Bands and musicians are the biggest faces in the music industry, growing into cultural icons from the stage to social media. Occasionally, a talented producer or charismatic label owner enters the mainstream as well, using their platform to educate others while building up their own personal brand.
Band managers, however, are the unsung heroes. Although they may not perform on stage or receive songwriting credit on an album, their influence on band success is just as important. Without their industry knowledge, negotiation skills, or understanding of copyrights, a band could go belly up overnight.
That’s why managers like Mando Lyst Chastouki are invaluable. Chastouki’s passion for music and dedication to the artists she represents has made her an important playmaker in Europe and the United States.
Her roster includes Greek Hard Rock legends Nightstalker and extends to Orbital Junction, 88/89, and Beth Hirsh.
We recently sat down with Chastouki to hear her story and get her take on how young bands can thrive in today’s market.
Here’s our interview with Mando Lyst Chastouki:
How Chastouki Got Started in Music
Monster Riff: You’ve traveled around quite a bit to dip your toes in different music scenes. When did you get your start in the music business?
Mando Lyst Chastouki: I’ve wanted to be in the music business since I was a teenager, and the only thing that was different between me and a super fan or a musician was the thrills that I felt and the questions I asked were a little bit different.
We would all get to the venue, and I would think, “What’s the capacity? How is all of this working?” But then, when I was a little older, I started working with bands. They were trying to perfect their game, and I was trying to help them with their marketing and their image.
I read as much as I could about it because it wasn’t like today. We had the internet, but not on this level. I wanted to study music business, but there was no such thing in Greece, so I had to choose between studying business or studying music. I chose to study Musicology. I had already been playing the classical double bass for many years, and I decided to get even deeper because I wanted to understand the perspective of the musician.
Monster Riff: How did you become a band manager?
Mando Lyst Chastouki: Back in the day, all I knew was that everybody hates the manager. Right? They’re terrible. And they’re taking advantage of the musicians. And I thought I could be an amazing manager. I would have their best interests in mind. And I will understand them if I study music, not if I study business. So, I studied Musicology. But in the American University of Greece, everything was theoretical and classical, so it didn’t bring me closer to business at all.
So, in my last year, when I was maybe 23 years old, I started meeting many Jazz players. And Jazz in Greece doesn’t really make money. Jazz globally doesn’t make much money, but especially in Greece—no money whatsoever. So, they just play. They absolutely needed help, but they couldn’t afford it. So, even though I wasn’t a Jazz lover, I started going to Jazz gigs and meeting the whole Athenian scene, trying to understand their problems and how they make a living. I started managing them, but managing back then meant anything I could offer. Sometimes it would be booking. Other times it was social media, etc.
I also had a mentor, George, in the Electro Synth Pop scene, who owns Undo Records (and now Amour Records). He had this label for 20 years. Synth Pop has nothing to do with Jazz or Metal or Rock, but it’s another niche. And a niche requires a very different treatment than mainstream Pop. I learned a lot next to him. I learned everything that has to do with an indie label: manufacturing, distribution, marketing…
When I graduated, the Jazz musicians said I should open a record label so they could release their music. So, I opened a Jazz record label and helped Jazz musicians for two years while working with Undo Records. And then I saw I’d learned a bunch of stuff, but I needed to learn more. And that’s when I applied for a Master’s in Music Business Management at London Westminster University. And I was lucky enough to get a scholarship for that because of my experience, which was very “street experience,” really…
Monster Riff: You’ve got to cut your teeth somewhere.
Mando Lyst Chastouki: Exactly. So, I did my Master’s, and then I did another internship in management so I could understand the London scene. And along the way, bands would come to me, and I would try things and add them to my existing roster.
On Finding the Right Partners in the Music Industry
Monster Riff: You care a lot about the bands you work with. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case in this industry. There’s a lot of apprehension from bands who are afraid of working with someone who can help promote them or manage them. There are horror stories about PR agencies that promise to do all these great things for your band, but all they really do is email a list of addresses and demand $2,000. Then there are record labels that make all of these wild promises, but they don’t really do anything. But there are people in the industry who are really invested and want to make a difference. If I’m in a band, how do I figure out who I can trust?
Mando Lyst Chastouki: I always tell musicians and students that a manager is supposed to tackle those problems. You’ve got to start with finding a good manager. Now, a good manager can mean a bunch of things, depending on where you stand and what your goals are. One very important thing is that they have your best interests in mind and that they believe in you as much as you believe in your product.
Even the way the manager gets paid reflects the relationship. The manager gets a commission of your overall income, which means that it is in their best interest to increase the overall income of the artist from every single angle. And it is in their best interest for their artists to not sign with a label that’s going to disappear! That happens a lot.
That’s why it’s so important to have a manager that knows the job down the line, not a friend of the band. Throughout history, the reason why friends and boyfriends and girlfriends became managers is because they were close enough to the band. They liked the band and they knew all of the songs. That’s a nice way to start.
Having someone as a manager, even if you don’t stick together forever, is a great investment, because you have more manpower. You have representation and they can be the bad guy for you.
Now, back to your question. You need to find a trusted manager or you need to find a mentor who has more experience. If a band from Athens is playing Rock in this scene and they are unsure about a decision, if I were them, I would give Nightstalker a shout. Chances are, Nightstalker will know—not because they are managers but because they’ve been there.
The problem so many bands run into at the grassroots level is finding a manager who will work with them. They don’t have enough popularity to earn real income for the manager, so they go straight to press, straight to radio, straight to digital marketing. That’s where they put all this money and they cannot make an informed decision. This problem would be perhaps solved with some management consulting. Say you have a band that’s doing well on a lower level as an emerging band. And you see that the basics are not there. They have an album and they drop the whole thing on Spotify. There’s no strategy, no singles, no pitching. They’re just like, “Look, here’s my album.” That is not going to work in their favor. But can they find an actual manager to help with that? Probably not. So, there should be more consultancies where they can pay 100, 200 pounds for the right strategy and coaching.
On Strategies for Releasing Your Album
Monster Riff: It’s interesting you say that. Many of the bands we’ve talked to recently are struggling with press, but you’re right: it’s not so much that the problem is press. The real problem is that they jump to press as a solution to their problems. But most of them have vanilla press beats: “Here’s my single.” “Here’s my album.” But if you’re unknown, no one cares that you have a new single or a new album. Touring used to be a press beat as well, but that doesn’t matter either during COVID-19. So, let’s back up. Instead of releasing an album and then thinking about press, what does a proper album release strategy look like?
Mando Lyst Chastouki: Aim to have your album and strategy ready at least half a year before your release.
In general, you want to have two or three singles. There are very few genres that I would say three singles is odd. In Doom, for example, it would be a little odd. You can still do it, but they’re not exactly composing standalone singles. Maybe someone in Doom can actually argue that it is way more authentic to drop a whole album. On average though, I would say two to three singles, and the singles should be four to six weeks apart.
Then you have to think about where you’re releasing. Spotify says they need at least a week before to pitch to a playlist. Many of these platforms claim that they need two weeks, three weeks, one month. So, if you ask your distributor, they will tell you to hand everything over at least a month before release.
Musicians, for some reason, often miss pitching. Most platforms have a playlist pitching form. You fill it in and you send it in, simple. You can get onto playlists working by yourself.
Then you create a social media campaign. It is one strategy that doesn’t necessarily cost you money, don’t miss it!
And then you have to do budget allocation. You have to consider what your budget is and what your territory is. Although you can aim for the whole world, that’s not your target. It’s too big. You probably need to start from your local territory, but that depends on the individual case, really.
Then let’s say you have 3,000 pounds to spend. I could spend it on radio, press, advertising, music videos, digital strategy, content…but how? With which partners? Where? It all depends on your positioning, goals, and strategy.
Then, we have to think about the countries we’re trying to reach and what matters most in those countries. Does press make a difference there? What about radio? In Greece, Spotify is low, but YouTube is high. Use that to figure out where to put your ads to create awareness.
One needs to figure out what the story is and where the storytelling takes place.
Monster Riff: You’re absolutely right. So many bands miss the storytelling element surrounding their album, and sometimes that’s absolutely captivating. This band called Ghost Frog reached out recently, and they do an excellent job branding themselves and discussing the narrative surrounding their album. So many bands do themselves a disservice because they don’t do that.
Mando Lyst Chastouki: And so many bands misunderstand social media. Because social media should be a tool to share their story, whatever it is. It’s a communication tool. When bands want someone to take over their socials, or they hire a company believing that they are going to build their platforms, I believe this is failing.
You can schedule posts, you can optimize, you can make better content. But you should be the one doing the work. You’re going to tell the company your story. But where are you going with this? What is your message? What is your tone of voice? And if you’re willing to tell them all of this, why don’t you do it yourself?
There is a lack of storytelling. I have met so many bands that have their punchlines and their stories and their inside jokes, and they’re these great characters. They have all of these stories from their albums and tours. They’re so interesting. But they never show that in their social media. They fail to give you insight or a sneak peek of their reality. It’s a shame. Because I see it live, in real time. I’m like, “So many people would laugh or relate to this!” But it’s not out there for anyone’s consumption. So, what happens is that they end up basically saying, “Here’s my album. Would you please listen to it?”
On Building a Community Around Your Music
Monster Riff: A lot of these things we’re talking about are a sort of non-issue for bands like Nightstalker. They’ve been at this for 30 years now and they have this dedicated cult following. Bands build a cult following by doing the right things consistently over a long period of time. It’s putting out great records. It’s putting on great shows. It’s being a cool person. It’s so many different things. How can a band that’s just starting out start to build a community that cares about their music?
Mando Lyst Chastouki: From my experience, they need to get associated with the rest of the bands that are already out there. You can always reach out and do cross promotion, which is basically the same as doing support in a gig. Maybe it’s via social media, maybe it’s giving an interview together, maybe you have an IG talk together.
Imagine you’re friends with Argy from Nightstalker, and Argy goes live on Instagram for his 8K followers or 40K Facebook followers. Eighty percent of them are going to join. If Argy has a live conversation with you, you’re building your band… Half of these people will check out who you are. And half of them will love it.
For me, it starts with asking, “What’s our world?” Find your world and get into it. Know the bands. Know the venues. Know the people. That’s your scene. This is what makes you.
One thing Andreas Lagios, the bass player of Nighstalker, always says is, “At the end of the day, it all boils down to the music.” I love that. At the end of the day, especially in our genre, it’s absolutely true. I’m not saying that the more popular you are, the better your music is. But if your music is not being shared, well, start from that.
And if people don’t like your music, that’s OK. If people think your music is shit, it doesn’t mean there is nothing there or that you’re going to be shit forever. You just might need to change some things. But if you’re not ready to hear that, you’re not going to be able to change it… At the end of the day, so many bands are just in denial of something that really needs improvement.
And let’s not forget that it’s not only about the music, it’s also your attitude, character, values, appearance, stage presence, words, communication, art, visuals…everything. What’s the vision?
So, make some good connections. Find a good mentor. Get some good advice from a consultant or a band manager. There are no other shortcuts.
On Working With Nightstalker
Monster Riff: While we’re talking about Nightstalker, do you remember the first time you heard them?
Mando Lyst Chastouki: I think that the very first Nightstalker song that I ever heard was “Baby, God is Dead.” I think for many people, it’s something from Dead Rock Commandos. But I can clearly remember seeing the music video and being confused. “Where did these guys come from? Is this old or new?” Superfreak was 2009, so this must have been after 2010. I remember being so confused in my head, I couldn’t understand how these guys are Greek. And it was all just mind blowing for me.
Monster Riff: Yeah. And that’s wild because even back in 2010, they would have already been around for 20 years.
Mando Lyst Chastouki: Yeah. I was still young, but my mind was blown because I am from Athens, and I just couldn’t understand how I hadn’t heard them before. Since then, I’ve seen so many gigs.
Monster Riff: How did you finally start working with the band?
Mando Lyst Chastouki: That’s a good question. The short version is that they needed some administrative help. After 30 years, they didn’t need a Rock manager to tell them how to navigate the scene. They needed someone to handle the business end of their music, though.
I saw them in London when they were supported by Orbital Junction. Orbital junction had asked me to pay attention to their set and give them some feedback. That night, I went out with Nightstalker and we chatted a lot. I asked them a bunch of boring music business questions. When I came back to Athens, I continued our conversation with Andreas, and he said, “I’ve been looking for a person like you for years. We just don’t have anyone in Greece.” That’s it, really.
On the Greek Rock Scene
Monster Riff: What’s interesting about Greece is that, from the outside, you have some major bands. 1000mods. Deaf Radio is up and coming. Naxatras. In the last few years, you’ve had a lot of bands that are starting to build that following, starting to reach international listeners. Is the tide turning? Is Greece starting to draw anyone in because of the music scene?
I don’t think so. In Greece, we have our local music and our local superstars. If you ask anyone from the Rock underground and the alternative scene, they look down on it. The mainstream on the other side looks down on the rockers like outcasts, or simply doesn’t know about their existence, so we get this polarization. And most of the country is into local music. And the government doesn’t really help either. Greece is still a traditional country. They’re not like the Norwegians that figured out that Black Metal is valuable and was like, “Let’s put money behind this! Let’s fund tours.” Our government is not that modern. Hopefully, one day it will be, but we have the wrong mindset. So, you don’t have private businesses investing in anything but the absolute mainstream, you don’t have the government investing because they don’t see it. The only structure is the one coming from the creatives and the fans.
Monster Riff: It’s baffling in some ways because you have a population that is churning out great music, but the culture doesn’t really support it. Where does the music come from? Is it a rage against the machine? Like, “You don’t support me, but I’m going to thrive anyway!”
Mando Lyst Chastouki: I think so. I think it’s exactly because we’re a little bit behind, still a little traditional. I feel the difference, having lived in London. In places like London, you don’t need to speak through art. For example, gay rights: You don’t need to say what you want to say through a song to be heard. You can, but the LGBTQI is a standalone platform. There is activism, there are so many movements. Especially in places like London, art has taken a different role, and Rock hasn’t found its place yet in the new world, I believe. So, in more traditional places, I think this is still their way of negotiating most issues and rebelling.
Also, Greece has been in recession forever. Anybody who wants to do something with their lives seems to have to leave the country, and our country is awesome! So, yes, it is exactly because of oppression and being tired… All this recession and crisis, crisis, crisis.
Final Message to Bands
Monster Riff: Before we wrap up, any final advice for bands?
Mando Lyst Chastouki: I would like Rock musicians to understand they can do more than albums and live music, especially now when so many bands are having a difficult time not being able to tour.
Now is the opportunity to tap into all of the other sectors that they don’t know about or haven’t cared about before. Until life starts again, there’s nothing else to do, so now is the best time for housekeeping and exploration of new avenues.
You might not like TikTok if you’re a Metal band or a Rock band, but you might like Twitch if you’re a gamer. You might want to make a podcast on Spotify. There are so many things out there! Try to find a manager or some consulting.
I want Rock back. I love Rap, but we have had an overdose of Rap. We’ve already gone to here [low] like we did with Nu Metal. We’ve reached the Limp Bizkit side of things. They’ve reached mumble Rap and Trap. You had your go, now chill. God, I want Rock back!
If you’d like to learn more about Mando Lyst Chastouki, follow her on Instagram at @mando_thelyst. If you’d like to talk to her about her management services or pick her brain on the industry, you can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.