Managers -who needs one?

My career was spent at the Virgin record label but in 2001 I became a manager of Francis Dunnery and then D*Note. Why? Having experience and because they asked me. I had worked with Francis Dunnery and his band It Bites at Virgin in the 80s but the world was changing and he needed help with his solo career. That way of finding a manager – by asking someone you have a relationship with – has changed drastically in the last 20 years. The advent of the internet has meant an explosion of artists seeking a career in music but not enough managers to match that growth. At the MMF (www.themmf.net) our aim is to change that imbalance through education.

First an artist and a manager need to have a complete mutual belief as to where the artist wants to go and how they will get there. It’s a bit like a marriage but of minds, not necessarily of love. It’s a business relationship and needs to be cemented with a contract so that both partners know what is expected of each other. Targets and aims need to be in tune.

So what does a manager do? In essence a manager does what a creator doesn’t either want or have the skills to do. Creators generally are just that. They are artists and want to be artists – not to spend their day doing all the things that stop them creating. A manager is the CEO of an artist’s business.

Has that changed? It certainly has. It used to be that the primary aim was to get a record deal. Those days have gone. There are few record deals and the money involved in them has dropped drastically. Even the X-Factor have dropped the “million pound record deal” claim because they just don’t exist anymore.

What are those things a manager as CEO of the artist’s business does?

  1. Administration. The boring stuff. Filling in forms. Contracts. Visas. Deals. Getting Paid. Registering Rights. Booking travel. Promotion. The list is endless but necessary.
  2. Communication. Making everyone involved in the artists’ business (record label/agent/music publisher/stylist/travel agent etc.) aware of what is needed to deliver the plan that the CEO and artist have put together. To grow that business in whatever way has been laid out.
  3. Negotiation. That of course means sorting out contracts so that the terms are beneficial to the artist BUT it also means the toughest thing a manager does. It means sorting out the personal relationships. If you are a band manager it means stopping the drummer killing the lead singer after a bad gig. It’s something that we are working on because no-one teaches a manager (or even sometimes a person) things like this. People in society are just meant to “know” how to deal with difficult situations and they often don’t. Managers are the same. Many join for the love of music and artists but if the first time they encounter an artist in meltdown is two minutes before they play the most important going of their lives then we are not going to get a happy outcome. Education is all.
  4. Enabling. A manager’s job is to facilitate, to encourage, to work 24/7 to realise an artist’s ambitions. If that isn’t true they shouldn’t be working together. It is also an artist’s job so be appreciative, thankful and supportive.

It’s 2015, how does an artist find a manager? The brutal answer is that usually they find you. There are so many artists that the great ones (usually) rise to the top. But it also means that an artist, particularly during the early stages has to have the drive to do so much themselves – and that certainly means social media presence.

certainly means social media presence.

A manager makes money in commission when an artist makes money. That can mean a long hard slog with no income for a year or two or three. A manager must truly harbour belief to do that. 

Every artist almost by definition believes that they are the special one and that of course a manager must see that they will be the biggest star in the world. But as one manager once said to me – “It’s a partnership. I will work as hard as they do. If they don’t get up in the morning and work why should I? A true artist/manager partnership is a marriage made in heaven. An uneven one is a disaster waiting to happen.


Jon Webster spent the early part of his career at Virgin – initially in retail, then at the record label in the 80s where he was instrumental in the founding of the Now! series. After the sale to EMI in 1992 he became a consultant working with Virgin’s “heritage acts”. He has been a manager, founded the Mercury Music Prize, worked for the BPI but left the dark side in 2007 and now runs the Music Managers Forum (MMF). www.themmf.net


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iSing Magazine is a digital publication dedicated to singers.

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