Barbara Wahli, known by her moniker Barb Rocks, is recognized for managing some of San Jose’s most successful independent rock bands, as well as for putting on highly-organized and well-attended shows at reputable venues in the San Francisco Bay Area for over 12 years. Under Barbara’s management, her bands have reached some huge goals and local successes, including radio airplay (Live 105, 107.7 The Bone), music festival placements (BottleRock Napa, San Francisco Pride, SubZERO Festival, SoFA Street Fair), licensing/publishing deals, and strategic show bookings with well-known touring acts. She’s also organized and been a core team member for two local music festivals, Left Coast Live and West Valley College’s West Fest, and is involved in various capacities in the Santa Cruz Music Festival.
Dubbed the “queen of the south bay scene” by local FCC Free Radio DJ of the Unbound Sound Show, Barbara has become the hub of an ever-expanding local music scene, continually increasing her network of music contacts. Barbara has always kept the passion and experience at the forefront of her every endeavor, keeping the philosophy of “music first” and making sure the bands aren’t taken advantage of. Her desire to help artists and the local music community drove Barbara to lead the San Jose chapter of Balanced Breakfast, an international meetup group who’s primary goal is to build community within the music industry and invest in the idea that we are stronger together than we are alone. Barbara is also expanding her reach by speaking on music industry panels and participating in musician mentorship opportunities. Barbara’s devotion to local music caught the attention of San Jose’s Metro Newspapers, who named her Best South Bay Scene Queen in their 2010 Best Of issue, stating “her energy is infectious, and her ear for local talent remarkable.”
Barb Rocks started in early 2016 with a random challenge to book local bands at her favorite live music venue. Fast forward two years and she’s hosting events at every reputable venue San Jose has to offer, all due to her reputation of booking quality shows that pay bands fairly. Around the same time, one of Barbara’s favorite bands asked her to manage them, which led to her business focus changing from booking shows to artist management. In her 13 year span of working in the Bay Area music scene, Barbara has managed some of most successful local rock bands, produced two music festivals, curated her own showcase in Austin, produced a live music oriented pop-up dining event with her brother Chef Baudi, and landed a few speaking engagements, including a SXSW mentorship.
My personal goal is to travel to all the places on my bucket list (it’s a long list!). My business goal is that one of the artists I manage wins a Grammy and headlines a major music festival.
Getting a band I managed on BottleRock Napa Music Festival in 2015, then being backstage and meeting Portugal The Man, Passion Pit, Robert Plant, and Young The Giant. It was an amazing experience and meeting so many talented musicians was just the icing on the cake.
I lost my both of my parents within two years of one another. It was tough balancing work, my grief, and all the duties of executing the trusts. I ended up bottling up my emotions as much as possible to get through my responsibilities, which led to me having a lot of stress-related health issues. I finally took the much-needed time I needed to grieve and heal, which is also when I reevaluated what was important in life. I learned to balance work and fun and to live life to its fullest!
Focus on doing what makes you happy!
How did you get into the industry?
I’ve loved music since I was a little girl. My parents enjoyed blasting tunes while we danced around the living room. I’m also really good at talking to strangers and making friends. In college I figured out that I wanted to work with musicians in some capacity, but due to various circumstances, I ended up back home and getting into the tech sector since I lived in Silicon Valley. But after getting married and divorced, I basically was figuring out who I was again, which brought me to going out and discovering local bands. Then I started booking shows at a venue I knew well and expanded to more local venues as my shows and booking roster got bigger. A few years into it, a band named Jade of Days that had become close friends of mine asked me to manage them and so I learned what that entailed and grew my business. I enjoyed the band management side of things much better than booking shows, so I switched focus to artist management, which is what I’m still doing today!
Career advice to those in your industry?
Working in the music industry is tough. It’s a lot of hard work for little money for a long time. Do it because you can’t imagine doing anything else, be willing to put a lot of hours into it, and make sure you work with people you enjoy being around because you will be spending endless amounts of time together.
Any emerging industry trends?
I love seeing how many women in music organizations are out there championing gender equality in this male-dominated music industry, which will lead to more and more women in power roles. Music will also be a driving force for the artificial intelligence and virtual reality sectors to grow, and blockchain/metadata will continue to gain popularity to ensure a fair trade music format.
How do you motivate others?
I motivate others by setting an example and making sure I explain why what I ask them to do is worthwhile. It’s all about listening to them, being kind, and setting goals.
My Daily Thoughts:
Goal of the Day: try something new
Thought of the Day: be authentic & be true to your word
Action of the Day: nurture my connections
Deed of the Day: always be willing to help others, no matter how small the deed
Tip of the Day: discover new music, you might just find your next favorite artist
A Day in My Life:
What do you love most about Your City?
I love the cultural diversity of the San Francisco Bay Area and that you can find music of all genres at all the various venues and clubs. There’s so many great outdoor spaces to hike and enjoy, including mountains, waterfalls, and beaches. You can find amazing food of every ethnicity, watch San Jose Sharks hockey games, explore museums, art exhibits, historical landmarks, and watch amazing sunsets. I can understand why so many people want to live here since there’s so much to offer and the weather is pretty good all year.
Favorite breakfast meal & restaurant?
I’m not really a breakfast person, but when I do eat breakfast it’s two eggs over-medium with some crispy bacon, and country potatoes. You also can’t go wrong with cream cheese smear on a tasty bagel!
What are you doing at:
6:00 AM – still sleeping as I generally wake up around 8am
10:00 AM – working out with my trainer
12:00 PM – Favorite Lunch spot/meal?
I love a good hot Pastrami sandwich with pepper jack
7:00 PM – cooking dinner, usually following a Hello Fresh recipe
11:00 PM – winding down from watching TV or reading, then getting ready for bed
What drink do you need to get through the day and at the end (and how many)?
I mainly drink green tea and water. On weekends I will enjoy a nice wine or some tasty cider.
Most used App/Favorite Instagram Account?
My cat @mavericktux
What should everyone try at least once?
Everyone should try karaoke and just let themselves have fun with it — it’s about the entertainment value, not whether you’re the next pop diva.
Where do you enjoy getting lost?
I have an RV that I take on trips regularly. I’ll have an overall destination in mind but I also go with the flow and see where I end up. I’ve discovered some amazing spots just by stopping and asking locals what to go see, or by accidentally stumbling upon a cool place. I’m always ready for the next adventure!
What Else to Know?
Watch Who Will Rock You Season 2, especially Episode 5 with The Go Ahead:
Read this article from Ari Herstand: