When Brian Schechter decided to drop out of Orchard Lake St. Mary’s at 16, his mother was understandably concerned.
“She said, ‘What are you gonna do?’ ” Schechter recalls. “I said, ‘I don’t know what I’m gonna do yet, but I’m gonna be as successful as David Geffen.’
“I still have a lot of work ahead of me.”
Schechter may not yet have reached the heights scaled by multimedia mogul Geffen, but he’s certainly on his way.
He is best known in entertainment circles as the manager of the platinum modern rock band My Chemical Romance, whose latest album, “The Black Parade,” has sold nearly 1.2 million copies in the United States since its October release. But Schechter has parlayed that into much more, including a management company and a record label, both called Riot Squad, that handles bands such as Drive By, Mew and Single File.
He also operates an Internet platform, Recenter.com, which is designed to be “more functional than Purevolume or MySpace on the music side.”
Schechter is fully vested in working within and helping to create the “new model” of the music business, embracing the Internet as an opportunity for sales and promotion and perpetuating the grass-roots methods he employed to build MCR’s stature. A case in point is the Schechter-managed band Circa Survive, whose latest album, “On Letting Go,” debuted at No. 24 on the Billboard charts — a significant achievement for an independent label.
“He’s definitely smart in the decisions he makes,” says Joe Greenwald, Reprise Records’ Detroit-based Midwest promotional representative, who works closely with Schechter on MCR matters. “He seems to have the pulse a little more than some other managers who have been doing it longer.”
Schechter, 29, credits that to instincts and smarts — and passion.
“Music is my life,” he says. “It’s all I’ve ever done, all I ever wanted to do.”
Born in Dearborn and raised the second oldest of four children in Brighton, Schechter befriended local musicians at an early age and worked for local promoters, handing out fliers for concerts at St. Andrew’s Hall, the Shelter and other area venues. His rebellious streak got him kicked out of Brighton High School, but two events inspired him to seek his fortunes beyond Michigan.
One came in the midst of his parents’ “gnarly” divorce, when he was 15.
“I had kinda just had it with life,” Schechter recalls. “At 15, you can think about things like, ‘Well, nobody will miss me,’ blah, blah, blah.
“So I was skating on top of a parking garage in Ann Arbor, and I brought ‘Dairy’ by Sunny Day Real Estate with me that day, and it was one of those moments where their songs made me feel like everything was gonna be OK. I had no real intention of jumping off the (parking garage) roof, but that record made me feel a whole lot better.”
Around the same time, Schechter received his PSAT scores, which were in the top 2 percent of the country.
“That told me, ‘All right, you’re intelligent. Let’s move on ...,’ ” he says.
So Schechter left his mom’s cramped home — where he was sleeping on a mattress in a closet — and hit the road, snagging guitar tech gigs with bands such as Plain, Sponge, Lit and Buckcherry before being promoted to tour manager for Fenix TX. He also spent time in the crews for Good Charlotte, the Used, New Found Glory and Aphex Theory before being introduced to MCR in 2002 through an Internet site for new bands.
“I went to see them in New Jersey, at Hoboken,” Schechter recalls. “It was just ... genuine is the only word I can use. Music was the only thing that mattered to them, and they put everything they had into it, every emotion they had.
“When I saw them live, there were about 17 people at the show and they gave it everything they had. I knew there was a lot of potential there.”
Using street teams, Internet promotions and lots of touring, Schechter helped guide MCR from a cult-level buzz band into a major-label force, selling 2 million copies of its 2004 album “Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge.” He had faith in his grass-roots techniques, but Schechter is careful not to accept all the credit for the band’s success, either.
“A manager is only as great as his artists,” he explains. “I happen to have a great artist, one that can get along with other bands well, can do any tour they want to and pull it off. They’re so genuine and the shows are so great, people pay attention to them.”
Schechter notes that “the worst part of managing is managing people’s emotions; as long as you can keep that in check and everyone is on the same page and you make yourself have time to lead people, everything is good.”
But the dark side of management also has reared its head during his time with MCR.
MCR frontman Gerard Way credits Schechter as “the guy who got me clean and sober” after Schechter helped him find a successful rehab program for depression and substance abuse during the campaign for “Three Cheers.” Way and the rest of the band subsequently returned the favor when Schechter’s own drug use got the best of him, helping him first into an in-patient center that “was not my cup of tea” and then to a less-traditional program in Utah, where he also received psychotherapy.
“My counselor was very much like Robin Williams in ‘Good Will Hunting,’ a burly guy who lived in the woods and had been through it all,” recalls Schechter, who’s been sober since March 2006. “I learned a lot about the disease of addiction and a lot about myself and the fact there are many ways to deal with your problems — and drugs and alcohol are not the answer.
“My quality of life has risen. I purchased a home. ‘The Black Parade’ has done well. My other bands have done well. I’ve hired more people. And what’s negative about never having a hangover? Nothing’s negative about it.”
Clear-eyed, Schechter — who moved to Los Angeles in January but still has plenty of family living in Southeastern Michigan — is looking toward the future with both MCR and his other concerns.
Laughing that “I picked the worst time in history to start a record label,” he’s optimistic nevertheless, saying the biggest challenge is “to figure out how to keep the kids excited about music” and finding music that will drive that excitement.
“The plan right now is onward and upward. Growth is always good,” he says. “Life has treated me very fairly. I’ve learned that what you get put in really is what you get out. There’s no way around the fact that you have to work hard.
“But I’ve also learned you can have what you want, no matter what anybody says — it sounds like an old line, but it’s really true. You can overcome every single judgment, every prejudice. There may be something funny about me, a guy covered in tattoos, walking into certain hotels or restaurants or flying business class and having people look sideways at you. There’s something redeeming when you do it that way.
“It’s not about the fight. I know who I am. I worked just as hard as any of those people who scoff at me. And I’m probably having more fun, too.”
The Projekt Revolution Tour, featuring Linkin Park, My Chemical Romance, Taking Back Sunday, HIM, Placebo and Julien-K, takes place at 12:45 p.m. Wednesday (August 22nd) at DTE Energy Music Theatre, Sashabaw Road north of I-75, Independence Township. The second stage features Mindless Self Indulgence, Saosin, the Bled, Styles of Beyond and Madina Lake. Tickets are $76 pavilion, $36 lawn. Call (248) 377-0100 or visit www.palacenet. com.
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