It’s been an admittedly unusual path to success for Songwriter101.com faculty member Amy Blackman (a/k/a Amy B.) - but that’s in keeping with her main client, the salsa/hip-hop/jazz/funk collective Ozomatli. The combination in the mid-‘90s of a manager who didn’t even realize she was a manager, along with a group whose membership had yet to solidify, has turned into a unique - and mutually satisfying - relationship.
In 1996, Blackman was working as an assistant at an indie label and ended up scouting bands. The Rock En Espa�ol movement was starting to catch fire, and she was assigned to check out Yeska at L.A.‘s Viper Room; arriving early, she caught opening act Ozomatli and, in her words, “thought they were the greatest band I’d ever seen. At that time they didn’t really have any lyrics of their own, they were doing almost all covers ? they were not even really a band yet.”
Shortly afterward, the label was shuttered, but Blackman continued working with the group. “I just helped them out, getting them a rehearsal space, that kind of thing. It was all very informal. I didn’t think I would end up making my career with them, but that’s what happened.”
Blackman didn’t even realize she was the group’s manager until she was introduced as such by one of the bandmembers. “I thought, ‘Oh, okay,’” she recalls with a laugh. Having served as a management assistant with John Carter, who at that time was working with Paula Cole and the Eels, Blackman says she was “learning how labels operate, how to make deals, and I got enough of a sense of how the business works to hold my own. [Carter] ended up firing me because I was spending so much time on Ozo - and it was the best thing that ever happened to me, because otherwise I might not have gone out on my own so easily.”
In 1997, Ozo had grown large enough to become the object of a bidding war amongst Interscope, Capitol, and Almo Sounds, among others. Ultimately, the group signed with Almo, the label started by Herb Alpert and Jerry Moss after they sold A&M to Polygram, “because a lot of the guys in the band went to Hamilton High School, where Herb and Jerry had funded the music program. We just really dug the vibe there.”
The group’s self-titled debut album came out in 1998; shortly afterward, Ozo was added to the Warped Tour lineup, solidifying their live reputation and leading to opening slots on tours by Lenny Kravitz, the Offspring and Santana. “After that we went out on their first club tour, where they started making a few grand a night, which sometimes takes a very long time to get to that point,” she says. “We had a good core team really early on, and it’s grown organically on its own since.”
In 1999, Almo was sold to Interscope, which promptly dropped all Almo’s acts except for Ozo and Garbage. Amy feels the group was fortunate in that the label also brought on Almo’s former general manager. “Interscope did what they could, but Ozo really requires a tremendous amount of creative marketing, and Interscope was content to go with their standard 8-week promo plan. On top of that, the record came out on Sept. 11, 2001, so sales of course suffered because of that. The band asked to be let go in February of ‘02, and they were . . . and they were really happy about it! I don’t know too many bands who ask to be let out of their contracts in the first place, and then are so happy when it happens.”
The group then decided to go with a small company, “rather than be in a huge pipeline with 200 other acts.” Enter Concord, known primarily as a jazz label. “We knew that they have a track record and they’re not going anywhere. The fact that they’re a jazz label had some people scratching their heads, but they promised that what they didn’t know how to do, they’d hire people to do, and they’ve been good to their word.”
Ozo remains on the road - “They’re constantly touring” - as it works its current Concord release, Street Signs. Blackman allied herself with music and media firm Tsunami Entertainment in February 2004, where she continues to work with Ozo as well as such talent as Go Betty Go (Side One Dummy Records), the Peak Show (Atlantic Records), and mixer/engineer Robert Carranza.
“I was ultimately self-taught at management, and that’s really the best way, in my opinion,” she says. “We get interns here who ask me, ‘How do you get into managing bands?’ and my answer is, ‘By managing bands.’ There’s really no substitute for it.”