Industry Insiders: Rich Cohen Is the Man Behind the Music

Passion Pit and Tokyo Police Club manager Rich Cohen first became obsessed with music in seventh grade, when he heard They Might Be Giants’ sophomore album, Lincoln. But he didn’t think his piano skills were polished enough for him to become a musician himself, so he set his sights on the next best music business career: band management. Cohen got his start in the business interning at Filter magazine and temping at Virgin Records, which led to a full-time job as the day-to-day manager of Interpol and Elefant. In 2006, he formed his own management company and signed indie rockers Tokyo Police Club. Fast-forward three years, and he added his second client, the catchy, synth-pop band, Passion Pit, to the roster. Rich credits his work ethic, methodical nature, and psychology degree from Syracuse University for his success as a manager. Here’s Rich on social networking, interns, and taking the bands home to meet his parents.

On his first job in the music business: My first real job was working for a management company doing day to day for Interpol and Elefant. I got it through a series of different temp jobs and interning at Filter marketing. Then I was temping at Virgin Records, and I befriended a few people and they recommended I meet with the manager of Interpol, took a meeting, and hit it off right away.

On being a manager: For the most part I’m just trying to manage the day-to-day careers for both my bands, whether its liaising with the tour manager when they’re on the road, dealing with the business manager building budgets, talking to the agent about routing tours, talking to the lawyer about record contracts or the publisher about film, TV, and commercial licensing. It’s a healthy balance of all of those. It’s obviously busier when the bands on the road.

On who are the bigger divas, Passion Pit or Tokyo Police Club: Whoah. Let’s call it a tie. They’re both equally great and have similar needs and wants. They’re both amazing to work with. How’s that for diplomatic?

On interning at his office: It’s a big open environment. No cubicles, no dividers. I feel like we’re pretty open to having people hear what’s going on and I feel like it’s a really good learning environment. The bands come in a lot and I like to get cupcakes for people on their birthdays.

What’s the best TV show to get one of the band’s music in? I would have to say Gossip Girl. Or maybe How I Met Your Mother.

On Tokyo Police Club: I started managing Tokyo when I was working for a management company. A friend told me about this band I should go check out. I went over to Mercury Lounge and there were three other people there. I really enjoyed the performance and kept in touch with the guys. I offered my advice to them and around four months later went to Montreal to see them play and they decided that we would be better off working together than not working together. So I decided to take them on while I was still doing my day-to-day work with the management company and helping them out. And they started to grow, and eventually I ended up parting ways with my management company and started with them as my only client.

On Passion Pit: I’ve been working with Passion Pit for going on two years. They were big fans of Tokyo. It seemed like they were in a position to do some great things but they just needed some guidance. I worked with them in the studio when they were finishing up Manners. They saw what I did with Tokyo, how I helped them grow, so they decided to work with me.

On social networking: I think it plays an important role. You can connect with 100,000 people at the touch of a button and have them waiting on your every word. With Myspace, Facebook, Twitter, it’s direct access to fans. It allows for a relationship with bands that’s pretty special. And I think for bands starting out it’s a great way to get your music out there and it levels the playing field. There’s the same chance for a band in San Francisco as a band in Stockholm, Sweden.

On liking his bands as people: I won’t work with a band unless I feel like I can bring them home to my parents. I feel strongly about getting along with them as people. And if I don’t, I can’t work with them. When Tokyo Police Club first played Letterman, they slept on my floor, and all of them have met my family. I can’t work with bands and put people out there if they don’t reflect what I’m trying to do as a manager. I think that both these bands do.

On taking on new bands: I’d love to grow my roster. There are a lot of requirements that I want on my end. They have to be good people, they have to be great artists, they have to love their music. They have to want to work as hard as I do. I’d love to have three or four bands, but I also don’t want to spread myself so thin that I can’t fully service the people that I’m working with.

Dispatch from Toronto Film Festival: Tokyo Police Club & Canadian Film Center

It was one of those nights where you get home at 5am and hit snooze on your Blackberry until 1pm. If you’ve never experienced this, I don’t recommend trying. Anyway, I was cutting it close to completely missing CFC’s Annual BBQ. CFC—Canadian Film Center—is a reputable institution in Toronto that offers advanced training and production in film, TV, and media. And they throw one hell of a party. Because it was more of a “Canadian” experience than a clusterfuck of international industry folk, I decided to miss the screening of Dustin Lance Black’s new film, What’s Wrong with Virginia?, and high-tail it up to North York, a posh residential area just north of downtown.

As soon as I arrived, I was introduced to prominent Canadian actors, directors, producers, and screenwriters, all of whom packed the outdoor, green-grass garden of the CFC while the local band, Tokyo Police Club—one of my favorites and an appropriate band for the function—played live on the deck. Despite the brisk weather, it was an event that couldn’t have been more streamlined: effortless access to open bar, free food, cool Canadians just being cool Canadians with seemingly no ulterior motives. It was a nice moment, a truly underrated event, where I found myself casually drinking a beer in what felt like your best-friend’s backyard, all the while knowing I was supporting a good cause.

The annual CFC BBQ raised more than $200,000 in support of their training programs. Let’s churn out some great Torontonian filmmakers, CFC!