By Jen Zoratti
For those working in the music industry, there are many paths that lead to music management.
“I went on a tour when I ﬁrst joined The Weaktherthans in 1998 — and it was the worst tour of my entire life,” he says with a laugh. “I said, ‘I’m never doing that again.’”
It wasn’t long before Carroll became The Weakerthans’ ofﬁcial manager which, as he often put it in past interviews, means “putting together spreadsheets and answering a lot of phones.” But what Carroll does behind the scenes is more than that; he keeps The Weakerthans — a critically acclaimed and in-demand touring band — running like a well-oiled, organized machine.
“I’ve been in that role for the past 13 years,” he says. “I really love it. It felt really natural. Eventually, I started feeling more comfortable backstage at shows than in the crowd. I enjoy the relationships you develop. It’s just really fun and interesting and rewarding.
“It also takes the edge off being an artist. Being a manager is pragmatic.”
After building a solid reputation for his work in the ﬁeld, it was only a matter of time before Carroll would start lending out his managerial services to other bands — namely Imaginary Cities, which would go on to become one of Winnipeg’s biggest exports thanks in no small part to Carroll, who was nominated for Manager of the Year at the 2010 and 2011 Western Canadian Music Awards.
Carroll ﬁrst heard about the soul/pop project featuring multi-instrumentalist
Rusty Matyas and powerhouse vocalist Marti Sarbit back in 2009, when Matyas was a touring member of The Weakerthans. According to well-documented local scene lore, veteran Weakerthans soundman Cam Loeppky asked Carroll of he’d heard Matyas’ demos yet; Carroll hadn’t, so he stole them from Matyas’ iPod.
“I was drawn to it instantly,” Carroll says. “I remember playing (the demos) for my wife in the car and she was like, ‘Who is this?’ I said, ‘I think it’s somebody.’”
Indeed, Imaginary Cities has gone on to release a critically beloved, Polaris Music Prize-longlisted debut album, 2011’s Temporary Resident, and tour North America (supporting pioneering alt-rockers Pixies, no less), Europe and Australia on its strength. (Imaginary Cities also has the distinction of being the ﬁrst band in the history of the Chart Attack Chart to hit #1 prior to the release of an album.)
“(Stephen’s) worked really, really hard,” Sarbit told Mantioba Music back in 2010 when the buzz surrounding Imaginary Cities was beginning to reach boiling point. “He’s a great guy.”
Meanwhile, Carroll sounds like a proud papa when it comes to Imaginary Cities, who released Temporary Resident in the U.S. in April on Votiv Music and who are currently working on a follow-up.
“It’s very exciting,” he says. “I put in a lot of work with Imaginary Cities behind the scenes, and their success is a success for the company.”
That company is Empirical Artist Services, which Carroll ofﬁcially established in 2011.
“(Empirical) came about after the fact,” he says with a laugh. “I had never established a business before. It was a classic case of cart before the horse. I had the band, I knew how to manage a band, but I didn’t have a registered business.”
Focused on long-term strategic career management, Empirical Artist Services has an eye toward professional artist development. “We offer artist support on all levels,” Carroll says. “We offer a structure for an artist to build a career off of.”
And with an ofﬁcial infrastructure of his own in place, Carroll is looking to expand Empirical’s roster.
“I’m just listening now,” he says. “I’m trying to get the company to a place so we can take on another artist.
When it came time to establish a management/artist development company of his own, Stephen Carroll turned to Manitoba Music for support — particularly from the Strategic Consulting and Music Industry Internship Programs.
The Strategic Consulting Program supports Manitoba music industry companies in the engagement of business development consultants with the goal of increasing company capacity, accelerating company growth and/or strengthening the company’s business model. Empirical Artist Services contracted a ﬁnancial consultant to help the company set up its ﬁnancial systems.
“It’s deﬁnitely helped the company grow,” Carroll says of the SCP. “We used the consulting grant to redo how we handle artist accounting. We hired a CMA to build for each company/artist a proﬁle in an accounting software program that was speciﬁcally designed to meet the needs of each business. We use an in-house bookkeeper to manage each artist’s books using this software. It has been a real step up for us in how we manage our clients’ accounts.”
Meanwhile, the Music Industry Internship Program — which supports paid internships at established and recognized music companies — has allowed Empirical to have an extra body on staff for 2011-12.
“I think the Internship Program is great for us, but great for the interns as well,” Carroll says. “I think we’re a healthy organization for one to join. They get access to all my artists and they get to see how an artist’s career works.”
Additionally, both Carroll and Imaginary Cities have used Market Access grants to attend showcases to build professional relationships and, in the case of Imaginary Cities, get music heard by key industry players.
“Showcasing has been really important to their career,” Carroll says. “They did nine conferences in one year, including North by Northeast, Canadian Music Week, Pop Montreal, and MIDEM.”
Carroll stresses the importance of showcasing to artists looking to create sustainable careers in the music industry. After all, a manager can only help you get so far; you’ve got to prove you’ve got the goods to go even further.
“I think showcasing is a good opportunity to get some focused attention on yourself as an artist,” Carroll says, simply.
Orginially published in Manitoba Music’s newsletter vol. 21.1