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How Steve Rennie Is Schooling the Next Generation of Musicians

by Topher Kelly
music & audio

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He’ll tell you that your chances are one in a million. He’ll tell you he tried to convince his own son to stay out of the business. He’ll call you crazy and laugh in your face when you tell him you want to be a musician, but what he won’t do is let you start your journey without imparting the decades of experience he’s got under his belt. No, long-time music manager Steve Rennie won’t leave you high and dry. That’s why, after his experience on CreativeLive, he decided to get serious about organizing his one-of-a-kind music education network – Renman U. To find out more, we sat down with Steve to get the scoop.

Tell us a little about Renman U. How did it all start?

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When I started, if I told you I had a loose plan, that would be an overstatement! We had 24 YouTube videos. About a dozen of those were about how to prepare, get your head in the game and have the right attitude to enter the music biz.  The rest were the nuts and bolts of the music business, the technical stuff.  Then we went into interviews with artists, record producers, concert promoters, record executives  and other people who work in the industry. That’s what we called RenMan Live. It was a simple idea but one turned into another one and before we knew it, we had 90 of them. Within those interviews were a wealth of information on how the business works. What occurred to me after I did a session on CreativeLive was I had to take all of that knowledge in my head and put it into a full “curriculum.” So RenMan U started as a personal project, a gag really. We did an IndieGogo campaign to raise money for a new season of content. In order to do that, we came up with the idea to offer a workshop as a perk for the campaign. We sold 12 seats over 2 weekends and that’s when I realized this thing has a ring to it and people like it, so why not do a 12 week online course?

I use the term loosely, but RenMan U is my attempt to do something academic. RenMan Live is more of an interview show.

Why “F the Gatekeepers,” as your and RenMan U’s mantra?

I’m the king of one-liners… the big idea of F*&* the gatekeepers is really about pushing ahead of no matter what.There will be any number of obstacles in your way – people, situations, excuses – why you won’t get something done.  F’ the keepers is the war cry of those that want to be heard and those that fight and do anything to be heard.

You know, there’s more competition than ever in the music business. There are more people making music and the same amount of spots as there used to be. The key is that you can’t be scared of a no. All it takes is one or two yes’ to make a big change. What RenMan U does is gives you the nuts and bolts so that you understand how to take action. The attitude, which is the important part, is up to you. If you have a shitty attitude, you’ll find a way to fail.

What I really admire about RenMan Live is the curriculum – it’s really well thought out. Can you tell us how and why you chose those topics covered ?

We originally positioned it as the insider’s guide to today’s music business, but a guy here that works with me went to the Thornton School of Music at the University of Southern California and he helped me put it together. He always characterized it as what he wished he would have learned early on in music school and the information that he wished he had received while studying there. The curriculum so far is about saying ‘here’s the big picture stuff’ but as Renman U plays out over time, there’s room to really drill into the details within those broader, bigger topics that we cover. For example, under marketing and promotion, we shot that as one segment, but you could have one segment just about building a website that’s tailored to the music community. It’s the same for touring and every topic, really.

Can you tell us about some of the guests you’ve had on Renman Live?

If you visit the guest list on our page you can see them all. It’s hard to single out a few with such a talented list, but music publishing is a huge part of the business or certainly the income side of things and we’ve had some really big people like Jody Gerson who is the President of Sony Music ATD, which is now the biggest publisher in the world. She’s not only a great executive, but a prime example of how women can break into the industry and make a huge impact. She’s definitely got the F’ the gatekeepers mentality. Tom Corson is another one. Tom runs RCA records. We also talked to Mike Caren who runs Warner Bros records. We talked to some of the biggest promoters like Paul Tollett (Coachella, Stagecoach).  There are so many great band managers that I don’t even want to start because it will sound like I’m name dropping. Same with bands – Fun, Incubus, August Burns Red, SOJA, GroupLove – it goes on and on.

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People often ask you for your “tips for breaking into the music industry.” How do you think your answer has changed over the last decade? 

If you are trying to break in today, it’s actually easier to connect with ‘top’ people than ever. Execs, promoters and influencers are all easier to get a hold of. It’s also easier for artists to create music and videos. Look at Radar Music Videos for example; kids can find videographers trying to make videos and team up for a music video. Back in the day, there was no email and there were more gatekeepers.

Today, you have sites like RenMan U, where you could call in and pick the brain of a guest, but at the end of the day, you need something worth connecting about – you need to be making great music.  The bad news? Well, it’s easier than ever to make music and everyone is doing it. It’s up to you to do something to that you stand out. That’s actually harder in today’s music industry.

How about booking a tour? How has that changed or stayed the same?

There are options out there today that make it easier than doing it strictly on your own. Take Indie on the Move; that was built by a guy who thought to himself ‘ F’ the gatekeepers, there’s gotta be a better way to go about booking tours across the country.’ So he built a database that we can all use, making the process that much easier. So sure, there are advantages but you still need a buyer and you still have to worry about getting paid by that buyer. ReverbNation is great too, but you still need to have some buyer. You still have to worry about getting paid by that buyer. That didn’t go away. If you aren’t selling tickets in your hometown, it’s still going ot be hard to sell them on the road. That’s all the same. But for the few bands that really have something good going, being able to tap those resources while on the road is F’*#ing huge!

Despite the fact that your teaching is universal and relatively timeless, you are still on top of current happenings in the industry. What types of publications and news sites do you read to stay current?

I still read Billboard. I’m surrounded by young people, which helps. I’m constantly getting tips from members and listening to the community. My Twitter feed. I got going with social media because of Incubus. It as an easy way to stay connected to people abroad after global tours. So it serves two purposes; staying in touch and keeping up to date on news. The Internet helps play to the lazy man in me – you can see everything right there and all you have to do is just follow the links. I also read the LA Times and Wall St. Journal every morning. Hypebot is another great source.

To find our more about Steve and Renman U + Live, click here. Also, stay tuned as Steve plans to teach another course on CreativeLive soon!

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Topher Kelly

Topher Kelly is a San Francisco-based freelance writer and editor at CreativeLive. Follow Topher on Twitter@Topher_LIVE.