What do music managers do?
All you need to know about the music business
Donald S. Passman
In this essay I will be talking about personal managers for artists, what is their job and what I see as good and bad qualities. I just started my course on music management, and it has already been very interesting. Managers usually stay quite hidden even though they are often the ones behind artists’ moves.
Who are personal managers and what is their job?
Of course every manager and artist have their own contracts, so I’m telling you what the job consists usually. Managers are typically there to make an artist achieve the right publicity, shortly: to get famous and keep a certain image. They help their customer with choosing the right label, helping with the creative process, getting them collaborations et cetera. So basically they plan and create the personal branding with the artist. Like Donald S. Passman says in the book All you need to know about the music business seventh edition (2009, s.50) : “The personal manager is the single most important person in your professional life. A good personal manager can expand your career to its maximum potential, and a bad one can rocket you into oblivion.”
It is difficult to find a documentary where they talk about the managers, but I have happened to find two so far. In Lady Gaga’s documentary on Netflix, called “Gaga: Five Foot Two” (Chris Moukarbel, 2017) Gaga’s manager seemed to be close with her. She could complain to him about her struggles and he takes all the complaints and calms her down. He makes her feel better and more motivated. I could see him be present in all of her shows and following everything very well. His job is also to give her important information and make deals for example about new collaborations or acting possibilities. That was all I could get out from her documentary.
I also watched a documentary of a Belgian singer Angele, called “Angele” (Brice, VDH/ Sebastien Rensonnet, 2021). Here’s a little bit of how Angele got her managers and what have they done so far. As a teenager Angele was just making covers on Instagram, but her family friend and former nanny Sylvie Farr really gave her courage to aim for more. She opened many new doors for her by getting her to perform in small venues. In the documentary Angele said ”Sylvie got me out of my room”. Her bravery and optimism made a good team with Angele’s talent. She really believed in Angele when she was doubting herself. She really saw potential in Angele and made moves to take the next steps. Sylvie didn’t have any previous experience in managing, she just needed her trust in Angele. The lack of experience also caused a lot of problems and downhills.
Sylvie started co-managing Angele with Nicholas, who Angele met at her gig through Sylvie. They got a deal with Damso for Angele to start his gigs and be his keyboard player. The first show was a flop. She got booed because the audience was not prepared for her. She was also not prepared enough. The managers thought they had ruined her confidence and thought ”what have we done”. They admitted their mistakes and knew it was their fault for taking the risk and not because Angele wasn’t good, because she was. Angele learned quickly and next show was already better. Angele also had problems with the press, which I believe could have been solved if the managers had better contacts with the press. For example The Playboy magazine chose a picture of her that she prohibited for them to use but they did it anyways. It ended up causing a fair amount of harm for her image.
So what makes a good manager then?
It’s a respectable trait in a manager if they can admit if they did something wrong, I really respect Angeles managers for that. Taking in to consideration that Sylvie didn’t have any previous experience in managing, she did a very great job. Angele wouldn’t propably achieved the amount of success she has so far without the help and support of Sylvie as well as Nicholas. Sylvie is a great example of a manager who just needed the great eye for potential and a drive to go forward for new achievements.
I was thinking this from the point of what kind of a manager I would like to be, I could possibly be and what kind of a manager I would like to have as an artist. I read the article called Godfathers Of Rock: The Top 10 Rock And Roll Managers (Ultimate Guitar, 2010) and I would say I mostly identify with and like Andrew Loog Oldham the manager of The Rolling Stones etc. He is creative and knows the trends that are going on like me. He knew what a fresh take would be, and he was brave enough to take risks. He seemed to really want to make a good job instead of just having money as his priority. I respect that he was also working for Epstein, to first get experience and learn from others instead of thinking too much of himself and doing the job before learning. He seemed encouraging and helped the Rolling Stones grow by making their own art instead of covers. He clearly knew how to motivate them and make them trust in themselves. He also cleared their brand out of the blues style towards more rock. So, a manager should be very enthusiastic and truly care about their artist. They should keep their feet on the ground and stay humble, realize what is good for the artist and keep on learning.
What are bad traits in a manager
I would never see myself being like Don Arden who managed Black Sabbath and many more. At first I judged Colonel Tom Parker for putting himself and money first instead of Elvis Presley, but Don Arden’s actions were unacceptable for me. He used violence and threats to get what he wants and that is not good work of professional work for me. As an artist I wouldn’t want to work with an unpredictable manager who instead of doing his job well, he can’t take an no for answer and has a big ego. In my opinion if one has to have a big ego, it should rather be the artist, preferably none of them have it. A manager should be able to admit their mistakes and instead of being too proud, think about his customer the artist or a band. He didn’t seem to respect Small Faces by giving them only 30$ a week. Him also threatening other managers so he wouldn’t lose his bands is very immature and unacceptable behavior.
I am not quite sure if I want to go for a managers position yet, maybe somewhere in the future. It would be a great way to combine entrepreneurship and music business. Right now I am in the position where I would really need a manager, luckily now I know what to look for. I would love to have a young and excited who will beat any obstacles and someone I come along with very very well. Sadly in Finland there aren’t very many managers yet, but I hope that will change quite soon.
All you need to know about the music business seventh edition (Donald S. Passman, 2009, RosettaBooks LLC, New York)