Music business managers in the digital era have to be ever more resourceful, informed, and have an understanding of areas including mining data and social media. They also increasingly have to assume a number of responsibilities that used be handled by labels, such as image and brand building, and even tour logistics. So what exactly is the role of the modern music business manager in the digital age?
In the last decade every aspect of the music industry has changed profoundly – but perhaps the deepest change has come to artist management. “What you want to achieve for an artist is the same, but the tools and the landscape have transformed, and consequently we have changed our approach,” co-founder of GRADE Management, Ed Karney, says.
“Our focus is on creative story-telling around an artist, by amplifying their personality and extra-curricular interests through digital tech, whereas when I started 10 years ago it was mainly about press coverage. The thing that has not changed is our mission, which is to uphold the best interests of the fans, because they’re the ones who pay to come to shows and shows are where most of an artist’s income is generated.”
AUTHENTICITY IS KEY
Karney spotted the potential of Facebook’s Fan Pages early: “When they launched you could really change an artist’s career for the better in a relatively short space of time,” he says.
“Working with savvy, hungry artists who have strong opinions really helps any music management company, but none of this matters if the messaging is not authentic. If you’re a fraud you’ll be found out quickly.”
According to Olga Heijns, founder of Unmanageable Artists, the modern music manager has to do pretty much everything: “When I started in management, the main priority was to get your artist signed to a label and a publisher. The label financed and took care of most aspects of a career, while management took care of logistics and the day-to-day business – but now we have to do so much more. I was lucky because I was working through this transition period and learned the necessary new skills gradually, but someone coming in to the business today needs to know a lot, and have a huge network of contacts.”
Those new skills include developing an act’s visual image and creative input into video production: “A typical modern management company is really more like an artist services company,” she says. Since forming
Unmanageable Artists, Heijns has added the label MixMash Records, a publishing arm and an agency. “We employ a lot more people than before because so much more is expected of artist management,” she admits.
“Data crunching is another area that is now starting to become crucial in building artist careers, but I am not seeing a great rush by managers and promoters to deep-mine data around an act, especially in areas such as touring EDM acts. Personally I’d like to see much more collaboration with promoters and partners in touring and brand-building.”
THE IMPORTANCE OF MOBILE
Brandon Ginsberg of Red Light Management, one of the largest management operations in the world with over 200 employees across eight offices in the US and the UK, sees mobile phones as the key to a successful digital strategy: “To execute a creative strategy you must have input from your data-crunchers in order to tap into multiple generations,” he says.
“It used to be all about Generation Z and their phones, but now most people live on their mobiles. However, the biggest change has been that acts do not need a label any more. Top priority used to be to find a label/publisher and then get a manager, but now with platforms like CD Baby and Tunecore, you can produce a track and get it released for a flat fee, then find a manager when things start to happen for you. And even after that you can build a career with a minimal team, usually a manager and a lawyer. But what has not changed is that you have to have a lot of drive, and you should only work with acts that you totally believe in, otherwise how are you ever going to persuade anyone else that they’re special? And for me it has to be acts that do their own thing and move the needle stylistically; there’s no point in trying to break artists that follow musical trends, it has to be ones that create them.”
TEAMWORK AND TECHNOLOGY
“As managers we are responsible for crystalising and executing the artist’s vision,” CEO of Heroic Family, Budi Voogt, says.
“To do this, we need to build great teams around them who help clear the path, while balancing the interests of all stakeholders. We enjoy bringing in partners from diverse backgrounds and differing opinions
because it sharpens our decision-making and hopefully results in a more sustainable career for the artist, with fewer mistakes made along the way.”
Voogt adds that technology is also important to Heroic. “We try to automate wherever possible and try to leverage data to our benefit. We use the artist tools provided by the DSPs (digital service providers) to track how our releases are performing, occasionally initiating new marketing around back-catalogue records that appear to be reviving. But we also use the demographic information to inform our touring decisions.”
TOP PHOTO: Red Light Management’s Brandon Ginsberg