(in the picture: Brian Epstein – manager of The Beatles)
Most Bands that succeed beyond the local level eventually do so with the aid of a manager. WHat does this person do, aside from collect a healthy cut of the money? We interviewed two NYC managers and one publicist with different experiences in the local scene to help us understand…
Bands often complain that good managers are very hard to find. What about bands? Is it any easier to find a really good band today in NYC?
JIN (independent manager – www.onthemoonmusic.com): Good bands are extremely hard to find. The hard part comes in combing through the myriad of bands to find the one band you can get along with and believe in 3000% percent.
Perry Serpa (publicist Good Cop – www.goodcoppr.com): There are great bands and great managers all over NYC. You have to define “good” though, really. To some potential managers “good” in is the marketability of the artist and to the bands, a good manager ranging from someone who will help book them to someone who will exclusively get them a deal.
KIP (manager, Magnum PR – www.magnumpr.net): Hell no, i get a lot of garbage in the mail!!
Perry, what’s the difference between a manager and a publicist?
P: The publicist essentially does one job, which is pitching their client for opportunities in the media and fielding requests from said media. Managers do a lot more in terms of different tasks. Sometimes their job entails everything from getting their artists deal to getting their artists drugs and everything in between. Both manager and publicist are clinical psychologists.
Is it essential to have a manager? When should a band start looking for one?
P: No. My feeling is that a band should only seek out a manager when they get so busy that the business threatens their ability to actually make music.
J: If you are an amazing band, you will have no trouble finding someone willing to invest his or her time in you. That’s just the way it works. Focus on making good music.
How does the process of committing to work for a band (and signing a contract) happen? Do bands come to you or vice-versa? Do you work with a contract?
P: it goes both ways.
K: If you love the band you are willing to work with them on spec for a while until you can get them a record deal. Contracts should arise right before the record deal. And yes bands come to me all the time, but you just have to be picky.
Is the process that leads to the deal painful and expensive – are lawyers involved? Do bands get cold feet when you guys mention the word “contract?”
K: Yes it gets expensive but if you have a record deal lined up it works out in the end! There should be no need for cold feet at that point.
J: Personally, I don’t really believe in having a contract – which is the case for most indie band managers I’ve met. I trust the artists I work with completely, and both bands I work with are extremely loyal to me, as I am to them.
Bands normally expect to find mangers available to work for around 20% of the money they make through any of their music related activity (gigs, record sales, merchandise etc); is that a correct projection?
K: Yes that is correct.
P: I think so, although, like publicity, I’ve heard of a lot of managers lately working for monthly retainers rather than percentages.
J: It really depends on the band. With Dirty on Purpose, I am considered a member of the band so we split the money equally. With Knife Skills, we work out a percentage ahead of time based on how involved I am in helping them make money.
Do you still take chances with less-established artists or do you just work with acts that obviously can guarantee a certain income?
P: Of course!
K: If you believe in them then it works out in the end. If something makes you happy then it isn’t a waste of time
J: If a band is good, there is always the potential for them to become financially successful. But in music, you have to expect years of hard work before it pays off.
Would you sign an incredibly talented guy you heard playing in the subway station?
K & J: Yes
P: Yes. If I thought there was a good enough story there.
Are image and age something you need to consider in the music business? Are managers supposed to tell their artists when an outfit just doesn’t work?
P: Ha. Well, as a publicist, I think the answer to that is yes. When the artist is in danger of embarrassing his/herself, then I think it is your job. I don’t think in my 16 years of doing this, though- that I’ve ever really had to say that.
J: I think image and perception are more important than age.
K: Yes image is so important!! Always advise your clients!! Im in pr as well
Would you rather work with a reasonably-talented, reliable, and hard-working musician or with an out-of-control genius? What category do you think most of the successful musicians belong to?
K: Out of control anytime!! I don’t know any reasonably talented musicians.
P: Oof- tough questions. I suppose I should say that I would like to listen to the record of the out of control genius, but having worked with a few of them and being the sort of person that has no patience for that crap, nor being the type of person that believes there are many true genius (especially in the music biz) actually exist, I would have to opt for the reliable talent.
J: If I’m not having fun and 100% believe in it, then I won’t want to do it. I believe artists have to work on making great, original music – building their own sound and discovering themselves as songwriters and composers. Everything else will fall into place after that. Think long-term, not short-term.
What are you looking for in a band/artist?
J: I’m looking for nice, decent human beings. If I can’t respect you as a person, I cannot work with you, no matter how good your music is. Secondly, I have to love your music. Third, I have to believe you are committed to doing this as a living, that it’s your priority.
P: Good art and a good story.
K: Cool vibe something different from the rest.
The artist manager’s duties seem a little bit blurred, in particular when we are talking about emerging artists that don’t have booking agents, record labels or radio promotion. What should a band in this situation expect from a manager?
K: Artist should expect it all from their manager, i book them, do their pr and find them a label. No radio though….
J: the manager is whatever the band needs the manager to be.
Is the manager directly involved in negotiations with interested record labels?
P,K and J: yes, always.
As you guys obviously deal with national music magazines… is it any easier to get an interview/feature from a magazines where your artist’s record was advertised? If yes, do you think that’s normal or wrong?
K: Yes always easier!! It happens all the time with record labels and magazines. I could name names but…
J: Unfortunately, that’s how magazines work. It’s not always the case.
P: It’s not “wrong” unless it is something that is forced upon the publication or the artist/record label. I think that sometimes the endeavor to purchase an ad calls attention to the artist within the publication. Kinda like, “Oh, who is that band? They just committed to an ad.” I think that when it’s not forced or even implied on any particular party, it’s just kind of about the publication and the artist being supportive of one another.
Artists are fed by confidence in their talent. How important and how dangerous is it to boost their egos? Is there a “post-success” syndrome? If so, how do you deal with it?
K: Its always important too boost their egos, they are always nervous about press and public image. But post success its your job to “keep up to the good work and make sure they keep putting out the same level of great product
P: Depends on the artist. Some do go overboard. But I generally think that as a manager or publicist, you need to stay out of their personal lives as much as possible. It’s good to make them aware of the fact that you love and support their art, but when they need to be stroked too much, that seems to be a matter of going over the line. That’s when they should turn to their girlfriends or boyfriends, wives, husbands or mommies. Not their manager.
J: There always needs to be a balance. I am just always honest with my bands. If they sucked, I tell them they sucked and I’m very specific about how they sucked. If they were great, I tell them they were great and I let them know why I thought it was great. Honesty is always the best policy, and it often keeps any inflating heads in check.
Buzz is a manager’s favorite word. But if it’s not supported by substance, don’t you think it might become counter-r-productive?
J: Buzz is a fun word to throw around, but in this day and age it doesn’t mean much. Everyone is a buzz band these days, and the word has become diluted. You’re a buzz band? Big deal. So is every other band that comes out of New York. Try becoming a long-term steady and successful band. That’s a great deal harder and way more respectable in my eyes.
P: Hype without the goods is always shitty, in any situation with any bit of commerce or art. And there’s just so much of it, it’s hard to tell what’s really great and what sucks. It’s like what I said before about the word “genius”. I hear it all the time. I never believe it. Then I hear it. And I knew I was right.
What advice would you give to an aspiring music manager?
K: Don’t become one.
J: All the managers I know started managing a band with little to no prior experience. They just decided to do it one day, and it’s a total DIY experience. You learn something new every day. You make some mistakes, but make sure you learn from those mistakes.
P: If you’re doing it for the money, you might as well go work on Wall Street cuz there’s no glamour in it and no cash unless you happen to be 1 in, perhaps, 7,000 who become successful enough to support their families. Also, be cautious of labels. Especially, the big ones, but some of the small ones, too. Everybody’s struggling right now and the music industry is a vast culture of desperation and unpaid invoices.