The Case Against Artist Management

This post is by Robin Davey of The Hoax and The Bastard Fairies.  Interview.

image from Managers don't know more than you about the music business. They may know more people in the business, but it doesn't mean they know more about it. It's a bold statement I know, but the reality is the music business they now deal with is changing so rapidly, that everybody is learning and it's a level playing field now.

The old school ideology is over.

The previous management model was based on a system that paid for radio, did favors for favors, and played the game. The only thing it had in common with what was happening on the street, was its similarity to the world of pimps and ho's.

Name of the Game

A manager was only as strong as their contacts. If they had a hot act then they could pimp that out to every limo that pulled up to the street corner, and then they would sell to the highest bidder. Of course, the more the acts were prepared to compromise themselves, the more money the manager could make.

Exploitation was the name of the game, and if you were not prepared to partake then there were plenty of other younger, better looking and more willing participants waiting to fill your metaphorical, clear-soled high heels. There were exceptions of course, but the more the business lost its footing, the more desperate those involved became. When only 10% of acts on major labels made any sort of profit, the manager's job became that of getting the band signed, inking the deal, and getting 20% of advances.

This is where creating the illusion of early success became the managements main skill. The concept of the showcase doesn't do the concubine analogy any favors either. Setting up a cozy atmosphere for the A&R kids to see the band perform live, it's more like a strip club mentality than actual reality. When only 10% made money, you have to say, that's an awful lot of managers not doing a very good job.

Take a Role

The new music industry is about small business, not big business. Cottage Industries are where the success stories of the future will be born. The bands who take the reins for themselves, divvying the responsibilities to each member, becoming an efficient well-oiled machine both on stage and off, these are the ones who will nurture a long career for themselves. You are only onstage for a very small portion of the day, and early in your career gigs don't happen every night. This is when you need to learn the ropes of management.

If you are a band, it is important that each of you take a role. Sure, the singer might be a moody poet and his dark side might not make him the best booking agent material, but he can still design the poster and stick them up all over town.

Drummers are notoriously good at making friends, get them to handle press; it's amazing how far a little charm will go. Bass players do make good booking agents; they tend to be personable but a little less bombastic than drummers, which make them good negotiators. Guitar players spend their life learning scales, this is just math by another name – let them keep the books in order. I am totally generalizing of course, but you will find that you each fit a role that you can be effective at.

Your Fifth Beatle

When the time comes that things start to get out of hand then you can look at enhancing your team. It may be time to bring in an accountant, or a booking agent, and most definitely a lawyer when deals of any sort get put on the table. Putting in the hours and learning what a manager actually does, will give you the experience to make the right decisions in your career. It may even be that do you do find that rare thing – a great manager whose can impact you career favorably.

However, it will be the work you have done previously that will enable you to tell if he is a Paul McGuiness, or just simply a pimp.

Being represented by someone, whose goal is to get you the deal, basically means you are being misrepresented. Any self respecting manager these days should be running your label, building your brand and embracing your self-sufficiency, not trying to sign you to a failing system.

If your manager is trying to get you signed, number one, they obviously don't understand where this business is headed. Number two, they are not going to have much managing available for them to do.

When all hell breaks loose find your fifth Beatle, but until then… remember, if you deal with pimps the only person you wind up fucking is yourself.

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