You'd probably still remember lyrics to your favorite band's best songs after getting beaned in the head, but how much do you know about the unsung heroes who helped build that artist up from nothing? We spoke to the people who manage that band your friends aren’t cool enough to know about yet, as well as a few of the big shots who work with some of the stars you hear on the radio constantly -- anonymously of course. What did we discover? It's not all trashing hotels and banking checks.
1. There has to be a delusional belief in the artist you’re representing
Obviously not every act is going to be the next marquee headliner, but if you believe in them and they still fall short, there’s still a pretty good chance the artist can make a decent living while you end up with performers you’re proud of. If you’re not the one championing them from the beginning -- who else will? (Moms don’t count.)
2. You can never really be friends with the artist
Even if you get a call-out in the award speech, even if you roll up at parties together, even if you have 4am hotel conversations together, you can’t forget that you work for the artist. When a business relationship involves contracts and commissions, you can say they’re like family all you want, but don’t forget that some people would sell out their actual family when it comes to money. One of the managers interviewed said this was the biggest mistake he made early on in his career, and was especially hurt when his client dropped him. “I was giving everything that I had to my first client the way you’d give to someone you’re dating," he explained.
3. Except for when you are actually friends with them
One of the managers we spoke to started off being friends with the artists before he managed them -- so for him, the stakes were even higher. “It’s one thing to fuck up at your job," he said. "But it’s another thing when your best friends aren’t sure how they’re going to cover their costs for the next month.”
4. Sometimes you have to let your artists go
It happens -- the creative force you loved and believed in could just give it all up one day. One band actually got sick of touring and went back to their hometown to play local shows exclusively, and then eventually stopped doing even that. “If they’re not going to work hard, then I can’t do anything with that,” said a 20-year veteran manager of the biz. “I’m in the business of building careers, not knocking them down.”
5. Sometimes the manager is fired -- or worse
One manager had a client ghost on her after becoming successful enough to move to New York. “It was a kick in the gut because I had taken that person to the point where they were able to move to New York and get wrapped up in the scene there and start building this wonderful career," she explained. "It could have been that we mutually decided not to work together had we even talked about it.” See? Just like dating Tara (You know what you did, Tara).
6. The manager is the point person for the whole operation
You’re the key person that needs to help these people channel their creative dreams and drive into what they actually want to do -- whether they want to play clubs or arenas or just be a songwriter. The manager is the person who builds that team -- who finds the booking agent, who finds the publicist, who makes sure they’re marketed to the point where they start building a fan base that’ll help them achieve their goals. It's like producing a movie except the flick never wraps.
7. Clocking out for the day is not an option
When you’re managing an artist you’re always on call. As long as you have a wifi connection and a signal, you can do your job. These days, it might not seem that different from any old job, but blown out vocal chords or a 3am bail request require way more than reminding Tom in marketing about a missed meeting.
8. A manager is the first and last defense against making sure an artist doesn't get in the way of his or herself
“One of the hardest parts of the job is saying no to the artist in a way that doesn’t make them feel like you don’t care what they think,” says one manager about his toughest daily hurdle. He's learned how to rely on “letting the situation play out” before responding, because, like with most artistic visions, the universe's answer will usually be a big fat "nah" and save him the trouble.
9. Being an artist manager isn’t something you just decide to do
One manager started out as a receptionist at a label before continuing on as a day-to-day manager. Another got his start calling up labels as a teen until he landed a one-day-a-week internship, along with a job at a record store, and then ended up booking shows -- all in the lead-up to becoming a manager, because nobody starts there.
10. You have to keep up with the changing times
"If you look back at a contract, even 15 years ago, like 95% of it is irrelevant," said one seasoned manager. "Now they’re making cars and computers that don’t even have CD players. It’s hard to stay ahead of the curve.” These days, artists and management teams need to account for subscription services like Spotify, along with all the Pandoras and Vevos and whatever else might pop into existence tomorrow.
Never assume you know everything. If research isn’t being done -- even in the form of skimming through the new Billboard -- that manager is doing a disservice to their artist. “You know quickly whether a manager is cut out for this or not," revealed one manager who is most definitely cut out for it. "I read a lot, I’ll hear a band on a commercial and think -- how’d they get that commercial? Then I’ll research that band, the label, the management company, and compare and contrast the paths these bands take.”
12. You don’t have to be the big fish to land a great artist
Back in the day, an artist would stay with a manager until reaching a certain level of success and then move on to a more established manager. These days, people actually stay with their original managers. “There’s not this notion that going to somebody who has a big client roster will benefit you," said one of our interviewees. "It’s more about the artist these days than ever, and if the artists can’t articulate their vision and can’t help execute their vision, they’ll probably struggle no matter who will manage them.”
Your clients will be playing shows with ten people in the room, sleeping in vans, and seriously think about quitting. As a manager, you have to do what you can to keep your band afloat until the point where your artists start earning. And that can mean even going out of pocket on expenses.
14. But people will still think you’re rich
If your band plays Letterman, or does a Tiny Desk Concert with NPR, or their show gets a nice writeup in the Washington Post, laypeople will assume you’re making millions, playing to thousands of people every night. “Actually," laughed one manager who manages only a handful of artists, "We’re just making sure we can pay the rent or mortgage and making sure we’ve got enough money to get the band on the road.”