Where Have All The Good Managers Gone?

Acerbic music commentator Bob Lefsetz recently wrote a column Saving The Music Business:

"Want to save the music business? Manage a band. Nurture talent. Do everything in your power to get it exposed…Talent. That’s where the business is focused today."

Bob is right; management is where it’s at. I’m not talking about the old guard like Irving Azoff’s Frontline. He and his cohorts stopped developing new talent long ago. These mega – managers hold great power, but use it to smartly prolong careers and monetize somebody else’s luck and hard work.

That leaves a younger generation of managers to save the business. But as the head of  Skyline Music, a booking agency with both established and developing acts, I can say first hand that the industry is suffering from a drought of good new managers that possess the skills needed to help artists succeed in the new music business.

10 or 20 years ago hundreds of smart people who…

had finished law or business school but weren’t ready to don a suit,
gave themselves 3-5 years to follow their dream and make it in the music
business.  Others had put the suit on for a bit, stashed away a $100K and wanted to try their luck before really settling down.

They dreamed of discovering a band, suffering for a few years and then
scoring. By the time they collected deferred commissions, their
share of record, publishing and merch advances and a percentage from a couple of
tours, they’d made a nice score. Inevitably too, they’d felt the rush and would start all over again with another band.

Not any more; the silly advances are gone and so are the people that chased them.

In 2008, early stage management is about spending time on MySpace,
supporting a D.I.Y. or understaffed indie record and helping an agent
who represents enough developing acts to fill the Titanic book a tour. Then he advances, plays tour publicist and drives the van.  And
for what? 15% of a record that’s a hit because it sold 5K copies more
than the last one that sold 20K?

As I’ve written previously, the new music business is creating a new musical middle class. Rather
than a few flash in pan stars, we’re seeing more smaller but longer
careers. This is a good thing for music and for fans, but it’s not
necessarily attractive to the much needed next-gen. of aggressive young

I know a few great ones, but sadly not nearly enough.

HOW CAN WE ENCOURAGE THE NEXT GENERATION OF MUSIC MANAGERS? I have a few ideas that I’ll share soon, but I’d really like to hear yours.

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  1. You need people with the right mindset, more than encourage them. I would say that, in principle, every reader of this blog would fit in the description for this job.

  2. Hey Bruce,
    You’re talking to me. At 23, I am one of them. Although I did not set out to be a manager, I have grown into that role as one of the biggest supporters of a phenomenal band out of Nashville, TN, The Minor Kings.
    My primary focus these days is a digital music website that I have been developing for close to 11 months now. Along with 4 others, we are hoping to create the ULTIMATE resource for discovering the best songs ever recorded by each and every act of all time.
    Because of this website, my focus and speciality lies in the digital music realm. Yet, that knowledge can translate pretty well to aiding an up-and-coming act like The Minor Kings.
    As Lefsetz said, “finding good talent is the hardest job in this business. Exposing it, breaking it through, is almost as difficult. But this is where the opportunities lie.”
    Well, I found myself one of them! An established producer in Brian Virtue (Audioslave, Jane’s Addiction) did as well, and once their official debut album is complete, so will everybody else!
    I want to see them succeed. They deserve to succeed. They play some great music, and it takes people like me to help them sift through the all of the “noise.” Then and only then, the music will speak for itself. It’s a process, but it’s an exciting one. I’m along for the ride, and I can’t wait for what’s to come!
    -Adam Wexler

  3. Just like there’s a music middle class being created, the same is being said for managers. You no longer need a HUGE firm to represent you. You can have a knowledgeable, aggressive and hungry manager who is keen to the new model of business or is keen to knowing there is no model right now and we are re-writing to rules of engagement.
    As much as there is a shortage of good managers, it been that way forever. Its just more apparent now as the manager has become the single most important step of the bands career since labels are nearly obsolete.

  4. Hey Bruce,
    First of all, thanks for the post. As a young music business professional, age 21, with experience at a major and indie, I started managing a band while attending college a mere 6 months ago. My vision as a manager is to really bring back that sense of A&R that the labels have abandoned. I’ve used my ability and knowledge in music, graphic design and the internet to really help propel the band to the next level. I’ve started developing my own online merchandise distributor which also helps market the band on/offline along with other small task such as MySpace layouts, album design, etc.. Along with that I have also taken care of all the many other tasks that come with being a manager. As I am still growing and learning the process of managing a band in it’s entirety, I was wondering if you have any advice or direction to really bring back that era of great managers in this drastic drought. Once again, I would like to thank Bruce for all the time and dedication he has upheld here on Hypebot because it is my daily ritual to wake up and read it first thing in the morning.
    Thanks again,

  5. This post really resonated with me! I graduated law school and spent several years managing two artists. Needless to say, I am not managing them anymore, because there simply wasn’t enough money to be made, after all the recoupables were collected and the bands actually got some money. While I enjoyed it, I can’t say I miss the agony of getting paid little to nothing!
    So, what we have is a Catch 22. Managers will be more willing to manage if there’s money, but for there to be money, they need to do a good job managing! This seems to be why a lot of people give managing a shot, and then realize its not worth the headache!

  6. Excellent post Bruce! Really starting to scratch beneath. hope you’ll be taking a look at what I believe is the real issue – how challenging it is to break new acts.
    Personally I agree with Gavroche it’s completely unrewarding, if you want a career in music biz, start innovating around where the value is being created. Now.
    The conclusion I come to is the one I made in a blog post entilted “the geeks shall inherit the music industry”.
    The music industry will become a technocracy – geeks will design apps for jobs (did I do a pun? lolz) that it has become unviable for humans to do – like manage an unbroken act.

  7. Just a thought… but maybe we’re looking at a symptom rather than the cure. In marketing, they say if the content is good enough, the advertising is free.
    Perhaps we should look at bands, too? Don’t they hold a symbiotic relationship with managers? In the end, it IS about what people want, right? So perhaps you’ve opened Pandora’s box here, but perhaps not. But maybe, just maybe, this problem runs the root to the fruit?

  8. The question should be where has all the good talent gone?
    Since music is so much easier these days to make and to play, it seems that everyone is doing it. And since people are able to make music so easily, they tend to confuse that ability with “having something to say” and a feeling that they “deserve” to be heard.
    Just because i have an internet connection doesn’t mean I should have a BLOG does it? Most people tend to think they have something interesting to say, when in actuality they’re average just like everyone else.

  9. I’m a 28 year old artist manager. I fell into it by accident (or maybe not) about 3 years ago. I was originally in bands and planned on continuing on that route, but I had some friends who were really talented and not gaining any traction. I am a business, marketing, and psychology nerd. These are all things that I think are necessary to assist in the business half of music. I managed to take my initial act further in 2 years than they had accomplished in 6 years under another name. I eventually picked up 3 other acts (I recently parted ways with one of them). I lost a 3 1/2 year relationship, and am moving back in with the parents in order to continue doing this. All I can say is, you need to be knowledgeable and eager in every possible area you can think of. I really appreciate what I call the “MacGuyver” aspect that being a manager provides. I was a graphic and web designer, musician, writer, worked in retail, tour manager, merch manager, tech, etc. Be creative. At this stage, it’s really hard for non-creative people to succeed as managers. They’re better suited as lawyers. My point is, to all of the young managers out there, don’t give up. Do what you have to do. It’s a lonely road and is sometimes really trying, but eventually you’ll make it. I’m still trying to, but I have full faith in it. Also remember, you can never stop learning. If there’s any young managers out there looking to throw ideas back and forth, feel free to email me. Networking is key.

  10. In my 30 plus years in the music business, I have managed funk bands, rock bands, singer-songwriters and rappers. All of them put out their own records and most of them received decent record deals. Everything Bruce has described in this piece, as well as most of those who have commented on it, has described me at some time in my mode as an artist manager. For the past two years, I have spent time and a great deal of money building a new music discovery website that reflects my 30 years of experience in the music industry and which will go live sometime over the next 30-60 days. Its web address is http://www.mptrax.com. I have seen the music business from the inside out. I have been part of major label hit making machines and I have seen the ever increasing failure of most of them to embrace the new digital age. My website has compelling value propositions for both artists and users. For artists I have built a filtering process to enhance their discovery prospects and the means for them to make substantial dollars in areas in addition to the download sales and merch models. If you have a moderate to substantial base, my site will help you find sponsors and advertisers to increase your bottom line and develop your brand. All bands and artists are looking to increase their exposure and their gigs. MPTrax will provide a unique original music booking platform to generate gigs for any artist willing to participate and work my new system. On the flip side, MPTrax will make it easy for anyone to book a band or artist for a house party, frat party, dorm party or venue date and probably for much cheaper then they ever thought was possible. Users will be able to build power to influence the musical tastes of others. If enough users and artists come to participate, my site will create a new promotable world where an artist can make a lot of money and break into whatever is left of the mainstream and users can find and emotionally invest themselves in new artists and play a major role in breaking their careers. There will be no need for record deals because the label system is not developing artists any more. It is my hope and belief that my new website, MPTrax.Com, after its launch, will help to reinvent the way we do music business, creating a new, exciting and relevant business model evolving out of the old not just for artists but for their fans as well. It is also my hope that MPTrax will become a breeding ground for a new kind of digital savvy artist manger willing to work a new and innovative digital music discovery system.

  11. Management – when you get it right – is the most rewarding aspect of the music business. I came out of a corporate career eight years ago (ex BMG/ Sony) to work for a dot.com start-up, whose key players were old school managers such as Tony Smith (Genesis, Phil Collins) and Chris O’Donnell (Thin Lizzy, Ultravox, Van Morrison) amongst others. It changed my life and my whole perspective of the music business. I learned so much.
    There is no training school to become and artist manager and no rule book. Great managers can come from any area of the music business, or even from outside the business.
    A practical reality – then and now – is that the manager is really a pure entrepreneur. They are the kind of person willing to take on a range of projects and take a gamble on some thing new. The trick is to balance the risk.
    An established manager may take on a new act alongside his existing successful roster; a young kid may promote club nights to bring in money to fund the management venture; many managers I know also have property investments; a young manager may even juggle a day job (but that’s not ideal). Whatever your circumstances, you need to be sure money is coming in from somewhere while you grow the act.
    The other trick is balancing time. Developing and breaking a new act takes a lot of time, but this can be mitigated if you have some experience and contacts. You also have to be smart. Allocate some time to a new artist project, but don’t sacrifice too much time until you start to see evidence of initial success and potential return.
    The problem cited above is that the big advances associated with a record or publishing deal, which previously provided short-term cash flow, are no longer there. So whereas a few years ago managing a young act involved taking meetings and chasing A&R folk; now the focus has to be on building the act – its profile and revenue – like a cottage industry.
    Management can still be an attractive career for a young entrepreneur, but a smart entrepreneur will see it as part of a broader portfolio of projects – whether they are music-related, technology related of whatever.

  12. Where are all the good managers? If they’re smart they are getting the hell out of artist management!
    It doesn’t make fiscal sense to spend valuable time and resources on brands that don’t have a good potential for returns. You can be in it for the music, the glory, the wine & women, but if you’re in it for the money, artist management circa 2008 is not a solid foundation to build upon.
    The issues?
    We exist in a world where music is FREE.
    Gas is $4/gallon. The consumer’s attention and $$ are diverted to other compteting forms of entertainment. A flood of bedroom/myspace musicians dilute the pool of real talent. Where are the TRUSTED sources of music discovery? Erosion of mainstream break-though potential. Skepticism of major label musicians causing a lack of trust and faith in modern artists. Declining advances.
    I’m not saying that there haven’t been issues like this for the old guard of managers, but this is the forest a new blood is walking into. And the landscape changes at an ever quickening pace.
    There is a slew of talented managers out there. They are getting laid off by the boatloads because of the issues above. Yes, there is now a greater demand for talented managers, but the risk v. reward ratio is so poor, few are willing to answer the call. Can you blame them?
    Andy Edwards brings up a very smart point in his post, specifically the “portfolio of projects” idea. Diversify your business pursuits. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. I would add to that just make sure to limit the number of baskets you have. The danger to avoid is becoming a jack of all trades and a master of none.

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