From Musician to Manager (& Everything in Between): An Interview with Nick Distefano


Some of you have never had your ears graced by the magnificent instrumental sounds that come from Michigan’s own Nick Distefano.  An avid musician since the 5th grade, Nick has been carving his own crash-course through music and the music industry, and now- via his company ArtStart Detroit- he is emerging as Detroit’s new up-and-coming manager.

I had the pleasure of speaking with him about a number of things, including his personal relationship with music, his current band, and delving further into ArtStart Detroit and his emerging career in management.

OTH: So, first, tell us a little about yourself!

Nick: Well, my name is Nick DiStefano! Born and raised in Metro Detroit, I’m a local musician and entrepreneur.

OTH: When did your relationship with music begin?

N: Music was not always part of my life. In the 5th grade I began playing the trumpet, and I enjoyed it! But it was not until I reached late middle school/high school when I fell in love with music. I started to self-teach myself the drums by watching friends and listening to my favorite artists. That’s when I started meeting other musicians my age and collaborating. Around my sophomore year of high school I picked up the guitar, and learned how to read tab and chord charts. My high school started a new arts program called the “Fraser Performing Arts Career Academy.” Offering courses in music theory, ear training, and strings, they created a way to prepare high school students with a passion for music to go fourth and create a career in music. As a part of the first group of students that joined these courses, I was inspired to go fourth and pursue a career in music.

OTH: What prompted you to start/create ArtStart Detroit and can you give us a little bit of background on your company?

N: My underlying belief that started ArtStart Detroit is simple: Artists deserve to make a living off of their art. As a performing artist, I understand how hard it can be to be paid for an art. I couldn’t count the amount of times I played a gig for free, lost money on a show, or was screwed by a venue owner. It absolutely disgusts me that especially in Detroit, there are so many talented artists that simply are taken advantage of because they don’t know how to run their art like a business, and run their business like an art.

As I started college, I began to study the music industry in depth. I was fortunate enough to meet someone I soon could call a mentor, Dennis Tini, a dean and the head of the music business department at Wayne State University. He pushed me and my classmates to change the music industry and become entrepreneurs. It wasn’t until our third year that we had a team project between the four of us to create an innovative and entrepreneurial idea to help the music industry. That is when we created ArtStart Detroit- a company for artists, by artists, with the intent to help artists manage their careers so they can continue focusing on their art. Not many musicians have studied copyright in depth, written a formal legal contract, negotiated, etc. Even if they have, who wants to do that as an artist? As an artist, you want to keep creating art! Not be a business person!

OTH: Do you have any experience or background in music management?

N: I’ve been in a total of three different bands, and every time I managed them. I eventually met If Walls Could Talk, and I have been managing them for three years now. The more I study the music business at my university and attend conferences such as “Self Employment in the Arts” and “Music Biz”, the more I end up loving it and creating new opportunities for myself and my artists. Fortunately, I have two very intelligent partners as well who have their own experience managing artists, running record labels, and learning how the industry works here in Detroit.

OTH: What are your average work hours?

N: My work hours depend on the artists and what is happening. For example, this past week If Walls Could Talk started recording their new EP. In preparation, I was on the phone with Pearl Sound Studios discussing the details of recording, creating a manifest and plan for the group to record, scheduling which days they will be in the studio, making sure everyone was prepared, and then finally joining them in the studio as they recorded the EP. I was working anywhere from 3-5 hours a day on just that project alone, with then spending a 10 hour day with them in the studio. Other days, when not much buzz is happening, I create marketing plans for the next big thing for them, discuss with them their budgets and social media marketing, etc. As a manager, I do everything from creating legal agreements for them, to buying donuts for the recording session, so it always changes!

OTH:  So far, you have two artists signed with ArtStart: If Walls Could Talk (indie-pop/indie-rock) and Angel Shakespeare (gospel). Is it safe to assume that ArtStart can or is willing to handle any and all genres of music?

N: Absolutely. In fact, ArtStart Detroit doesn’t stop at music. We’re just getting our feet wet by working with musicians, but we want to continue to help other artists of all different types of art. Photographer, graphic designers, dancers, actors, etc.

OTH: Are you (ArtStart) considering expanding outside of the city Detroit and into the Metro area/counties?

N: In the future, we want to be able to do that. We want to be able to have “ArtStart Chicago” for example, another place where there’s a surplus of talented musicians.

OTH: I noticed that your team currently consists of 3 people, including yourself.  Are you looking to add more people to your team or are you trying to stay more localized and small-scale?

N: Currently we have enough people. However, the larger and busier we get, the more people we will add. We want to reach as many people as possible, and the way to do that is to share our vision with other talented entrepreneurs.

OTH: There are a lot of other management companies in the industry. What does ArtStart do differently and/or offer that sets you apart from the competition?

N: ArtStart Detroit is a company run by artists, for artists based in Detroit Michigan. As artists, we have a different perspective of the music industry and our artist’s art then other management companies. We all love Detroit, and have a vision to see all artists create a living from what they love to do- create art. We also notice that there are not many people who takes the challenge of helping rebuild Detroit’s once thriving music scene. And lastly, we want to help ALL different types of artists out, not just musicians- I don’t know of another company that is willing to do that. To sum it up in fewer words: determination, passion, and vision.

OTH: I know that ArtStart is a very young company, so I’m sure a multitude of challenges have already arisen in setting up the business, but what do you think you’re biggest challenge regarding ArtStart is and how are you tackling it?

N: Personally, it’s managing my time and expectations. I have a part-time job, go to school, and perform myself in a band. So managing my time is the biggest challenge I have. I take this on by setting time to go through all of my schedules, and create time for me to sit down and work for my artists.

As a company, we all have a similar problem. But regardless of our busy schedules, we always have constant communication between all of us. We use technology to our advantage by video calling, task management apps, file sharing apps, and plenty of other apps we use to make everything operates as smoothly as possible with our company and for our artists.

OTH: What’s the most enjoyable part of your job with ArtStart?

N: Watching our artist smile when they realize that their dreams of making a living from their art is possible. It is easily the most rewarding part of ArtStart Detroit.

OTH: Where do you see ArtStart in the next few years?

N: I see ArtStart Detroit taking off and managing many more artists of all different types. I see us expanding our team, managing bigger artists and watching the artists we have now grow their fan bases and become comfortable with being simply artists.

OTH: What’s your ultimate goal with ArtStart Detroit?

N: To give artists the opportunity to make a living from their art.

OTH: So, you’re finishing up your senior year at Wayne State University, you’re the guitarist for If Walls Could Talk and (I presume) you’ve got more IWCT material on the way, and now you’re taking your steps into professional management. How do you balance such a hectic and stacked schedule?

N: If Walls Could Talk has an immense amount of material coming and it’s beyond exciting. It’s true that it gets hectic, and many people might even believe that it’s a conflict of interest. Maybe sometimes I can’t be as objective about the music, but that’s why I also have a team that helps immensely. Being this intimate with the band also gives me more ways to help them. I think of it this way; there are three different hats I wear for If Walls Could Talk. I’m a musician, band leader, and manager. Depending on the situation, I put on a different hat. The band knows this, and we all know when to switch from business to music, and vice versa.

OTH: Any words of advice for those who are looking to delve into the world of artist management?

N: Be strong, be creative, be passionate.

OTH: Thank you for taking the time to speak with me, Nick! Anything else you’d like to add before you go?

It’s been my pleasure, thank you! The last thing I would like to add:

Follow your dreams. You will be surprised what you can accomplish with hard work and passion.

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