Emily White: The Case FOR Artist Management

This post is by Emily White of Whitesmith Entertainment.

image from blog.midem.com Robin Davey's point is that the music business is changing constantly and rapidly. The old school management ideology IS over, which is why our 2-year old artist management company is thriving. That is exactly why the artists on our roster have brought us on to guide all aspects of their career, particularly in this modern era. Someone needs to navigate new opportunities, revenue streams, technology, and help to create a structure around their art so they can focus on music for the rest of their lives.

I'm writing this from the dressing room of The Garage in London, where Family of the Year who have been a band for all of a year and a half are playing their first ever UK show tonight and it is completely sold out. Yesterday, we were in Paris where the band performed live on three major national French radio stations.

This European success is all based on music that they never planned on even releasing. Sebastian Keefe from the band, who was an old friend of mine, emailed me their new songs and I immediately came on board, sorting releasing a donation based EP, LP, and helping them build a fanbase that they'd never experienced in previous, but equally talented projects.

Help Is Needed

This is because their music is amazing and they partnered with a management company who understand technology, are willing to experiment, take risks, and try new things in addition to working, well, pretty much non-stop. Even my artists tell me to take a break sometimes :). In the meantime, I'm thinking about GOLD MOTEL's New York show at The Highline Ballroom tomorrow in which our office crafted a tour-marketing plan to specifically help them land a two-month tour supporting Hellogoodbye. This included having the artists cover each other's songs for a tour sampler given to folks who post about the tour to increase the fanbases of both artists while simultaneously spreading the word about shows.

I am so thrilled to be facilitating the first Urge Overkill release in over a decade.

Their fans are psyched, the album is amazing, and it is certainly an example where I feel that the art could not be put out without our help but of course, without the artists, we are nothing. I just checked in with Brendan Benson, who is about to record his first ever album that he is footing the bill for. We'll make our partner decision as late as possible to ensure that whatever staff we go with is intact upon the release and throughout the campaign. Sydney Wayser is a young artist who knows she can call me any time to help guide developing her live show to the process of making her new album to dealing with band members or just plain to emotionally vent about her art when she needs a level head to talk to.

"The Books"

In his post, Robin discusses divvying up roles between band members. However, I'd rather have our charming drummers chatting up fans to grow their career, not dealing with press scheduling and keeping a contact database. My bass players don't want to be spending their days working on routing and spreadsheets. Our guitarists want to be playing guitar, not dealing with "the books."

Instead, their roles within the band influence the creation of their music, videos, photos, and other content that we have a blast disseminating in various forms.

Our solo artists would also extremely beg to differ. It's hard enough for them to do promo and create albums with the weight on their shoulders, but it'd be next to impossible for our solo artists to fully run their careers affectively.  

One key factor in building a sustainable business around each artist is that we don't sell masters, we license them. We never get in too deep with any outside partner because I have yet to work with an artist who has had a partner stick around for more than even a few years. Thus, most of our commissions do not come from advances and instead come from a variety of other hard earned and direct revenue streams. Bringing up another point that not everyone fully understands, WE WORK ON COMMISSION!! We live and die by our artists, their success is our success, and we truly consider each other a cohesive team.

I love my job so much. I am honored to work with the artists, our small staff, and the teams we have helped assemble around each artist. Is our job a service?


There are artists who are happy to pay management commissions so they can focus on their art, taking the massive business around it off their plates. However, we are also completely transparent with our artists about the businesses we have built around them and they approve every decision.  

What A Manager Does

Robin also discusses old school managers using their contacts to move their artists forward. This is certainly still the case and even more so since there are constantly new technology companies to connect with and stay on top of.

People often ask what a manager does, and the answer now more than ever, is everything. I was lucky to be schooled under Mike Luba and Kevin Morris at Madison House, who built a fan-centric jamband empire all focusing around the artist as the core business as opposed to relying on outside partners.

This is how we developed Dresden Dolls and how we structure artist development here at Whitesmith Entertainment, which as you can see, is going quite well!

I feel well trained to have been guided under such wonderful managers that almost every day I think about how this job is a skill to be learned and developed so we can help our artists achieve all of their career goals

I have some artist friends who don't want to pay a management commission, which in theory is understandable. 15-20% of income can be your gas money for tour. However, I also see those artists make mistakes, often spinning their wheels career-wise, being spread too thin across the board,

And sadly, the music often suffers.

I showed this article to the singer of Mummers, who are on the bill tonight in London as I sit here in the dressing room working. She laughed and said "What would I DO without my manager?" Then said manager came in and was on the phone doing business, reminded her to get to her interview on time and also made sure she signed albums for promo. It's a lot to keep track of.

It's An Art

At the end of the day, artist managers are the rock that stays steady throughout the chaos of these changing times. That was always the case whether music is available for free on the internet or not. Are there managers who probably don't deserve their commission? Sure, but they won't last and either way, having a hungry and passionate manager who will believes in the band as much or if not more than the artist does goes an extremely long way. Artist management is an art within itself and nothing brings me more joy then seeing artists achieve their creative goals and make a living off their music. Time for me to go though as Family of the Year is about to hit stage. Couldn't be more proud to watch my friends and teammates dominate in their first ever London show.

What a wonderful job I have.

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  1. Very happy to see a rebuttal to yesterday’s post! Artists that deny themselves management, agents, marketers, etc . . . just to save money are penny-wise and pound foolish. They fail to recognize that they will MAKE MORE MONEY with a team and the team needs to be compensated accordingly! Thank you so much for writing this – Very well said!

  2. The one good thing about Robin’s post was the fact that it stressed that the artists had to know about their business.
    In today’s reduced revenues, managers have to work 100 times harder and the artists must be involved in their own careers in ways that would have been unthinkable 20 years ago.
    The overall culture needs to change to the new market needs but what is critical is that each person on the team must respect what the other is doing and be sufficiently educated to know the quality of the job being done. 100% of my clients are referrals from my existing clients. That make me happy indeed.
    It is very easy to continue the stereotype of the agents, managers and lawyers as leeching off the talent of the artists and while I am certain there are people who exploit each other, the future belongs to those who work together with respect and appreciation for a job well done.

  3. To be frank, neither of these views is definitive. This is a good, informative article but not entirely right. “Managers who don’t deserve their commission won’t last”? Tell that to Leonard Cohen whose manager of 12 years Kelley Lynch made off with all his dosh. The truth is… there is no truth about managers or management in general. Some are good and some are bad. You just have to be careful and make sure you know what they’re up to.

  4. This is well written, contrary to the yesterday’s post, though in truth there are lessons to be learned from both posts. I do involve my artists in their business. It’s important that they know what is going on and be part of it….not just the music….but involvement with fans (and I’m not talking groupies,) what steps are happening in the building of their career. Know why it is so hard to find a manager….it’s because those of us who do this know that with rare exception, it takes three years before you make any money with an artist or band. How many folks do you know willing to work for three years without making much money.

  5. Well said, Emily. Having someone take care of business shouldn’t give the artist permission to abdicate their own business responsibilities. The best arrangements come from trusting, equitable partnerships. I include the artist-manager relationship in that bin.
    If you haven’t thoroughly investigated the person you are about to enter a relationship with, you’ve got what’s coming to you. I learned that the hard way.

  6. The challenge for managers today is whether there will be enough to support the band, and whatever other services they want to use. In many cases there won’t be. I consider $120,000 the minimum a band needs to make annually to give them any kind of living wage. That’s about $20,000-$25,000 per person for a four-piece band with something left over to pay for expenses and a manager, if you want one. That works out to about $10,000 gross per month. Yes, I know bands that can do that. But I also know far more who just won’t be able to make that much.
    I also look at the lifespan of many artists/bands and it’s short-lived for many of them. A buzz band right now; ignored six months later. So investing in a band on the assumption that it will pay off in a few years may not be a good use of time/resources.

  7. yes, a good manager is gold
    however, most want signed contracts and commitments before they deliver anything. If you work on commission, that’s good, you have skin in the game.
    hard to find

  8. Thanks Emily! This topic is one that people seem to have very strong opinions about, both for and against. But it seems you don’t hear much from a manager’s perspective. I hope I find someone like you one day when the time is right!

  9. What I’d like to see from any member of a professional team addressing these issues is this: What are the pitfalls? Certainly Emily has hit the highlights for good reason, but there are bumps in the road especially with new bands who aren’t familiar with what they should do even with guidance. One bad interview, one fan gone astray, etc. can be the undoing of a great deal of properly placed strategies.

  10. Emily,
    I’m really enthused to see a strong argument for artist management. I work in vinyl record manufacturing and I am constantly aware of the struggling industry, which has motivated me to start my own business.
    I believe that the answer to these questions about where music is going lies among those who are truly focusing on the artists, not money or “the future”.
    Great read!

  11. Definitely agree that management can play a vital role in developing the success of an act – they have knowledge and expertise that band members don’t necessariy have. But I also think that with the way the industry has changed the act/artist need to be very pro-active in marketing themselves. After all, if they are working alongside the manager they should be able to acheive greater things in less time.

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