A career in music need not be limited to performing, writing or even producing. Long Islander Todd Smith recognized this idea after spending years in a local band which could not break through. Demonstrating a personal resilience and deep passion for the area’s rock scene, Smith founded Rock Island Management.
After years of performing and touring, Smith knows first-hand the hurdles and hoops that bands must jump over and through to build a following. As Rock Island Management prepares for 2019, the longtime South Shore resident feels optimistic about the future.
An Interview With Rock Island Management’s Todd Smith
What led you to create Rock Island Management?
Rock Island Management was created in 2015. The company was born from a desire to stay on the scene. For years I was in a band and for years we were constantly screwed over by the business of music, enormous pre-sales, promoters who didn’t keep their word, clubs that imposed too many restrictions on what we could do and who could come see us play.
It was a lot of work and a constant disappointment and we lacked the funds to do what we wanted to do. It became too difficult to continue playing, but I love the scene and I wanted to continue to be a part of it. A friend who plays in Bailout 42 asked me to manage them. I improvised a bit, booked their shows, went to practices and gave my advice. I saw that they were experiencing a lot of the same issues that my band did.
I realized if I could get a bunch of bands together under the same flag, it would give us more leverage. People would be more likely to keep their word and work with us on financial issues if they knew they weren’t dealing with a single band and that their choices would affect a number of local artists. This way, if someone did something that wasn’t right, they’d lose the ability to work with multiple bands and word would quickly spread about what led to that decision.
How did things change as your roster grew?
Once I had several artists and things became easier, some bands wanted to play bigger and better shows, open for national acts, create merchandise and go into the studio. But that’s very expensive and unfortunately few bands earn enough to do those things without some help. That’s when I decided to start producing my own shows. This not only gave me exposure to a ton of other bands I didn’t even know, but it gave me the ability to pay them what they deserved and to save up money to help them in the future.
Cut to the present, if a band wants to open for a national act and falls short on the pre-sale, or if they want to record an album or print up tee-shirts, I can confidently provide the resources. The funding also has allowed Rock Island to book bigger, better venues, bring in better known headliners and even some national bands on major labels came out and played for us.
What is Rock Island’s mission?
The mission is simple. I want to remove all the burdens that affect local bands so that they can focus on what’s important, the music. I believe that when a band can be free of all the bullshit that comes along with being an artist, they can better focus on what’s really important. This gives them the opportunity to grow and stay together.
When a band agrees to be part of Rock Island, I will do as little or as much as they want. For some, I simply book shows and promote what they’re doing. Others use my contacts and deals in place for merchandise, recordings and better deals with clubs and promoters. There are even a few bands that want me to do everything from setting up their social media to answering their email. I cover both ends of the spectrum because I don’t want them to worry about anything besides making music and putting on great shows. When a band joins Rock Island, they are still free to make their own decisions and to book shows with other promoters, as well. I’m just there to promote whatever they decide to do and guide them as they see fit.
What bands are currently on your roster?
Metal Hawks is an old school heavy metal trio that plays originals and covers. They are a throwback to the 70s and 80s that appeal to fans of Iron Maiden, Cheap Trick and Led Zeppelin. What really impresses me about them [Metal Hawks] is just how good they are, particularly at their ages, which range from 15 to 18 years old. Lead singer Ryan Daversa is as entertaining as local frontmen get and 15-year-old John Barry on guitar is honestly the best local guitarist I’ve ever seen.
Charged For Battle is pure hardcore and gaining a name for themselves on the hardcore scene. They are the oldest band we represent, with most being in their late 20s. What’s interesting about Charged For Battle is that they are all from different backgrounds and ethnicities, but come together to make music about social injustice.
Anthony Carriero is the only solo artist I currently represent. He plays acoustic rock and writes some of the deepest, most heart-wrenching songs about the difficult life he’s led.
Perimeter is a band that hasn’t played in a while, because they all go to different schools in various parts of the country, but this Nu-Metal band brings together so many different styles to create a unique sound. Perimeter has classically trained musicians playing alongside guys who are self-taught. The band’s second EP, What Lies Ahead, is available now at all streaming platforms.
Chain Dazey is a grunge band that’s been together for some time. Unfortunately, the group is currently inactive while going through a line-up change, but when they’re on, they are something special. Singer Jake Rezny’s resemblance to Kurt Cobain both on and off stage is downright scary. Chain Dazey’s debut album, Rawhyde, is available right now.
Stugots is the newest band on the roster. I like them a lot because they are a grunge/metal hybrid, similar to Queens of The Stone Age. Their EP was released on Dec. 21, the same night they played at Rams American Pub in Holbrook.
Managers have styles, just as musicians do. What is your management style and do you approach each band differently?
When I first started, I tried to manage the bands like I manage the employees at the store I work at, with a very hands-on approach. But that led to a lot of conflict. What I wasn’t taking into effect was that the ages of the musicians range from 15 to 35 and they all have different goals and directions. Bands like Metal Hawks and Sheep Surveillance don’t really prioritize the huge shows; they just want to play, have fun and see where it leads. Other bands, like Perimeter and Chain Dazey, are more interested in the business side of things and are trying to turn their love of music into a career. With that in mind, I have to take different approaches as to where and when the bands play, who they play with and how it benefits what they’re trying to do.
What is your educational background? How do you use that knowledge in this endeavor?
I have a Bachelor’s in Political Science and Criminal Justice with a focus on education. Being a band manager has given me more of an opportunity to teach than I ever thought possible. There is so much that goes on behind the scenes and it isn’t always about the band and the music. I get the chance to mentor some of these musicians and pass on wisdom from my own experiences and in some aspects that’s the best part of this whole endeavor. I never took any kind of business courses in school and everything I’ve learned, about what it takes to run a business, has really come from trial and error.
What really makes the scene are the people who are involved in it and that’s constantly changing. Long Island is a really hard place to start a band because there are thousands of bars and clubs, thousands of bands and we’re right on top of the city that never sleeps. No matter the day, there are always multiple events taking place and it’s a real hindrance to the bands. If we were in a small county upstate, the show would be the biggest thing going on that day and the place would be packed. But being there is always someone huge playing in the city, dozens of bars with live music and all these different bands trying to play, it really comes down to a popularity contest.
The bands that have the most friends and followers are the ones that are going to draw. The bands that just want to make music and play the best show they can often times miss out and that’s where Rock Island comes into play. The bands who show up with people they know in the audience are the ones I can really help to get their names out there, to get them on that bill with those more popular bands.
Another huge impact to the scene is that in the last five years, many of the general admission places have gone 21 and over. I understand that, because they make a lot more money from selling alcohol than they do soda. But this has caused irreparable damage to the scene. What the scene needs is more cooperation between clubs, promoters and bands for the good of the art, but it’s a challenge in a place where rents, taxes and the cost of living are some of the highest in the world.
How can social media help a band? How can it be a hindrance?
Social media plays a huge part in what I do and I’d go as far as to say that Rock Island wouldn’t even be possible without it. Social media allows me to not only find artists, but it connects us to complete strangers who have a common interest. As part of my shows, I take pictures and videos of all the bands, which then go up on Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Last.fm and other sites. This gives the bands exposure they wouldn’t otherwise have.
There is also a negative side to this, as many of the bands are young and when something doesn’t go their way, they are prone to wanting to tell the world about their injustice. Several times I’ve had to deal with bands publicly calling out venues, their employees, or other bands and promoters for their actions. A lot of times they aren’t wrong, but I try to explain to them that calling people out publicly is almost never the best course of action, because others will judge them based on their own experiences. Not to mention calling people out could also lead to a reputation of being difficult to work with and cost them opportunities.
You worked at CD Island in Rockville Centre for years before it closed for good in 2015. How did that experience influence you as Rock Island Management’s owner?
CD Island was an amazing place. It’s unfortunate that retail media stores are going the way of the dinosaur. Working at CD Island exposed me to all kinds of different people and different styles of music that I may never have otherwise discovered. It also gave me the opportunity to meet many artists and to gain an appreciation for what they do and just how difficult it can be at times. It was their stories, combined with my own struggles on the local scene that led me to want to create something to help make things easier for them.
What do you have in store for the end of 2018 and the start of 2019?
Coming up for the end of 2018, on Dec. 29, is our annual year-end celebration at Shakers in Oakdale. As far as the future goes, we have several regular-themed shows that we host annually, such as Summerfest, The Year End Party, The Rock Island Cover’s Show and my birthday show, which always features a national headliner. These are always big draws and I was so proud that Summerfest sold out in 2018.
In Mar. 2019, we’re going to be doing our first show outside of Long Island, as we’re pairing with legendary promoter, Kevin Castle, to put on a joint showcase at Kingsland in Brooklyn. Beyond that we have regular places that we play, in addition to Rams and Revolution every six to eight weeks. We’re always on the lookout for venues that want us to put on a show and bands that want to play a Rock Island show. I’m always open to all sorts of booking opportunities.
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