Biz student climbs the rock ‘n roll ranks

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By Sarah Lysecki

Until this summer, Mike Samrah never had any intentions of being a band manager.

He was sitting around a campfire with his twin cousins, Robbie and Randy Samrah, at their annual rafting trip in Quebec when Robbie, a drummer, said, “Mike, you gotta get us gigs in Toronto.”

Robbie and Randy, who are in the alternative rock band Focal Point, were getting bored with the Windsor, Ont. club circuit.

“They love Toronto,” says Samrah. “They’ll do anything they can to get here.”

A second-year Ryerson business student, Samrah books shows for Focal Point at clubs around Toronto such as the 360 and Ted’s Wrecking Yard. But bar owners are reluctant to book Focal Point because they are not from Toronto, and won’t draw a crowd, says Samrah.

“All [owners] care about is money,” Samrah says. “They want a bar tab over $400.”

The trio of drummer Robbie, singer Randy and bassist Jordan Dollar drew over 100 people to a recent show in September in the 360. A hopeful Samrah expects up to 150 people to show up at their next gig at the El Mocambo on Oct. 30. Also on the bill that night are Ryerson band Julian Day, Mary 5 E, Better Off Deaf and Ottawa’s 54 stance.

Samrah now books gigs for Julian Day and 20 other bands at venues in Kitchner, Niagra Falls, and Toronto.

Before each show, he contacts every band via email and organizes who will bring what instruments. He also sets up and takes down the gear and does the sound check.

His sister and her friend sell tickets at the door for $5. Each band gets between 40 to 60 per cent of the proceeds from door – except Focal Point, who are paid a fixed amount.

When he’s not in class, Samrah spends his free time, about seven to 10 hours a week, in the computer lab in the bowels of West Kerr Hall. It’s from there that he organizes future gigs, contacts bar owners and bands via e-mail, and listens to Focal Point’s CD.

Samrah’s schedule could get more hectic if Julian Day hires him as their manager. As a manager, in addition to networking and setting up gigs, Samrah must ensure the show runs smoothly so the band can concentrate on playing music. He makes sure the equipment works, does the sound check, deals with the bar owner and brings the band refreshments.

He loves managing, but will not work with a band if he doesn’t like their music. He likes almost all types of music, except Venga Boys and their contemporaries.

For Samrah, managing family can be touchy since he’s known his cousins all his life. As a first-time manager, he thinks he’s impressed his cousins with his achievements so far.

Recently, Samrah got a response from the Mike Bullard Show and Big Sugar, who both asked for Focal Point’s promo kit. To get Big Sugar’s attention, he pleaded in an e-mail, “Help a fellow Windsor band out.”

He hasn’t heard back.

Opening for a mainstream band like Big Sugar would give Focal Point the exposure they need to get a record deal.

Samrah played rhythm guitar and sang in a band called Resonance during high school. Two years ago, he recorded a 5-track CD for which he sang and played guitar, bass, and drums.

Samrah says he’s not managing bands for money. “I’m doing it because I love it.” But he’s not about to give up a possible career in human resources when he graduates. After all, he is a business student.

“If I could do this and make money, I would do it.”

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