Barb Rocks has been active in the Bay Area music scene about a decade. She started booking bands at venues then moved into band management and artist representation work. We worked with her on the South bay Live movement to enliven the South Bay Area live music scene centered in San Jose, CA the heart of Silicon Valley. Barb went on to book for Left Coast Live which spun off from South Bay Live. She has been busy. I emailed her some questions and she has responded by opening up about her personal story and experience as a music promoter and band manager.
Barb Rocks, what role did music play in your youth?
I remember my Mom & Dad playing ABBA loudly when I was a kid and us all dancing around. Then as I got older, I was highly influenced by my brother who got me into the likes of Pat Benatar, Joan Jett and Kim Wilde. Even though I never properly learned how to play an instrument (1 year each of guitar & piano lessons that never went anywhere), I was always blasting music in my room, dancing around and getting lost in the sound (my own personal dance party). My room was covered with posters of Madonna, U2, and Depeche Mode, and I was so into all the one-hit wonder 80’s New Wave bands in High School. That’s when I started collecting as much music as I could get my hands on, either buying it, making tapes from my friend’s vinyls, or recording off the radio. By the time I graduated college, I had one of the biggest CD collections, which I still own and am very proud of.
Barb Rocks, when did you decide to get into the music industry and why?
I always knew I wanted to work in music, just didn’t know what role to take since I wasn’t a musician. I actually had an internship lined up for a big music management company when I graduated college but I didn’t end up making the move to LA as planned. Instead I got sucked into the tech world living in Silicon Valley. When I got divorced 11 years ago, I realized I never pursued my dream, so I started getting into the local live music scene by going to shows, which led to me booking shows at the bar I frequented a lot. I got so much satisfaction from those shows that I just kept taking on more venues to book at, then more roles in local music such as music festivals, basically learning and trying whatever I could get my hands on, and growing my business.
Barb Rocks what has it been like along the way?
It started out a bit rough. I was the “newbie” promoter that just went for it, so that took a few other promoters in the local scene off guard. Some disliked that I treated and paid bands better than them, which led to some lies spread about me and telling bands not to play my shows because they wanted to shut me down. Obviously that didn’t work as I’m still here 9.5 years later and they aren’t. Probably doesn’t help that I’m female in a male-dominated industry. I’ve heard various wisecracks and insults due to my gender and appearance over the years. There was also a time that I brought someone into my business and she ended up trying to compete with me using all the contacts she learned from me, which created some drama for me. I’ve learned that when you’re really good at your craft, there’s always going to be jealous haters out there trying to take you down. You learn to have thick skin and just keep at it, not paying attention to the negativity. I’ve learned a lot about myself, my business ethics, what kind of people to avoid, who to trust, things like that. I pride myself on the reputation I’ve built and there’s a lot of loyalty from bands that appreciate quality and honesty.
Barb Rocks, what are some of your favorite moments in your music career?
One of my favorite things I’ve accomplished to date is creating and booking Left Coast Live music festival. Even though it only lasted three years, I learned so much from that and enjoyed watching the fruits of my labor unfold. It was time-consuming and exhausting in so many ways, but that feeling of exhilaration you get from seeing the event go smoothly and knowing you did that, is euphoric.
Another memory that sticks out is getting a phone call at 8am on a Sunday morning from Foster The People’s tour manager because they lost the venue they were supposed to do this private event at and somehow they were given my name. Within an hour I found them a venue and they got to perform their acoustic set. They were so appreciative, they gave me an autographed bottle of wine, which I still have. I have yet to figure out how they got my name and number and thank the person that referred me.
Barb Rocks, where do you see yourself going from here?
I just joined Nemesis Media Inc., a company I’ve partnered with on various local bookings and festivals since 2009. This year I realized that it was time for me to expand to better serve my management roster, therefore, it seems logical and natural to join a team that I already respect and have worked with so efficiently in the past. We all bring different experience and qualities to the table in addition to getting along on a personal level, so it’s a positive step to growing our business to support our roster of talented bands. I envision this merger being my ticket to move away from my day job in tech and do band management full-time. We are also working on some cool new projects, including a Bay Area Music Fest, which we hope to have launched in 2016.
I’m also venturing into other business ideas like Rock-N-Cook, which is a joint venture between my brother, a talented chef, and myself, the music junkie. We are combining music and cooking into a new kind of pop-up dining experience, as well as creating a show which could possibly be sold off to a TV network. The idea is to humanize the bands, casually interviewing them while they help create a meal that was chosen based on their background, showing the audience how to make the dishes, then sitting together to eat and play some songs. We’ve already produced one successful event with two episodes coming to YouTube in the Fall, plus we’re already planning more events in the next 6 months.
Barb Rocks, what tips or advice would you give those interested in participating in the music industries? Specific to bands, promoters, band managers, etc?
My best advice is to follow your passion, research it so you can excel at it, be organized, communicate well, be part of the local music industry community, and collaborate as much as possible. The more you support one another, the better it is for everyone. Bands should go out and support fellow bands at shows and online on social media, as well as treat their band as a business if they plan on making it in the music industry, which means being professional, keeping accounting ledgers, being on time and responsible, being friendly with staff at venues and the promoters throwing the shows, and last by not least, be loyal to those that help them advance in their music careers. Promoters should organize quality shows, not focus on quantity, and treat the bands well by running the show smoothly, keeping set times, and paying bands fairly, as well as making sure that venues needs are being met. Band Managers should choose to work with bands they truly believe in and get along with on a personal level because you’ll spend a lot of time together. Choose your bandmates and your business partners wisely and be sure everyone is on the same page as far as music vision and business direction. Finding a mentor is always good too.