Know Your Scene: Marley McNamara, Philly’s Full-Time Super Manager

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Image via Marley McNamara’s Facebook

Meet Marley McNamara, the superwoman behind The Districts, Pine Barons Levee Drivers Ali Wadsworth and Peter Matthew Bauer. McNamara, who has her hands full managing five completely different Philly artists, kindly took some time to discuss her role and responsibilities as an artist manager, to call out the patriarchal thinking ever-present in the music industry, and to confess her biggest dreams to Rock On Philly (hint: it involves a Rolling Stone…).

Rock On Philly: First and foremost, can you tell us about some roles and responsibilities of an artist manager? What do you want people to know about being an artist manager? Any misconceptions?

Marley McNamara:  An artist manager is basically the CEO of a band’s business, as well as a “champion” for the artists that are being represented. My responsibilities stretch from overseeing all team members on board and helping navigate the best decisions for the band going forward. The “team” [refers] to but [is] not limited to: label, talent agencies, business management, legal, tour managers, publishing, etc. Day-to-day includes staying updated with all the inner-workings of the team, overseeing social media, working on tour budgets, finding new opportunities for the band in the future, and just helping to make sure whatever current success the band has stays afloat, but most importantly, we help to make it grow. You stare at a computer and/or have a phone in your hand A LOT. Like, more than you can imagine. One thing people should know about being a manager is that there’s absolutely no clock-in/clock-out option. There’s no such thing as a “leisurely Sunday.” The industry doesn’t care if it’s your birthday and you don’t want to work. It’s not about you. It’s about the artists you’ve agreed to dedicate your time to. You only grow if the band grows, so limiting any opportunities for them will only limit ones for yourself. As for misconceptions, I’m sure there are tons that people have about what our job entails across the board, but the only one I face on almost a day-to-day basis is being referred to as “Mr. McNamara” in emails. Most people assume I’m a guy because of my job, which is pretty dumb.

ROP: I see you went school for Communications/Public Relations with a focus in music. On that account, was it always your goal/dream to be an artist manager?

MM: I actually went to school for Journalism in the beginning on scholarship, because I always wanted to be a music journalist. I knew I wanted to incorporate music into my career in some capacity but then I quickly realized that there was nothing I hated more than writing papers, and if I was going to be a journalist, I’d be writing papers for the rest of my life. I changed my major to PR because I knew I was also good at networking with people and was quite the “social butterfly” in college, so I thought it seemed like a good fit! I probably had a skewed idea of what a publicist’s job was, but I knew it sounded like it was in the same wheelhouse of where I was trying to head towards. I basically molded all my electives to include music classes as much as I possibly could. I took certain classes that had to do with entertainment law, music theory, history of rock and roll (although I didn’t need much schooling on that, just thought it would be fun!). I even took a course on Radiohead just because it was being offered. I tried to mold my time there as something that would be beneficial to me down the line but would also be fun/interesting/something I actually wanted to study because I’m the type of person who wants absolutely nothing to do with something I’m not interested in.

I can’t say I ever wanted to be an artist manager, it was actually never on my radar until an opportunity to manage Levee Drivers fell into my lap after a late night conversation at North Star Bar. I took on the responsibility without really know what a manager’s job entailed, but my love for Levee Drivers has been a constant. From the first time I saw them play I just thought, “I wonder if there’s anything I can do to help this band get heard.” Then, a few weeks later I saw The Districts at the Beta Hifi Competition I was running at World Cafe Live and thought “Ok, this band might change my life and I want to try and help them get to where they need to go, because I think everyone and anyone needs to hear them.” That initial feeling I got has stayed with me throughout the entire time I’ve been working with those guys.

ROP: How did you first get started in this industry?

MM: Long story short (kind of), I started bar-tending at World Cafe Live in January 2009 and met so many different local musicians that way. Birdie Busch worked as a server there, David Sweeny (Johnny Showcase) worked there as well, Thom McCarthy and a few others did, too, so it was cool to be able to network with so many different kinds of artists/musicians. I ended up meeting Ron Gallo that year at [Northern Liberties Winter Music Festival at the Fire] and fell in love with Toy Soldierswho were a two-piece band back then. We became quick friends and that’s how I met The Lawsuits, Levee Drivers, TJ Kong and the Atomic Bomb and more. Those bands are my ride-or-dies from the start; we all really grew up in this scene together. I wanted to start putting on shows with all these cool new bands I had been meeting around town so, Carl Mullen, the former talent buyer of WCL, let me put on a show downstairs with a bunch of locals (pretty sure it was Toy Soldiers, Perkasie, Goodnight Lights and one other…) and, after that, I was hooked on doing independent booking/promotion for local acts. I loved seeing how much fun people were having at a show [that] I worked really hard at putting together. It was a great feeling. Laura Wilson took the talent buyer spot later that year and she was always so awesome to me about coming in as an independent booker/promoter on some dates that needed to be filled and I had fun putting on tribute shows, local album releases, etc.

Laura then asked me to help out with Beta Hifi and, a few years later, I met The Districts, which pushed me into the realm of “national music industry” management down the line once they started getting some attention. After that, I met Ali Wadsworth at Fergie’s one night and, once I heard her sing, I picked my jaw up off the ground and we became close friends, which eventually led into management. I met Pine Barons through their drummer, Collin Smith, who was playing with Juston Stens, formerly of Dr. Dog, and I gave him a Districts CD at a party at my house one night. He eventually ended up meeting the guys and they became instant best friends. Collin introduced the band to his new band called Pine Barons, who were a bunch of his friends from South Jersey and they did a mini tour together a few summers ago which sealed the bond between all of them. I started to fall in love with Pine Barons’ experimental indie rock vibe; I was drawn to it because it was so different than the other stuff I was representing. I took them on just about over a year ago and- let me tell you – they’ve got a bright future ahead of them with this new record that’s in the making right now at The Headroom Philadelphia.

Peter Matthew Bauer and I had met a couple times here and there over the last year…[last winter, though], he reached out to me about wanting to change up management, which I was extremely flattered by because I’m a HUGE fan of his former band The Walkmen. Pete’s got such an incredible way of crafting and writing songs, it’s almost like there’s this majestic quality to his music, if that makes any sense at all. I feel like I’m being let in on a secret when I listen to his stuff. He’s great at his craft, for sure and I’m excited for his new music!

I’m still growing as a manager and I don’t have all the answers, that’s for damn sure, but I still learn something new everyday. I tell myself everyday, “You got this!” or “Don’t f*ck this up!” because it works for me and it helps motivate me to just keep pushing on past the bumps in the road when I hit them. You need a thick skin in this industry. I’m a pretty “no B.S.” type of person, in general, so that didn’t come as a struggle for me once I realized how crazy stuff can actually get in this business. It’s kind of gross to be honest, but I still enjoy taking on the challenges. The most important move I made when I was first introduced to the bigger picture in this business was letting people know that I have no doubts about my ability to get the job done and I’m not a pushover. You’d be surprised by the amount of doubt people have that a woman can carry a band to success in this business. Losers…

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4 Comments

  1. Kathleen Binard

    October 30, 2015 at 8:48 am

    I met Marley a few weeks ago at WCL. Cool person, with a cool job. I am envious as I sell doors and hardware for a living!

    • Bryana Natale

      October 30, 2015 at 3:39 pm

      Yeah, she is pretty awesome! Very talented and hard-working!

  2. William Miller

    November 1, 2015 at 6:36 pm

    Another great read about our scene and the people making it happen. Well done Bryana and ROP.

  3. Lauren S

    November 1, 2015 at 11:16 pm

    This article is seriously so inspiring for me as it sounds like Marley is very determined and ambitious, while also believing in Philly’s potential.

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