Maphia CEO talks roster, upcoming concert, & more
“I think anyone who is really in this business for the right reasons is in it because they don’t have a choice.” – Dave Aguilera, Maphia Management CEO/Founder
Everyone has their own theory on what will save the music industry, whether the solution lies in live shows, satellite radio, Netflix-style albums, crowd funding…whatever. A case can be made for any and all of the above, but Maphia Management founder Dave Aguilera’s theory comes down to one thing: drive.
A veteran to both sides of the industry, Aguilera knows a thing or two about drive. The Southern California native’s foray into music began on the streets of Sunset during the heyday of SoCal punk rock. Aguilera’s early successes were as a co-founding member and guitarist for OTEP (Capitol Records, 2000-2002) and Bleed The Dream (Warcon Entertainment 2005-2007), before he later transitioned to the business end of the industry as VP of A&R for Breaksilence Records, plus additional stints with a number of reputable management companies and labels. Aguilera’s eye for talent and knowledge of the industry made him an integral part of the breaking of several successful artists, including Yellowcard and most recently heavy metal’s most talked about band, Butcher Babies (Maphia Management/Century Media Records).
I sat down with Aguilera in Venice to talk about his unique perspective on the music industry, the inception of Maphia Management, and why he thinks certain aspects of the music industry are better now than ever.
Maphia Management will host a free show showcasing the company’s roster tomorrow, March 18th, at The Troubadour in West Hollywood. The concert will feature performances from the legendary Santa Barbara punk outfit SNOT, Philm (featuring Dave Lombardo of Slayer), Hell or Highwater, and, off of the Maphia roster, Evolove (produced by Mikey Doling of Snot).
The event promises to be one of the biggest outings of the season for the Los Angeles heavy music scene, so get there early.
Tell me about your history in the music industry.
Dave Aguilera: My history goes back to when I was five years old. My mom was obsessed with Elvis. We’d watch movies about Elvis. Anything to do with Elvis, I would watch. I would put on little mini shows for my family, and my older brother would be my roadie. Then when I was ten, I cried and cried and cried until my parents bought me a guitar. It just went from there.
I was in my first band at thirteen, and then like every kid, you get in trouble or you hang out with the wrong people, so I went through that. I stopped playing music for about ten years, and then when I was in my early twenties, I decided that I wanted to be in music again. Then I did it…and I did it for fifteen years.
That’s when I met the guys in SNOT and that whole crew. It was really weird because I didn’t know a single person in the music industry. Not one. I didn’t even know how to start a band. Me and my friend just decided to start a band together. He was the only person I knew that played bass, so I didn’t really have a choice. [Laughs] We found a drummer and were like, “Well, how do we play shows?” “I don’t know.” So we started writing songs in the garage, and we went down to the Sunset Strip. Anyone we could meet, we’d say “Hey, what do you do? You’re a promoter? Cool. Where do you work?”
We just started to get to know everybody. We were at every show. We were on the Sunset Strip seven days a week.
What genre were you playing in at the time?
This was the mid-90s, so I’d say we were more pop punk. It was when Lit and Blink-182 and all those bands were popping. We were definitely on the more hardcore side of punk, but we slowly progressed and became more of a pop-punkish rock band.
I met the right people, ended up in a couple cool bands, got signed, and traveled all over the world. I’ve always been one of those people where if my heart isn’t in it 150 percent, I won’t do it. It’s all or nothing for me, and in 2007, actually on Warped Tour, I could just feel that my heart wasn’t in it anymore. I had been doing it for so long and already surpassed all of my dreams. At that point, I felt like the only reason to stay in a band was to make money, and that is the worst reason to be in a band. So I just decided “I’m out.” I’ve been managing bands ever since.
How did you transition into management after being an artist?
With the exception of one band that I’ve played in, I’ve pretty much always been the guy that started the band, picked the band members, did all the business, made all the merch…I was always the tour manager slash leader, so to speak, for every band I’ve ever been in. That’s just my personality.
I knew there was no way I was going to go and start a new career. That would be insane after all the connections I made after fifteen years of being in the business. I just figured that with my experience I could either be a manager or a tour manager, and I was really just over being on the road.
Ironically, a few other people that I met over the years thought the same thing. I actually posted something on Facebook as a joke saying, “I’m retired” (whatever that means), and within two or three days I had three job offers, so I started managing. It’s been a long road. The funny thing about management is that, like life, the more you think you know, the more you realize you don’t know. Every year I think, “Man, I’m such a better manager than I was last year.” It’s just a natural progression. I think that’s a good thing because as a human being and as a businessman, you’re constantly trying to push yourself and be better.
Who were the first bands you managed?
I worked for this company called One Moment Management, and I helped out with Escape the Fate, but more on the touring side. The real bands I first managed were Eyes Set to Kill, whom I still manage, and this band called LoveHateHero. That was in ’07.
What do you think the advantages are to being an artist first and then going into management?
I think there are advantages and there are disadvantages.
I always use the analogy of football coaches. The best football coaches are the ones that coached in college and played. As an artist, I think the learning curve is a lot shorter because you already know the dynamics of bands and how they work. If you’ve never played in a band, that’s something really hard to learn. There are a lot of really great managers out there that have never played an instrument in their lives, but I just think it probably took them longer to figure out the dynamics of how it works. It really is insanely chaotic on the road. That’s why they call it “the traveling circus.” You can’t learn that unless you go out on the road.
The disadvantages are that I think as former musicians, we probably over think things a little bit. Just because we were there, ya know, and we were in their shoes. Sometimes I think that can be a disadvantage because instead of just thinking of things as business, you might take it too personally because you understand the dynamics too much. Sometimes that can get in the way, but I think it’s the reason I’ve picked up a lot of the bands that I have. I think at the end of the day, they just trust me a little more because I’ve been there.
Is there a mantra or philosophy that you follow as far as working with your bands?
There’s a little caption that I came up with that’s on my email signature: “It takes a lot more than talent to make it in this business.” I’m sure someone said it before me, so I’m not trying to claim it by any means, but I came up with that out of frustration.
There’s this one kid — and I won’t say his name — that I used to manage that I sincerely believe is one of the most talented people I’ve ever met in my life. He’s an insane songwriter. He’s fucking beautiful; he walks into a room and girls just go nuts. From a manager’s standpoint and from a label’s standpoint, he is the perfect package of a frontman, but he’s just a complete mess. He walks into a room, and within ten minutes, everyone hates him. You know what I mean? For some reason he can’t get it together, and he can’t understand the aspect of selling yourself.
Really, that’s the business we’re in. We are in this business to make connections and sell ourselves. At the end of the day, it’s a product you’re selling. If your product is your face and your songs, that’s still a product. He would just mess it up no matter what. I took him to SXSW, and by the end of it, pretty much everyone just hated him. I’m still friends with him to this day, and he still hasn’t gotten any better. I mean, there are tons of talented people out there, but just because you’re talented doesn’t mean you’re going to make it in show biz.
SNOT – Whisky A-Go-Go Reunion Show 2014. Photo by Jeremy Hinkston.
When you sign a band or when you are looking for new artists to work with, what do you look for? What really grabs you?
Drive. Before I even pick them up, I’ll assess whether they have talent or not. If they can’t play live, I won’t pick them up. They have to be good live. The music business is doing so bad right now, and the thing that’s saving bands is being good live. So first and foremost is drive, and then, “Can they play live?”
It’s so hard to make it in a band these days. Everything is working against you, so unless you have that personality where you are literally willing to stand on the fucking train tracks while the train is coming at you, you won’t make it in this business. You have to do everything. If that means you don’t sleep for three days, you don’t sleep for three days. If you’ve gotta eat fucking dog food, you eat dog food. That is what I look for.
Carla Harvey (Butcher Babies).
What do you think are the biggest obstacles for an emerging band in hard rock and metal? Besides the obvious lack of terrestrial radio for alternative music, I feel like all the TV shows or awards shows within the genre really cater to older bands and fans.
The same ones that have always been there, and it’s obvious why people want to work with those bands: they’re the big ones. They’re the ones that generate the most income and get the most eyeballs on their websites, so I totally get why they want to work with the bigger acts. It’s always been that way, and it will never change. It’s just smart business. If I owned a magazine, I would want Korn on the cover before I would want some small band that nobody’s ever heard of because I need to sell magazines.
I think for emerging artists, it really just goes back to what I was saying. It’s about drive. The ones that are constantly just trying and trying and trying. If you just try-try-try, eventually a door will open for you. If you just try once and give up, then you’re just going to move back to Kansas or wherever the fuck you’re from. I’ve never been successful at anything I’ve done simply by talent. If anyone who really knows me was asked to describe me in one word, it would be driven. You can knock me down twenty times, and I’ll get up twenty times. That’s just how you have to be in a band or in this business. It’s the ones that do it for the right reasons, the ones that have no choice — those are the ones that will make it in the music industry.
Brandon Saller (Hell or Highwater), Aftershock Festival 2013
How long has Maphia Management been around?
I started Maphia in 2002. Maphia was originally a clothing line, and then I found this little band that most people have heard of by now called . They were playing in my friend’s garage. I was playing in bands at the time, so I brought them to my manager and we co-managed them. I was more just day-to-day and nobody really knew who I was, but essentially I was the one who found them, so that’s when I decided, “I’m going to start a management company and start managing bands.” I had worked with two or three different management companies, and I worked for a record label for two years. I wanted to get my feet wet and see how everything works from the business side.
Then in 2010, I was working for a record label and a management company. I quit both in the same day and started my own management company. I only had one band: Eyes Set To Kill. It was just me hanging out with my dog Peanut everyday in my living room. That’s where it started. I started looking for bands, started finding bands, and then finding people to work for my company. Now we have five employees and a bunch of cool bands.
Maphia CEO talks roster, upcoming concert, & more
Let’s talk about the show on March 18th…
The show is really more of a party. It’s a celebration of our company, for our roster, and for our employees. I have a lot of employees who are diehard and dedicated to my company. They really aren’t there for the money; they’re there because of passion and they see the potential, which I love. I think there’s a lack of that in general these days. Everybody goes and buys a camera and wants to make a million dollars and be a professional photographer a year later. It didn’t used to be that way. A lot of people would buy a camera and intern for someone for five years, learning the ropes and meeting the right people, so really, it’s a celebration of that. I want to give back to our managers, and I want to give back to our roster.
The Butcher Babies are going to be in town, too (they’re leaving a couple weeks after the show for the Black Label Society tour), so I want to celebrate them being home, and then at the same time, we have these three bands on our roster that everybody wants to see, so my idea was that instead of doing a bunch of shows and trying to get a bunch of industry people to come out, which is so hard these days because of people’s schedules, I figured let’s just do one show and have everyone on it. We have Hell or Highwater playing, which has industry coming out for certain reasons, and we have Philm, which is Dave Lombardo’s (Slayer) new band, which also has industry coming out, but for completely different reasons.
And then we have SNOT, which really is for everyone because SNOT is a band that everyone loves from back in the day. If you grew up around here, you know SNOT. They were the cool band of the Sunset Strip back in the ’90s. It’s funny because everyone knows Tommy (vocalist). He’s just that guy. He’s very outgoing and he’s everywhere. That’s how I met him. I met him on Mayhem, and I didn’t know who he was. I just knew he liked to work out, and he was a giant, so I figured I could learn some tips from him. [Laughs]
SNOT, particularly Sonny and Mikey, are my friends from the ’90s. We’ve always been tight, so when they invited me down to see them play at the Whisky [last month], I only went for one reason. I was a skeptic. I wanted to see if Tommy could pull it off because those are some really big shoes that he needs to fill [Lynn Strait], so I went in like, “Ugh, this is going to suck.” It was cool because everyone from Hollywood showed up, so it was almost like a high school reunion, and I was blown away. I was completely blown away.
My phone rang three days later, and it was the dudes saying, “We want to invite you out to dinner.” I know what that means, so we talked and they wanted me to manage them. For me, that’s just such vindication that I’m hopefully doing something right, because that’s a band that I worshiped. When I came to the Sunset Strip and didn’t know anyone, their shows were the shows that I would go to. Them and System of A Down when they were barely just selling out The Roxy.
So that’s what the 18th is about. It’s about bringing all my old friends together to celebrate that the Sunset Strip is still alive.
Why did you decide to go with a free show?
To make it fun. I think we forget what it’s all about, and what it’s all really about is having a good time. If I wanted to make money, I would have gone to school to be a dentist. I wouldn’t be in this business. Hopefully we’re in this business first and foremost to have an enjoyable life and to make other people happy. There’s no better feeling than being a part of a show, whether you’re an artist or an agent or the promoter. To look out into the audience and see people singing the songs and know that kids in the audience are the next generation of musicians….I mean, you never know if some kid in the audience is the next Eddie Van Halen. That makes me happy. That’s what it’s all about.
That being said, most musicians come from hard lives and they don’t have a lot of money, so instantly, when we make it a $25 ticket — which is great because it puts money in everyone’s pocket — we segregate all those kids. You know what I mean? Those kids are going to be there in line at noon because it’s free. That was the reason why we made it free, for management, and for SNOT, and for Philm, and for Hell or Highwater. We all sat together and thought, “How can we give back to the community?” Make it free.
We picked The Troubadour for a specific reason. The Troubadour was one of those places that used to have really good metal shows and hasn’t for a really long time for whatever reason.
I’ve actually never seen a metal show there…
It used to be: Key Club, Whisky, Roxy, Troubadour. You’d just rotate between those four clubs during the week, so we’re like, “Let’s just change it up.” Everyone loves the Troubadour.
It’s been a crazy three years. It’s been a lot of hard work from a lot of cool people — and I won’t say who because I want to make sure I don’t leave anyone out — but this is just a way to give back. I’d actually like to do this once every six months and hopefully on the next one get another label involved. Just have these celebrations for the community.
That’s the thing the community is lacking right now. In the mid-90s to the early-2000s, there was a rad community. We were all friends and everyone was together as one. All the bands were way more unique and trying to be original, so bands weren’t biting on each other. There weren’t ten System of a Downs. There was only one System of a Down. There were a lot of cool, original bands: Hed PE, Cold…all of them. That’s what I’m trying to bring back and drill that into all the musicians’ heads.
Everyone in Hollywood — and everywhere really — is so preoccupied with being successful that they are forgetting that the most important thing is to be original. If you’re original, then you can be successful. That’s what I do with my roster, and that’s also what I’m doing with the show on the 18th. You’re going to see four bands play that sound nothing like each other.
They are all really different…
Totally different. But they all work.
There aren’t enough diverse bills like that in Hollywood. It will be refreshing to see.
I even see record labels do this. It seems like labels will sign one band that’s popular, and then they’ll sign 30 other bands that sound like that band. I just don’t understand that. What happened to diversity? Like Epitaph in the ’90s. That’s a label that I really respect. If you look at their roster, yeah, the bands are all punk rock, but none of them sounded alike. Bad Religion doesn’t sound anything like Rancid. Rancid doesn’t sound anything like Offspring, and Offspring doesn’t sound anything like Pennywise. Yeah, they could all play shows together, but they all look different, sound different, they all act different. That’s one thing I think us as industry people need to strive for. Just more originality.
It’s our fault, too. As record labels and managers, I think we do the same thing. We get successful with one thing and then look what happens. It’s like, “I had success with this one really heavy band, so now I’m going to manage all these other really heavy bands, and I’m going to take them on tour with all these other really heavy bands.” It all makes sense on paper, but in the big scheme of things, it just kind of dilutes everything.
Heidi Shepherd (Butcher Babies). Mayhem Festival 2013.
People always ask me, “What’s your favorite thing about the Butcher Babies? What made you want to pick them up?” And my honest answer is that they’re incredible musicians, which goes back to my live band theory, but first and foremost, the thing that intrigued me was their originality. I’ve seen so many female-fronted bands try to make it in Hollywood, and they always fail. Always. The one that’s gotten the closest is Otep — I’m the original guitar player for Otep — and the thing that made her break out was that she was original. She was the first one to come out and not try to be pretty and all dolled up. She was like, “I’m butch, I spit, and I don’t give a fuck.” Nobody had done that before her. Since then, there has been nothing original as far as female-fronted bands…until I saw the Butcher Babies. First of all, there’s two singers? Right there, you’re already original.
The funny thing that a lot of band members don’t realize is, “OK, what’s the first way you get introduced to a band?” It’s usually not a song. It’s a picture. And what do you do with that picture? You judge them instantly, and that first judgment that you make is so hard to get rid of. If they look stupid in that picture, you could go see them play live and they may be amazing, but it’s so hard to get that first impression out of your head.
I could look through a magazine — and we all know which magazine I’m talking about — but there was a point when you would look through the magazine and see all the Warped Tour bands with the same haircut and the same skinny black jeans cut off at the ankle. There’s nothing wrong with that look, but when you look through a magazine, and there’s 500 guys that look the same…
It’s forgettable. There’s nothing memorable about it. I could close my eyes right now and picture the Deftones. I know what the Deftones look like in my brain. Why? Because nobody looks like the Deftones. The same thing with Korn. I could close my eyes and picture Korn. I hate that saying, “Everything’s been done.” That’s such a cop out. To me, if you use that saying, that’s just a way of you telling me that you have no imagination or that you aren’t talented enough to come up with your own thing. It’s not just metal.
But I feel like bands are starting to get dangerous again, which I like. Like the Butcher Babies. I mean, they don’t give a fuck.
I think the Butcher Babies are responsible for a lot of that.
I think so, too.
I think they elevated the entire genre.
Personally, I think in LA, the Butcher Babies kind of shut down the scene in a sense. When I say “shut down,” I don’t mean that in a conceited way. The guys in the band are a little bit older and have been playing for a long, long time. They live their craft. So what happens is that when a scene gets really competitive and a band breaks out, the rest just kind of go away. That happened in the ’90s, too. In the ’90s you had to be fucking insane as a musician to even compete with bands like Slipknot or System or Hed PE. You had to be amazing as a musician, and you had to have that crazy, iconic frontman. You either had to have that or you had to have radio hits like Sugar Ray or Lit, who just put out hit after hit after hit.
There’s not a lot of talent in general these days because it’s really easy to fake it. I think that’s going to change, though. I think bands are really starting to step up their game.
It circles back to what I was saying earlier, and in all fairness to bands in Hollywood and bands all over the world, you can be a great player, but there is a huge difference between being a great musician and being a great player in a band. The only way you can get better as a player in a band is time. It’s time in a band, it’s time on the road. The problem is that because there is so little money to be made right now, most musicians are super young. By the time they get to a certain age, they give up because they can’t afford to be broke anymore.
If you look at Deftones and all those bands, when they broke, they were adults. They were men. They weren’t boys. They were men playing metal, and that’s the thing: there are too many boys playing metal right now. That’s a big part of the scene going down right now, too. A 30-year-old guy is not going to go and enjoy himself at a metal show watching 19-year-olds jumping up and down. A) He’s just going to feel old and B) He’s going to be like, “Dude, I don’t want to watch my little brother jump up and down on stage.” Plus he’s probably already seen bands like Slayer play live, and it’s just not going to compare.
I think with those 19-year-olds, we need to give them time to develop and push them out there when they’re 25, when they’re actually really good. Like Asking Alexandria. Those dudes are getting older now, and if you watch them now compared to a few years ago, when [Danny Worsnop] walks out on stage, he doesn’t walk out on that stage like a boy. He commands that stage like a fucking grown man. That’s also what the 18th is about. All of my bands are older. I think it’s cool that Dave Lombardo, who is midway through life, is going to get on stage and shred everyone’s fucking face off on the drums. You know what I mean?
I think age is a beautiful thing. It just means you have more experience, and I think it’s important that we embrace that.
If you watch the record labels now, in the last couple signings, they’re starting to sign older bands again. Sumerian Records is a label I really respect. They’ve really gone out of their way to sign bands that are really good and not necessarily ones that write hit songs. Periphery is a good example. Insane musicians, insane live, very successful band, but successful for the right reasons. They’re not successful because the singer is cute or because they wrote a bunch of pop songs disguised as fake metal songs.
is another. The biggest new signing last year from the LA office is Butcher Babies, and that was definitely outside the box for them. They knew right off the bat that Butcher Babies was going to be super heavy; they weren’t going to write any radio songs, and they weren’t trying to be active rock. We walked into those meetings saying that we are going to be the heaviest female-fronted band to come out this year. It’s going to be thrash metal and heavy as fuck. No hit songs. Literally the words that came out of my mouth were, “There will not be one song on this album that you can play on the radio.”
And we were the biggest signing last year.
There were a lot of great signings last year. I think Metal Blade also made some good choices with seasoned artists…
I think the other problem with signing young bands is that young bands come with a young crowd, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that — I was the exact same way — but for young crowds, music is like tennis shoes. In seventh grade, you show up with whatever the coolest shoes are and then in eighth grade, you don’t dare wear the shoes from seventh grade. You wear whatever is cool for eighth grade. It just means that every two years, you’re going to lose your crowd, which sucks.
That’s why you see bands like Lamb of God still…
Yeah, there’s not a shelf life on Lamb of God.
I mean, Anthrax. Come on. I was watching them in the ’90s and now they’re the biggest they ever been.
Anything else you want to make sure people know about yourself or Maphia?
I think I talked about a lot of negative stuff, but it all has positive intentions. I think the most positive thing coming out of the industry right now is that the people that are here, the people that are in it – the managers, the agents, the label owners, the booking agents, the club owners,especially the musicians — are here for the right reasons, more so than ever before in the history of music.
In the ’90s and early-2000s, it was pretty easy to be in a band. The first time I got signed I was on a tour bus six months later. My gear advance was as much as bands get now to record records. There was a lot of money to be made back then. Those days are gone, and everyone knows that, but the people that are here are the ones that are here because they love music. People aren’t starting record labels to get rich. I mean, starting a record label these days is like suicide. We aren’t here to make money. We just love music.
I think the beauty of the industry right now is that a lot of the vultures — the people who are here to just take advantage and make money, who don’t give a shit about the music industry or the bands, the ones that only care about how big their house is — the majority of those people are gone, and the reason is because the money isn’t here anymore. And I love that. Now I can work with labels, and managers, and bands, and people who enjoy being around music.
I’ll give a shout out to Eric German. That guy has done a lot for my career. That guy is out every night at shows, and he doesn’t have to be. He’s out there because he’s like a throwback to how attorneys used to be back in the day. There aren’t that many attorneys like that anymore. He’s one of those old-school types. He’s in it because he likes going to shows. He likes being around the bands. He likes watching the bands play live. He likes to watch them progress. He likes to be there in the beginning when there’s no money. He’s not the guy that’s waiting for the band to break and make lots of money, then pop in and be like, “Hey, I’ll be your attorney.” He’s the guy that’s there from the very beginning, when there’s no money, because he believes in them and wants to work with them. That’s the perfect example of what I’m talking about. Those are the guys that are going to be around forever because they’re there for the right reasons.
I don’t need to make a ton of money. As long as I can pay my bills, put food on my plate, I’m not going anywhere.
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