Managing The Talent

I am not certain if the above title is misleading, as it’s often disputed that you can’t actually manage talent.

For approximately 30 years I have been involved in the management of talent, also defined as artist management, in one form or another. I have often been asked, “What do you actually do?” Good question.

Ideally the management of talent should be career-development planning. This can range from: sourcing new talent, developing material and pitching to record companies, publishers and booking agents. It can be likened to a good coach working with either a sporting team or an athlete. However, in the music business, this career development can often turn into fire fighting and damage limitation. Ex CBS head, Walter Yetnikoff, described the role of artist manager in his 2005 book Howling At The Moon as “A manager is a cross between a Rabbi, Priest, guru, banker, financial adviser, friend, psychotherapist, marriage guidance counsellor, sex counsellor and business partner”. In essence, there is no solid job description with a list of selection criteria for the role of artist manager. It is the number of skills that the manager has at their disposal and that can be deployed at various stages of an artist’s career that, hopefully, gets the right results and the job done. The hours are long; the work is hard, it’s underpaid and nobody ever says “thank you”.

The music business is a volatile, dynamic and rapidly changing area of business, that’s why we work in it right? As such the music business is not exempted from the repercussions of unplanned, uncalculated and unstructured activities. Therefore, as it is with every modern business, each manager needs to know her/his role and what is required to play that role. The role of the talent manager is now more than pitching to labels or simply supervising other elements that contribute to the artists’ success. What it is about is creating visibility and value (building equity and mind share) and developing revenue streams. Artist managers are now evolving into creative business development managers. Not yet the office drones in beige cubicles, sat behind their spreadsheets, Venn diagrams and quadrant charts but definitely getting there. This is a far cry from the trailblazers like Peter Grant (Led Zeppelin), Andrew Loog Oldham (Rolling Stones), Malcolm McLaren (Sex Pistols) or Brian Epstein (The Beatles).

In 1991 I solo managed my first band, Opik, a group of art students back in my hometown of Hull, UK. I met them the first week of starting a documentary film-making degree in the university’s refectory when I shot my mouth off to them about my previous 14 years worth of exploits in the music industry. Within weeks we had inked a deal with major record company, BMG’s imprint DeConstruction Records, where we became Kylie Minogue’s label mates. We bought two very cheap rundown Victorian houses and installed a recording studio across the attics with our advance. We lived, worked and breathed music and our very own Bo-Ho alternative lifestyle for the next few years; it was a total breeze, it didn’t feel like a job.

At the opposite end of the spectrum I managed Finley Quaye, which consisted of some very hard work, lots of upset, sleepless nights, pain, suffering and where every single penny was well and truly earned. I have this unproven theory that the greater the talent the more difficult it becomes to manage. Finley proves this theory. A man of immeasurable creative talent, good looks, a songwriter, performer, actor, painter, the list goes on, he was the complete artist. I once had a very serious ‘career development’ meeting with Finley about his disruptive behavior and his ability to completely destroy any pre-made plans. The result was lots of tears (him not me), lots of hugging and promises of behavior modification from that point forward. The next day at Air Studios in London he turned up on time for the recording session (a first) and asked if he could leave his backpack under the mixing console for safekeeping. Thirty minutes later everyone in the studio was laughing uncontrollably, feeling very heady and slightly sick. It didn’t take to long to work out why. Finley’s backpack contained a canister of nitrous oxide (laughing gas) which he’d opened and effectively gassed the studio. Session cancelled, at great cost, lots of technicians and musicians with laughing gas hangovers and a very irate angry record company. This behavior was too much for me to handle, time to move to a safer and easier gig. This lack of respect for his own career development, has led to Finley being homeless for the past eight years and in dire health, if you believe the Internet. Sadly, these types of cases use to be all too common in the music industry mainly due to the duty of care, or rather the lack of it.

The music business is improving in contradiction to the decrease in music sales. The Association of Artist Managers (AAM), which is a Collarts partner, has recently published its Code of Conduct for Managing Artists. It’s all common-sense stuff, which good managers should be adhering to rigidly. I like to think that Collarts always runs ahead of the pack and is at the cutting edge of current thinking. To this end Entertainment Management students get membership to AAM as part of their education and interact with their members. The Code of Conduct is influencing and positively improving music business standards. To ensure that this code is understood and adopted in succession planning by the music industry, we are adopting and teaching the code at Collarts. We also have a Managers Club, which engages with the industries’ best international managers, fosters good practice and some basic ground rules.

A career in the music industry and in particular artist and talent management is never going to be a mainstream career choice. It’s unlikely that you will ever see a newspaper advert for an artist manager but it’s a great, rewarding profession and the jobs are definitely out there for clever creative managers. In the often repeated words of Colonel Tom Parker, Elvis Presley’s manager, “I’m Elvis’ manager because he says I am and, because I say I am”.

– Tim Dalton

Tim Dalton will be presenting more tales and advice on successfully managing the talent at his panel discussion about “Managing Creatives” at the 2014 Face The Music Conference on 14th and 15th November. Book your tickets online