Interview with JONATHAN SHALIT, manager at Shalit Management for Charlotte Church - Aug 20, 2001
ďThereís no point complaining. If an artist is slagging off the industry then I say, maybe you are right, but with that attitude you canít succeed. The industry is the way it is.Ē
Impresario Jonathan Shalit discovered Charlotte Church and helped her become the biggest selling UK artist in the world in 1999, with two platinum records in the US alone.
He also manages record producer Chris Porter, (George Michael, Elton John, Tina Turner), a new soft rock act being launched by Virgin in the US next summer and Vernie Bennett, who after selling over 5 million albums when in Eternal, has her debut solo album released in the spring of next year.
Why did you originally become a manager?
Ultimately because I love music and love working with creative people, and I love taking music to as many people as possible.
I love working in the media and to me working means television, radio, cinema, music and all aspects of the media. I look for music artists, multimedia artists. I am not just interested in music that can only be played in clubs, or even just in making records, I am interested in musicians and singers that can work in all aspects of the media because that is what really excites me.
How did you get into it, how did you get your first break?
I used to work at [advertising agency] Saatchi and Saatchi, and I used to be involved in a variety of projects. Ultimately the final break that got my career going was from working with the great Larry Adler, a legendary harmonica player from America who is now 86.
I put together this album called ĎThe Glory of Gershwiní. It was a tribute album like Frank Sinatraís duet album, with Larry on harmonica, produced by Sir George Martin and it featured duets with all of Larryís friends, including Sting, Elton John, Cher, Meat Loaf and Jon Bon Jovi.
How did that actually come about? Was it just pure chance?
All these things are pure chance, I met these people at the right time. I met Larry by chance, through a mutual friend, but once Iíd met him I found out what an amazing man he was and how good he was to his friends who all admired him. He wanted to be involved in it straight away and so it came together very quickly.
What characteristics do you consider necessary in order to be a good manager, and what characteristics are needed to be a successful manager - are they the same?
I think you need many attributes. Ultimately you need a great artist at the core of what you are doing, and youíve got to be realistic in terms of what your artist is capable of in relation to your vision. You have got to have an artist who shares your vision, and you both have to have the same view on the definition of success for a particular project. Success for one artist can be very different to anotherís success, because clearly there are artists with a level of success that might be considered mediocre by another artist.
I am thinking out loud now. A major act such as Michael Jackson brings out a new album and people say that the album doesnít sell that well. When the reality is that most artists can only dream of selling that much.
There needs to be mutual understanding between the manager and the artist about what needs to be achieved. The manager needs to know everything to make an artist work. He has to have contacts all over the world. Heís got to be very patient and very thick-skinned and he has to be able to deal with the fact that he wonít be fairly and rightly recognised for many things he does.
Would you say that a band or an artist need a manager?
What many artists donít realise, when they fall out with their managers, is how much they needed that person. In the record industry in particular itís very hard to change the direction of a career, which often means that many bands later regret splitting with their managers, as they realise too late what that person really did for them.
A good manager can take an artist to a certain level. However, there is so much luck involved in being at the right place at the right time. But yes, you need the right manager to get you to the right places and the right people.
What are some of the creative challenges of being a manager?
Obviously your job is to create opportunities from the very beginning when nothingís happening. So you need to work with the artist to get the right songs made, the right recordings with the right producers. You then need the whole marketing side to get the record positioned in the right way, in the right place, at the right time.
How do you find new talent?
I always talk to people and always follow up leads and Iím always getting test tapes/demos, I hear about artists, Iím always out there looking, I network. Last weekend I heard of an interesting female singer demoing in someoneís bedroom, so I went there, heard her and was very excited by what I heard. Of course, for all those Iím excited by, there are others who just donít do it for me.
What do you look for in an artist?
I look for an artist whose ambition it is to be the biggest artist in the world. Itís as simple as that. I look for artists who have character and are in it for the right reasons. There are many artists who are fantastically creative and talented, but who simply havenít got the mental ability, the stamina, the vision, that is needed to make it.
What do you mean by Ďmental abilityí and Ďstaminaí?
The music industry is a business and Iím not saying thatís right or wrong, itís simply a reality. And so artists have to appreciate that they are in a business and appreciate that the bottom line is selling records and making money, so the shareholders of the company they are signed to make a profit. Some artists arenít able to deal with that and are always going on about the creativity and the freedom and what they perceive are the right ways in which artists should be treated and are always complaining about the way the industry has gone.
And we all know how the industry has gone and how we wish it were different, but thatís the way it is. If you want to be successful in the industry you have to accept it the way it is and make it work for you. Thereís no point complaining the whole time. So if an artist is only giving me an emotional diatribe and slagging off the industry and other bands, then I say, maybe you are right, but with that attitude you canít succeed. The industry is the way it is. Youíre not going to change it, you are either going to go with it or you donít enter it.
You have got to see why record companies are going to keep behind you, they are most probably going to keep behind you because you can make money for their shareholders.
What demands do you put on your artists after you have decided to take them on?
I expect them to work 24/7 365, because I will. I expect to be valued for the fact that Iím an important part of what they do. Iím not there living off their back. I create and make things happen, and I expect them to remember that. I expect them to stand by what we agreed on from the beginning.
Do you write down some agreement, a contract? Do you tell them personal things like "This is who I am and these are my expectations"?
I tell them, "I will do my utmost to make your career a success and I canít guarantee itís going to happen. I expect you to treat me honestly and tell me everything thatís going on because Iím there for you 100% of the time. I donít expect you to play games and I donít expect to hear second-hand something that you should have told me first. I donít expect you to be discussing me with other people".
Would you work with acts from outside your country?
Yes, anyone in the world, if they are brilliant.
Do you work with the artistís image, and how important is it?
Itís crucial, because we are in the media age and artists have to look brilliant on television. Whatever genre of music they play, whatever their style, they need to look fantastic in every context of what they are doing.
What are you currently working on?
Iím currently working on a boy band produced by Ray Hedges, who produced B*Witched and who is a top record producer in the UK. He also worked for Boyzone and Westlife.
Iím currently looking after Vernie from Eternal, who is enormously talented. Iíve also got a busker whoís a real sort of RnB singer/songwriter of the Bob Dylan mould.
Iíve got a really in your face rock-pop singer from Newcastle in the North of England whoís just hugely vibrant. Iíve got a Celine Dion/Mariah Carey type act who has a voice that is on level with the best in the world.
How did you come into contact with Charlotte Church and what made you take her on?
A TV producer told me about her, so I went to Cardiff and heard her.
What were the key elements of her success?
Her personality and her voice.
Do you accept unsolicited material?
Unsolicited material often doesnít get listened to, because it gets to be too much. People have to give me a reason to listen to something, they have to be inventive.
Can you offer some words of advice to unsigned artists, with regards to contracts?
Make sure you get advice from a proper lawyer who knows the music business.
What can unsigned artist demand and what can you offer?
If youíre thinking of "demanding", then you are already going in the wrong direction. Your manager should be your partner. A contract should be very simple: it should give the manager 20%, and, in my opinion, a three-album deal which is performance-related. There should be a let-out clause after a certain period of time if a manager has not achieved a set number of specified things for the artist. There should be a count of how many years the contract is for. He must let the artist out if a step doesnít occur.
How does the relationship with your artists work on a day-to-day basis, and what do you typically talk about?
I ask them whatís happening, ask them if they have ideas and hope they come to me with ideas. The artists that come to me who have the best chance of success are the artists that come to me with the most ideas.
How involved with the repertoire and production are you, and how do you go about choosing it?
Whateverís right for that artist. The idea is to have a really good A&R person working for the record company and work in tandem with them, because obviously they are more skilled and talented in those aspects. My thing is to make sure they have the right album, so depending on how much the artist does or doesnít do dictates how much I do or donít do.
If you could dramatically change some aspect of the music industry, what would you do?
Have artists own their own masters.
How do you think the Internet can/will affect the music business?
The internet, as for any product, is another retail tool. However, it will affect the selling of music in reality no more that it will affect the selling of beds.
Downloading - Once it is brought under control with an effective way of paying for music, downloading will become very useful. However you can't replace having an attractively packaged CD in your hand whether purchased from the shops or ordered through the Internet.
Marketing - As with any product it can be a useful way of promoting an artist. However you have to log on whereas conventional forms of marketing are 'much more in your face'.
Artists owning their own web sites - Artists can create their own web sites, but a really good web site is very expensive and beyond the expertise of most artists. The product still needs to be created to sell from a web site and the huge demand will only be there for the big stars which are created by the record companies.
Most people do not understand the best way in which the Internet can work in the music industry and they have the wrong expectations of how the Internet can work for music. It is the "tool" of the moment, no more than that.
Interviewed by James Burke