The PRiMER … Artist Management - Jul 9, 2012
“The artist-manager relationship goes deeper than any an artist will have in their career.”
For The PRiMER, past and present managers for artists as high profile and varied as Adele, Arcade Fire, Miley Cyrus, Coldplay, Gotye, Paul McCartney, Robyn and Owl City offer young artists valuable insight into the first stages of the deepest and most influential relationship an artist will form during their whole career.
Click on the interviewee name for the original full interview.
At what stage do you think an artist should get a manager involved?
ELI DAVIS (manager for Anthony Hamilton): “Artists need to take it as far as they can go before they bring on management. So that management helps and takes them to the next level as opposed to developing them from the ground up. What you don’t want to do is work harder than your artist. If they’re out getting shows, live performances around town, you know that they are hungry.”
JASON MOREY (former manager for Miley Cyrus, Macy Gray): “My advice to young acts is to learn as much about the business as possible by doing it themselves for a while. Book your own shows in local clubs and bars. Develop online and marketing campaigns slowly. Learn the basics of how long it takes and how much work it takes to develop yourself locally as an act.
Once you know how to do that and understand the amount of work it takes and you’ve managed to create some traction in the marketplace then maybe it’s time to look for a manager.”
FRANK CALLARI (former manager for Ryan Adams, Lucinda Williams, Marilyn Manson): “A certain amount of experience under your belt is invaluable. The business has changed – there is no real time for artist development anymore. It used to be that people would work for a number of years on a small circuit. They would hone their craft. They would play little clubs or coffeehouses. They would learn how to be a singer/songwriter. They would learn through experience. It could be two years, five years.”
At what level would an artist be at for you to start taking an interest in leading their careers?
STEVE BURSKY (manager for Owl City, Dispatch): “With the industry the way it is right now, it’s harder than ever to see an artist cut through, and so anyone, be it a manager, an agent or a label, is looking for a spark that they can add their expertise to and take to the next level.
It might be an artist that has a buzz touring-wise in a specific region of the country, or that has had some success with getting their music placed in film and television, or that is starting to get written about in the press … Obviously we’re looking for incredible songs, great musicianship and/or vocal chops, but it is those early talking points that we think can open the door to other opportunities.”
"[With potential management] there’s equal value in youth, passion and work ethic as there is in years of industry experience, especially today"
(manager for Death Cab For Cutie
): “It’s generally if someone has some sort of fan base. But if I heard something that no one knew about and I thought it was amazing and I loved it and wanted to listen to it 24 hours a day, then I would want to meet with them and make sure that their personalities made sense, and that my ideas for them were in line with theirs.”
(manager for Adele
): “You have to be proactive. Whether that means you’re funding a little record that you’re putting out by yourself very cheaply or going out and playing live, building your fanbase, being creative online with a cool blog, Facebook, or just distributing your music.”
What qualities do you look for in an artist?
(manager for Robyn, Moby, Royksopp, Fever Ray
): “The music needs to connect with me emotionally. I need to feel that I want to listen to it again and again, whatever genre it falls into. Secondly, there has to be a degree of uniqueness and originality.”
(manager for Pillar
): “A strong work ethic. Some bands contact me and ask me if they can send me a demo, I say, yes and six months later I still haven’t received it, or it takes them four weeks to send it. At that point I don’t care if they're the greatest band in the world, I won’t work with them.”
(former manager for Alicia Keys
): “We’ve got to look at the complete package: how marketable and sellable it could be. At the end of the day, it’s all about how many records this person can sell, how much the public will buy into this image. We look for people who are attractive as well as talented.
What is very important to us is that the artist is willing to take instruction and direction from us. I don’t care how beautiful and talented they are if they are what I call hard-headed and unwilling to listen and take our advice. It’s got to be a team, and the artist should come to us because of our experience and ability to guide careers.”
(manager for Kaiser Chiefs, The Vaccines, White Lies, The Cribs, Crystal Castles
): “The most important aspect of any artist is that they’re a true creative force and have both an identity and something musical they believe in. That formula hasn’t changed since the 50s and 60s. It’s far easier to carve a path for artists with a strong identity and something unique to offer the public.”
: “One thing that every great artist has is a clear sense of what they are and what they want to achieve. That’s absolutely essential for me. This business is completely and utterly driven by great artists, not by managers, lawyers, record companies, or radio. All I do is provide a service industry; I facilitate and protect and nurture their dream.”
“Every great artist has is a clear sense of what they are and what they want to achieve”
(manager for JLS, Jedward, Boyzone
): “It is almost more important to be a hard worker than someone with ability. If somebody has talent but doesn’t use it, then I prefer someone with no talent but who will work very hard. I’m very much for attitude.”
(manager for N-Dubz, Russell Watson, Jamelia, former manager for Charlotte Church
) “There are many artists who are fantastically creative and talented, but who haven’t got the mental ability, the stamina, the vision, that is needed to make it. Artists have to appreciate that they are in a business and appreciate that the bottom line is selling records and making money.
Some artists aren’t 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. If you want to be successful in the industry you have to accept it the way it is and make it work for you.”
How should up-and-coming artists assess potential managers?
“Meet with a lot of people! Some managers take the approach of ‘it’s me, me, me, you’ve got to work with me …’ But we like to tell potential clients that the best way you can make this decision is to go have ten meetings and really see what different people bring to the table. We think that we’re great at what we do but we’re not the perfect fit for every act. And we only take meetings with acts that we really believe we can make a difference in their careers.
There’s equal value in youth and passion and work ethic as there is in years of industry experience, especially today - our business is very different than the business that many people in the industry had great success in.”
How do you convince an artist that you’re the right manager for them?
(manager for Björk, Arcade Fire
): “If you ‘get’ the music, and feel you have the vision to take that music forward, then it’s the easiest sales job in the world. You’ve got to be honest. There are too many people who will try and sell bands a dream without being able to fulfill that dream.
It’s knowing when to say no to things. A lot of people can be blinded by financial offers or opportunities when those offers or opportunities may not be right for their career. It’s knowing how to try and build a career. If you feel you’re working with artists that have longevity or a life span of maybe more than two years then you present it differently.”
: “It’s really making them understand that we work for them and we don’t have any kind of specific allegiance to any label or publisher.
We do offer an alternative because we’re not part of a big multinational conglomerate. We are an independent company. Therefore we’re free spirits. We can do as we please. In this era, where the business is evolving so much and where we need to find new ways of selling records, the freedom of being able to offer that is quite important to artists.”
What are some things that artists should be watching out for?
: “The artist-manager relationship goes deeper than any relationship an artist will have in their career. It is very personal - how well do you get along with the person, can you look that person in the eye and really trust them, do you believe that they’re going to be there not just in the good but in the bad.”
What are some of the things discussed in first meetings with new acts?
(manager for Nelly Furtado
) “A new artist will sit there and explain to me what their dreams are, where they want to go. I listen in the first meeting and take mental notes. On the second meeting, I challenge some of the things they mentioned in the first meeting. I tell them about the things that my company is good at. By the third meeting we challenge each other, whether I’m ready to work with their hopes and dreams or whether they understand our methodology and are ready to hand their hopes and dreams over to us.” (Chris Smith, manager for Nelly Furtado)
: “Sometimes artists tell you: “I haven’t been able to get into the studio to record any music. I need help with that.” That right there is already a red light. You don’t have to go into the studio to cut a demo. You can take someone else’s existing song and sing over it or take an instrumental and write your own thing. You can always make do with what you have.”
"It’s knowing when to say no to things. A lot of people can be blinded by financial offers or opportunities when those offers or opportunities may not be right for their career. "
: “If it’s someone I’ve never met before, I think first and foremost it’s good to talk about music. What do they like? How did they become an artist? What drives them to do what they do?”
(former manager for India Arie
): “I really want to know whether they have a realistic expectation for not only their art, but the business that they’re about to become a partner in. A lot of new artists – and I think it’s mainly because of reality TV – have expectations that are skewed in a way that they see the profits before they see the work. My interest is to make sure that they understand that it is a partnership – and that it involves both music and business. And that the business requires a return on investment. So there are certain compromises that they may possibly need to make.”
How do you work out that the relationship was the right one for both of you?
(manager for Gotye, Temper Trap
): “I said to [Gotye], “This is a big decision for both of us so let’s not rush into this. Let’s do a trial.” That’s always been my approach with management; I don’t want to rush in and put a contract in front of people. I suggested we give it three months, and if we both feel really positive about the relationship at the end of that then let’s progress it further.”
Once signed, do you have a time schedule for an artist to show some signs of success?
(former manager for Avril Lavigne, Coldplay, Sarah McLachlan
): No. I don’t think you can. I would call it a passion meter. When does your passion run out?
Finally, do you have any tips for aspiring artists on how to approach the business?
(former manager for Tim McGraw
): “Stay music/art-centred. Even though you want to have a knowledge of the industry, don’t let it drive you crazy and don’t let it dictate your vision and your art.”
(manager for James Blunt, Elton John, Lily Allen
): “Play as often as you possibly can. Even if it’s in a pub and you’re not getting paid – do it. Get as comfortable as possible with being in front of an audience. Even back in the days when I did A&R in New York at Island Records, it was crucial they had to have that part of it down. If the live shows are not together, you’re going to be hurting.”
(former manager for Paul McCartney, Ricky Martin
): “They need to understand where exactly they fit into the media spectrum—that’s the biggest problem. In England, in the ’60s, when I started, if you had a good record and Radio One played it, you had a hit. Nowadays, it’s complex and difficult to choose what markets to target. Everybody wants everything to fit into a category and artists need to understand that.”
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