Talking Artist Management With Paul Steele [Drew Holcomb, Judah and The Lion]
For the final installment of Tunecore's Artist Management series they spoke to long time music industry player Paul Steele about how he got his start in the industry and what the current expectations are for an artist manager, both from the artist's perspective and the manager's.
In the finale of our Artist Management Interview Series, we chatted with music industry vet Paul Steele, founder and CEO of Good Time, Inc. Paul has been working with artists in some capacity for about 15 years, getting his feet wet in college. Handling management for Drew Holcomb & the Neighbors, Judah and the Lion, Ellie Holcomb and Kris Allen, Good Time Inc. acts as a management, label services and marketing company.
With us Paul discussed how he got involved as a rep for Aware Records, the importance of maintaining a ‘hobby mentality’ in the music industry, and why being a good person in business can go a long way.
How long have you been in artist management and how has the way a manager/artist relationship begins changed in the last 5-10 years?
I’ve been doing this since around 2000. I started in college when I was at TCU in Ft. Worth. I had my own company, and then rolled that up with two other companies, forming Trivate Entertainment in 2005. I started Good Time Inc. in 2011.
The relationship is always kind of fluent. It depends where the artist is in their career when you start with them. When you start with a younger artist, they’re a little more wide-eyed, so you’re helping cast visions, and you’re doing a lot more for them because they’re just getting started. Whereas if you’re working with a more established artist, they may have already worked with other managers; so there’s a different job description. Yes, the relationship has changed over time but it’s also really relative to where the artist is in their career.
Management is like marriage. If you work with someone who has had a couple managers, you’re really working with someone who has been through a couple of divorces. The best manager is like the artist’s ‘chief of staff’.
How did you begin as an artist manager?
It was a complete accident. As a freshman in college I was in pre-law; a philosophy major with a psychology minor. At this time, Napster had just come out and I was discovering a ton of music. MySpace wasn’t even a story yet, much less an idea. There weren’t a lot of ways beyond word of mouth, Napster, Morpheus and KaZaA. For me, college was a great time to discover new interests, as I think it is for many, and there were some people making music around town. I liked to promote things, so on the side I helped put together a couple of shows.
I was my mom’s musical puppet as a kid – she thought I was going to be god’s gift to the world and I wasn’t. I was a terrible musician. I really liked the way it felt to get music heard and somehow I started promoting more shows and bands. I was also listening to the college radio station a lot, and I remember when Train’s first single, “Meet Virginia”, came on.
They were a tiny no-name band out of San Francisco, on a small label out of Chicago. I found that out by going to the record store and seeing Aware Records on the back of it, and wound up being an Aware rep for a couple of years, (one of the only in Texas). Within that two-year period they signed John Mayer, Five for Fighting, going from a five-person label out of Evanston, IL to a powerhouse with an upstream deal with Columbia. That’s really what piqued it, they (Aware Records’ staff) became mentors of mine. I was learning a lot with Aware, thought I knew a ton, and every six months I’d realize I didn’t know anything. I just kind of kept finding bands to work with. I dropped out of school a few times, went on tour, worked for free under a couple of managers – I kind of did anything I could do to work in the music business. College is a get-out-of-jail-free card to do stupid things and (most of the time) not have them ruin your life.
In those years, what stood out as key lessons you have learned as an artist manager?
Probably the biggest takeaway, which was passed down to me from a mentor, is treat everyone you meet in this industry with the utmost respect that you possibly can; because you never know if you might be working with them. SO much of this business is luck, and you don’t know when luck is going to strike someone. Don’t ever condescend someone because you feel better or more powerful than them. You really never know where things will take them…or you – you may need a favor from them in a few years!
Second, kind of in the same light, be a person. So much of this business is transactional – asking someone how their day is going goes a long way. The assholes don’t win as much as they used to. You’ll feel better about yourself at the end of the day and you may get more out of that relationship because they like you.
Three is the music business is a hobby that people make money at through various times in their lives. We’re trying to make money with art, and that is never lost on me. The people I work with, I’m very thankful to work with them, but this is a very volatile industry. Any time this becomes something I don’t enjoy, I can leave. I’m happy to be paid and be paying several people off of a hobby. The entertainment industry contributes less than 1% to the GDP of all of America. Do this because you love to do this and you’re going to work your ass off. Don’t expect this to be a normal job. The only way you’re going to make is it if you do everything and anything you possibly can.
In your experiences, what are some of the biggest misconceptions of an artist manager’s role(s)?
Management is the worst job in the music business, by far. The reason I say this is because it’s the only job that doesn’t have clear lines of definition. When you sign with a booking agency, you know exactly what you’re getting. They get you shows, they get you on tours, and they get you on festivals and soft ticket opportunities. When you sign with a label, they get a record paid for, recorded and distributed. Publicists – you’re hiring someone to get you reviews, on blogs, (hopefully on TV shows) – you know what you’re hiring them for.
Management is the catchall. And no one is good at everything. There are people who specialize in all sorts of things. We have a six-person staff and they only work on four artists. Management is probably 75% of what 11 people total work on. And we’re a decent sized management company for our roster. You can do 10 great things for an artist’s career, but if you didn’t get that one thing they wanted, you can get fired. Managers are expected to help with press, bookings, and label services now. Finally we decided if we’re going to be doing these things we should set up companies for these things. We didn’t really mean to become a marketing company.
It’s just funny. People expect the world, and no one can do that.
Explain the importance of managing an artist’s expectations when it comes to getting the desired results of any given career goal.
We are doing the best job we can, and the only way we can do that is to know the expectations of the clients. Every six months we have our artists establish goals. We do six month, one year, and ‘dream list’ goals. Who do you want to tour with? Do you want to be on TV? What kind of shows? This gives me the chance to say, “Well that’s not happening.” Or, “That’s a good idea.” No one should be working harder than the artist. Having goals that can be revisited every month and checked off is important.
A lot of managers think they’ve found this amazing talent. I see talented people all over the place on the way to work every day. If they don’t have the right work ethic, they can’t cut it. People tend to forget this is a job.
Some artists remain focused on staying ‘independent’. What components are key to this goal and what can managers do to maintain this identity?
I think it depends on the artist and where they’re at in their career. Drew Holcomb and the Neighbors are fiercely independent, but they’re ten years into their career and they’ve been on labels before. For a guy like Drew who’s not beholden to radio, he’ll probably remain independent. His wife, Ellie, is niche and we’ve had radio success, but she’ll likely remain independent.
We want to do what the artist feels is best for what they want to accomplish. We have artists that want to be independent, and we have artist that could benefit from a label if the setting was correct. We don’t need a label for everyone we work with, but I don’t think labels are bad. There’s a lot of great labels out there, independent and majors – just relative to what the needs of your artist might be.
When we go to radio, we don’t have a Coldplay to leverage. There’s not a one-size fits all mentality for every artist out there. To quote Drew Holcomb: “It is the worst time ever to make a killing in the music business. It is the best time ever to make a living.” There’s more indie artists out there paying their bills with their music than there ever have been in history, and that’s great.
In the case that you’re being presented with a label deal for an artist in 2015, what factors do the artist/manager team have to take into consideration?
Again I think it depends on what kind of music you make. The reality of it is you’re probably never going to recoup the records if you do a major deal. From my perspective, I want a guarantee that there’s going to be money spent on promotion.
The term is very important to me too. If things go south, I don’t want the artist to be stuck on a label with no option to make another record. As long as my artist is in a position where they’re going to be promoted and they can continuously create, that’s a big deal to me.
Plenty of the A&R guys you might sign with, are a different company by the time an album comes out. If the guy/girl who gets you in the door leaves the label, you’re potentially screwed. It’s difficult to rely on the relationship with the label because the relationship is a volatile one, (less so with independent labels). The only reason I’d sign someone is if it’s a major label is if they want to be truly famous. It’s near impossible to accomplish ubiquity as an indie.
Do you get involved in the licensing and publishing side of your artists’ careers?
We try to be a non-copyright owner. We consider ourselves a true service company. We instead help service, distribute and market/promote records, then get paid a little more to do those things rather than own them. We’d rather get paid for our labor and our work than get a copyright claim. Technically speaking that may be bad business, but I think it’s right business. I’d rather work for someone for 20 years and never have anything mucked up than have the copyright – and that’s a hobby mentality. I want artists to win, and that’s why I got into management.