There are managers and there are personal managers. The latter are those brave souls who blur the line between best friend and career counselor, becoming involved in the most intimate details of an artist's life and business. Too often, these professionals are grouped under the catchall title of manager, which, while not inappropriate, doesn't really differentiate their unique function from the kinds of things other types of managers do. Because they provide a service that's hard to classify but always pivotal in an artist's career, personal managers deserve a closer look.
The essence of the job is probably best expressed through the words of professionals who've been there. The people mentioned in this story are either currently working as personal managers or have done so in the past. In talking about their duties and responsibilities, they clear up a lot of the mystery surrounding management structures in the music industry and give us a peek into the minds of personal managers themselves.
Kacey Lovelace, a Los Angeles-based personal manager and promotions consultant, is well known for her artist relations, which include coordinating A&R showcases like BMI's popular Acoustic in Black Showcase (featuring new urban alternative acts). Nadine Condon owns the Nadine Condon Company, a popular management consulting firm; her annual alternative showcase, Nadine's Wild Weekend, featuring three days of unsigned Northern California talent, is now well known in the music business. Aaron Walton, president of Aaron Walton Entertainment, manages several major-label acts, including Dakota Moon on Elektra. And "Joe Manager," a successful manager based on the East Coast who wished to remain anonymous (we'll call him J. M. for short), works with well-established acts ranging from 38-Special to Joan Baez.
DEFINING THE ROLEAlthough there's enough popular folklore about personal managers to fill a book, the exact role these people play is difficult to define-mainly because the duties are so numerous they're hard to sum up. But when asked to talk about personal management in their own words, my panel of experts described many of the same responsibilities and traits.
"Personal management ranges from getting the artist's image together-picking out the right clothes, doing photo shoots, and other basic things like that-to helping select the songs for an album to planning out a tour," Walton says.
"Personal managers orchestrate artists' careers; they're like ringmasters," says Condon. "They have to be concerned with the day-to-day activities while gearing up for future endeavors. Also, they need to keep the artist in the studio, songwriting and recording, with an eye toward how the artist is developing, because it's that development that is going to take the artist where he or she wants to go."
Lovelace underscores these sentiments. "A personal manager should be very involved in making sure that artists are generating income through their art and that the exposure the manager gets them helps generate more income," she says. "The acts I work with are so niche, I need to have hands-on involvement because their art and the music are so much a part of their personal lives. This involvement is the only way to get the insight necessary for making really good management decisions."
"I usually sum up what I do with 'the buck stops here,'" says J. M. "Because, regardless of all those ancillary people who have responsibilities in connection with the artist's career-the tour managers, the business managers, agents, attorneys, assistants-it's up to me to be the last word, to determine whether these people did or did not fulfill their responsibilities in a satisfactory fashion. That means I have to be adviser, caretaker, and expert-or a quick study in a lot of areas. I decide the scenarios under which my artists go on the road or make records, and how the record gets marketed, advertised, promoted, and disseminated to the public. I'm the liaison with record companies to make sure they're getting all these things done. [The job is] all this, along with staying focused and keeping an eye on a common vision that's representative of the artist's vision."
AS MANAGEMENT TURNSIn the beginning, it's up to you to see if you have what it takes to get a buzz going on the local scene. Early in your career, it's not a big deal to pick up the phone and call your neighborhood club or your city's weekly entertainment journal. "Bands that are trying to play in local clubs and get publicity in local magazines don't need personal managers," Condon points out. "It's when your songs are generating a lot of interest and you're getting calls from record labels and large promoters that you'll need someone to negotiate things for you in a professional manner. These tend to be unfamiliar situations for many artists, so they need someone protecting their interests." As you start to move into the uncharted waters of complex business negotiations and other decisions such as when, where, and how often to perform and record, a personal manager becomes key.
Personal managers are especially important in the early stages of a performer's career, which is why you usually hear about them in connection with just-breaking acts. "With emerging artists and newly signed artists, you definitely have to be more hands-on, more involved in the personal aspect of their art," says Lovelace.
As an artist's career takes off, however, the managerial duties and responsibilities soon become too much for one person. At this point, the personal manager's obligations usually get divided among several different people. Business managers take charge of the artist's finances; personal assistants help outfit and equip the artist and coordinate the details of the daily routine; tour managers handle concert logistics; booking agents make sure the contracts for the shows are properly written and executed; promoters oversee concert advertising and the press coverage; attorneys make sure everything is legal and in the artist's best interests.
But even when an artist reaches star status, the personal manager remains as valuable as ever, though in a less personal and more general way. In this broader capacity, the manager oversees the many people who support specific areas of the artist's career and spends less time directly involved with the musician's artistic development. (The manager still has a say in how the music is progressing, but since the artist's creative identity is already well defined, it requires less attention.)
Lovelace puts it this way: "At the beginning stages, the personal manager is kind of everything to the artist-confidant, agent, tour manager, business manager. That continues until the artist has the income to employ other people to handle these things. You take care of every aspect of the artists' careers until they get to that point. It's like they have to walk first before they can run: they have to have a personal manager first before they're ready for all these other folks." But even after they've handed off the details, personal managers are still, as J. M. points out, "the responsible party for virtually all aspects of an artist's career."
STAR SEARCHThere are no hard-and-fast rules for finding a personal manager. "Artists get frustrated because they feel they have to get whoever manages Alanis Morissette, Garbage, or some other superstar band, and that's not the case," emphasizes Condon. "I've always found that the best manager is someone who is totally in love with your music, someone you trust not to cheat you. That could be your best friend from college who is willing to take on this level of work." J. M. agrees, adding, "Many artists, in the early stages of their careers, have their management taken on by the guy who wasn't good enough to be the guitar player. Often, these guys develop into formidable managers."
A good way to locate a manager is to find out who's managing the bands you admire on the local scene. Once you've identified these candidates, you should get them on your mailing list, keep them abreast of what you're doing, and let them know you're serious. Lovelace points out that these people are busy, and it might take them a while to make it to one of your shows. "If you fax them once or call them once and they don't show up, it doesn't mean that they aren't interested," she says. "Diligence is the key: be persistent, but not a pest. They will make it eventually."
Walton says his company always takes the time to listen to new music-but usually on someone's recommendation: "I get referrals through friends, from agents, and from record companies," he explains. In fact, Condon says a word-of-mouth endorsement is essential at this stage of the game. "I think it's extremely hard to just go through an industry directory, sending out tapes blind with a letter that says, 'I'm looking for management,'" she says. "That's a waste of time and money. Managers are looking for referrals." Condon is right: cold calling is definitely not the way to go about looking for a personal manager-take it from me, I've tried it and gotten nowhere fast. Get to know people-other bands, club owners, attorneys-and if your music is solid, someone will put in a good word.
Lovelace has a more street-level approach to looking for new acts. "The way I've always found artists has been by getting out there, checking things out, keeping my ear to the street, always knowing what acts are hot and up-and-coming, and keeping attuned to the executive world-labels, movie studios, producers, and so on-to keep up on what they're looking for," she says. "There's no shortage of good talent; there's a shortage of good matches of good talent with good executives. I think if a manager is really on point in both worlds and making an effort to stay connected in both worlds, she or he should always be able to find those matches."
I've met other personal managers who work this way as well, so it is crucial that you get yourself in the public eye as often and in as many ways as possible-through gigs, special appearances, an Internet presence, and so on.
NO FREE RIDEA personal manager's income is directly tied to the success of the artists he or she represents. If someone is going to work hard to promote an artist's music and find ways to generate income from that music, then it's only fair to compensate that person accordingly. Personal managers are paid on a commission basis, usually 15 to 20 percent of the artist's earnings. A written agreement, even a very simple one, is crucial. At the very least it must detail the artist's and manager's responsibilities, the manager's sources of compensation, and the structure of the commission.
As Walton puts it, "There are different sources of income for us: We can [take a] commission when the artists tour, when they sell records, when material is placed with corporate advertisers, or when the artists do music for commercials. Publishing is a big source of income, too." Lovelace adds, "I usually get a cut of the advance money artists receive when they get signed, as well."
Some managers ask to get a commission on everything and anything that has to do with your career-either for a set amount of time or in perpetuity, beyond the time you're actually working together. Working out this part of the deal can be tricky, acknowledges Northern California entertainment attorney Bryan Robinson. "Deciding, in advance, how future proceeds will be paid to a manager no longer involved in an act's career is an extremely complex issue," he says. "It's crucial that all parties' interests are protected and that the manager's efforts up to the point of termination, regardless of whether the termination is amicable, are recognized." For example, sometimes managers are fired by acts who have reached the big time and now want to work with more established managers. Having a contract that includes a clause for fading out earnings over time, often called a sunset clause, is one way to prepare for this situation.
If you are self-contained (you have a direction, an image, your own studio, and so on) and just want to work with a manger for a specific period, a short-term management agreement called a finder's agreement might be a good option.
"I do a finder's agreement with some artists whom I'm not necessarily interested in managing long-term, but know I can create some exposure for and probably help secure a deal for," Lovelace explains. "It limits my involvement in both the business and the creative aspects. These are artists who don't need much development and have put a lot of time into their careers and their catalog already. They basically just provide me with product and I shop it. They love it and I love it because I don't have to be as hands-on, and I get commissioned specifically for what I do-if it's a label deal, a publishing deal, or whatever." The finder's agreement lets her concentrate on specific areas of promotion without getting tied up in supervising a support staff, so as a dealmaker she can be more efficient. A finder's agreement is also a great way to begin a relationship with management because it gives both of you the opportunity to get to know each other.
Management firms and successful managers usually try to have three or four acts on the burners at one time: a successful act that's living on residuals and working on its next project, an act that's actively generating income from touring and record sales, and a couple of acts in development. Otherwise, the personal manager is going to have to hold a day job just like the band members do until revenues start coming in.
MANAGEMENT 101Who, when, how, and why are all considerations that musicians ponder when the issue of management arises. Many will tell you, as I will, that there are no clear-cut answers to these questions. "Management is probably the thorniest issue in an artist's career," Condon says. "I get more calls asking my advice on how to find management than on how to get a record deal."
There's no cookie-cutter mold for finding the right person, either; someone who's perfect for one artist may be the worst choice in the world for another. But once you understand the manager's role and how it affects an artist's career over the long haul, a lot of things fall into place. Personal managers are the cornerstones on which all other supporting systems in the music industry are built. If you understand that, you've aced Management 101, and when it's your time to find your own personal manager, you'll know what to look for.