Not so happy together: business lessons from turtles

You think you’ve had problems with managers? Check out the clip below, which hilariously illustrates the problems that rock bands have had with their management.

In this short video, Flo & Eddie (Mark Volman & Howard Kaylan) of the Turtles lament the fact that their battles with seven managers kept the band from being financially successful—despite many chart hits, including “It Ain’t Me Babe,” “Happy Together,” “You Baby,” and “She’d Rather Be With Me.”

You can also hear in their self-effacing humor an acknowledgment of their own culpability in the contractual messes they found themselves in with managers. We often decry the ethical conduct of artist representatives, but the other side of it is the absence of responsibility by the performing artists themselves who, with little forethought, sign long-term contracts with these managers simply because they'd rather not hassle with business matters. One obvious lesson here: the more autonomy you want in whatever work you do, the more you have to take ownership of your actions and not hide your head in your Turtle shell.

As Eddie says here, “We trusted. We believed. We’d sign anything.” (You may be shocked to learn that this is not a success habit of highly effective people.) But the music business, especially in the goldie oldie days, had no shortage of immature young men (yes, it was usually men) who considered themselves "artistes" and who didn’t want to deal with affairs of commerce. And there was no shortage of unscrupulous managers who would relieve them of this burden.

Fortunately, over the years most musicians have come to realize the importance of the business side of music and have taken seriously the contracts they sign. Many currently successful artists have even studied business in college. (I know of only a few classic rockers who did the same, such as Mick Jagger and Robert Plant.) Many acts manage themselves these days.

My early bands made more than a few ill-advised management choices too, but in most cases we didn't sign contracts that prevented us from moving on. And in most cases it was clear that the managers worked for us rather than the other way around.

A parenthetical note on the Turtles: as gullible as these fellows were, they were quite a talented force in their day, charting nine Top 40 hits. Ray Davies—the genius behind the Kinks—believed in them enough to produce their fifth album, Turtle Soup. Also, Flo & Eddie later performed and recorded with the brilliant Frank Zappa & the Mothers.

For a short list of famous bands who, in time, became quite business savvy, check here.


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7 Comments

  1. The near-universal cry of authors I talk to is "I just want to write!" they don't want to waste time on all that commercial nonsense.

    Guess who'll still be writing 5 years from now?

    Artists need a dose of reality from chaps like Mark McGuinness over at Lateral Action. Guy's a poet, fer cryin' out loud, but he also knows how to make a living.

    Find the story of their follow up to "Happy Together", "Elenore" -- one of the great examples of anti-establishment sarcasm totally lost on The Man. "You're my pride and joy, et cet'ra . . . "

    1. In the 60s & 70s "commercial" was a swear word. Not so much with younger musicians.

      Yeah, "Elenore" is one they wrote themselves. "Your looks intoxicate me/Even though your folks hate me." But some of their other hits had humor and irony too.

    1. They were clearly high all the time ... 'We believed. We'd sign anything' ... How can you function as a human being at that level of mental competence, even in the sixties? They got what they deserved.

      1. Tosh. Most people are pretty trusting, which is why scams of every kind abound. These guys lived in an era and culture where trust was the norm, or at least, lip service to trust.

        In my various works, I meet people every week who've been fleeced and pillaged simply because they believed something a total stranger said to them. They're not high nor are they stupid; they simply make the mistake of not knowing the difference between blind trust and smart trust.

        And then, there are times when they do, and the scammer is just really good at what they do.

  2. I wonder who these 'managers' were....where was Frank? Frank would never let this happen!! I've always managed my own bands....why pay someone to do the grunt work that can be done by band members themselves??!!

    :-)

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