09 July 2015

It was around this time last year that I received one of the most unexpected birthday presents during my – at the time – 55 years on the planet. I mean how often does a guy from Ireland get offered the chance to manage a progressive rock band from Northern Ontario?

Many of the wonderful people that I have met as a result have asked how this came about so…

…I – obviously – am a big fan of progressive rock and had been searching for an out of print CD by the UK band IT. In the course of an online search I happened upon the Aurovine site (home of IT) and – whilst trying to establish a way to contact the band and/or label – saw the free download for a band/CD called Machines Dream.

I listened and liked what I heard so downloaded it to my MP3 player. As I spend a lot of time driving in my day job I had plenty of opportunity to listen to the CD over the subsequent weeks and ‘like’ quickly turned to ‘love’ through repeated plays. I quickly started to find out as much as I could about the band and found that there was a Twitter account.

I made initial contact to say how much I was enjoying the CD and soon was engaged in an ongoing conversation with ‘The Machine’. This escalated to include both Craig West and Ken Coulter after I had urged Shaun Geraghty of The Prog Mill on Stafford Radio to play a few tracks and let the band know that he had agreed to do so.

The response from listeners was fantastic and so I decided to ‘rinse and repeat’ by contacting other online stations with a leaning towards prog and/or unsigned/indie bands. Quite a bit more airplay followed from a number of stations – too numerous to mention them all (many are linked on the MD site) – but Garry Foster of The Prog Rock Files (WCRFM), Jorge Varela of Rockers Dive Radio, John Forster of Dr John’s Unsigned Rock Surgery and Sully McFly of the 365 Radio Network got into the band very early and played on a regular basis. In fact, Garry Foster played the whole of Machines Dream within a matter of weeks!

I had been making the band aware each time I knew a track was going to be played and was just happy that I was bringing them to the attention of more people. I was unaware that – at the time – the guys had been kicking around the notion of having a manager. I have learned subsequently that my LinkedIn profile was accessed and – in the belief that my sales & marketing background might help them on the business side of things – I was approached about taking on the role.

As an individual running his own business, time was not something I had in abundance. However, I decided to test the waters and see how serious the band actually was about doing something with their music. So – business-speak alert – I sent out a SWOT Analysis to each member and did a Risk Analysis. I was delighted – and also surprised – when I received 5 detailed and thoughtful responses. The result was that I put together an Action Plan, which we thrashed back and forth, and turned it into a bona fide Business Plan with an overall strategy and a role for each band member outside of actually making music.

Encouraged by their desire to be more than just 5 guys jamming together for fun, but also warmed by their intention to retain the fun that comes from 5 friends jamming together, I agreed to take on the role as – admittedly – my ego was stroked by the thought of actually managing a band and the challenge of getting them heard outside of Northern Ontario.

I got down to work right away setting up a management company (Progressive Gears Management) and – in the best sales tradition – knocked on a lot of (virtual) doors. It soon became obvious that there were many artists and bands out there in a relatively small space clamouring to be heard so there had to be a unique proposition for potential fans and broadcasters.

As in my business life, I veered sharply away from any ‘corporate’ approach and decided that it was all about bringing great music to as many ears as possible. So I worked hard to find prog lovers in radio stations, on Facebook, via Twitter and anywhere else such people lived. And I made every approach as personal as possible. This has become harder as interest in the band grows so, for example, introductory tweets are often generic, although personalized with individual names where 140 characters permits. However, all emails are responded to on an individual basis – time-consuming – but I think worthwhile as the aim is for fans to connect with ‘The Machine’ on a personal level. Ditto the reason behind these blogs (if I can ever get Brian, Rob and the ever-mysterious Jake to contribute).

For every 99 doors that were ‘slammed’ shut, 1 opened and 1 is all you need. As well as the people mentioned earlier, I can now add countless others all around the world that have responded to the music and shared the desire to have it heard. I have been asked for nothing in return other than to promote a station or blog or Facebook page or whatever through as many ways as possible available to me.

And this has been the great experience of managing Machines Dream so far. All of the individuals that I have ‘met’ do what they do for the love of prog rock. Each of them just wants to bring great music to people and – whether it is to one person or a thousand – this is their sole motivation.

Have I been successful? I think that it has been a good start. In as much as they are a measure of anything, a huge increase in FB likes and Twitter followers would indicate that a lot of people enjoy what they hear. Sales of Immunity were pretty good and I now get approaches for download links from stations keen to play the music or requests for interviews from online bloggers/magazines interested in who Machines Dream are.

Have I enjoyed it? More than I can say in words. To be thought of as the ‘6th member’ of Machines Dream by the guys is humbling. Whilst I have yet to physically meet them – a planned trip to Canada for Indie Week 2015 had to be cancelled due to a family illness – I know that it will be 6 friends getting together when it finally happens.

I am excited by the thought of the third album currently being recorded (I get to hear the tracks as they progress) and I am confident that this will be a CD where a lot more people will sit up and take notice. There is also another project that will be announced soon that has brought me into a world where I never thought I would ever be. When you hear what it is, then, you will know what I mean.

Enough looking back! I have another birthday to enjoy and then I return to doing what I can to bring this machines dream to fruition.