MBW’s World’s Greatest Managers series profiles the best artist managers in the global business. In part two of our celebration of 20 years of Crush Management, we talk to Bob McLynn about the firm’s role in taking an entire genre mainstream and the challenges behind the current triple-headliner Hella Mega tour. World’s Greatest Managers is supported by Centtrip, a specialist in intelligent treasury, payments and foreign exchange – created with the music industry and its needs in mind.
Last week, MBW spoke to Crush Management founder Jonathan Daniel about the firm’s first 20 years in the business, during which time it has worked with artists including Fall Out Boy, Panic At The Disco, Lorde, Miley Cyrus, Weezer and many more.
In part two we talk to his no-nonsense partner, Bob McLynn, about the importance of putting in the miles, the global Hella Mega tour, the indefatigability of rock and the spirit of creativity at the heart of good management…
How did you end up meeting and then partnering with Jonathan?
I was just getting out of my career as a musician. I’d been in a couple bands, had a couple of independent record deals, toured the world, all that fun stuff, but I was kind of broke.
I’d always said that by the time I hit 30 either I’d be making real money through the music or I’d cross over to the business side. I was always that guy in my band, I learned how to put out records, how to book tours, etc.
When I met Jonathan and I remember thinking, wow, I wish I’d met this guy when I was looking for a manager.
We had similar philosophies, he was a real good guy and so we started something together. I had a couple of offers to go places where I’d get paid a salary, which I definitely needed, but it just felt right to go with JD.
Where was he up to on his management journey at that point?
He had been managing American Hi-Fi, plus Butch Walker. I had this little hardcore band based in New Jersey. We got together and the next band we signed was Fall Out Boy.
Yeah, he said you carried them on your shoulders in those early days and really hustled for them…
I mean, it was a lot of fun, you know. I first saw those guys at South by Southwest in Austin and then we saw them at a little club in Madison, Wisconsin. There was probably 300 kids there singing every word, but they had no record out.
It didn’t take off right away, we were building it and there was this new scene. They built a rabid following off that first album [Take This To Your Grave, 2003]. Then, the second album [From Under The Cork Tree, 2005] came out through Island, and I remember Erik Olesen, who was head of pop radio at Def Jam at the time – and coincidentally now works for Crush full time – called me up and said, ‘We’re gonna take this to pop radio’.
I said, ‘Pop radio? This is Fall Out Boy! This is not NSync!’ I thought it was crazy, but we took Sugar, We’re Goin Down to pop radio, then it crossed over to MTV and everywhere else. And that was the first of several.
Was it always your intention to build a company together?
We never set goals like that. I think one of the reasons we’re successful is because we never did anything for money; we found artists we loved and we built it from there.
Jonathan and I were both musicians, we put out records, we toured and we learned all our lessons the hard way. I think that helped us when it came to doing things as managers for the right reasons.
It was about finding acts that we loved and that we thought we could really help. And we did. You know, some got bigger than others, but I think we took them all from one level to another, at least. That’s what we concentrated on, not world domination. If we’re not feeling it, we don’t do it.
We also try to keep it somewhat smaller, because John and I are personally involved with every act on the roster, and that’s hard to do when you have 50 acts [Crush has around 15 active artists].
We have a company with 35 people, between New York, LA and Nashville, so there’s a lot of people working on every act, but Jonathan and I are very involved with all of them. It’s also just more enjoyable that way.
Just going back to the way you both learned your lessons in bands and on the road, how important is it, do you think, that you both come from that background?
Jonathan and I have been on the front line. And if you put it in those terms, if you’re going to war, and someone’s sending you to the front, you’d want the person who’s sending you to have been there themselves.
Same thing for football or baseball or whatever, you’re going to listen to someone who’s played the game and understood the pressure
“We’ve stayed in the same dingy hotels and we played the same tiny venues. I think that really helps us talk to them, it helps them listen to us, and it builds trust.”
It’s a hard life. When you’re young, in your teens and your twenties, it’s a lot of fun. You’re out there drinking, looking for girls, boys, whatever, it’s a party. Then there’s a time in a career where you have a wife, you have kids, you have a home, and you’re away 200 nights a year – and that’s extremely difficult.
It’s really about navigating that, and the artists knowing that we’ve been there and done that. We’ve stayed in the same dingy hotels and we played the same tiny venues. I think that really helps us talk to them, it helps them listen to us, and it builds trust.
How do you and Jonathan complement each other – in terms of roles and in terms of personality?
It’s evolved. It used to be that JD did a little more of certain acts and I did a little more of a certain acts. But now we oversee all of it and I’ve really taken over the live side of things, and more of the marketing, while Jonathan has taken over more of the creative side in terms of making the records, the A&R, etc.
It’s a very complementary relationship. When Jonathan and I are on the same page with an artist and their music, at that point we know we can go forward and fight the world – and never lose.
And on the personality side of things?
We’re definitely different. I mean, I don’t wanna say good cop/bad, but… Jonathan’s probably a little easier to talk to about certain things. I’m very black and white; I tell people exactly what I’m thinking – all the time. And that’s hard to hear for some people, but I do think you do need that balance.
What’s the best thing about working with Jonathan?
He has an encyclopaedic mind when it comes to music. And that’s so useful when we’re coming with new music, because he sees how everything relates to everything.
But, y’know, there are so many great things about working with Jonathan; I couldn’t ask for a better partner. We’re great friends above everything else, I trust him with my life.
I guess your life has been dominated over the last year or two by the Hella Mega tour. Can you talk a little bit about how that came about and also some of the challenges involved in organizing a tour with three bands which are quite clearly headliners in their own right?
The first thing to say is that if we didn’t manage all three acts, it would have never happened, right? To have three individual headliners all to come together and play nice on one bill, that’s not easy, and only possible with the same manager, I believe.
We really just had to explain how one plus one plus one equals five here – and it really did. We sold out pretty quickly all over the world. In the UK we sold all the stadiums in a matter of minutes. But yeah, it was a lot of work just to get everyone to understand the greater good of the whole package.
It was very tense in the build-up, then once we launched I think they all relaxed, because they actually saw it. And they’re all playing headline sets, you know, long sets with full production. It just felt huge for every band. In fact, I’m probably a bit bias, but I’d say they have been the most phenomenal shows I’ve ever seen
In the middle of a tour like that, and with the roster you have, how do you feel about the argument that rock and alt rock struggles in the streaming era, and that the age of the band is over?
I mean, listen, if you’re looking at how the music business was, and measuring it in those terms, then yes, you could say rock is dead. But you could also say the music business is dead [laughs].
Now it’s about streaming, and new rock streams less than new hip-hop or new pop. But at the same time you’re seeing the majority of streaming happen with catalog, and rock catalog is as strong as anything out there.
It’s not all about new music; music is music and shows are shows. I went to see Elton John a few weeks ago, and he was phenomenal.
Breaking new rock music is more of a challenge today, sure, but we’re still having success. Panic at the Disco had their biggest record ever last time round [Pray For The Wicked, No. 1 in the US, 2018], Weezer had a No. 1 rock album last year [Van Weezer]…
Everything goes through cycles, right? And rock n roll will be bigger at some times than other times, but that’s fine, it’s never going to go away.
What are the qualities that you need to be a great manager?
I think a lot of managers out there are just middlemen, right? The artist tells them what they want and the manager goes and maybe yells at a record label or an agent, but they don’t really have much creative input. And for us that’s so important, because business is creative. Music is obviously creative, but so is business. The best business minds out there come up with new ways to do things, ways to be innovative.
I think a lot of managers just sort of go through the motions rather than come up with new ways to do things; they leave the burden of creativity on the artists, but business should be creative as well.
What would your advice be to a young manager just starting out?
I’d tell them to get in the van with the band, go live it with them. Know what they have to go through every day. Because, yes, it is partly living the dream for a lot of people, but it’s also very tough. And because of that, one of the most important things you can do is see how it works out there, not just on the road, but going to TV, going to radio stations, doing interviews, you know, just being there and helping to work it all out.
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