A Bit On The Side: The story of the rock star entrepreneur

Being a rock star is definitely up there on the list of dream jobs. Touring the world with your mates, playing to rooms full of adoring fans screaming your name and falling out of nightclubs at 4am after one too many Jack & cokes. But it seems that for some, the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle just isn’t enough. More and more of our favourite musicians are turning their hands to other projects when they’re not on the road or jamming in the studio. With a new rock star clothing label starting up approximately every 0.3 seconds and many of our music idols promoting themselves to label execs or band managers it really is the age of the rock star entrepreneur. But why take on all this extra work? Three rock stars explain why…

Josh Franceschi – You Me At Six/ Down But Not Out Productions

“It’s cool because you basically just get free clothes”

One musician who has started up his own line of garments is You Me At Six frontman Josh Franceschi. You Me At Six are big on clothing labels at the moment, with three members of the band flogging their own range of t-shirts. Bassist Matt Barnes has Cheer Up! Clothing, guitarist Max Helyer has Become Antique and Josh has Down But Not Out, which he started with a little help from his friends in 2009. “Down But Not Out basically stemmed from the fact that I’m really into my street wear fashion,” says Josh, “but I just felt like a lot of clothing companies haven’t really got any reason to have a clothing company other than just to put clothes on peoples back”.

Josh wanted to change the world, one t-shirt at a time and so decided to try and inspire people through the art of t-shirt design. “Down But Not Out has been my ethos and what I live my life by. It doesn’t matter how shit things can get, you’re never quite out of the game unless you allow yourself to be out of it. And I just thought I’d put a few positive slogans on some t-shirts and see if people like them”.

Insisting that he isn’t out to make a fast buck with his t-shirts, Franceschi even confesses to being a bit of a rubbish businessman. “I definitely don’t take DBNO seriously, every day my best mate and my dad back home are like ‘Josh, you’ve got to do some blogs or something’, but I’m like, if people want it they can go and get it. I’m not trying to make money from it, as long as it pays for itself then it is what it is.” Its unlikely he’ll be winning The Apprentice anytime soon, but with plenty of kids, particularly You Me At Six fans, buying his shirts, and even a few of them getting DBNO inspired tattoos, its clearly serving its initial purpose. Josh also admits that he has a secret motive with DBNO. “I just like putting designs on t-shirts that I’d want to wear as well. It’s cool because you basically just get free clothes”.

Vinnie Fiorello – Less Than Jake/ Paper + Plastick Records

 ”It was a beautiful disaster at times, better than any college class at others”

Vinnie behind the kit, instead of the desk

Slightly more business minded, Vinnie Fiorello, drummer and founding member of Less Than Jake, has a long history of getting around in the music industry, so to speak. In 1996, he co-founded Fueled By Ramen, the record label responsible for releasing game-changing records by Jimmy Eat WorldFall Out Boy and Paramore. “I was touring a lot with Less Than Jake and seeing great local bands every night on tour” says Vinnie, “it made sense to me to connect the dots of cities we visited and friends we made while putting the spotlight on bands that I respected”.Vinnie had no business experience and admits that it didn’t always run smoothly. “That’s what ‘doing it yourself’ means” he says, “You can take the chances, learn how to do everything under the umbrella of being a band or label. It was a beautiful disaster at times, better than any college class at others”. But he is adamant that it had nothing to do with making some extra pocket money, “It was about seeing the void and filling it. There were great bands I’d run into nightly and I wanted to spotlight them.”

However in 2006, it all became a bit too much and Vinnie parted ways with FBR. “At first it went hand in hand with the band, but as it got bigger it was much more complicated to live in both worlds equally” says Vinnie. But just two years later, he was at it again. This time he set up record label Paper + Plastick, which focused on visual art as well as the music. Again, it was about filling a gap in the market, “I saw the void of extensive packaging in punk rock and wanted to fill that, it was a chance for me to work with bands I love and friends I have.”

But he hasn’t stopped there, Vinnie also has his own online designer toy and clothes company, Wünderland War, and has penned a children’s book called ‘Sometimes Robots Like Being Robots: 13 Stories Looking Into the World of Robots’. Yet he still insists there is no financial motivation for his business ventures. “Both are labours of love, both I’m passionate about doing but money has nothing to do with them at all. Its just doing what I want to do.” Juggling his two careers seems to be a little easier these days, with Vinnie insisting “I’m always a musician first [but] it’s always a balancing act”.

Ryan Richards – Funeral For A Friend/ Escape Artist Management

“Being involved in management gave me back that buzz that I’d been missing”

Ryan (second from left) with a band he doesn’t manage, FFAF

Another rock star not content with just sitting behind a drum kit is Funeral For A Friend sticksman Ryan Richards. Ryan has promoted himself to management status and now looks after such rising stars as The People The Poet (formally known as Tiger Please), Cuba Cuba and Straight Lines as part of Escape Artist Management, which he set up in 2008.“I’d always been very pro-active with Funeral for a Friend and always took care of a lot of the arranging, getting things together and social networks. I’d always had a good ear for arrangements in songs too, and I guess an ear for new music” says Ryan. “I guess I started it up so that I could help bands get off their feet and find their way. When FFAF first started, we were very naive and made a lot of mistakes, so I personally had a lot to learn from. When we got to a certain level, as a band, I started to miss the small victories like getting a first review, cutting a first EP, playing a sold out small club show. Being involved in management gave me back that buzz that I’d been missing”.

But like Josh and Vinnie, Ryan was not looking to make some extra dough. “I actually didn’t take commission from my acts for the first year or so working with them, essentially working for free. The way I saw it is that it was a mutually beneficial partnership – I was learning about management while they were getting help with their careers. The payoffs were the small victories we shared together”.

Managing other acts also helps Ryan keep tour bus boredom at bay. While others may prefer to watch endless Family Guy repeats, Ryan is putting his organisational skills to good use. “A common complaint you hear from touring bands is that the hour or two on stage every day is great, but the rest is just boredom and waiting around. I’m not really good with boredom, and always need something to occupy my time and energies. For me, touring is more enjoyable because I don’t have those hours of boredom. I’ve got something positive to be focussing on at every waking hour”.

What does the music industry think?

“You’re not going to be able to live off that one album forever”

Mark Orr playing CD Jenga in the LAB Records office

It’s clear that these three rockers aren’t in it for the money but Mark Orr, founder of independent record label LAB Records, thinks there could be an ulterior motive for others. “It just makes sense. If you’re in a position whereby you have 100,000 Twitter followers or you have an opportunity to spread a message then it just makes good sense business-wise to do something else”. He also suspects the decline of record sales in the music industry could have something to do with it. “Obviously from a purely financial aspect, music isn’t selling as well as it was, everybody knows that, so then you kind of have to think on your feet and maybe making clothes and stuff is the way to go”.

It’s also a case of musicians having to think about retirement. Not everyone can be like Ozzy Osbourne or Iggy Pop and continue rocking out way into their golden years. “Obviously careers are much shorter now and you have to sell an extraordinary amount of records to be able to say ‘this is me for life’” says Mark. “Just because you maybe had a Top 10 record in 2011, if the next album doesn’t sell or whatever, you’re going to have to do something later in life. You’re not going to be able to live off that one album forever. I think it would be unrealistic to, when you’re writing your first album, think ‘I’m going to be doing this and making really good money until I’m 80 years old’”.

But Mark also believes there is something other than financial motivation involved in most musicians’ side projects. “I’m sure they don’t sit down and think ‘I’m going to exploit my fan base and squeeze them for every penny’. I’m sure it has got a creative side”.

Related Articles: 

Tough decisions: Mike Ciprari talks SJC Drums and No Trigger

Making a living: The other side of rock star life

Top 10 weird & wonderful jobs of rock stars

Quiz: Do you know your rock star clothing labels?

A match made in heaven: All Time Low talk Glamour Kills

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