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I Heart Rock & Roll

May 12, 2009


It’s pretty inspiring to meet people who do what they love, and if what they love has taken them off the beaten path, even more so. My friend Melissa Simmons does just that. She manages musician Edwin McCain as president of Harrington Management. You might remember McCain’s 1993 hit, “I’ll Be,” better known as the first dance wedding song anthem. But, he’s so much more than that…a platinum-selling singer songwriter who crosses into folk, soul, and rock genres seamlessly – and a nice guy to boot.

This summer marks her 10th year working with Edwin and I recently spoke to her about the ever-changing music business, memorable travel, and of course, those pesky groupies. And just to amp up the coolness factor in a bit more – Melissa’s in Japan right now…for her job. Jealous.

danapop (dp) Edwin’s a good-looking guy, I’m sure fans bombard him constantly – what’s the craziest thing you’ve seen a fan do?

Melissa There have been a few that crossed the line, and we’ve had to get legal entities involved, which is always really unfortunate, but for the most part, people get it and are completely respectful.However, Edwin is such an approachable guy that we find occasionally (ok, more than occasionally) people think it’s ok to tell them whatever is one their mind, good or bad.That has given us a more than a few good laughs over the years for sure – luckily we all have a pretty good sense of humor, and Edwin is pretty difficult to offend.

dp Is there a line between your job and personal life or is all melded together?

Melissa It will be 10 years that I’ve been working with Edwin come this summer, so we are all family for sure by this point.But I would say that we work hard to keep a balance between personal and professional.There’s always a chance that I’ll get the middle-of-the night phone call about a broken tour bus or something, but that just comes with the territory.And I will admit, being a female, I have the tendency to ‘mother’ a bit.That can actually be somewhat of a good thing in management, but I do my best to keep it in check.Working with musicians apparently also means that I have permanently adopted the sense of humor of an 18-year old boy, so practical jokes on each other are always a strong possibility.

dp What’s a typical day like for you? When you’re on tour?

Melissa Gratefully, I am not on the road nearly as much as the band.I am basically able to tailor my travel around important markets/dates/meetings while the band is on tour.It’s just the right amount of travel for me, so when I do go out, I really enjoy it.

When I’m home, I would say 80% of what I do is typical to many other ‘desk’ jobs – finances, phone calls, legal work, people management, etc.For Edwin, I essentially function as both a business and personal (career) manager, so there are a lot of different areas I get to cover.

When I’m on tour, I rarely travel on their tour bus (the rolling locker room).I typically fly out or drive to meet them somewhere.There’s a ton of ‘hurry up and wait’ on the road, and I really respect that Edwin and the guys are as road-worthy as they are, because that can be draining for sure.But there is something so energizing about the shows, and seeing everyone come out to watch them, so you’re kind of always on this roller coaster of energy.

dp I know last year Edwin did several performances for the U.S. military stationed abroad. How would you describe that experience? How did those shows come about?

Melissa Last spring, we traveled all over Europe, and also to the Middle East and Africa, all within about two weeks.We’d expressed interest in doing military shows for some time, but just could never seem to make it work, and this time the schedule lined up for us.It was INCREDIBLE – definitely one of the best experiences of my life.Lots and lots of airplane time, but being able to connect with give something back to our troops was really special.I made friends and memories that will last a lifetime.We are headed to Asia to do it again soon, and I can’t wait!Can you tell?

dp I’m sure you travel and fly a ton – what’s the most memorable flight you’ve ever taken?

Melissa Once I got to sit in the cockpit with the pilots as we took off over the Azores in Portugal – that was amazing.But as far as stories go, that would definitely be one of the military flights we were on from Djibouti, Africa to Bahrain.We were on a military cargo plane, where the most comfortable place to sit is on top of these giant cargo parcels.You just hook yourself onto the cargo net and climb up about 10 feet onto this giant pile of cargo.You can sleep up there, play cards, whatever…

About an hour before this particular flight was to land, one of the crew came back and starting giving the uniformed officers some kind of instruction.The plane is REALLY loud, so none of us could hear any of it.About five minutes later, the engine on my side of the plane just STOPPED.It got really quiet and you could just hear the propeller swishing in the wind.We all just kind of looked at each other like, ‘okaaay…’We had lost an engine, but made it down safely.If you’re going to be in a situation like that, no one will make you feel safer than our military.

dp When you’re not listening to Edwin, who are some your favorite artists?

Melissa I go through phases.I started my career working with indie-rock and alternative artists, so that music always has a place in my heart.And I always appreciate a great songwriter or song.Then every year or so, I get into a phase.Metal, dance, old country, hip-hop, pop, world music – I’ve had all of those phases – my iPod is definitely a little schizophrenic!I also have the admittedly horrible personal habit of listening to my new favorite song over-and-over-and-over until I have sapped it of every ounce of newness and made everyone around want to kill me.

dp What are some the perks of the job?

Melissa Doing what I love, working with amazing and gifted people who are constantly make me laugh, traveling the world, and meeting interesting people in all walks of life.I work with a really creative, personable artist who is multi-talented, so it’s been fun to expand outside typical music-industry territory, such as television, movies, NASCAR, and the PGA.And I get to see a lot of concerts, of course.

dp Do you think the home base of your job (I know you work out of Atlanta) helps or hinders you? Do you think to be in the music industry you have to be in LA or NY? With that, how often do you go to those cities?

Melissa I lived in NYC in the beginning of my career, and it was great, but I was happy to leave, too.Atlanta has a good music scene, and it’s small enough that it’s a pretty tightly knit circle, so you can easily find someone who can help you with what you need.I still have most of my NYC connections, too, and that certainly helps, but I love Atlanta – it’s just a great place to live.I typically do an NYC/LA trip a few times a year, depending on what labels and/or publishers we’re working with.

dp What path did you follow to become a manager? Where did you go to college and do you think your education prepared you for your line of work?

Melissa I graduated from UNC with a business administration degree.However, by my sophomore year, I was already working 40 hours a week for Elektra, traveling to shows and working with artists like Metallica and Moby.Given the music program and business school at Carolina were completely on separate ends of the spectrum and unconnected, my professors were cool enough to let me design some special classes around the knowledge I wanted to gain for a career in music.By the time I needed to think about post-college employment, I was fortunate enough to have a job with the label waiting for me in New York.

After a few years with the label, I decided I was ready for something other than NYC, and was a bit disappointed to see artists that I loved and believed in getting dropped by the label.I accidentally, but completely serendipitously, ended up meeting with Edwin’s managers at the time, and loved them.I worked my way up through the organization over the past ten years.Management is where I belong – working with musicians and music I love, while maintaining the ability to put them first in the business of music.

dp In the past 10 years I can only imagine how many changes you’ve witnessed within the music industry. Where do you think the industry is heading? More individually owned labels? Mergers?

Melissa I think that everyone will agree that parts of the music ‘business’ are falling apart.But that essentially just means that what is left is the music, and there will always be room and demand for that.So it’s not a bad thing that things are in flux, and I think new and interesting things will come of it, creatively and commercially.Of course, it means we all have to work a bit harder to make sure that the people who have the gift to make the music can afford to feed their families and selves to that they can continue to make their music available.

dp With the economy situation the way it is, it’s affecting every realm, including entertainment. Has it changed aspects of your day-to-day operations?

Melissa Edwin has been on the road from day one, and we’ve always considered that the MOST valuable tool for getting the music out there.And, other artists are discovering that touring probably the biggest opportunity to support themselves these days, given the issues with record sales, and market their music, given the enormous traffic and competition in the music marketplace.It’s what we’ve always done.The economy is, of course, affecting everything, even touring, but because we’ve been doing it for so long, we’re fortunate to be OK thus far.That said, we look at everything we spend, and have, of course, been looking a bit harder lately.We don’t spend like ‘rock stars’ so we need a lot less than one might imagine to keep our machine running, thankfully.

dp What is next for you guys? Anything new in the works that you can share?

Melissa I wish I could!We have a few promising projects coming up but nothing is set in stone yet, so I can’t just yet.Edwin has well over an album worth of new material written and ready to record, but I think a project or two will come before that is released.Things are good, and we are very grateful!