Tag Archives: ECE Coffee Talk

ECE Coffee Talk: Finding Balance

In the ECE Coffee Talk series, one of our agents or artists shares a more personal post full of musings and/or insight – basically, talking and rehashing life as if you were sitting across from each other sipping coffee. Today ECE Atlanta Managing Partner, Matthew Thomas, is sharing his thoughts on the ever-elusive goal of finding a balance between work, family and self. Grab your mug and pull up a chair.
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Spring is wrapping up and summer is almost here! This is my favorite time of year, aside from maybe Christmas. The sun is shinning, people are out and about on the town enjoying the weather and events are in full swing, which means, especially in this industry, it’s non-stop day in and day out! The hours, days and weeks fly by during this time of year and one of the hardest things to do is to find balance and keep your sanity.

It’s exciting and exhausting all at the same time… and I love it. I think I thrive most when my plate is full, but this year, it’s a bit overflowing. The insanity has been compounded this year. On the personal front, my wife and I welcomed our first child – an amazing baby boy named Brady. Professionally speaking, I made partner here at ECE. This comes with a lot of additional responsibility and workload, not to mention the challenge of getting up to speed with the many things involved with helping run a company.

Here at ECE, we’re in the midst of a huge CRM project that is going to help take us to the next level and allow us to be more effective as a company. However, the work that has to be done to get it developed and in a place that does all of the things we need this system to do with the many facets of our business is a monumental task. Coming in a bit late in the process requires me to work double-time to get up to speed on everything and help the progress.

There are not enough hours in the day to do it all sometimes, and finding balance is a tremendous challenge.

Obviously, being a new father, I want to spend as much time with my son as I can, especially during these early stages of his life. Not to mention that he is just so stinkin’ adorable. He has recently discovered his hands and trying to grab things, and has started smiling and has the occasional short little giggles that just melt my heart! It’s so hard to pull myself away from him every morning. I count the minutes until I get to see him when I get home. Thank the technology developers who designed FaceTime! While I can’t be there in person, I can still take a break and see his face a couple of times a day and it gives me that much needed boost!

That’s the challenge every day – finding that balance between career, family and some personal downtime to recharge. With everything that’s needed to get the job done at the office, it’s hard to get home in time to spend at least a few minutes before Brady goes down for the night. It’s my goal to be there to help with bath time, give him his last bottle of the day and put him down for the night. I don’t always succeed, but I try every day.

The upside to all of this is that business is going well and it’s a great time to be at ECE. We’re growing, our roster of talent is amazing, and we have the opportunity to work with so many great clients and to help make so many people happy at such a wide variety of events. It’s an exciting time and I hope to be able to continue to find balance. I don’t always find it, but I keep trying. That’s all any of us can really do at the end of the day.

ECE Coffee Talk: When To Ignore Your Inner Voice

In the ECE Coffee Talk series, one of our agents or artists shares a more personal post full of musings and/or insight – basically, talking and rehashing life as if you were sitting across from each other sipping coffee. Today ECE Philly Location Managing Director, Kaitlin Sweeney, shares with us her background and how she became ECE’s youngest LMD. Grab your mug and pull up a chair.
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My grandfather once told me that most of us know what we want to do from a very young age, and I think that’s true. What do you want to be when you grow up is a question constantly asked of us as children. We are told to dream big, reach for the stars, and that we can do anything we set our minds to. Sadly, for most, over time a little voice steps in and convinces us that maybe our dreams were a bit too big. We slowly forget those dreams we had and head down a path more easily achievable.

So, how did I ignore that voice and end up in the career I knew I wanted to be in since I was just a kid?

I neither came from a family of musicians, nor did I have “connections” to anyone in any sort of music business. I was, however, lucky enough to have parents who pushed me to be confident in myself and to learn as much as I could about what I wanted to do. They believed that I could do anything. I understand what a luxury it is to have parents like that. One truth I have learned is that anyone can accomplish almost anything as long as they surround themselves with people who believe in them.

When I look back at my experiences in grade school, high school, college and beyond, I am grateful, but not surprised that ECE is where I landed.

As a child, I had an undying passion for music and performing. In 4th grade, I started a band, held auditions at recess, and “cut” kids that weren’t quite what I was looking for (terrible, I know). I wrote original songs, taught the “dancers” choreography and tried to perfect our show on a rickety homemade stage in my backyard. I had every neighborhood kid convinced that this little band of ours was going to make it big, and we practiced constantly. I’m pretty sure that they only believed we would make it, because I believed it.

While growing up, I never worked on projects I didn’t feel passionate about. However, when I believed in a project, all I did was work on it. Throughout high school, I ended up captain of every team I made. I was good at getting others excited about whatever activity I was passionate to be a part of. In college, I did everything I could to focus my time on being better at music. I was writing music, studying music videos and new dance choreography, and reading every book possible about how to get into the music industry. Educating myself on the extremely tough industry I was trying to break into really caused me to understand how much harder I needed to work to make my dream happen. I was completely willing to do it.

After college, I moved back up to New York and started recording music while waitressing in my spare time. It took years of research, putting together bands, and performing for a lot of people (and, occasionally, for no one) to eventually get major label interest. As it often happens, the deal I was working on didn’t pan out, but I did learn many valuable lessons climbing that ladder. I was told no many times. I heard yes many times. Most importantly, along the way, there were a few who gave me invaluable, constructive criticism. That feedback (the good and the bad) from agents, club managers, label reps, etc., not only made me want to work harder, but it also taught me firsthand the right and wrong ways to critique people. There is a big difference between the type of feedback that makes people want to quit, and the feedback that makes people want to improve.

Around 2009, I unexpectedly had to have a major vocal cord surgery that sort of forced me out of the music scene I had focused on for so long. At first, I was crushed, but it pushed me to change directions. I became the head advisor to my college sorority and started to focus my efforts into instilling confidence in other people by helping the young women in the chapter understand what they could accomplish together. I became largely involved in a dance competition event called Airband that the campus had put on every year which helped to raise money toward the philanthropies of each participating organization.

The girls wanted to win, and I knew they could as long as they worked insanely hard to put a routine together that could beat the sixteen other groups. I coached the girls every day for several months teaching them choreography, helping them mix and choose the music, come up with a concept, etc. During those endless hours together, they realized that they could put something outrageous together within a short period of time that would make 60 girls with little to no performance experience look like pros. Check out this video from the 2010 performance (the action begins at the :57 mark).


We won seven first place titles through the years that I worked with them, and I couldn’t have been more proud. The endless hours spent working with the girls on this annual competition taught me that I love watching people succeed and achieve things that make them proud of themselves. Managing a group of 200 women also helped me to become a better listener, a better teacher and a cheerleader for others’ successes.

I can look back now and see that my past experiences all support the same trend; that truly believing in something makes others around you believe the same. That strong internal belief aligned with the support of those I surrounded myself with has led me here.

I am currently the youngest Location Managing Director at ECE, and I’m more honored to be in this position than anything I’ve done prior. I am surrounded by people who love their job, who believe in the integrity of our company and our product, and who know how to teach and guide others in the same ways I’ve found to be so successful over the years.

Is it scary to take on a role like this and try to build an office in a large competitive market where you’ve been virtually unknown? Of course it is. But the reason I know it’s going to work, is because I believe it’s going to. I wholeheartedly believe in this company, and I know that’s why I am fortunate enough to have the team I have here in Philly. My team also believes in this company, and I know that’s why together we have been able to sign some of the most incredible talent in the area while still being the new kids on the block. We have made connections and built relationships with the city’s most impressive event professionals. We have loved befriending and getting to know each and every person who calls our office with an event to plan. It has taken time and a lot of work, but we see successes each and every day.

I didn’t accomplish any of this on my own. I wasn’t able to achieve my dream job because I’m better than anyone else. Quite the contrary. I worked hard and, still, am constantly looking for ways to improve. I am lucky enough to keep up with my passion of performing with my band, Speaker City, along with helping incredible artists build their own careers. Oh, and I work with a dream team of people who make each day a joy.

Dream big. Educate yourself. Have confidence in your abilities. Be ready and willing to learn from mistakes. Regardless of the career you’re hoping to achieve, never let that little voice convince you to give up.

ECE Coffee Talk: The Why

In the ECE Coffee Talk series, one of our agents or artists shares a more personal post full of musings and/or insight – basically, talking and rehashing life as if you were sitting across from each other sipping coffee. Today ECE Asheville agent, Ellie Schwarz, shares with us her background and why she has chosen a career in the entertainment industry. Grab your mug and pull up a chair.
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Many musicians start young. Some have an incredible natural gift. I started learning violin using a Cracker Jack box and a pencil. At first, I practiced holding the “instrument” correctly, holding the “bow” correctly, and standing correctly. After weeks of memorizing how to shape my body around my instrument, I eventually graduated to a very small, one-eighth size real violin. Every single night, I listened to taped recordings of the songs I was learning. The music became imprinted onto my tiny baby brain.

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For every day that I practiced for 30 minutes or more, my Mom gave me a sticker. Thirty minutes a day to a kindergartner feels like an eternity! A week’s worth of stickers equaled a special prize or a trip to the ice cream shop. Lessons were expensive, often involving many hours in the car to get there and back, but always surrounded by music. I quickly realized that unless I showed my parents that I was truly dedicated to playing the violin, they weren’t going to keep paying for expensive lessons. I kept practicing and progressing and eventually I became involved in the high school orchestra and The Metropolitan Youth Symphony Orchestra in Atlanta, GA. Fourteen years of dedication and the support of my family paid off when I finally felt confident that I had enough talent and music in my repertoire to perform for money as I arrived at the College of Charleston in 2000.

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While at the College of Charleston, pursuing degrees in Anthropology and French, I performed in various bluegrass bands and at a few wedding ceremonies. Mostly, I loved playing and jamming wherever and whenever the opportunity presented itself. The biggest thing I took away from all of that dedication to music was that I really loved music. I loved everything about the making of music. I loved the process, the collaborative effort of a group as well as playing by myself. I loved the social setting, the audiences, the camaraderie of my fellow musicians and people who really loved music. I just knew that I wanted to work somewhere, somehow in the music industry.

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I realized that there was a great deal I did not know about working with a real, touring band so my first job as a professional musician was with an 80’s cover band. I auditioned as a violinist but was hired as a pianist and vocalist, even though I had not studied either keyboards or vocals. It was an opportunity to get a good grasp on what belonging to a touring band was all about. And I did just that. I spent hours in a van with my fellow band mates. I learned to play songs like “Jump” and “Walking on Sunshine” on a tiny child size Casio keyboard. We played what I called the “Wild Wing Tour” hitting restaurants across the south. We even played a few higher priced private events.

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This experience provided an unbelievable musical education that I’m sure could not have been obtained in any college classroom. Our days went something like this. We would arrive in whichever town we were scheduled to play, find the venue, unload the gear, set up, scarf down a dinner, get dressed and jump on stage playing the very songs that I had just learned hours earlier in the van. Sometimes we would drive for eight hours only to arrive at what seemed to be the exact same place that we had started out. The $150 a week that I earned was gratefully pocketed and doled out to pay rent on an apartment that I rarely slept in and for cable television that I never watched. It took about two months before I realized that the touring life was not for me. But I sure learned a lot about the business of being in a band.

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My next job involved recruiting unsigned bands to compete in the US and eventually internationally. I worked with all of kinds of bands from high school aged heavy metal bands to more experienced indie and rock bands. Thousands of musicians crossed my path to participate in the battle in cities all across the US and Europe. They all had hopes of taking their groups to the next level and beyond and the dream of becoming professional musicians. I traveled extensively and got to experience first-hand the motivation and drive that it takes for musicians and singers to take their talents to the stage. Beyond the practice and performances themselves, marketing, promotions and organization is vital to the success of any original touring band. I learned how to relate to these artists and how to motivate them to be the very best that they could be – both on and off stage. The experience I gained working with unsigned acts, both behind the scenes dealing with promotions and production to advising them on how to enhance their stage presence and connection to an audience fueled my desire to dedicate my life to helping musicians meet their goals and follow their dreams.

The life of a professional musician is not always glamorous and certainly not easy. The moments of glory and excitement as the fans circle around for photos and post-show toasts is great, but for the most part, it’s hard, demanding work with some of the lowest pay you can imagine. Because music is a form of “art”, folks believe that musicians are doing it for fun, or as a hobby, but this is truly not the case for the vast majority of entertainers and musicians. Professional musicians have to be passionate and have a real love for their art to be successful, but they must also be able to put food on their table and provide for their families just like the rest of hardworking Americans.

When I interviewed with EastCoast Entertainment in 2007, even though I had already held several other music industry related jobs and I had undoubtedly learned a lot about the music business, I was still hesitant. Sure, I had the dream of becoming a booking agent for “famous” bands and a career in LA or New York City working for a major national agency. EastCoast’s primary business was booking cover bands and tribute entertainment for private and corporate events and that seemed a bit outside the realm of my ultimate goals. I was anxious to have a more reliable and consistent schedule and to set up roots with a reputable company. EastCoast Entertainment had a wonderful reputation and 30 years of experience so I took the plunge and began working with them immediately. Under the guidance and expertise of Ed Duncan and Larry Farber for months in our Charlotte, NC office, I opened the Asheville, NC office in 2008.

After almost eight years in Asheville representing EastCoast Entertainment, I can honestly say that it has been one of my greatest accomplishments in life. When I started, hesitantly and a little unsteady on my feet, I had no idea how much I would love my job and how it would be hard to ever imagine doing anything else. I get to work with some of the brightest event planners and most hospitable hoteliers in the private events industry. Serving as a board member for the National Association of Catering & Events keeps me connected to other professionals on the corporate side of the business. Serving on the board of Mountain Sports Festival keeps me tied to the vibrant local music scene in Asheville. I spend my days speaking to excited couples about finding the perfect music for their weddings and that puts a huge smile on my face. That being said, giving professional musicians an opportunity to work and do what they truly love for a decent paycheck is at the very core of why I am so happy doing what I’m doing.

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Musicians are unquestionably passionate but it’s drive, determination and pure energy that make their professions work. Oftentimes, they have undergone many years of training and expensive educations in order to perfect their trade.

Make no mistake, this is a hard job, one of the hardest jobs in America, and it takes real dedication to become a true professional, surpassing that of many high paying positions in the corporate environment. In addition, as my Mom always stressed, you must practice, practice, practice. They must stay on top of trends. The number of man hours that go into every single gig is staggering – from discussing logistics with the presenters weeks in advance to arranging schedules and rehearsing. Then traveling, setting up gear, getting dressed and pumping themselves up for the performance. When they finish the gig, they have to greet fans, pack up the gear and travel home, most times all within a 24 hour period for one single event. And with very little support staff, they carry the entire load on their shoulders, alone.

While many other well educated folks are working their way to a higher paying career, many musicians are holding several “day” jobs just to make ends meet. It can be extremely frustrating when your “art” isn’t deemed worthy enough to bring in enough money to pay the bills.

That’s where I get to help. By giving professional bands and musicians access to the very best jobs in the industry, I have a hand in their future and their success. I’ve had musicians tell me that without the work I help them get, they wouldn’t be able to buy a new car, buy a house, pay their rent, or even pay for childcare. Just like professionals in every field, musicians deserve access to the best opportunities. The opportunities that not only pay the bills, but help them accomplish their life goals.

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By performing for private events as “cover bands” oftentimes the musicians are also able to fund their original projects as well. This is extremely rewarding to me. I no longer want to work in LA or New York City for a national agency. I already work for the best agency of its type in the entire United States, EastCoast Entertainment. The reason I do this is simple. I do it for the musicians, because I’ve been there. I’ve seen it from the artist’s perspective, and I know in my heart that they deserve every dollar they earn. I’m just happy to make that happen for them.

Ellie Schwarz

Ellie Schwarz is an entertainment consultant at ECE Asheville. She is a one stop shop for all of your entertainment needs in Western, NC and beyond! When she isn’t booking fantastic bands and entertainers for weddings, corporate events and other celebrations she enjoys hiking, playing the violin, exploring local breweries and spending time with her family, husband and baby boy, Remy.