By Deb Walsh
By the time Richard Zack arrived at Berkleemusic.com as a student, he was already an established entrepreneur and music business visionary. He had founded and sold two successful companies, and a third, The Wink Winks, LLC, was on solid track to actualizing Zack’s lifelong goal of running a music management firm that could make a positive impact in the world of music and on society. But Zack was at a crossroads.
“I had started the company of my dreams, but my management experience was in a different industry. I needed to translate that experience into the music business, and I knew that Berkleemusic would help. I also knew that Berkleemusic would enhance my credibility in the eyes of musicians, since everyone knows and respects Berklee.”
So in early 2008, Zack enrolled in Berkleemusic’s Professional Certificate Program in Artist Management. And by the time he was two weeks into the first course, Artist Management, Zack had already reached a “turnaround point.”
“One of the first lessons was about defining your strategic, core vision and getting the right people ‘on the bus,’” he recalls. “After clearly defining my values and communicating them to the bands we worked with, I was able to focus significantly more time on the areas of our business that were important and profitable. And the bands also began making big strides forward.”
Among his most rewarding successes to date, says Zack, was learning that his band The Volunteers had been selected from a pool of hundreds to perform at Berklee’s Fourth Annual SXSW Party in Austin, TX on March 20.
“You should have heard the unfiltered scream on the other end of the line when I called Dan (Goddard) to tell them they would be playing the Berklee SXSW party,” says Zack. “At first he didn’t believe me, but when he finally realized I was serious, he just let out this incredible yell of excitement!”
In its 22 years, SXSW has grown into a massive music/arts/media festival featuring performances by more than 1800 artists from all parts of the globe playing on more than 80 stages throughout Austin. The always-packed Berklee event features Berklee, Berkleemusic, and Heavy Rotation Records alumni and student artists. This year’s lineup includes Melissa Ferrick, Annie Lynch and the Beekeepers, The Hollow Sound, Kid:nap:kin, and Ma'ayan Castel.
When Zack signed The Volunteers to The Wink Winks roster, the band was joining an impressive roster of talent being managed by the Astoria-based firm. Described as “rock music with a bit of roll,” The Volunteers’ music has also been called “pure animal joy and atomic rage for the masses–all with an unforgettable live performance,” says Zack. Led by songwriter Dan Goddard, the unsigned quartet has toured North America in support of their latest album “Spectrophilia,” which was recorded with producer Paul Mahajan (Yeah Yeah Yeahs, TV on the Radio, The National). The Volunteers will also be featured in July ’09 as the first ever “Band of the Month” in High Times.
With the band now planning a European tour, Zack has again turned to his Berkleemusic courses for direction and inspiration along the way.
“The Concert Touring class gave me an intimate understanding of how larger concerts and tours really work–how they are planned, put together, carried out and made successful,” he says. “Though the classes were targeting larger bands than the ones I work with, the lessons applied to almost every show we’ve undertaken. After the class I worked with our agent to route a tour for my band Doublethink which by all accounts is a total success thus far. I also promoted a show for The Volunteers at the Highline Ballroom in NYC using strategies I had learned in Concert Touring on tour and venue roles, responsibilities, and day-of-show procedural items.”
“In many ways, the music business is different from others as we have one leg in the artistic realm, and one in the business realm,” says Zack. “At The Wink Winks, we developed our ‘positive impact’ mission out of sheer will, confidence in our abilities and disdain for all the wrongs of the world. I consider it a solemn duty, almost from a spiritual level at the core of who I am as a person. My love and respect of music is why I have become an artists manager. But without a doubt, my favorite part of my work is the successes we have had for our artists and for us personally working in the music field. They are hard fought battles, but worth it.”
Asked for any advice to those looking to break into artist management, Zack offers the following.
1. Take artist management classes at Berkleemusic
Berkleemusic.com caught up with Zack briefly before he headed off to SXSW
Growing up, were you a musical kid?
RZ: I grew up in Derry, NH, until I was ten. Then my family moved to a horse farm in a suburb of Cleveland called Auburn Township. I played saxophone in middle/high school, and my sister Robin (who played bassoon) and I always listened to Simon and Garfunkel albums and sing along to them after school. My dad played a little guitar and had a really cool record collection. Throughout my life, my mom was a huge supporter of my musical goals.
Didn’t you start the Wink Winks with a high school friend?
RZ: My best friend Dave Smith and I started a high school band called The Tangent. Despite huge talent and potential, ultimately the band was dissolved. Dave and I stayed close friends and committed to someday working together again. Dave went off to Cincinnati’s Conservatory of Music, playing in several bands and touring a lot. I delved into the world of business. In 2004, we reconnected and decided to form the business combining Dave’s artistic talents with my business talent.
What’s a typical week look like for you?
RZ: A typical week always begins with a big picture review of our current goal and opportunities breakdown. I communicate with the bands, their agents, publicists, and attorneys on various matters, and handle all financial aspects of the work. Dave is constantly listening to new music, attending concerts, generating DIY publicity and promotional efforts, and using his humor, spirit, and love for music to bring some cheer and motivation to the office. Collette focuses mostly on DIY publicity and promotional efforts for the bands, which usually includes setting up radio interviews, Internet radio play, CD/live show reviews, online contests, etc. Our interns are always busy assembling and sending out press kits, researching new contacts and new promotional methods, working the social networking aspects for the bands, and learning everything they can.
Are there moment/events you are particularly proud of?
RZ: Promoting and organizing the IVAW (Iraq Veterans Against the War) benefit concert was truly a proud moment in my life and career. At the time, many people were against the war in Iraq, but here we had actual soldiers – who were there fighting and risking their lives for our freedom so we could sit in comfort and become artist managers – who were willing to risk everything by coming out and saying NO, this is wrong, we need to end this war. We were shocked by the resistance of some people to publicly stating their opposition to the war. But there was another group of people, like Howie Schnee at Sullivan Hall in NYC, who put an enormous amount of work into the event. MTV’s Real World Brooklyn filmed the event for a possible future feature. At the end, I spoke briefly with no prepared notes about why I was involved. I’ll never forget the sounds of hands clapping after I had thanked everyone. It’s a life experience I am very proud of.
Who are your musical influences?
RZ: The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Grateful Dead, Dave Matthews Band, John Mayer, Coldplay…and of course all the bands I currently work with!
What do you think makes an artist stand out in today’s crowded space?
RZ: It all starts with the music – it must be amazing, compelling, unique and yet digestible. After that, it’s the message and image the artist is trying to get out to the world. After that it all depends on how hard the artist and their team are willing to work to get the music out to the world.
Where do you see yourself in 5-10 years?
Well, I’ll have my office in NYC with at least two Gold records, but I’ll probably be chilling on the Big Island in Hawaii with my future family, enjoying the spoils of all our hard work.