The roles of the manager are varied. The manager needs to be a cheerleader, a liaison, and a bank. Often, managers also take on the role of creative consultant, accountant, babysitter, driver, and on and on. Clearly, it is a good thing to have someone like this on your team. While you may have people approaching you and offering their services, of course, you may also need to do some legwork of your own in order to find a manager. Again, do all of the things you would do to find a compatible record label. Identify who is managing artists that you admire creatively and whose careers are going in a direction you would like yours to go in. Solicit opinions from others in your community. For instance, ask the person who books the club you play at which managers they would recommend you speak to. People who book clubs, as well as journalists, DJs, and others in the industry typically have extensive contact with managers, and may have a very pragmatic opinion on their on their efficacy.
Labels and Artist Managers
Simply put, an artist who has strong management is often going to be signed before an artist who doesn't, all other things being equal. Labels rely on managers to help them create and execute marketing strategy. Additionally, labels often need a buffer between themselves and the artist. The manager plays this role. Of course, there are many artists who prefer to deal directly with the label, whether they have management or not. In most cases, though, the manager allows the artist to focus on being creative, while the manager works out the more nuts-and-bolts aspects of releasing records with the label. This is not to say that the manager should not be keeping the artist informed of all that is going on. They should. But the label relies on the manager to communicate details to the artist in the right manner, and at the right time.
Getting Good Management Before the Deal
Labels also prefer artists with good management because they know that once the artist is signed to the label, unless the artist decides to part ways with the manager, they're stuck with the manager for the duration. It is illegal for a record company to meddle with artist/manager relations. Doing so would fall loosely under the term "tortious interference" --a fancy lawyer-boy term for, "Keep your stinking nose out of my business, you jackass." So, if you come to a label with a manager who is a bozo, the label is going to know that they are going to have to work with said bozo until he either gets his act together or the artist wakes up and fires him. Artists are usually reluctant to take this step, out of loyalty, and so, yes, the label gets stuck with the bozo. Of course, the label doesn't have to choose this option. It can just not sign the band. This happens more than you might think. One of the first questions record execs ask when presented with a possible signing, is, "Who is the manager?" If it's a manager who has a bad reputation or is inordinately difficult to work with, or just plan ineffective, the label will frequently pass on the artist.
In my opinion, it is better to have a manager who is passionate -- and not a bozo -- then one who is connected or financed but lacks passion, vision, or understanding of what your goals are as an artist. You will be working very closely with this person, and you need to be able to communicate easily and effectively together. Additionally, you need to trust that they will represent your artistic vision in a way that you are comfortable with. They will be your mouthpiece in many situations. Lastly, you need to really understand what your objectives are and choose a manager who will help you get there, and then set new objectives with you and help you achieve those. Good managers aren't easy to find, so you must look long and hard and carefully. In many ways, the manager becomes another member of the band.
When A&R people listen to an unsolicited demo--one that does not arrive by personal acquaintance, as in a manager, lawyer, or other artist--the listening circumstances are far less than ideal. A&R people rarely sit in vacuum-sealed rooms with no distractions. Instead, our pones are ringing, people are walking into our offices asking us questions, and we're trying to eat some kind of lunch.
We certainly wouldn't be just listening to demo tapes. A&R people seem to always have to be doing more than one thing. Eating lunch is so far down on the list of priorities that if we have enough time to eat, then we're probably already feeling guilty, and when we're feeling guilty, we are more likely to try to make progress on some of the other things that are making us feel guilty--like those huge stacks of unlistened-to-demos. Most likely, we are grumpy, because at this point, with the way the record business is, everyone in it is grumpy. And certainly, we are focusing on something else, like writing e-mail.
So your demo better be pretty amazing, if it's going to pull as away from all of these distractions and make us go, "Hold on a second, what is that?" If there is something so potent that it knocks through all the distraction, we really will shut everything else out and listen.
Additionally, the process that most A&R people use to listen to demos isn't as asinine as it seems, at first. In fact, this process gives the demo a fair and realistic chance, and it allows us to be forthright and honest with its creator. And while this may not be as "nice" as if I said that we give our undivided attention to every demo, it actually is a much more compassionate and kind way of assessing what we're listening to, in the long run.
Hear me out. If you think that listening to demos in the manner described above is disrespectful to the music's creator, or that it doesn't give the songs a fair chance, try thinking of it this way. A&R people actually care about the people that make demos. Artists are our lifeblood. Without you, there would be no music to sell. For that reason alone, we are far more predisposed to listen--even if it's only with half an ear--than the person who is in the car with the radio on and the kids screaming. We are also more predisposed to listen than are the people who program the radio stations. Radio programmers don't want to (or are not allowed to) play anything that would scare off potential listeners (and hence advertisers), and therefore, they can never program anything that isn't familiar to the average listener--that is, anything new. And A&R people are more likely to listen than are the poor reviewers for Rolling Stone, who have to choose one of the 700 albums they receive each week to review. Because they have to sell magazines, they are almost definitely going to write about someone that people have heard about. Do you see what I'm saying? There's so much music out there. People aren't going to listen unless it's something they already know or unless it absolutely cuts through.
Of course, it is not just A&R people that listen in this manner. Do you really think that the guy who books the local club is going to turn off the lights, lock the doors, unplug the phone, light some incense, recline in a supine position, place the headphones on his head, and then press play and eagerly await the dulcet tones of your demo? Come on. This just isn't going to happen. Therefore, the same rules apply to virtually everyone (except your mom) who will be listening to your demo.
The way most A&R people listen to demos is reflective of the way the real world listens (or doesn't listen). If it's able to cut through and get an A&R person's attention while we're in the middle of dozens of other things, that means it may be able to get the attention of a radio programmer or a reviewer, and ultimately, the public.
There's one more quality that you need to bring to bear on your catalog: focus. It's so important that it gets its own chapter.
For some writers, artists, publishers, or entrepreneurs in the music business, the decision to focus their career on a particular genre or subgenre of music is one they hardly remember making. There may be only one style of music with which they really identify, or in which they feel their talent can fit. In many ways, these are the lucky ones. They are specialists without ever having chosen to be so. This doesn't necessarily mean that they don't understand or enjoy music outside of the genre in which they work--but it does mean that they don't feel compelled to personally create or sell every type of music that they enjoy.
And then there are the generalists--blessed with a vast range of musical interests and a confidence to match, sure that their career should encompass everything from jazz to hip-hop, with some country songs and a bit of chamber music just to keep life interesting. You don't need to go very far into a conversation to recognize a generalist...
Music Business Weasel: "So, tell me, what sort of music do you write?"
Songwriter: "Oh geez...that's a tough one, you know. I mean...I can write everything."
Uh-oh. First off, let's get real. Nobody can write "everything." Nobody. Except maybe Prince (or whatever he's called this week). But even the versatility of someone like Prince is based more on his ability to adapt or arrange his songs in a variety of styles, rather than actually altering his own songwriting approach. The song can be put in a number of different contexts--pop, rock, dance, r&b--but it is clearly still a "Prince" song, written in his idiosyncratic style. The same is true of Diane Warren. While she has had hits in virtually every genre, most of these songs are essentially "Diane Warren"-style songs, adapted to fit different markets.
One other thing to notice about Prince and Diane Warren. They didn't start out that way. In the early years of his career, Prince was very much a part of the Minneapolis school of r&b, which he in large part created, but which later included Morris Day and The Time, and of course, Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis. It was only after he achieved superstar status that he began to branch out into more experimental rock and jazz areas. Everybody comes from somewhere; nobody comes from everywhere. You cannot lay a foundation for your publishing company with a catalog that does "everything."
I once heard Monica Lynch, the former president of Tommy Boy Records and a very savvy music business executive, make this point in a forum attended primarily by developing writers and artists. She simply said that she was not interested in meeting with anyone that claimed they could do "everything." This was not well received. A murmur passed through the audience. How dare she seek to limit their creativity, or impose boundaries on their wide-ranging musical tastes? Isn't that exactly what's wrong with the music industry, with its focus on markets, and formats, and target audiences, yada yada yada?
For whatever reason, many musicians, writers, and artists take a misplaced pride in their own versatility. They are so sure that they can play any type of music, sing any song, write in any style, or record an album that covers the entire range of American popular music, that they miss one important thing:
It doesn't matter. No one cares.
Music Business Weasel Rule:Versatility is important only to session musicians, jingle writers, and wedding bands.
Everybody else needs to focus.
What does focus mean to a publisher? It means that as a start-up publishing company, your catalog should be made up primarily of songs in one particular musical genre. This is your focus. A catalog spread over two styles is workable, if the two styles are at least somewhat compatible--for instance, country and pop would be a better combination than country and techno. Within that stylistic focus, variety is both necessary and desirable. You need a selection of songs: up-tempos, ballads, mid-tempos, male songs, female songs, group songs. The idea here is not to limit anyone's creativity--the idea is to harness that creativity and direct it down one specific path.
Of course, there will always be some songs that just fall outside any of your usual musical boundaries. Fine. Have fun with them. The idea of focus in business is no different than the idea of focusing your eye--the point is not to eliminate everything else from your view but simply to direct your eye toward the most important thing. Experimentation is essential and can sometimes lead to the discovery of a new focus, more viable than the previous one. Fine again. Then change your focus--but don't lose it. If someone asks what sort of music you publish and it takes you more than twenty seconds to answer--reread everything I just said. And then continue. Eric Beall is the Creative Director for Zomba Music Publishing, as well as a songwriter and record producer. In his role at Zomba, Eric has signed and developed top writers, as well as developed material for many Jive Records superstars.