and helped book the band while Manning was still an assistant.
"Brian's the man," O.A.R.'s Marc Roberge told POLLSTAR. "Mitch, obviously, is the muscle and a badass, too, and a totally nice guy, but Brian was our first recognition and he never left our side, never once. He never turned his back on us and he's followed through with everything he said."
Roberge said there were two watershed events in the band's history, and one was signing with CAA in February last year. Since then, the band has sold out NYC's Hammerstein Ballroom in advance without any airplay or radio adverts. It has sold out two different three- night stands at the House of Blues in Chicago and the HoB in Los Angeles.
This summer, Manning said, O.A.R. will be on the Jeep World Outside Tour with Sheryl Crow and Train. In certain markets, the band is already capable of selling more than 1,000 tickets on its own.
Rose told POLLSTAR that O.A.R.'s booking duties are a team effort, but Manning is the lead agent.
"I think, from O.A.R.'s point of view, they would have signed with him if he was an agent (back then)," he said. "But they wanted to feel that the whole agency was behind Brian. We went out of our way so the band and the manager knew that."
Roberge said, "It seems that a lot of people who are learning their way have put a lot of time and effort into us and we just keep on thanking people. I feel like a bar mitzvah kid, sending out thank you notes all day."
The other watershed event for the band was its popularity on Napster. Roberge said O.A.R. owes its life to the free trade of music. Song-swapping high school and college students made O.A.R. one of the top-drawing campus acts.
"I know that pisses off half the record industry, but it's the truth," he said. "You can't really deny it. It's the reason why we could go play at every college in the country."
Still, Roberge said the band is not that into staying unsigned.
"There is a wall at the end of the independent band road. Whether it's 100,000 records or 10 million, there's always a wall and on the other side is a record company to take you to the next level."
The band's doing fine, though, with the help of its manager, Dave Roberge, who is Marc's brother. He is a business major whose knowledge of the music industry was limited when he began to help out three years ago. Now, the band has a tour bus and 401(k) plans, while signed artists with tour support show up in their vans to open for O.A.R.
"My guys have educated themselves," Dave told POLLSTAR. "[The signed bands] will say, 'What the f**k? You're driving around in a bus ... you self-finance everything you do. You don't take a dime?' Yeah, that's right, and we make a profit, too. That's not even including merch."
Dave Roberge has penetrated the music business so completely, he even knows the innermost workings of House of Blues Concerts.
"Basketball. That's all House of Blues does, man," he said. "Everybody I talk to, they're like, 'I play basketball with those guys.' It's like, who doesn't? They're the most active promoters I know. They all hustle. They're all in good health."
The band is basically high school friends who somehow found a way to wind up at Ohio State together and pick up the music again. They started by packing the Newport, then Bogart's in Cincinnati, playing three nights a week while taking classes. O.A.R., somewhat by design, has done it all without radio support.
"It's a pipe dream," Marc said. "The cliches are so thick that initially, you probably want to throw up."
"As a booking agent and a booking agency, it's great to be involved with a band that is happening organically and not based on a hit single," Rose said. "To us, these are the bands that are going to have careers.
"I am convinced that the kids who are coming of age who have been into music, vis-a- vis Backstreet Boys, *Nsync, and Britney, have now outgrown that phenomena and are looking for their new heroes. I think that's why the John Mayers, the Jack Johnsons and the O.A.R.s of the world are starting to take off."
Dave Roberge said the band keeps a journal of each show it plays. It logs rudimentary stuff like the draw of a first-time market, but also catalogs intangibles, like the mood of the crowd and the moods of the band members.
"I've never worked with another band that has shown this much interest in the details," Dave said. "It's constantly about communication and education and not saying you know everything because for every good thing that we do, there's two mistakes we don't tell anybody about. It's having the ego to admit that."