At first glance, a degree from the University of Virginia’s McIntire School of Commerce might not seem like a prerequisite for succeeding as the bass player and manager of a touring rock band.
Cole Friedman, however, will argue that point with you.
“Having that intense education experience in the Commerce School taught me a lot about running a business,” said Friedman, who graduated from the Commerce School in 2014. “I’m able to take on all sorts of things and make sure they get done.”
Friedman and his twin brother, Neal, started a band with several friends while they were still in high school, spending nights and weekends practicing at their parents’ house in Norfolk. Though Cole went to UVA, Neal went to the College of William & Mary and other band members – including another set of brothers – scattered to cities throughout Virginia and North Carolina, they kept the band together. Dubbing themselves “Super Doppler,” they played fraternity parties and bars up and down the East Coast throughout the Friedmans’ college years. To their surprise, their audience grew exponentially.
“Suddenly, something that started just for fun led to an inevitable decision when graduation came around,” Friedman said. “Really, though, the answer was obvious. We wanted to keep doing this as long as we were having fun and able to make a living.”
Friedman used his bar mitzvah money to buy a van, and two weeks after graduation the band hit the road to start touring.
Four years later, they have not stopped. Super Doppler, which now has five members, has played more than 500 shows and released a debut album, “Moonlight Anthems,” in June 2017. Shows this year include large festivals like South by Southwest in Austin, Texas and the Sloss Music & Arts Festival in Birmingham, Alabama, as well as stops in major cities like New York City, Washington, Boston, Chicago, New Orleans and more.
We caught up with Friedman before a gig in Charlottesville to learn more about the band, the lifestyle of a touring musician and how his business degree fits into it all.
Q. How would you describe Super Doppler’s style?
A. All of us grew up listening to psychedelic pop and rock ’n’ roll from the ’60s and ’70s, and a lot of those influences come through. It’s melodic, guitar-driven rock ’n’ roll.
[You can listen to a few of the band’s songs in this Spotify playlist.]
Q. Where does the name come from?
A. Honestly, we just thought it sounded cool, sort of retro. The father of one of our members is also a long-time local weatherman, so that is a good enough excuse, even if that wasn’t our reason originally.
Q. You continued playing gigs while completing all of the requirements of the Commerce School. Was that hard to balance?
A. Definitely. The band really started picking up my third year at UVA, and that is also the most difficult year of the Commerce School. The Commerce School was the most rigorous academic program I had ever undertaken, and I spent a lot of nights and weekends in the library.
Q. How has that business education helped you on tour?
A. In addition to playing bass, I manage the band, which includes handling our finances and payroll and booking upcoming gigs. The general business education I received at the Commerce School has helped me with a lot of those things, and my marketing classes have been helpful as well.
Probably more importantly, though, the intensity of the Commerce School prepared me to handle the workload that comes with touring. In addition to playing and traveling, you have to constantly be working out logistics, budgeting and finding new gigs to make sure you can keep going.
Q. What do you find interesting about the music business as a whole right now?
A. As most people know, there is a huge debate around streaming services like Spotify and what that means for musicians and for traditional record labels. For us, we just want people to listen to our music, and services like Spotify make it easier for any band in the world to share their songs with people. That means that the power is shifting away from major labels to the services that actually control distribution, which is pretty cool.
We have tried to shift along with that. For example, we have started something we call the “Super Secret Singles Club,” releasing a new single every month. Because streaming services like Spotify make it so easy to release music, these songs can stand on their own as singles, without the cost of an album. It keeps people interested, and it allows us to test music for our next album.
Q. What do you enjoy about life as a touring musician?
A. It’s definitely not a luxurious lifestyle, and it can get pretty hectic, but the music makes it all worth it. I get to play music with my brother and my friends, while traveling the country and seeing all sorts of places I might have never seen. It’s been such a cool experience, and we all want to ride this wave as long as we can.
Q. What are some of your favorite places you have played?
A. Last summer, we did a seven-week tour that took us from Virginia to the West Coast and back. We got to play at a lot of ski resorts in the Rockies that host concerts during the summer, and even got some rare time off to go hiking in Jackson Hole [Wyoming]. Juxtaposed with our usual day off – which typically involved driving a long way on the interstate and staying in a roadside motel – that was pretty great.
Q. Finally, what would you say to other students who are considering less traditional career paths?
A. I’d say do it. If you want to do something like this, don’t wait. If it doesn’t work out, you can go back to a traditional career, because of the education you have. For us, we decided we did not want to live with those “what if” questions. We gave it a shot, and we might not be the biggest band in the world, but we are growing, having fun and making enough to get by. To me, that is the key to being happy.