We’re back with the latest installment of Inside Track. This time, we’ve partnered with P&P to explore the challenges faced in the early stages of launching a career as a manager and an artist. We spoke with a few talented managers about their experiences and advice on how they faced these challenges head on and developed a strong relationship with, and career for, their artists.
These are the managers that offered their wisdom:
Jeremy Levin – Mega House Music
Mook Singerman – We Are Free
Rich Holtzman – Red Light Management
Sean Famoso McNichol – LoveRenaissance & CrowdCTRL
Matt Sadie – United
Travis Banko – Lunatic Entertainment
What was the most difficult thing you experienced as a manager in your first year starting out?
Jeremy Levin: Learning the ins and outs of the business. There is no book (sorry Donald Passman) or class that can prepare you for the everyday grind. It is really a business that you learn through trial and error. It also takes time to build relationships with A&Rs, producers, writers, managers.
Mook Singerman: The most difficult thing was trying to find the right partners for an artist when I myself had a limited network within the industry, working with an artist who was relatively unknown. I really had to pound the pavement to get him an appropriate booking agent, lawyer etc.
Rich Holtzman: Drugs. They get in the way of everything. Ambition, talent, reason, everything. I had artists that got a little lost because of drugs.
Sean Famoso: Learning how to pretend like you know what the fuck you are doing! I don’t care who you are, what your background is, or how successful you’ve become, everyone has to take at least one year to pretend to know what they are doing and get good at it. My partner Tunde and myself had absolutely no idea what we were doing when we first started managing FKi back in 2010, all we knew is we threw the biggest college parties in Atlanta and knew how to make a lot of people pay attention. Tunde was also a DJ so it was easy to get music circulated, other than that we just bullshitted and use our promoter leverage to get into good situations.
Matt Sadie: Working out what to focus on genuinely make a difference for our artists. As a manager there are endless numbers of things you can be doing for your artist’s career. Working night and day is part of this job, but identifying what’s really going to move the needle is another matter. I’d also come fresh from the world of labels, music sales, distribution and marketing in the UK. It was all useful experience but getting focused on the numerous other areas of an artist’s business took a little time. Management was a completely different animal and required an understanding of parts of the business I had little-to-no experience of.
Travis Banko: Building key and trusted relationships along with learning the nuances of the many different facets of the industry. Nobody ever stops learning but you really do need to get stuck in and get your hands dirty absorbing as much as you can along the way. I found just taking on whatever I could and asking questions along the way was a big help in my own success.
Working night and day is part of this job, but identifying what’s really going to move the needle is another matter. – Matt Sadie
How did you overcome that challenge?
JL: I have a great partner, and we both asked a lot of questions when we didn’t have the answers. It’s always better to get the right answer even if it takes more time. I am also very lucky to have a brother in the business, who has been instrumental in my growth. I still have a long way to go, but everyday I feel like I learn more and become a better manager.
MS: I used the tools that I had at my disposal—namely a small but well-respected label I used to run—to get my artist on the right people’s radar. He toured with a bigger artist on our label, exchanged remixes with them, etc.
RH: Rehab and learned the quick lesson that no matter what you do if drugs are in the way you probably will not accomplish your goals. It taught me early on to get a good look at who I was thinking about working with.
SF: Tunde and I had to learn how to carefully pick and choose who we ask for help and who we hide our lack of knowledge from. The music business is obviously a nasty place to be at times so it’s tough trying to figure out who to show your hand to and who to hide it from. Also we studied the game. Anytime we heard or were forced to have a conversation about something we didn’t understand or how it worked we went and figured it out so from then on we were educated enough to speak on it. I also read the “48 Laws of Power” but I only read bits and pieces of it because I knew if I read it too intensely I would easily turn into one of these soulless industry douche bags that run around trying to manipulate everything and everybody.
MS: It was a combination of things. Experience and time played a big part but I was also lucky enough to be surrounded by vastly experienced people in my company and others I’d met along the road who were great mentors. I knew quickly that I didn’t have the answer to everything and wasn’t afraid to ask those around me when I was out of my depth. I think not being too proud to ask for help was pretty key and continues to be. It is a strength rather than a weakness. There’s no way as a manager you can expect to have all of the answers in what is an insanely complicated business.
TB: I’m lucky to have a great boss/mentor in Danny Rogers as well as being surrounded by an incredible bunch of people. The aforementioned people have been very inclusive and I’ve also been afforded the opportunity to travel, which in my opinion is extremely important for not only building but nurturing key industry relationships.
The music business is obviously a nasty place to be at times so it’s tough trying to figure out who to show your hand to and who to hide it from. – Sean Famoso
What do you think is the most difficult thing that artists face in their first year trying to get traction?
RH: Commitment. Artists and their managers have to remember that success in music is not easily obtained. Think about it. You want to have the coolest job in the world, did you think it would be easy? The only way you get over the hump of the first year is by everyone working together and working hard. Yes, it is art, but is also a job. That means everyone needs to get up and go to work, just like every other schlep in the world. If you are all focused together the hardships that you will encounter are easier to deal with
SF: Nowadays, whether you like it or not, being an artist is so much more than making music. When you are a budding new artist you can’t spend 24 hours a day making incredible music. I don’t care how amazing and life changing it may potentially be, you have other shit to do. Are you out meeting people organically? Not like, “Hi I’m Young Capo and I got bars,” but really just genuinely become a part of the environment that you are trying to put your music in. You need to have your champions all ready to go to war for you. You have got to get your look together, your socials together, your story together. This is still entertainment at the end of the day, music is only one way of exciting people. My partner Justice is the culture king in our company and Steve-O and Saint (GFCNY) are the best storytellers I know, and honestly none of the traction that any of our artists have had would of been possible without them.
MS: It completely depends on the individual, but in very general terms I think it can be tough for an artist to be creative once there’s a level of expectation around their music, especially if they’ve spent a number of years preparing a few songs without any pressure, then have a few months to create another body of work. Some handle it fine, others struggle.
TB: Let’s use the example of artists getting traction with their recordings as this is, in most cases, the way an artist is discovered. The most difficult thing in this case would be cutting through the noise. There’s a serious amount of great music released every Friday and with the onset of streaming new artists are not only competing with what is released any given week, they’re also up against the history of recorded music for $10 per month. Fans have never had it better but songs can easily slip through the cracks.
With the onset of streaming new artists are not only competing with what is released any given week, they’re also up against the history of recorded music for $10 per month. – Travis Banko
How important do you feel having a strong personal relationship with the artist is, versus having a purely business-oriented relationship?
JL: Having an amazing relationship with the artist/songwriter is essential. Being a great manager is about building and maintaining relationships. The better you know your clients, the more you are able to help them. Our business model as a boutique management company has always been to work with people we love. If I can’t see myself going on a vacation with you, chances are you won’t fit the aesthetic we are looking for at Mega House.
MS: It varies from manager to manager, but for myself, having a strong personal relationship is what everything else is built upon. In order to this job well you need to be deeply empathetic to your artist, where they come from, how they create, etc. and that kind of understanding can only really happen from a legit personal relationship.
RH: Obviously both work and it depends on the individuals involved. I would much rather have a strong relationship, that is just the type of person I am. I just feel better knowing that I am working for someone who is part of my extended family.
SF: I don’t work with anybody I don’t like. That’s stupid. I love my life and that’s only because I love the people that are a part of it. Business is always going to be personal, because it’s “people,” and as people we know nothing else. Now as a good manager you should always be able to hit the on and off switch so that your artist understands and respects what it is that you do for them. With that being said, I have really only managed acts from the ground up. If I started managing Frank Ocean tomorrow I’m not sure how much of our relationship would be personal.
MS: It’s a balance. I’ve never been the type of manager who needs to be best friends with my clients (unless they started off that way, which has happened to me). I don’t think that’s always the healthiest dynamic or necessarily in the artist’s or the manager’s best interest. Obviously I want to get on with my artist and to know them as people not just as business partners or colleagues. More than that though, it’s key that we’ve got a mutual respect and understanding of one another. Without that it’s going to be tough.
TB: Our model has always been founded on strong personal relationships. We have grown with the artists we manage and I feel this creates a strong sense of loyalty between artist and manager.
I just feel better knowing that I am working for someone who is part of my extended family. – Rich Holtzman
What is one thing you did not expect to deal with as a manager that you find yourself dealing with often?
JL: You have to understand that you are managing people. There are highs and lows and ups and downs. It is a roller coaster and sometimes you have to manage client’s emotions and expectations as well as your own. I wouldn’t trade it for the world and I’m blessed to be surrounded by a great group of creative minds.
RH: I am not surprised by anything, I know my job has very few limitations and boundaries. I’m okay with that because I care about the people I work with.
SF: I never thought I would have to play clean-up so often. I love all my clients like brothers and sisters but sometimes they are just like a bull in a glass shop, knocking mad shit down as they casually stroll through the aisles. I just quietly walk behind them picking up all the glass then tell the owner, “Sorry, let me buy you a coffee.” It’s important to then let your artist see all the glass they broke so we can work on not doing it again. Once again, that’s the importance of having a team like LVRN and GFC because there is mad cleaning up and smoothing over we have to do.
MS: I think it’s probably the social media side of things that I didn’t envisage being such a consideration back when I got into management. It has obviously become a huge part of being an artist today and connecting with and developing a fanbase.
TB: There haven’t been a too many surprises, I came in eyes wide open with the awareness that in this position you have at artist’s career in your hands and everything that needs to be done (within reason) is fair game, especially in the early days when an act is developing.