By, Wendy Day from Rap Coalition (www.WendyDay.com)
A manager is the key component in any artist’s career! A manager is the person who helps the artist set goals and then puts the team in place to achieve those goals. The manager also sets up a system of checks and balances to be certain the team is on track to achieving those goals. He or she handles all of the artist’s business-- essentially becoming the face of business for that artist. And here’s the most important part: a manager can make or break an artist’s career!!
A good manager can enhance and help the career of an artist, a DJ, or a producer. But an ineffective manager can even more easily ruin an artist’s career. People don’t go out of their way to hire someone to destroy them, but they do inadvertently choose folks who are inexperienced, not properly connected, and who possess no experience in management. I see this everyday. If we had better managers in urban music, there would be no need for Rap Coalition, and we’d have rappers with longevity like Bruce Springsteen, Aerosmith, and Madonna.
When artists call me and ask me to refer managers, I cringe. I can think of only a few people that I would personally hire if I wanted to be a successful artist in this business, and they are too busy right now to be effective for anyone other than the artists they already manage. How can I refer artists to someone that I’d never hire in a million years (I don’t), or how can I refer a few folks worthy of referrals, but whom I know are too busy to even find the time to return phone calls (again, I wouldn’t). So I rarely refer managers. This is a problem.
A manager is supposed to be the liaison between the artist and the record label. They are the person responsible for relaying the artists’ concerns and fears to the label (therefore a label employee is rarely a good choice as a manager if they work at YOUR label). They are also responsible for offering constructive ways to fix problems. On the flip side, they are also the ones responsible for getting the artist to do what he or she needs to do, often a difficult task. Good communication skills, relationships, experience, and being organized are key for the person entrusted with this life-changing position. An artist who hires a friend is an idiot. An artist who hires a relative to manage his or her career is an idiot. While they may be trustworthy (we hope) and hungry (ambitious), they are not experienced or connected enough most of the time to do an even basic job of managing a career.
If you look at the bulk of artists with failed careers or declining careers, you can often see they are managed by inexperienced managers or people who work for the record label (either openly or covertly). While the artist only has one career, the managers are able to move onto other clients or other jobs within the industry to make money, so the decision of management affects the artist far more than the manager.
A manager is also responsible for obtaining opportunities for the artist to make money outside of the record deal (endorsements, touring, acting, merchandising, etc). So few managers in urban music are good at this, therefore we now have a spate of companies setting up solely to do deals between urban artists and corporate America (myself included). If we had better and more skilled managers out here, these cottage industries would not be popping up all over to accomplish what an experienced manager should be able to do on their own (by the way, the manager usually still gets a percentage of that income even if someone else brings it to the table).
When To Choose A Manager
Choosing a manager should occur when there is something to manage. At the beginning of an artist’s career, the focus should be on building a buzz and hype for yourself. The more well-known you become, the easier it will be to attract the right people to your career. It’s simple business basics really…managers get paid 20% of a new artist’s income, or 10% to 15% of an established artist’s income. Managers are in the music business to make money. An artist becomes attractive to a manager when that manager can apply their connections, experience, and contacts easily, and to where 20% really becomes something of value. The hotter an artist’s buzz, the better manager they will attract. The more they have going on with their career, the better manager they will attract. Having a manager on board before you sign to a major label would be a good decision because having them involved in the bidding war and negotiation process will help you--a great manager adds tremendous value in a label’s eyes.
How To Choose A Manager
You have one career, and most rappers only get one shot. So unless you want to languish at a mediocre label selling 25,000 CDs and downloads a year, you better get this right the first time around. The key, in my opinion, would be to know who the top managers in the business are, and attract one of them, or someone who trained under one of them.
For some unknown reason, in urban music, we have people who sprout up out of the blue and announce “I am a manager.” They don’t train under an efficient manager to gain experience and connections. But they are often on the streets enough to know who the hot artists are, and they get on by latching onto that artist’s coat tails. The problem is that these hot artists need someone who can take their career to the next level, not act as an anchor around their neck to make a quick buck.
First of all, you want a manager who is professional and runs their business like a business. They need to excel in basic business skills such as returning phone calls, attending meetings, planning schedules and calendars, knowledge of the music industry and how it works, and they need to know who’s who in the industry and have some access to those people. Sadly, there are plenty of mis-managers who sit back and answer the phone (sometimes) and choose opportunities to bring to the artist from what is offered, and then there are effective managers who not only choose from the offers that come in everyday, but are also visionary enough to figure out what the artist wants to be doing, and goes and gets it for them.
For many artists, they plan to hire a manager for the newer level their career is at, and then they plan to hire an experienced manager once they become a star. The problem with this plan is that it often creates a power struggle within the camp for control of the artist’s career during the transition phase. Additionally, there are multiple fees to pay, plus having an inexperienced manager early in a career is not a smart way to build a career to attract a more serious manager. It’s best to manage yourself until you get to a point where you need a professional to take you to the next level. This is a BUSINESS! A power struggle also forces away many of the good people within the camp who could have been helpful in the artist’s career.
I, personally, think managing artists sucks. It’s a thankless babysitting job for the most part, and unless you happen to get to work with a Platinum superstar, there is not enough money involved in management for most folks to eat well. So many managers who could have been great, leave to start their own labels (where the REAL money is) or leave the music industry to get better paying jobs elsewhere. Some who work under the big management companies like Violator, The Firm, etc, leave to start their own management companies long before they have the proper connections and experience in place to do so, because they grow weary of working hard for little pay under others. They don’t realize the financial realities of the music business, and often jump into a worse situation.
My biggest concern, and the reason I am even writing this, is that management consists of shaping, developing, and controlling artist’s careers--their LIVES. If a manager fucks that up, they are fucking up another human being’s life. Most don’t look at that, they look at their own thirst for money. A manager, by contract, is supposed to have the artists’ best interests at heart. How many do you suppose can forego a benefit for themselves to benefit their client? Precious few.
I once did a deal for an incredible artist at a major label. I kept telling him he needed a good manager to help shape his career. Six months into his first release, he STILL didn’t have one; he just had friends around trying to act like a manager. He was afraid of choosing the “wrong” one (he had been burned years ago by a real scumbag) so he had chosen none. By his third release, he finally got a real manager, but by that time so much damage had been done to his career that his star was fading, not rising. Every time he put out a release, it sold less. It’s hard to resurrect a career…far easier to do right the first time from the beginning.
The artist should NEVER be the bad guy at the label, it alienates the label staff--but the manager can be the bad guy. The label may hate the manager, but if they love the artist they will still work just as hard for him or her. If they hate the artist, his or her career is over. Politics reign supreme at record labels, and the staff works projects that are slam dunks, or projects they like…regardless of who the priority is at the label. Also, if the artist has burned bridges in the industry (like with radio, club DJs, etc), not only will their careers suffer, but so will the careers of artists coming up under them. A good manager ensures the artist is never on the firing line, because the manager is always. And with some experience and relationships, the manager is not out there burning bridges. If something does go wrong, it’s fixed immediately and not left to fester til it’s time to work the next release and ask for more favors.
A good experienced manager knows what to expect and how to work records. They work in conjunction with the label not in opposition to it, and certainly not without input and suggestions to the label. If you have no experience and things are going wrong, how will you fix them? How will you even know when things are going wrong if you haven’t worked a project before?
So how does an artist choose a good manager in this day and age where there are so many snakes, and so many inept managers with promising business cards? The best suggestion I can make is to look at the careers of other artists you admire--whose careers you admire, not music, and seek out that person. Is that artist getting opportunities that are usually afforded only to superstars, but isn’t selling as many units to do so? Is the artist getting a lot of awareness outside of what the label does for him or her? Do they seem to have a stream of income to fall back on besides being beholden to the label. Research, research, and then more research.
Make certain that if you meet with a manager that they really did everything they say they have. Look for a manager who has great relationships with booking agents, entertainment attorneys, corporate America (for sponsorship of tours and endorsement opportunities), access to label presidents and A&R staff but who does not have a deal at any given label (unless you don’t mind being put through their deal), and even film agents if you want to go that direction with your career. Follow up, ask questions, get references… after all, you only have one career, and a bad manager can end it prematurely for you.
Things to watch out for:
-a manager with a loyalty to any one label
-a manager who collects your money (they should NEVER touch your money, a business manager or accountant does that job)
-a manager who works at a label, especially if it is your label, or a manager who owns a label and wants to manage you AND sign you to his label (this is called double dipping and is a breach of fiduciary duty).
-artists he or she has managed before but no longer does (ask the former artists why they left)
-managers who promise to book you shows (that is NOT their job)
-managers who ask for more than 15% or 20% (max) of your entertainment income
-managers who want to sign you to 7+ year deals (watch out for those contract terms called “options” that extend the life of the contract automatically)
-a manager who wants to take or buy your publishing from you
For The Aspiring Managers Reading This
If you want to become a manager, or be a better manager, the best thing you can do is work under a fully experienced manager to learn as much as you can. This will also give you access to their connections and relationships so you can begin to cultivate your own. This is a “who you know” business. You probably won’t make much money at first, but the long term benefits are outstanding. On average, managers get between 15% and 20% of the artist’s entertainment income. How amazing would it be to sit back in ten years and contemplate not only the millions of dollars you made in the music industry, but also the careers you built and the lives you’ve impacted along the way. Isn’t that what it’s all about anyway?
For My Southern Playas
Recently, I have been discussing with some of the power players in the industry why southern artists get little regard in NY inside of the music industry. Southern music sells very well and many of our biggest stars are from the south. Yet they don’t get much face time on BET, rarely get magazine covers by themselves, hardly ever get the bigger endorsement deals, etc. So I starting asking “why?” and people were happy to share the answers with me.
What I thought was a dislike for southern music, is really a dislike for the business practices. I heard story after story of bad experiences in trying to deal with management or teams for Gucci Mane, OJ, Young Jeezy, Plies, Shawty Lo, Soulja Boy, UGK, Young Buck, Yo Gotti, Rick Ross, etc. The biggest complaint was one of access…either no one knew whom to call or who was in charge. I heard the frustration of being sent from person to person within a camp just to set up a photo shoot for a major publication or not having phone calls or emails returned. Others complained of artists having inept teams who didn’t understand how the industry worked or basic understandings of who was who in the music business. Many of the teams had outrageous demands for their artists, or the artists just never showed up. Basically, all of the problems were ones that would have been eliminated by having an experienced team.
Many of the people I spoke with said they called some of the bigger DJs in the area where the artist was based to find out who represented the artist, and the DJs bad mouthed the artists telling of their own bad experiences which made the folks no longer want to work with the artists. People in this industry definitely talk. You know it’s a serious problem when I call a video booker and still hear negative stories about a group that hasn’t appeared on TV in years, or stories about an old management team from 5 years ago for a platinum rapper. You only get one chance to make a good impression, and people work with people they like and who are easy to work with. Don’t believe me? How many southern artists have been on the cover of XXL or Vibe (RIP), featured in clothing ads, or featured on BET in the past few years that the south has been running shit? It seems out of proportion to me.
So, until we in the south get our shit together on the business tip, we can expect for the better opportunities to go to the artists with proper representation, good teams in place, signed to respected record labels, and less buzz and sales. Fortunately, many of the artists whose names were shared with me regarding difficulty with their management teams, have changed management. This seems to be a blessing for all involved. But what happens when those old teams start to manage new artists? Can they undo the damage to their reputations, and have they learned enough to now be effective? We can only hope. Especially since these artists and teams are some of my favorite artists and people!!