How We Work Now: Ed Keane Associates President Ed Keane

Ed Keane
Courtesy Photo

Ed Keane

In a series amid the coronavirus pandemic, Billboard is asking individuals from all sectors of the music business to share stories of how they work now, with much of the world quarantined at home and unable to take in-person meetings, attend conferences or even go into the office. Submissions for the series can be sent to HowWeWorkNow@Billboard.com. Read the full series here.

This installment is with Ed Keane, president of artist management and booking firm Ed Keane Associates.

Ed Keane: Because COVID-19 has been particularly devastating for the touring side of the industry, I’ve been looking at this as a two-phase situation. Phase one was crisis management: rebooking engagements, rebooking tours and reworking deals among the greater community. I'm lucky, because after 30 years of working in music -- between the club circuit, festivals, performing arts centers and concert stages -- I have a history of relationships within that community, which makes a difference when you’re trying to work together. So in that sense, it’s been a nice community to work within because everybody’s in the same boat.

The toughest and most challenging element of phase one was the financial devastation. When you’re a touring artist, you’re booking flights and other future expenses that are compensated once the engagement is played. So cash flow became very critical. What do you do for your core people? Whether they're employees or 1099’s, they’re also like family. So you're trying to attend to each of these very personal relationships to make sure that mortgages can be paid, food can be bought and families can go on. Early on, we really focused on SBA loans: who’s going to handle what, assigning different tasks and making sure that our business managers, accountants and everybody else was in the loop as quickly as we could organize it.

Now that phase one is more manageable, phase two has been about, what can we do during this time that we aren’t already doing or don’t normally have the time to do? I’m referring to everything from creating social media and other content to talking more with my artists [which include Manhattan Transfer, Take 6 and Nnenna Freelon] from the standpoint of what we're doing, where we’re going and how to take advantage of this time from a financial standpoint. We’re creating more content not just for the sake of filling their time but for the sake of doing things that have been on the back burner.

For instance, Manhattan Transfer is coming up on their 50th anniversary in 2022. There are many plans on tap, including anniversary shows and special performance collaborations such as The Summit: Manhattan Transfer Meets Takes 6. We’re also working on a documentary and developing a podcast. We’re taking a similar approach with Take 6. I also work with the New Directions Veterans Choir, whose parent organization helps homeless veterans. One of the choir’s members is Michelle Mayne-Graves, a nurse who has been taking care of COVID-19 patients while launching her own [singing] career.

It’s very interesting to look at the positive aspects of taking a moment to pause in light of a very serious financial crisis with a yet-uncertain future. Because even though we can turn around and say, "All right, let’s get back to business," there’s still the question of, how will we do that? When will people feel comfortable going to a concert, a sports stadium or out to hear a speaker?

Touring is a very personal decision. It's how artists make their living. It’s how I make my living, by and large. But I would never want artists to put themselves at risk. And I support the fans in their choices as much as I do the artists’ and presenters’ decisions. I would say let's roll it out according to what we're seeing for current cases across the country and the world. It’s about working together.

In the meantime, I think many of us are sitting here figuring out what else we can do that’s constructive and positive. What attention and support can we give to people who are on the front lines? I have a degree in biochemistry and molecular biology from Harvard and worked at Massachusetts General Hospital while I was in college. I also did some research in immunology, which was the path I was headed down. Then I told my family I wanted to do something secure, like show business, which they thought was crazy. [Laughs]

However, I’ve been blessed. This is the 24th year of me having my own company. I have four people working for me and all are still on board. I wouldn’t trade it, because even in moments like this, it’s nice to feel the collaboration and sense of family among the artists and office folks that I work with. I refuse to give up the ship.

Coronavirus

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