January 14, 2019 by Eddie Ivers
The Metronome to the Music: An Interview with Paulo Ventura of Metronomo
On a rainy Saturday afternoon in Lisbon, I walked the slippy backstreets to Coliseu dos Recreios to meet Paulo Ventura of Metronomo Management. He was acting stage manager of Coliseu for the weekend of Super Bock em Stock (previously Mexefest), and I managed to catch him in between soundchecks for a chat about the music industry in Portugal and his own journey.
Aside from working at most major festivals, including Super Bock Super Rock, NOS Alive, and Sudoeste, Paulo is the founder of Metronomo and acting manager for several Portuguese acts. Currently on the bill at Metronomo are Capitão Fausto and Linda Martini — two bands at the forefront of Portuguese indie rock right now — as well as the Legendary Tigerman, a rock and roll veteran in the Portuguese music scene, and Ramp, “the fathers of thrash metal in Portugal.”
Were you always big into music, and is that what lead you to a career in music management?
Actually, no, I always liked a lot of different types of music, but I was never “part of the scene.” I just enjoyed music. I started in ‘87, when I was asked to be a road manager for a band and I had no idea what I was doing. I was told: “collect the money, look after the hotel and restaurant, get the band on stage, and you’re done.” So it started like that, and I didn’t really know anything about the industry at all. I was a road manager until 1994, and at some point, I realized that there was this independent thing going on, with much smaller bands, and I thought to myself: “that is what I want to do.” I want to manage those bands. So I went to France to learn more because at that time I had a friend there studying management and publishing. I stayed there for three months learning everything I could. The funny thing was that when I came back to Portugal, I realized that all that I learned in France would not work here in Portugal. It was a completely different industry. (chuckles)
What was the music industry in Portugal like at that time?
At that time, you had booking agents and artists’ careers were mostly run by the artists or the record label. The booking agent was the closest person to the artist and he/she was sort of the acting manager. There were no real thoughts about a career in this process. They were the “booking artists.” At the time, the scene was so small that if you were lucky enough to get a record deal, then something would actually happen for you in the industry. There were not many people at that time recording and releasing records, so it was very different.
What was the biggest difference between France and Portugal?
In France, at the time, you actually had an industry. You had all these different scenes and levels of artists. The local scene, the major scene, the mainstream scene, the independent scene, and you really had to manage the band. In France, when an artist got a good record deal, they would immediately think of touring outside of France. First to the French-speaking countries but afterward to the U.K., the States, etc. In Portugal, however, it was more comfortable. “I have a band, I have a record deal, I am going to get radio play and get on national TV, so I’m happy with that.” The thought never evolved further. If you were a big Portuguese artist, you played in Portugal and that was it. If a Portuguese artist went to play in Spain, it was huge news. I’m not saying that all these guys didn’t have the dream to play outside of Portugal, the industry here just had no vision for that.
I remember once, I was managing this band and we actually got a really good contract with NordSul, (a record label part of Valentim de Carvalho) and I asked them for an advance:
“You want an advance?”
“Ya, I want an advance.”
“There are no advances in Portugal.”
“But we could try to have one?”
We never got it. I also asked them for tour support and didn’t get that either. So, at some point, you realize that there is no proper industry to invest that kind of money in a Portuguese artist.
Was there a turning point, and how is the music industry now compared to then?
There was this band called Herois do Mar, who were huge at the time (1981 to 1990), and when they ended, three or four of them created a new band called LX-90. LX-90 were so fresh sounding at that time that the guys at BMG (their record label) tried to export them. So, for the first time ever in Portugal, there was a record label with a thing called “tour support.” No one knew what the fuck that was. They got money for the band to move to London with management and to record and play there. Their first record was in Portuguese but they re-recorded it in English and they were really good. They were amazing musicians but unfortunately, it just didn’t work out for them. They had all the chances and no-one knows why it didn’t work.
Fortunately, after that, things evolved here in Portugal, mainly because of this guy called Antonio Cunha. He was really good and still is. He had bands like Madredeus, Delfins, Resistência, and a lot more. Any of the bands he picked would be hugely successful. At that time, in my view, he was the only real band manager [in Portugal]. His bands didn’t just have records being sold all over the world, but they were playing around the world too, and selling tickets! They were huge. He was a role model to me. After him, managers started to appear around Portugal but we are still learning.
What do you think of the available venues in Lisbon and Portugal?
We don’t really have the typical culture of “venues,” because bands did not really need the venues previously. They were selling their shows to the city [council] to play in the central squares at free events, so there was no need for venues. The fee for that was, for example, €15,000. Why? Are they worth that money? Are they worth €30,000 or worth €5,000? No one knew, but you might get on TV and the radio and play a big show. Ok. But would that band sell €15,000 in tickets? Eventually, maybe, but you have to go and find out first.
We have a lack of good venues in Lisbon. If you want to do a show for 1,500 people standing in Lisbon, forget it, you don’t have it. But then, you do have the clubs, Musicbox, Sabotage, and places that you can do small shows. You have Lux too, which is not an easy venue to play, but if you have the right act, it can work. You also have the theatres all over the country, which are very important. I use the theatre network a lot for tours for my artists.
There was a huge investment a few years ago, and now the theatres are everywhere! In every city, there is a good theatre. When we do a theatre tour, we do 26 to 32 shows all over Portugal. Four per week, and it really works.
How do you typically structure a tour for a band?
A lot of artists in Portugal don’t understand their worth because they’ve never gone on a tour with tickets for sale. So they have no clue if they can sell tickets or not. Some of these artists can play 70 to 80 times per year by “selling the show” but will they sell if they go on a tour? I don’t know, and they don’t know. In some cases, I guess the artists probably won’t. My artists sell tickets, I know because I sell the tickets. They are playing for the fans, and that’s why it works. They don’t play as many shows, but I’m not depending on a promoter to come and buy the show. So at the end of the year, you actually know how much that artist is really worth.
How has technology and social media changed things for the music industry?
We have a lot of tools online. Spotify is a great tool, for example. I don’t like using Facebook, but the data is good and we can book a tour and sell it out on that information too. I’m not into the social media thing really, I don’t have a personal Facebook account, but I do have Instagram. I don’t use it as a social tool though, it is more to keep track of the artists, how they are doing on there. Being able to be apart from it but taking advantage of it is great. That’s what I tell people: “Stop whining, it’s happening.” You won’t sell a fucking [physical] record anymore. You are not in one territory anymore, with the internet, you are fucking everywhere. No one knows you, but you are there. So help them reach you!
When talking with Paulo, you get a sense of urgency — several people came in during the interview to get the all- clear from him about certain topics — but this urgency is balanced with experience. It is almost a stereotype for people to be “burned out” by the industry, but Paulo is not one of those folk, he is still forward thinking and passionate, as much about the smaller acts as the bigger ones.
“That’s the thing about loving your artists. I love them and I really am very happy to be part of it all. It’s really a privilege being a part of their creation and their talent. I hope it stays like this because you learn every day!”
Keep an eye out for upcoming shows on the Metronomo facebook page and the individual artist pages.
Thanks again to Paulo and the Metronomo crew for taking time during such a busy event to sit down, drink an imperial, and talk with me!