Behind The Music: Allen Stone’s manager BJ Olin (Part 2)

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Behind The Music - Allen Stone

In my words…

For every successful Artist, there’s someone working tirelessly behind the scenes contributing to their success.

For too long now, the Artist Manager (who I call “the glue” holding it all together and the Artist’s biggest fan, confidant, and cheerleader) toils away for the most part in anonymity as the praise and glory shine down upon their Artist.

A Manager never rests.  They wake up each morning thinking about ways to make their Artist more successful and while the rest of the world sleeps, the Manager is still up working on their plans for World Domination.

A Manager’s DNA is not like most mortals; that’s probably why there are so few.  The passion, dedication, selflessness of putting oneself second, loss of sleep, money, and sometimes relationships in the pursuit of achieving your Artist’s dream and vision in an Industry where the odds are stacked against you may make some question your sanity and, at times, so do you until you watch your Artist “kill” a room and then you remember why you’re there.

The Manager, in my eyes, is the unsung hero.  It can sometimes be a thankless job and nothing raises my Irish more than an Artist who doesn’t publicly thank their Manager, especially at The Grammys.  It’s the Manager who will remain with you through thick and thin, because you’re building something together right?  It’s a partnership I liken to marriage; it’s not always going to be a honeymoon.

Artists, treasure your Manager if you’re lucky enough to have one.  If you haven’t thanked them lately, I suggest you call them after reading this and say, “Have I told you lately how much I appreciate you?”

They may ask if you’ve been drinking but I guarantee you’ll make their day.  A thank you goes a long way in a Manager’s memory bank.

Managers, hats off and my deepest personal respect for all you do!  – Robin

2013.05.02: Allen Stone @ The Crocodile, Seattle, WA

Allen Stone at Bumbershoot Prom Night @ The Crocodile 2013


Last week, I featured Allen Stone’s Manager, BJ Olin of Red Light Management.  Red Light is one of the most innovative artist management companies in the industry with offices in New York, Los Angeles, Charlottesville, Nashville, Atlanta, Bristol and London.  Besides Allen, BJ also guides the careers of artists Jinx, Jackie Tohn, Tingsek, and Stacie Orrico.

I had such a great conversation with BJ that there was just too much to put into one article but I felt it was information I wanted to share with all of you.  Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Part 2.

GC: Speaking of Red Light, people in the industry definitely know the name.  It’s every Manager’s dream to be with Red Light.
BJ: It was definitely mine.  I idolized Red Light for so long that when they approached me, I had to kinda play it cool because I was very excited.

GC: I think every Manager secretly worries about losing an Artist, especially one where they’ve built it from the ground up, invested a lot of time, sometimes money, and talent and through their efforts, the Artist is having some success and now thinks they need a bigger/better Manager or wants to take your contacts and all they’ve learned from you and work it on their own.  Your thoughts?
BJ: Early on, I think all up-and-coming Managers go through this because an Artist thinks “this guy/gal, sure they hustled for me and got me to this point but I need this big shot dude to kind of handle and oversee the bigger things”.

GC: I think Managers are generally patient for we know the industry and the steady-as-it-goes/slow burn wins the race, as you call it.  But Artists want everything faster and when they see their friends moving forward and they’re not, I feel the blame sometimes comes down on the Manager.  So as a Manager, do you feel that you have to let the Artist trip and fall a bit, even though it may be hard to watch, so they can learn the lesson?
BJ: Yeah, not everyone’s like that and sometimes it comes in different forms but it doesn’t have to be a full-on fall per se.  Sometimes it could be teaming up with a Co-Manager that seems to be more glamorous and flashy and then learning that the Manager, the “new” Manager, the “big shot” Manager, isn’t really adding anything to the table and actually may be slowing it down even more.  That helps to bring it into perspective sometimes but you can’t plan that per se.  You just have to keep growing and plugging away and at some point, you solidify yourself in the industry as someone who’s not going away and I think it becomes less and less of an issue as soon as you get some experience under your belt and know what you’re doing or, at least can learn quickly.

GC: I just had this conversation with a well-known Seattle Manager today who said, “Don’t worry, the industry knows who is behind the success of an Artist and took them from nothing to their current success.  So I guess you have to look at how much you’ve learned from it and go out and duplicate that success with another Artist.
BJ: Exactly.

GC: Do you think there is a place on the team for the current Manager if the Artist signs on with a “big shot” Manager?
BJ: Yeah, they can always co-manage or they can become a Day-to-Day Manager or Tour Manager.  I think I fell into a very good position with Red Light where it was right after we self-released Allen’s first record and 3 weeks later he was on Conan and a week after that, the VP of Red Light hit me up and said, “Let’s meet and chat. I love Allen and I’d love to have you come to Red Light.”  For me, it was this big machine management company that could help me move mountains or at least make it a little easier.  One with a lot of clout because now when I email people with the Red Light name on it, they respond and there’s just more clout that comes with it.  Managers have to go in with protecting themselves and their Artist and I have a 5-10 year plan.  You have to think, am I going to do 5-10 years max or will I want to do something else later and what does that look like?  It’s very helpful to have a guide or plan in place.  I’m very happy at Red Light, it was a good move for me.  It helped Allen a lot and my other clients were helped by it too.

2012.12.07: Allen Stone @ The Paramount Theatre, Seattle, WA

Allen Stone at The Paramount Theatre 2012


GC: What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned over the years that you would like to pass on to other up-and-coming Managers?
BJ: YOU’RE GOING TO GET FIRED!  It’s inevitable.  I’d like to be all romantic about that you’ll find this amazing Artist and they’ll blow up and you’ll make a lot of money, but I can’t.  Have a contract.  That’s a big lesson I learned.  The first time I got fired, I didn’t have a contract so I was like, “that sucks”.  A Manager/Artist Agreement is ‘way more’ to protect the Manager.  It’s for, “If and when I get fired, this is what the fallout is going to look like”.  It’s like a prenup.

GC: The ole Sunset Clause?
BJ: Right. I’m a big fan.  You’ll get less concerned about papers as time goes by.  Trust is leverage over time.  If they’re young and it’s early on in the development stage and they want to walk away and burn a bridge, they’re burning a much bigger bridge now for you’re in a better place for they need you more than you need them.

GC: So, do you speak the truth to your Artist at all times?
BJ: I do but they’re not children.  I buy all my Artists Donald Passman’s book, All You Need to Know About The Music Business.  I want to give them information and educate themselves as much as possible.  There are times I have to withhold information and I trust they hired me to tell them.  But to tell them they did a great job when they didn’t, I’m going to say, “Don’t do that anymore. Maybe try this instead”.  Allen is a different beast in that after some 800 shows there is little that needs to be said or chime in about.

GC: Some Artist like to hold the power over the Manager as to, “You work for me”.  They want an enabler and hold the power of “If you don’t go along with my wishes, you may be fired”.
BJ: I do work for my Artist but at the end of the day, if they don’t feel there is more room for growth, then that’s a factor in and of itself.  There’s always room to grow.  Artists like Allen and Jinx always want to grow and wouldn’t say, “I’m not going to”.  I have moments with Allen where he might butt heads with me and I’m like, “OK, you’re the boss”.  A funny instance that comes to mind is where we had a meeting the next day at 10am after a show and I reminded him and he said, “You start at 10am and I’ll start at noon”.  So we butted heads and in a rare moment he put his foot down like, “hey dude, I’m going to sleep in” and I laughed and said, “OK sleep in”.  The guy deserves to sleep a little later after a show.

GC: Don’t you ever wish you had someone like you who worked 24/7 to make you successful?
BJ: (He Laughs) God yes!  I’m sure I’ll get an Assistant sometime this year but I joke with my Mom if my rent and car weren’t set up on auto pay, I would forget.  I don’t even have time for my own shit.  I got a flat tire.  My laundry gets dropped off at the dry cleaners and comes back wrapped in paper.  I know that sounds a little pretentious but I have “no” time.  It helps to minimize my work load.

GC: Managers are so used to taking care of others, they rarely take care of themselves.  What do you do for yourself?  Can’t take care of your Artist if you don’t take care of you.
BJ: I go to the gym and I’m an avid runner.  I also have a great support system.  99% of my friends are industry friends, many are Managers and we get together for ‘Therapy Sessions’ where we share stories about our clients over a beer and commiserate.  I live in LA so there’s always sun or the beach.  I can drive down to San Diego.  I also love going to a movie, buying popcorn and a soda, sitting down for a few hours and shutting the brain off and let something else entertain me for awhile.  Or getting a pizza and watching movies in my pajamas and be fat! (laughs)

GC: I’ve always said that no one can understand what a Manager goes through like another Manager.  You all have the same gripes basically.  Sometimes you feel like it’s “just you” but then you talk to another Manager and find they’ve gone through the same thing.  Do your clients have 24/7 access to you?
BJ: Yes and no.  If I’m seeing someone and it’s date night, I won’t look at my phone.  I don’t know if I’ll shut if off but I won’t look at it.  I don’t want to be “that” guy at the table on his phone.

2011.05.21: Allen Stone (w/ Seattle Rock Orchestra) @ The Moore

Allen Stone w/ Seattle Rock Orchestra at The Moore Theatre 2011


GC: What do you think is the biggest challenge of Artist Management?
BJ: It’s two fold.  Trying to live in the Artist’s World and in the Manager’s World.  I think one challenge I’ve noticed for myself lately is I also get impatient with my lesser developed Artists.  Is there any way I can fast track this or will it take me the same amount of time as it did for my other Artists?  The humanistic desire is to skip some steps.  I ride the line of being Type A and having deadlines, everything due, planning when going to Radio, etc., but then I’m also living in the Artist’s world where most everything is a “no”, last minute, or not ready, or needs to be pushed back.  Trying to live in both the Artist World and the Management World can sometimes be a challenge.

GC: Some Managers might have answered that last one with ‘keeping their Artist out of drugs and alcohol’.
BJ: The best way around drugs and alcohol is having an Artist with impeccable work ethics.  Not to say Allen doesn’t have a drink but he would “never” allow it to get in the way.  He wouldn’t take it for granted and throw it all away.  Even Jinx (his name is Derek) has an impeccable work ethic.  Same way, he won’t ever go out if he has a big show.  Looking at where Allen is now and where I think he’ll be in the next 18 months, he would never throw it all away.  Allen saw a ‘Behind The Music’ show on Kenny Rogers or maybe it was Kenny Loggins, I think it was Kenny Loggins, where he didn’t see the bulk of his success until he was in his forties.  And he mentioned in this episode that he wanted the slow-burn like I said earlier, the longer you have on the way to the top, the further away the drop is, because that’s sort of another inevitable part of life.  It’s good for an Artist to see when they get to that place where, “OK, I’m making a living at this”.  Maybe their patience gets a little better.

GC: I’m always hearing Artists say they want to go to the UK because they hear they embrace US Artists.  Allen had been to the UK.  What’s your opinion?  Go across the pond or not?
BJ: The UK is tough.  One of the toughest markets to break.

GC: So where is your personal favorite place to tour to?
BJ: My favorite place to go for my Artist is Australia.  Personally, I fell in love with it last year when I went there with Allen.  I’m jealous that I’m not going with him there this time but the hours of flight and with the time difference, I just get too far behind in my work.  But let me tell you, it’s pretty electric to be there in person!  The Netherlands and Amsterdam were also a great success and we’ll continue to grow that market.

GC: Have you been able to define or figure out why some markets are most successful than other?
BJ: (laughs) I think I would drive myself crazy if I tried to figure it out!

GC: If you hadn’t gone into Artist Management, what do you think you’d be doing?
BJ: I’d be working in Sports Management.  I always joke with people that if I ever leave Music, I’d go become a GM of an NFL team.

GC: I could definitely see that.  I worked for a Professional MISL Soccer team called The Cleveland Force back in the 90’s and it was a lot of fun.  It’s much like the Music Industry.  I could definitely see you doing it.

2010-05-03: Ernie Halter, Allen Stone @ Seattle Living Room Show

Ernie Halter and Allen Stone at Seattle Living Room Shows 2010


GC: You’ve attained a lot with Allen but is there anything you’ve desired but have not yet attained?
BJ: Grammys and Saturday Night Live.  It’s my two biggest goals.  My friends are sick of hearing about it.

GC: How about Fallon and The Tonight Show?
BJ: We’ll be putting in for a lot of late night shows but right now, we don’t have a finished album and we haven’t picked a single yet.  No doubt we’ll do the whole circuit, it’s just about the time and when.

GC: I’d love to see Allen play with The Roots!
BJ: Hopefully he’ll get SNL and also play Fallon and play with the Roots this year.  He played some type of event in Charlotte with them where they hung out which was very cool so he’s definitely on their radar.  We’ll plan the whole circuit as soon as we have the album.  Right now, we haven’t even picked the Single out yet.  Allen did a stripped down version of “Million” with Tingsek.  We then used the song as a FREE giveaway if fans sign up for the email list on his site.  It’s a great way to reward his core fan base.  There’s no word yet on its release date because the album isn’t done yet.  Allen’s priority is to make this album as best as it can be and that might mean it taking longer.

GC: Any teasers for me?
BJ: Not really.  Just working on finishing the album and planning his European Festival Tour.  When are we going to play Seattle?  How many times are we going to play Seattle?  Are we going to play it before going to Europe?  Are we going to do Europe and then play Seattle and then go back to Europe?  Are we going to do Europe and end with Seattle?  As you can see, a majority of our conversations are about Seattle. (laughs)  We spent 30 minutes backstage in London discussing it and came away with no decision made.  It’s whatever Allen wants but I guarantee you Allen will change his mind a few times before we land on something.  I’ll map out all the options and then pull the trigger when he says go.

GC: BJ, thank you so much for speaking with me and allowing me to share your story with our readers.  Is there anything you’d like to leave us with?
BJ: I can’t express enough how much this whole Industry career is based on friendships and relationships.  I get to work with friends and meet some of the greatest people on the planet!  Whether you have something you want or they give you something or not, it’s a ‘Pay It Forward’ energy and you keep giving and you will get it back.

2011.09.04: Jinx and BJ Olin @ Bumbershoot - Free Yr Radio Stage

Jinx and BJ Olin at Bumbershoot Festival 2011



About Robin Fairbanks

Robin Fairbanks has spent 30+ years in the music industry in many capacities. Working in the Seattle music scene since 2006 as a Manager/Booker, she's known for her ethics and artist development skills. Robin has guided the careers of many, but most notable as the former manager of Seattle's Fox and The Law for 3.5 years. Robin has spent the last 2 yrs consulting with Artists who seek her help as a music consultant and publicist with Setlist Music Solutions LLC. She also gives of her time as an advisor to Seattle Wave Radio, an Internet music station where she helped shape its sound as the ROCK Channel Music Director for 2+ yrs upon its launch in 2010 and where you'll find her music blog, "Bird On A Wire".