Attention All Stressed-Out Artist Managers: Face the Realities
The following is an excerpt from Artist Management for the Music Business, 2e by Paul Allen
Perhaps the best strategy an artist manager can use to handle the pressures of managing within the music business is to learn to put stressors in perspective. The most effective artist managers are those who are not prone to take the actions or inactions of others personally. In nearly all circumstances, the response or lack of response by others has little to do with your work as the artist’s manager; rather, it has to do with their personal and professional agendas.
Knowing to expect some of the stressors that accompany a career of artist management can help a manager approach issues professionally and with the aplomb that keeps them from becoming personal. As you consider the realities outlined in this chapter, remember that they usually are business—not personal—and these are specific realities that can cause the manager stress and consternation only if they are permitted to. Following are some of the realities in the music business that have the potential to create stress.
A lot of people will say “no,” and a lot of gatekeepers will seem immovable. The music business on its grandest scale offers the promise of great financial rewards for the relative few who are able to connect with a large audience. This means that there are countless thousands of talented people seeking ways to access gatekeepers who can give career opportunities to artists in the music business. When they say “no,” it is not a personal response to the manager. It simply means that the manager must find a way to get past the gatekeeper, or must pursue another one who is more likely to be a favorable audience. Finding out what the gatekeeper needs and using it as a way to gain access is one strategy (Kragen and Graham, 1994). For example, personal or executive assistants are essential gatekeepers in any company and are often underappreciated for their contributions. They have a need to be recognized for their value to the company, so the manager who takes time for a brief visit with them implies to the assistant their importance and builds an ally who can perhaps open other gates within the company.
Another way to get past gatekeepers is to find someone in your network who can open that door for you. Build the network and use it.
You are a “player” in the music business only if you are relevant. Relevance has to do with your current activity in the industry—specifically, in the case of an artist manager, this is defined by the artist management firm for which you work, or by the artists you manage. If your telephone calls are not returned or your emails are not acknowledged, it is not personal. It just means that you haven’t developed the perception that you offer something that will improve the other person’s business.
I emphasize throughout this book that every business encounter a manager has on behalf of artists they manage isn’t about the artists. It’s always about the agenda and needs of the other person. You must be able to demonstrate to others that you and your artists are relevant to continued success of the other person’s business.
Keeping the spirits of your artists up during a continuing career roller coaster will be draining for you. Understand that the pursuit of opportunities for your artists will include many rejections, due primarily to competition within the industry. Even if he or she knows that rejections are a regular part of the music business can still be a defeat for the manager. And then the manager is the one who must pass the difficult news along to the artist. Finding a way to cope with disappointment at the personal level and then being able to find a way to keep up the spirits of the artist is always a challenge for the artist manager.
People will string you along. Early in the author’s career in the music business a prominent music industry publisher advised, “Don’t pet stray dogs.” His point was that you can waste a lot of time by giving advice and befriending individuals who are not in the industry yet and have a long way to go before they will have any chance at success. Some in the industry will tell others whatever is necessary to get them off the telephone or off their doorstep if they think the individual has nothing to contribute to their business. A frequent tactic is to be told “They’re tied up in a meeting. May I put you into their voice mail?” You leave your message and there is no chance that your call will be retrieved and returned. It is not personal. They just don’t know how you can contribute to the success of their business and don’t have the time to figure it out. The second time you hear from a personal contact saying, “I’ll get back to you in a couple of days on that” is the time to move on. It’s a not-so-subtle way of saying, “Don’t call me again.” Don’t allow people to string you along—they’re wasting your time. (Author’s note: Petting stray dogs with candid and genuine guidance becomes a way of giving back when the music business gives you your measure of success, however you define success.)
People will disappoint you. Someone you feel you can depend on will disappoint you by not following through with promises or commitments made to you and your artists. Even the smallest oversight by others can have an impact on the things you are trying to achieve for your artist. Anticipate that people will disappoint you, but be pleased when they deliver on their promises. Advice to artist managers: always follow through with your promises because it helps define your character to others.
The agendas of many people in the music business determine whether you matter to them. If you are the current manager of a significant artist about to go into the studio to record an album, music publishers will stumble over each other to get the chance for a conversation. If you are the former manager of a major artist, you might elicit a faint hello from those same publishers. This is just the beginning of a larger list, but it covers key points that can easily be taken personally, when in fact, they usually should not be. Recognizing these points as realities of the music business environment can help the manager step away from an issue, realize that it is not personal, and minimize an emotional response to a business situation.
Paul Allen, associate professor at Middle Tennessee State University, earned his B.S. in business management from the University of Tennessee. He was awarded the M.B.A. with an emphasis in marketing from MTSU. Additional studies have included courses and seminars at Vanderbilt, Harvard, Clemson, and Belmont Universities. Paul began teaching at MTSU in 1999 as an adjunct faculty member in marketing of recordings for the recording industry program. Paul Allen’s career has included work in the radio and television industries as well as being executive director of Country Radio Broadcasters, Inc., an industry trade association. He has been producer or executive producer for scores of stage productions for acts including Alan Jackson, Garth Brooks, the Dixie Chicks, Toby Keith, Trace Adkins, Trisha Yearwood, Clint Black, Vince Gill, and Martina McBride in conjunction with the annual Country Radio Seminar. For seven years he was the executive producer of the New Faces of Country Music Show presented in Nashville. Paul Allen’s background also includes work in political management, radio and television programming and management, radio ownership, and broadcasting work for the US Armed Forces Radio. His consulting clients include companies in the management, public relations, and film industries. He is an alumnus of Leadership Music, and a member of the Country Music Association. He is a recipient of the Department of Recording Industry Outstanding Alumni Award for Service to the Community, and the 2006 Award for Instructional Technology. Paul teaches artist management, Internet for the music business, concert promotion, and marketing of recordings at Middle Tennessee State University