Count This Penny (left) and Horseshoes & Hand Grenades are the company's fist two clients.
As some of the major music promoters in town and the owners of a top concert venue, Majestic Theatre owners Matt Gerding and Scott Leslie see the best new talent in Madison on a regular basis. So it's perhaps only natural that they've added another arm to the Majestic music leviathan: band management.
A year ago, Gerding and Leslie began managing the local folk act Count This Penny, as Majestic Music Management. They've since added Horseshoes & Hand Grenades, a bluegrass band from Stevens Point, to their management portfolio.
It's a quiet start, and that's exactly what they want.
"Scott and I have talked about it for a long time, waiting until we found a band that really excited us," says Gerding. "We fell in love with Count This Penny, and they turned out to be great people. They sold out our Folk Fest; they'd built a great fan base. Six or seven months later, we discovered Horseshoes & Hand Grenades, who headlined our Wisconsin Bluegrass Fest."
As hosts of major concerts and events like their themed festival series featuring Wisconsin music, Gerding and Leslie have a front-row seat to acts with selling potential. "When we start noticing bands selling a lot of tickets, turning some heads and building a national buzz, it's a good time to step in and take over," Gerding explains.
He and Leslie have hired back Peter Truby, a former Majestic booking agent who went to work for the Windish Agency in Chicago a few years ago, to help with this new element of the company. "It's a side of our business that we're very passionate about and hope to continue to grow," says Gerding. "Peter is overseeing a lot of the day-to-day and scouting for other bands in the region." Meanwhile, Gerding says he and Leslie are in touch with the bands they manage on a weekly basis.
"We met [Gerding and Leslie] when we played a few shows at Majestic, long before they were interested in the management portion at all, and they offered a hand and some help when it came to management things," says Russell Pedersen, banjoist, fiddler and vocalist in Horseshoes & Hand Grenades. "They took a strong interest in our music, and we realized they were nice guys looking to help out. We liked them personally."
Pedersen says the Majestic team's unique position at the epicenter of the Madison music scene is a boon. "We like how they're touching on all genres. It's an eclectic venue to work for, and at the end of the day, they listen to the same kind of music that I'm into. They're renaissance folks who try to get their hands into everything and keep an open perspective."
Gerding has worked as an agent and at record labels; Leslie was a member of a band. They feel their diverse music background lends itself well to the Majestic's multifaceted approach. "When it comes to knowing what it takes to get a band to the next level, we feel like we have a pretty good resume," Gerding says.
It's not uncommon for promoters and venue owners to also manage bands, Gerding explains, and he feels that the goals of the Majestic as a venue, promotion company and band-management business won't conflict. "Our number one responsibility is to the bands, and if we think having Horseshoes & Hand Grenades here is the best thing for the longevity of their career and they agree, that's what we'll do. But if they think they should be playing High Noon Saloon, we'll do what's best for them. It's by no means a ploy to get them to play our venue."
Asked about the Majestic's long-term band-management ambitions, Gerding says a local-music land grab isn't a goal.
"We want to grow slowly. We take the role of managing a band very seriously. The band is allowing you to take the reins with their career, and that's a sacred thing. We don't want to throw a dozen bands on our plate that we won't have the time to give the attention they deserve."