Go Deep, Be
Courageous, Emerge a Winner!
Serving the Business and Professional
Community since 1983!
N. Elizabeth Fried, Ph.D.
Get the Inside Scoop on the Alternative
Music Scene: An interview with Ryan Nelson
What does it take to start a business in the alternative music space? I
think youíll find the
Executive Coaching Corner video and interview with my client Ryan
Nelson, both fascinating enlightening. Ryan, a successful entrepreneur, is the
as well as an artist manager at
Good Fight Entertainment.
provides e-commerce solutions, tour fulfillment, and VIP ticketing for a
client list that has grown to over 150 bands within the alternative music
Entertainment provides full service management, including big
picture career planning, tour logistics, and business services for its
Elizabeth: Ryan, to begin, how
did you land in the alternative music space?
Ryan: I grew up in Westminster,
CA, which is part of Orange County. That part of Southern California carries a
reputation of being a hotbed for punk, hardcore, metal, and other forms of
alternative music. Being a teen in this area through the late 1990's and early
2000's made in nearly inevitable to come into contact with those genres of
music. A friend of mine gave me a copy of a CD by a band called Strongarm, and I
was hooked from that point on. I had to talk my parents into driving me and my
friends to shows, which wasn't always easy. The more difficult conversations
came up with my parents when I decided I needed to play guitar, which quickly
landed me in the garage. I spent hours every day after school figuring out how
to play the songs on the handful of CDs that I had at the time. Looking back, my
parents were mostly good sports about it, especially considering that it wasn't
something they necessarily agreed with. Naturally, my friends and I starting
playing music together, and I ended up playing guitar in several bands, whether
it was bands of my own, or filling in for various others. I was able to tour
most of the world, and obtain valuable experience that I still carry with me
Elizabeth: Sounds like you were
having a great time, so what caused you to move from playing in bands to serving
bands on a business level?
Ryan: After touring full-time for
a few years, I realized that there is a huge difference between a guitar player
that likes to have a good time with friends on the road and a guitar player who
thinks of his performance as a part of his career. I never really made the
switch into being a "professional" guitar player. Aside from that, the business
side of music became far more interesting to me as the tours went on.
Eventually, it was clear that being in a professional full- time touring band
was not for me. However, I have a mind that never stops and an unrelenting
interest in music as a business. Once my mind was made up, the switch to
merchandising and artist management was quick. I began providing merchandising
services for a handful of bands that I had either played with in the past or
knew through mutual friends. My friend, Biggie, was a great advocate and
Stick to Your Guns (pictured above)
became the first band that I worked with on a management level.
Elizabeth: Once you made that
transition, what were the early years of the company like? How did you make it
Ryan: The learning curve in
merchandising and artist management is harsh. My experience was no exception.
Our first warehouse was a 350 square foot space in a rough part of San
Bernardino. There was one specific time in which we worked 36 hours straight in
effort to meet a deadline for a new client. The floor of our warehouse was
concrete. I remember tying blank hoodies around my feet for extra padding so we
could keep going. I spent many nights in my Honda CRV, which was a better option
than sleeping in the warehouse. Once the lights turned off, all the bugs would
come out, and I didn't want to deal with that. I had no money, but I loved it.
Every dime that was made just went straight back
in to fulfilling the next order. I had a couple very kind friends who would
allow me to stay at their houses from time to time. I feel that touring in bands
that made little to no money was an excellent way of prepping for the physical
demands placed on me in starting the company. Ground was gained inch by inch.
Orders were printed and fulfilled dollar by dollar. It worked that way for a
good couple years until I was finally able to save up enough money to get an
apartment for myself, and move the company to a warehouse that had the needed
size to keep up with growth. The opportunity to serve clients, such as
Sumerian Records, Stick to Your Guns, Every Time I Die, Between the Buried and
Me, and several others were pivotal
in the company's growth and success. I love all of those people and am forever
grateful to them.
Elizabeth: Despite the challenges
you just described, perseverance and tenacity led you to an impressive list of
150 clients with further expansion in sight. If I may, Iíd like to switch back
to the band side for a moment. Now that youíve seen both the band and business
sides, what would you would encourage bands to keep in mind as they navigate
Ryan: Be the best version of your
own band, and nothing else. Right now, the competition within our music world
and all of its sub-genres is devastatingly extreme. I am seeing more bands begin
to look over the shoulder of other bands, and put more focus on comparing
themselves to others than they ever should. I feel that bands lose their way
when the conversation with management is about things like radio campaigns
simply because another band they know tried a song at active rock once. It
becomes hurtful to the band when they use everyone else's actions or creative
decisions as a metric to justify or mold their own decisions. My zone of
competence is working with bands that have a distinct identity that can be
prolonged for 10+ years, or as long as they want to do it really. I want to work
with a band that is not only well aware of who and what they are but also proud
of what they are to the point that they are mentally, emotionally, and
creatively secure in the music they are making. At that point, I can dive in and
maximize their business, provide my own creative input, and enjoy a great fit
within the system we've developed at Good Fight Entertainment.
Elizabeth: So Ryan, as you
continue to grow your company, how is it different from the numerous merch
companies in your world?
We have dedicated staff in place for each part of
the merchandising process. Our design team is known as the most talented and
progressive team in our world based on their creative work. Our production
facility handles screen printing, embroidery, and other methods right here in
California with exceptional turnaround times and quality. Our e-commerce
platform offers shipping within 24 hours for all of our stocked items. We also
create unique cut and sew items that are often sold through our limited edition
or flash sale storefront. In recent years, VIP or Fan Club ticketing has become
a vital revenue stream for touring bands, and we have our own platform for that
offering as well, servicing clients from clubs to small arenas with assigned
seating. In all, we are here with our clients through each step of all of these
offerings, and we actually provide all of these services ourselves instead of
leaving holes in the process. We have another exciting new service that we plan
to start offering in mid-2017 as well, and I'll be sure to stay in touch as soon
as we launch.
Elizabeth: Thanks Ryan for your
candid, entertaining and eye-opening account of the alternative music space from
both a band and business perspective. Iíll look forward to hearing about the new
service you plan to launch later this year. So readers, stay tune