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road to rock stardom

(A Funny Thing Happened On) The Road To Rock Stardom
by Tammy Moore

There are a lot of people out there chasing the elusive dream of success in rock and roll! While the definition of this success varies from artist to artist, I think it is safe to say that for many the fantasies go something like this… you’ve been playing gigs at your local venues and the “buzz” is out. Your band is hot and labels are lining up at the door. You envision signing the almighty record contract and recording your new album. Next comes the part where people begin flocking to record stores in droves to buy your new masterpiece. Inevitably, in support of your record, you tour first in the States, then Europe, and why not…the entire world. You’re climbing on stages night after night sharing your musical vision with people everywhere. You’re raking in the dough, your name is everywhere...the party doesn’t start until you arrive!

Okay, maybe you’re not that delusional, but here’s a reality check anyway. While studying for my degree in Commercial Music Management we were taught (and hang on to your tattoos here) that you have a better chance of being struck by lightning TWICE in your lifetime than to achieve the kind of stellar stardom of say, KISS or The Rolling Stones. It is a depressing fact but the good news is that there are many other attainable levels of success to aspire to on your rock and roll journey, so please keep reading.

Here’s another interesting tidbit of music trivia. It has been said that most people who work behind the scenes in the music business were once aspiring artists themselves and herein lies a paradox. You may possess amazing skills as songwriters or performers, but no matter how talented you are, you won’t go anywhere worth writing home about without the help of the people who keep that entity that is the big music machine generating. Any idea how many background players there are in the game that is the music biz? There are personal managers, business managers, road managers, booking agents, concert promoters, publicists, music journalists, photographers, producers, sound engineers, lighting techs, instrument techs, manufacturers, distributors, entertainment attorneys, performing rights societies, publishers, A&R reps, label owners, label execs, marketing people, radio promo people, merchandisers, video directors, music mags, music television stations, disc jockeys, and radio program directors to name a few…and don’t forget the legions of assistants to some of those mentioned above who help their busy bosses stay on top of their game.

Saying that, allow me to introduce you to my column and enlighten you on its purpose. Yet another thing that makes Austin one of the coolest places ever is that we have people in all of the aforementioned jobs living and working right here among us. Starting today THE ROAD TO ROCK STARDOM will be an ongoing feature here at Rank and Revue, and in each issue I’ll be profiling these sometimes elusive behind-the-scenes characters in an attempt to honor their hard work. Also, in the process of exchanging some Q & A with my subjects, hopefully I’ll be able to provide some helpful knowledge concerning this business of music for all of you aspiring artists. Music may be an art form but you’ve got to know going in that it is very much a business, and if you are serious about making it, then you need to educate yourself on how it all works.

Though he was caught in the whirlwind that was setting up, organizing and tending to the last minute details of the Austin City Limits Music Festival, Charles Attal graciously took the time to chat with me this week about his career, what music means to him, and some useful advice to pass along to aspiring talents. If you are a music ‘scenester’ in Austin and the name Charles Attal doesn’t ring a bell, then take note.

Charles Attal, co-owner of Stubb’s Bar-B-Que and owner of Charles Attal Management, is a concert promoter who does over 500 road shows a year throughout the state. His credits also include booking shows for Trees, Gypsy, and the Grenada Theatre in Dallas. Here in Austin, in addition to Stubb’s, he brings shows to the Parish (ex-Mercury) and La Zona Rosa. He is on the Board of Advisors for the Austin Music Foundation. And somewhere in the midst of all that this Concordia University history major manages to scout bands for Warner Brothers.

Born and raised in Austin, he is based here and works with an incredibly diverse roster of artists. While most agents and venues specialize in a particular genre of music, consider the fact that every band playing the Austin City Limits Music Fest this month from Al Green to Pat Green, from R.E.M to Dwight Yoakum, was brought in by Attal. Take a look at the September and October calendars for Stubb’s Outdoor Amphitheater, and you’ll find everyone from Dashboard Confessional and Insane Clown Posse to Ween and George Clinton and the Parliament Funkadelic. He’s even bringing the daughter of ‘The King’ to town. How does one man inspire such an eclectic lot to want to work with him? By saying what he means and meaning what he says. When Charles Attal makes a deal, he upholds his end and has built a great reputation for himself because of it.

The love affair between Attal and music began for him as a child. He grew up around musicians (his mother and aunt are The Burke Sisters) and spent a lot of time hanging around the Continental Club as a young teenager. In high school he began playing in a band with Will and Charlie Sexton. From there, Attal, whose personal tastes in music lean towards the hardcore stylings of bands like AFI, started playing guitar in a punk rock band called Clown Meat. At that time, one of the owners of Stubb’s offered him the club booking agent position, assuming he would know how to book a club just because he played in a band. Attal knew nothing about how to book a club, but it seemed like a cool opportunity so he stepped up to the plate and took the job. He began learning the ropes by watching how other successful music businesses operated, such as House of Blues and Pace Concerts. It turned out that he had an innate talent for booking and promotion, and before long he was in love with what he was doing. As his shows got bigger at Stubb’s, so did his name within the club scenes, here and elsewhere, and he was soon being asked to help other agents bring national acts into their venues. That was seven and a half years ago and today he has organized a festival with an expected attendance of over 200,000.

He is extremely focused and committed to his work. A typical day in his usual 60 hour work week for the unmarried Attal (I can assure you this relationship status has nothing to do with his looks or a lack of charm) begins with waking up at 9AM and arriving at his office around 10. He then straps on a telephone headset and sits down in front of his computer, where he spends hours answering and returning approximately 200 phone calls and 400 emails from other agents and managers. He supervises production managers on all aspects concerning putting on his concerts and checks ads and marketing plans. He rarely gets out of the office before 8PM, and when he finally does manage to get away, his time is usually then spent attending the shows.
Charles Attal is, in a word, impressive. I asked him a few basic questions about the reality of scoring a gig at one of his venues and this is what he had to say.

R&R: How does an artist initially get your attention and get a chance to perform at one of your venues?

CA: Send in a press kit and believe it or not we listen to every single CD that comes in. It takes us, sometimes, two months…because we get probably 50 or 60 a week and we actually have a Q & A now that we send back to tell them that we listened to it and to tell them what we’re looking for. And then it goes through a process where everyone in our office listens to it, and if it is something we think will work for one of our venues, we call ‘em up and get it booked!

R&R: Are you the kind of agent that will help to build an artist career because you personally like their music, or is it all about how many drinks an artist can sell at the end of the day?

CA: Oh yeah…it’s both. I could lie to you and say, “oh no, it’s all about the music,” but it’s also about how many tickets they can bring in. It’s a business and how many tickets they bring in helps a lot. I did Pat Green’s first show in Austin and I did String Cheese’s first show in Austin. Those are two examples of bands who now can draw 15,000 people on their own. I’ve done almost every show of theirs in town. They’re friends of mine now.
And there’s a lot of bands like that…that I like to see succeed…and I actually like their music. I like everything. I like country, jam-band stuff, but my roots are [in the] hardcore stuff. I used to go see AFI before anyone knew who they were. And it’s funny seeing the kids today finally giving AFI some recognition. If I could develop some hardcore punk bands, that would be fun.

R &R: Do you ever give local artists an opportunity to open for the national acts you bring to town?

CA: I try to. If they don’t have a touring band, I try to. But, usually, a lot of nationals have touring bands.

R&R: All artists envision themselves doing something like that but how can they know when they are ready for it realistically?

CA: When clubs start booking them. And I know it’s kind of a Catch 22 because it’s hard
to get recognized, but you just gotta keep poundin’ the street. Pat Green, I’m not kidding you…his agent called me a hundred times and dropped off CDs probably three different times and I just was like ’whatever, whatever, whatever’, wasn’t paying attention to it. I was just so slammed…we were just getting Stubb’s opened. Finally, he himself and Greg Henry came to my office and banged on the door, not mean, but like, “hey, we’re gonna sit here and you’re gonna listen to this and you’re gonna give us one shot and I promise you we’ll pack your small room.” And I was like, “okay, I’ll take one shot” and they sold it out…straight out of the gun. Then I was like, “okay, sorry, guys but you are now in our rotation!” And they are great guys…they’ve been really easy to work with. It’s nice when something like that happens. It’s hard to be in the club business. It’s not like anybody’s getting rich in the club business. Stubb’s has really bad months and every other club has bad months, and you just try to ride out the bad ones and sock it away with the good ones. It’s not an easy business to be in.

R&R: What can artists do to effectively promote themselves?

CA: After they get a gig, you’ve got to make street flyers and they’ve got to get their friends out to start. And then you’ve got to get your CD made. You’ve got to sell products…you’ve got to get a website…you know, all the typical things you think you would need to market. And once you think you’re at the point where you’re ready to be signed by a record label, then you might get a manager. Then you get your lawyer. Then you get an agent. It’s a process and I could talk for an hour on that part of it. But you start off by really working the streets and getting people out to see your show.

R&R: Knowing all that you know now…what is the best piece of advice you could give to aspiring artists in this crazy pursuit of success in music?

CA: Be focused. There’s a lot of musicians that are really good in this town that don’t work nine to five like a real job. If you want to be a musician the rest of your life, you’ve got to treat it like a job. And you’ve got to work at it and not wake up at two or three in the afternoon and get going to try to get gigs at six in the afternoon because everybody’s already gone for the day. If you’re not playing a gig, you should get some sleep, get up in the morning, treat it like a regular job…don’t half-ass it. A lot of musicians are great that aren’t gonna go anywhere because everybody needs to work, and if you don’t work eight hours a day at it, you’re not gonna get anywhere.

So there you have it…pearls of wisdom from a man whose accomplishments speak for themselves. FYI…I wouldn’t advise banging Charles Attal’s door down these days. I’m pretty sure the moral of the Pat Green story lies in perseverance being one of the keys to success. In fact, I’m sure of it. So apply what you’ve learned here today, keep reaching for the dream and check out THE ROAD TO ROCK STARDOM in our next issue.

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