Friends of the Expo—Mike's Artist Management
DurangoSong.com's Jack Hayford gets the low-down on Mike's Artist Management from the sometimes ascerbic (he likes it that way!), always entertaining Mike Lembo.
"We Go Off Music Row"—Mike Lembo
JH: Mike, I've been attending the Durango Songwriters EXPO since 1996. I've only missed one event in ten years. I think you've been there nearly every year as well. From an artist management perspective, what keeps you coming back? What's in it for you, as they say?
ML: It's a great networking hang! I have always been a strong believer that the song comes first! And that's what this event has become -- it's all about great songwriting.
I get to reconnect with some friends from Nashville without having to go to that lovely town!??????? Over the years we have had many different successes with songs in and out of Nashville -- NRBQ -- Al Anderson -- Georgia Satellites -- Chuck Prophet -- Jules Shear. And producers like Jim Dickenson -- Dusty Wakeman -- and others. It's Nashville without getting your hands dirty!
JH: What is it about Nashville that irks you so? I know you have a lot of old friends there, and yet Nashville is a town you try to avoid, why?
ML: I feel from experience that Nashville is a very closed shop! You've got to live there and speak it and have it in your toes!
Even if you can fake it!
I CAN'T FAKE ANYTHING! Some can, and some live, eat and love it. It's not my world -- there's a talent for that! I'm a salesman /marketing guy but I have to love what I sell. some can sell anything and everything!
When I brought Al Anderson down and out of NRBQ (whom I was managing and publishing at the time), it became obvious to me that if Al was going to become a big Nashville writer he had to have a Nashville guy or girl and live there a lot to become one of them. Lots of those people in Nashvegas at that time didn't even know who NRBQ was! They all say that they were their favorite band now? But Al and I know that's HORSESHIT! But Al has learned it doesn't matter. He's great and deserves it all and more...
I worked with Jules Shear who had so many pop hits and he hated Nashvegas too! Ex-client Chuck Prophet did OK in Nashville -- but needed to spend more time there with someone to kiss some ass for him! I'm not a good ass kisser!
I have had many songs covered in Nashville and more so, country-rock type acts. And I've worked with producers in that area.
Our acts have done a lot of co-writing there, especially Amelia White -- she's the real deal! But she's not a formula type country writer. she writes from her heart and if we find, or an artists finds, one of her songs right and a possible hit for them (then fucking great)...but is she going to write to the Nashville formula? NO! At this point I 'll phone it in!
A great song is a great song: country-r&b-pop-rock, whatever.
If you look back at my life in the biz it's about what I love and I feel each artist I've worked with was and is true to themselves...like it or not.
That's not the formula for Nashvegas!
And I have come down there and worked the rooms and shook the hands and I just don't fit in the boots, speak the speak! I'm not a GOOD OLD BOY and I don't want to be!
Jim Dickinson, one of our producer clients, lives in Memphis for a reason. Think of the music that came from 200 miles away? Stax -- Elvis -- real heart-felt soulful stuff! Evergreens! Lasts lifetimes -- not minutes!
But some Nashville people find our stuff.
It's a very closed world. My passport has been revoked and I'm pleased. They can come visit me! Tucson is a wonderful place to live and work. Its just the southwest. We have real Indians -- and snakes. Just like my old home New York City!
It's got to be real for me.
Now that I have said my pieece about Nashville -- I'll have to wear an armored suit at many events!
Naaaaa -- they know what I mean and why they do what they do. We all like money! Some of us will just do different things to get it!
I just don't like going to Nashville and having to feel like I just dialed 1-800-BLOW-JOB! It's just not for everyone.
JH: I think you're right that music-making in Nashville can be largely formulaic and living here, and knowing both you and some of your old friends here like your buddy Al Moss, I can see why THEY feel right at home here and you don't. Al is laid back, Lembo is not! But, like you say, whatever works to have a career in this business, and you have certainly done that -- 30 years now I think. How has your approach to breaking someone like Amelia White changed from what you would have done ten or more years ago? And how have circumstances like the centralization of radio and digital music sales affected your m.o.?
ML: We are very scaled down (not that we cannot react to a bigger picture), but we are more flexible now.
WE ARE IN THE ARTIST BIZ.
Because of our model -- management, publishing and records -- and all split deals are on on net -- and manageement does not take a % of either publishing or records -- we have the ability to market each artist to their needs and make more money for them sooner...
We took the North Mississippi Allstars from zero to 1 1/2 million touring in 3 years! Thats a career...
We have lots of film, TV and advertising uses...
And if we have an artist that's a Nashville writer -- we can do that from Tucson.
It's been almost 33 years I've been doing this. I should be able to support all needs -- touring, publishing, management, records and radio (on some levels) around the world!
We sell 10,000 records and the artists can make money!
We also manage producers and engineers and that's a way to stay tuned in. Our clients have produced artists like Hole, Radiohead, Bosstones, Foo Fighters, Replacements, North Mississippi Allstars, Cracker (whom we also managed for some time-and now we admin their pub overseas), Sugar Ray...and others.
We work on lots of different levels. It's more fun and there are more ways to turn a nickel into a buck. For our clients and yes, for us too!
We have been in publishing for years. We are trying to make "mail box money" for all concerned.
There's lots of good music coming from Nashville -- and we have some of it -- and will always deal with them. But it's not Music Row. We go off Row!
I have always been a bottom fisherman. We make things out of artists others would not deal with. It's more fun and the entry fee is better spent than trying to sell a million records for a major WHICH IS THE NEW BAR THEY HAVE SET.
We hit singles, doubles and triples...and sometimes home runs. But we don't count on them. It's just worked out that way for us.