For some of us Bostonians working in an industry that harnesses creativity, whether it be in music, fashion, or theatre, New York is that "someday" city. Someday, you’ll sacrifice it all to taste what most people imagine to be success. Someday you’ll live in an apartment the size of your college dorm room. Someday, you’ll make it.
But let's face it... Making it is all relative to who you strive to be as a person and what you expect to gain from a place like New York City. No matter how many gigs you play, auditions you nail or people you know in Boston, New York is a whole different animal, and sometimes animals are hard to tame.
We recently sat down with Boston Alum and now New Yorker, Eric Shea of Sofar Sounds and music consultancy, Maimed & Tamed. After chatting with him, we can confidently say that we know a guy who’s figured it out, and he was more than willing to share some knowledge. From Boston to New York and beyond, this interview inspired us to keep moving and remember it’s not about what you know, it’s about who knows you.
Liz Ziebarth: So, I did a little research. You went to Babson for Entrepreneurship and worked as the GM for the Babson College Radio… Is that where it began? Take me back. How did you get into music?
Eric Shea: I realized pretty quickly at Babson that I didn’t want to go into finance or accounting or any of those traditional business school paths, so Babson College Radio was certainly an outlet to explore my passion for music and of course Babson encouraged that through their entrepreneurial ethos. I’ve always been a big fan of music, but I do think BCR was certainly a turning point where I thought, hey maybe I could make a career out of this.
LZ: Back in 2010, when your album of the year was Spoon’s Transference, you started a blog called ‘Maimed & Tamed’, which you say originally started “as a place where three brothers could write about the music they loved”, and eventually grew into a music consultancy. What jumpstarted the founding of ‘Maimed and Tamed’, and how did you morph it into what it is today?
ES: It was really just that, my brothers and I wanted a place where we could write about music, share playlists, and of course, have a vehicle to get free concert tickets. Over time though it started to become more legitimate and as my brothers shifted focus to their own pursuits I dove deeper and deeper into the music scene and started to use M&T as a home base of sorts for all of my musical endeavors. Whether that was booking shows back in Boston, covering festivals, managing bands, etc. it just made sense to house it all under the M&T umbrella.
LZ: You started your first job in the real word in 2011 at Sonicbids as their Music Network Manager, and coordinated some pretty big events. Is there a moment that was most memorable to you while you were there? Anything you wish you could relive one more time?
ES: We had an incredible crew at Sonicbids and a lot of people I worked with there I’m still very close with both personally and professionally. I think some great memories from those days were at our SXSW parties in 2013 and 2014. Both years I had a hand in booking the lineups and producing the event, and though we had some hiccups along the way, it was really rewarding to see those events turn out great and have all of my co-workers there to help celebrate after.
LZ: On the flipside… Artist booking and on-site coordination is no walk in the park… Of course, no regrets, but a first job is a first job, and usually mistakes are made… Are there any moments that still make you cringe?
ES: More than I can count haha. Like you said though, that’s what a first job is for, to soak up as much knowledge as you can, make mistakes along the way, and make sure you’re learning from those mistakes.
"...Soak up as much knowledge as you can, make mistakes along the way, and make sure you're learning from those mistakes."
LZ: Flash forward to 2013, and you’re working for the notoriously cool music events startup, Sofar Sounds. You were the Head of Touring and the Boston City Coordinator, and now you’re killing it in New York City in a new role for Sofar. Tell us about your past and present role and how you got there.
ES: I’m currently consulting for Sofar as the Global Production Manager on this amazing collaboration we are doing with Amnesty International called Give a Home. Back when I was still living in Boston though, myself and two friends lucked into being able to start up Sofar in Boston as volunteers. I had never even been to a Sofar show before we put on our first one in Boston, but I was hooked from that moment on. After moving to NYC I had the opportunity to start working with Sofar more formally and took on a part-time role putting together a handful of tours through various Sofar cities in the UK and the US. It was very much a pilot program, but I think it’s something that will really take off when Sofar has the infrastructure in place to support some fully routed tours. It just wasn’t the right time and we recognized that, but I’m excited to hopefully revisit Sofar Tours in the future. Since then I’ve worked with Sofar in various capacities leading up to my current role on the Give a Home project.
LZ: Boston is teeming with music business students from Berklee, Northeastern and NEC, to name a few… But most of them end up in New York, LA or Nashville. What advice would you give to our readers in Boston who are trying to break into the business side of the music world in our part of town?
ES: Well since I jumped ship myself and moved to NYC I’m probably not the best person to ask haha. My heart will always be in Boston though and of course all of my ‘firsts’ happened in Boston (first concert I attended, first concert I booked, first real job in the music industry, etc) so I still consider it home. In terms of advice though I would say to meet as many people as you can and try continuously collaborate with those who inspire you the most. The music business is as much, if not more, about who you know than what you know so going out to shows and events and meeting as many new people as you can is paramount.
LZ: What was your process in booking artists for Sofar shows in Boston? Did the artists reach out to you, or did you reach out to the artists? Is there a specific genre or aesthetic you usually lean towards?
ES: I haven’t done any of the booking for Sofar shows in Boston for years, but when I did it was certainly a little bit of both. We got to book a lot of our favorite local acts, but a really important thing for Sofar is having a diverse lineup both musically and ethnically. That was definitely an exciting challenge to take on and continues to be a big part of Sofar’s global mission today.
"The music business is as much, if not more, about who you know than what you know..."
LZ: You’ve booked artists like Andrew Combs and The Ballroom Thieves, some of my all-time favorites. Is there any artist you’ve booked in the past that you wish you could just book again and again?
ES: For Give a Home we are going to bring a lot of exciting acts into living rooms across the world like Ed Sheeran, Jesse & Joy, Hozier, The National, Local Natives, Hot Chip, and tons more, but I can’t take full credit for all of those bookings since we have an incredible team working together on that project. One Boston artist that I have booked many times for various gigs and I’m really excited to see grow is Covey. I got a sneak peek at their new record and it’s incredible. Definitely one to watch as 2017 turns to 2018.
LZ: Boston has a great music scene, but it doesn’t have as many options as other major, music-driven cities like New York and Nashville. Sometimes it’s hard to book a gig. Do you have any advice to Boston bands that are under the radar, trying to make a name for themselves?
ES: Play shows like Sofar and house gigs where you can get a built-in audience of the right people. I know Boston was trying to crack down on house shows while I was living there, but everyone has a story about their new favorite band that they discovered at a house show right? And that word-of-mouth endorsement amongst friends/acquaintances is a powerful thing for a band who is just starting out.
LZ: Now to the nitty gritty, seriously tough questions… Who are you listening to right now?
ES: A lot of Covey as I already mentioned, but also new tunes from a Brooklyn band I love called Zuli. Also digging on the new ones from The Cribs, The Districts, Pickwick, and Mondo Cozmo. Lots of great music coming out right now.
LZ: What’s the best show you’ve seen this year?
ES: Now that’s a tough one. This is probably cheating, but My Morning Jacket’s sets at their One Big Holiday fest in Mexico were beyond epic. They’re the best live band around in my opinion.
LZ: If you could sit down with any artist (alive or deceased), and ask them one question, who would it be and what would you ask?
ES: The Band is one of my all-time favorite bands and Levon Helm’s autobiography is one of my favorite books, so I’d have to ask him to tell me his craziest story that didn’t make the book. The Band got up to some pretty wild stuff back in the day, so I know there has to be some stories that were too illicit to print and I want to hear ‘em all.
LZ: How are you connected to Booger Money?
ES: Drea and I are pals, so hopefully my poor interview skills won’t hurt her brand haha
- Liz Ziebarth