The Other Side with Wine from the Moon Founder Ryan Sweeney
Wine from the Moon founder Ryan Sweeney discusses the golden rule of music business, explains why a little bit of hard work goes a long way, and offers a recipe for success to independent artists in this week's Other Side.
Wine from the Moon founder Ryan Sweeney grew up near the Illinois/Wisconsin border in a small town called Grayslake, where he spent his younger days soaking in the sounds of the radio on a boom box, while recording his favorite tracks on homemade mix tapes. He recollects, “I’d spend hours each day listening to the radio to make copies [of my tapes] for all of my friends. I guess that was my own version of file sharing.” In high school, like most teenagers obsessed with music, Sweeney would dream of becoming a rock star. He explains, “I taught myself to play guitar and joined a few high school bands, covering a lot of Pearl Jam, The Beatles, and Red Hot Chili Peppers tunes. I still write songs and play today, but only for myself.”
After graduation, the young musician packed up his belongings and moved to New Orleans, where he met John Snyder, a man Sweeney credits for helping him find a path through the music industry. “John took me under his wing and taught me so much,” Sweeney explains, “He enabled me to have some great experiences such as allowing me to interview Chris Blackwell (founder of Island Records), listen to a private performance given by jazz legend Ornette Coleman at his home, and spend an afternoon with the blues great Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown. While those experiences were unforgettable, what I am most thankful for is that John taught me what I now believe to be the golden rule of music business - value musicians and their art above all else. If you can do that, the rest will fall into place.” If I ever have the opportunity to accept an award and give a speech, John Snyder will be the first person I thank.”
After his stint in New Orleans, Sweeney found his way back to the Midwest and settled in Chicago, where he lives today. He notes, “It was here in Chicago that the idea of Wine from the Moon formed, sometime in early 2009; the concept took shape as the year went on. I had been working in the field of music promotion and was upset that I was so far removed from the artists themselves. It was then that I realized if I was going to work in the music business, I wanted to be the person closest to the musicians. I wanted to be on the phone with bands every day. I wanted to guide artists and protect them. I also wanted to be the person they trusted most – their manager.” In the fall of 2010, at the age of 25, Sweeney quit his day job and started running Wine from the Moon full-time with the intention of never looking back. Since then, Wine from the Moon has helped to foster the careers of artists such as The Damn Choir, Paper Thick Walls, The Embraceables, and Band Called Catch, among many others.
Green Light Go convinced Wine from the Moon founder Ryan Sweeney to step away from his company long enough to tell us what it’s like to be on The Other Side:
Green Light Go: Wine from the Moon is a unique company that focuses on harvesting the talent of independent musicians through the fields of management, booking, and promotion. How exactly does Wine from the Moon guide musicians toward success?
Ryan Sweeney: The short answer to that question would be to work 18 hour days, have unlimited minutes and data plans for our cell phones, and make sure we never run out of coffee.
The long answer is a bit more complex. Success is a very strange word. If you were to ask a million different people what the word success means, you’d get a million different answers. Then, if you asked those same million people how to reach success, you’d get another million answers. Understanding what success means to each of our artists, knowing what their goals are, and what kind of timeline they have in mind to reach those goals is extremely important.
After figuring out a band’s goals, we make sure they are working hard to achieve those goals. I refuse to work with any bands that won’t work as hard, if not harder than I do. I go to shows four to five nights a week and consistently see fantastic bands. The truth is, there are bands playing right now who have the potential to be huge, but they don’t work hard enough. If a band wants to earn a living through creating music, they have to work harder than all of the other bands out there.
Another important aspect of working with young, independent bands is helping them realize that they will have to take risks and sacrifice a lot. Quitting a 9-to-5 job with health benefits so you are able to tour for three months out of the year can be scary. Moving out of your own apartment to move into a place with four other band members so that you can save money isn’t easy either. Deciding to invest all of the money in your checking account to press your next record or buy a van can be stressful. Strong bands can make these sacrifices, because they believe in their music.
GLG: Say that an independent artist just signed up to work with Wine from the Moon. What is the process like for an artist?
RS: The first step is to get to know each other and establish lines of communication between Wine From The Moon and the band. To make sure we’re on the same page, we’ll host meetings and be in constant contact through phone calls and emails. I’ll also make sure the band members have the same vision pertaining to where the band is headed.
Next is organization. I’ll make sure the band has detailed calendars with practice schedules and tour dates. I’ll look at how the band manages their email lists and contact databases, I’ll examine how they use social networks, and I’ll analyze the image they are portraying through their online presence. If I see unorganized areas, or notice a better way that a band could be managing their time, I’ll teach them how to do it.
I’ll also figure out the strengths and weaknesses of each member and delegate tasks accordingly. For example, if a band doesn’t have a tour manager, I’ll find out who is best suited to take on that role. Some people are naturally better at interviewing than others, while others are naturally social and charming, making them good at working the merch table after shows.
Once I really understand the band and see how everything is organized, I’ll do what the band needs me to do. Some of my bands have booking agents, publicists, and lawyers, while others don’t. If a band needs me to book a few shows, I’ll do it. If a band needs me to speak with their lawyer about a publishing deal, I’ll do that. As a manager, I have a lot of different hats to wear. It is my job to know every aspect of the music business. If one of my bands wants something, it is my job to get it done. When it comes down to it, it is my job to make sure the band is always moving forward, working to achieve their next set of goals.
GLG: Wine from the Moon is currently working with independent artists like Vic and Gab, Paper Thick Walls, The Damn Choir, and Band Called Catch. Who might you like to work with in the future?
RS: I want to work with good people who make great music and work hard. That is all I can really ask for.
GLG: What advice might you offer to an independent band that can’t yet afford to hire a management or marketing team, but is looking to get their name out to the world and cultivate their own success?
RS: Work harder than anyone else, go to shows, and meet people. Throw your television out the window and spend your time researching venues and bands in cities you’d like to play in. Sell all of your earthly possessions and buy a van. Find twenty new college radio stations and send your record to them. Be friendly, even to those bands you’re not personally fond of. Tour intelligently in regional cities by building fan bases before taking off across the country. Read books! If you don’t know how to write a press release, figure it out. Form a sense of community by offering to let a touring band crash at your place. Respect the sound guy, even when he isn’t very good. Always tip your bartenders, even when you are given drink tickets. Remember the door guy’s name. Read blogs and send your music to bloggers. Keep your contacts organized. Oh, and once again, work harder than anyone else.
GLG: What are some of the most rewarding and challenging things about working in the field of independent music?
RS: The most rewarding part of my job is seeing a band land a dream gig, sell out a venue that they couldn’t fill just last year, or finish a record they are extremely proud of. The toughest part about working in the field of independent music is that there are so many bands out there. It is extremely challenging to rise above the noise, but that is what we strive to do every day.
GLG: Outside of the Wine from the Moon artists, what have you been listening to these days?
RS: Most of the music I listen to these days comes from bands that my artists have played with or would like to play with, so to name a few: Pearl and the Beard, Jon Drake & The Shakes, Rogue Valley, Filligar, Gold Motel, My Gold Mask, Lilly & The Parlor Tricks, Panoramic & True, Radiation City, Sydney Wayser, Kellen & Me, The Shams Band, Go Long Mule, Derek Nelson & The Musicians, Nick Miller & The Neighbors, Kingsley Flood, Dastardly, Hey Marseilles, and The Lumineers.
This week’s Other Side is brought to you by: Lauren Mercury Roberts