He’s one of the most successful, not to mention forthright music managers in the world today, so it was always likely that sparks were going to fly when Q Prime’s Peter Mensch sat down for an in-depth discussion at the close of the 30th International Live Music Conference (ILMC), held in London last week.
“I’m fuelled by hate,” Mensch told host Dan Steinberg, during a highly entertaining keynote panel that saw the manager candidly reflect on a 40-plus year career that’s seen him work with everyone from The Rolling Stones to Madonna to Led Zeppelin.
Current clients of Q Prime, which Mensch founded alongside his long-term business partner and “oldest and closest friend” Cliff Burnstein in 1982, include Metallica, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Muse, Snow Patrol, Foals and The Black Keys.
“Peter’s sharp insight on the business was a fabulous way to cap off ILMC’s sold out anniversary edition that saw over 1,000 decision makers attend from over 60 countries,” ILMC managing director Greg Parmley tells Billboard. “With discussion topics ranging from security to gender, blockchain and ticketing to artist fees and new technology, the live music business’s annual meeting was as vibrant as ever.”
Here’s some of the highlights from Mensch’s chat with Steinberg.
His tough love approach to management
You don’t have to be a total shit to be a manager, but it helps sometimes. You manage from the highest moral ground. If you’ve got all the answers, then you have the high moral ground in your comments to promoters or record company people. Then you become a pain in the arse because they disagree with you. But we’re right. Cliff and I are always right. Never wrong. If you manage bands, at all levels, you’re kind of the mommy bird and they’re baby birds and you have to feed them. So anybody that doesn’t want to help you feed them, you get angry at. If you get in my way, I’m going to roll over you. Because my job is to feed the baby birds.
Starting out as Aerosmith’s tour accountant
I was the world’s worst tour accountant. There was a lot of cash because most of the Aerosmith’s accounting was paying for illicit substances and taking receipts. So basically, what happened was you’d run into a drug dealer. Someone would ask for money and the artist, who by that time had run off with the drugs, would have to sign a receipt [for the cash]. I was shitty. But I learned about the business.
What he and Cliff look for in an artist
The most important thing that a manager can do is get the best music out of the act as possible. For those of you who don’t know the joke, we never see our clients before we manage them. I don’t give a flying fuck if they can play live. We really only care about the demos. We managed Foals for almost two years and no one in the company had seen them play. It’s all about the music. If the music is great, we’ll manage anyone. Because they’ll always get better [as live performers].
Why management companies are becoming more like record companies
[Q Prime client] Declan McKenna is on tour in America. The tour is costing $130,000. We’re writing the check. Not Sony… Cliff and I put our money where our money is. We play the long game. We helped finance Metallica’s movie. We do what we have to do to get the job done. Record companies are useless. Totally fucking useless. [McKenna is] a Columbia UK signed artist, who is touring America and not one person from the UK company has ever bothered to call and say, ‘Hey, thank you very much.’ Barely one person in the American company knows we’re doing it. We’ve invited them to come. It’s pretty disgusting if you ask me.
The worst moments in his management career
Three deaths and a missing arm. They are my worst ‘oh fuck’ moments. [AC/DC singer] Bon Scott died. [Def Leppard guitarist] Steve Clark died. [Metallica bassist] Cliff Burton died. [Def Leppard drummer] Rick Allen lost his arm. It doesn’t get more ‘oh fuck’ than that.
Managing Madonna in the late Nineties
She was a professional. We got fucked out of her tour because she didn’t want to pay us. She had made Ray of Light. She had fired [manager] Freddy [DeMann] and she steadfastly said she didn’t want to go on tour. Guy Oseary I believe had been to every other manager, all of whom weren’t interested in managing her as she wasn’t going out on tour. Cliff and I said, ‘That’s fine. Can we hear the record?’ We go and see her and say, ‘This is a brilliant fucking record. You want us to manage you?’ She said, ‘Okay. I’m not touring.’ ‘Fine.’ We sold 15 million copies of the record. We had to fight with her about the first single. She wanted “Ray of Light.” She admitted a year later that “Frozen” was the right choice. The record took off. Every time Madonna did promotion the record sold like hotcakes. She rehearsed for a tour and then she decided to make a shitty movie and then we parted company.
Working with The Rolling Stones on 1989/90’s Steel Wheels tour
However big we thought Def Leppard was, I realized The Rolling Stones do everything on a Rolling Stones-like scale. They just did shit on a way bigger scale than I had ever seen before. Although I’m pretty sure that Keith Richards doesn’t really remember that I was ever there. And I’m sure he was questioning why I was there in the first place. We got the job as managers because we were renting space off Michael Cohl. He called up and said the Stones need a manager. We’d sold a lot of Def Leppard records at the time and Mick Jagger was impressed with that. The truth of the matter is that I got lucky. Keith Richards insisted that they actually rehearsed. Fans were coming up to us saying, ‘You’re a fucking genius. What did you do? They’re playing so much better.’ I said, ‘It’s because Cliff and I are here now.’ But [really] it’s because they rehearsed. It was amazing to watch.
Working with The Smashing Pumpkins
We have a no arseholes rule at Q Prime. It’s because of Billy Corgan. He was a very difficult person to work with. He’s a really talented guy, just doesn’t want to listen to anybody’s advice — at least as far as I could tell.
His take on the AEG-MSG turf war
Big swinging dicks. The Staples Center has three sports teams. The number of available dates is less. What I couldn’t understand is why Irving [Azoff] or Jim Dolan didn’t say to everybody, ‘Whatever the deal is with the Staples Center I’ll be fifty percent less. Because I need 300 dates.’ And people would have said, ‘Okay. I’ll play The Forum.’ They tied it to Madison Square Garden, which shouldn’t be tied to anything because it’s the world’s most famous venue and every band wants to play there. But that’s how Irving wants to play it. Jay [Marciano] ties the Staples Center to [London’s] The O2 and basically it’s a pisser. You have to navigate it. What can you do?… It’s only going to get harder. On shit that shouldn’t be painful, it’s going to get more painful.
Managing Jimmy Page. Twice.
He fired me. I fired him. [First time] was around 2006. I had lunch with him and we met for lunch every other month. He’s a nice man. In 2007 he said, ‘Okay, you can manage me, but you’ve got to come to Led Zeppelin meetings. We have these quarterly Led Zeppelin meetings.’ There was an agenda, like a proper business meeting, and the fifth item on there brought up by Bill Curbishley, who was managing Robert Plant at the time, was that [legendary Atlantic Records co-founder] Ahmet Ertegun had died. Bill Curbishley said we should play a memorial concert for him. I’m on the job for two hours and all of a sudden Bill Curbishley wants [Led Zeppelin] to play a concert. And by the end of the meeting we had agreed to play a tribute concert.
The key to Metallica’s lasting popularity
James Hetfield speaks to group of people that no one else speaks to. That’s one of the reasons why Metallica are as big as they are now. No one else is even close to them. If hard rock is about losing your inhibitions or frustrations, James Hetfield still to this day, his lyrics, are fucking angry. He’s fueled by hate also.
What’s motivates him
I’m fueled by hate. I’ve had a chip [on my shoulder] since I was 10. It doesn’t go away. We want to shove down everybody’s throats [that] we’re the best management company on the planet. Other people’s clients don’t understand that, but they will eventually. I’m joking. The fact is, we do things ourselves. We have 40 employees. We’re basically a record company now in North America. We have a digital department. We have a marketing department. We have our own vinyl pressing plant in Germany. And if the record companies get out of the physical business, we’ll buy a CD pressing plant…. When we shuffle off this mortal coil, we want people to go, ‘They were fucking legends.’ I’m a better manager than Peter Grant ever was. I know that because I know the deals that Led Zep did. I want to prove myself every fucking day.