The Anxieties of an Artist Manager
Being an artist manager is the most anxiety-inducing role in the music industry (only matched by a promoter with millions of dollars on the line).
As I pointed out on The Industry Observer back in 2019, power in the music industry has shifted to Artist Managers, and now you could easily argue that the success of an artist (outside of the artist themselves) firmly rests on the shoulders of the manager.
This pressure, combined with the fact that the artist manager is usually the first one (sometimes the only one) in the team to get fired when things don’t go as expected, makes the task of managing an exceptionally stressful one.
Artists rightfully hold their managers to high standards, after all, they are effectively employing a CEO of their business. However often, managers share the blame or get fired for things that are not even within their control. Why? Because in most cases the artist manager is the only professional in the team who can get fired.
Artist manager Andrew Stone on the Fear At The Top podcast
If an artist signs a record deal, and the label is doing a bad job, there is no easy or cheap method to fire the label. The label owns the artist’s masters and that’s the end of the story – same with a publishing deal.
So, if the artist has the perception that the label is doing a bad job, it’s on the manager to fix it. If the manager can’t then the manager is the one that ends up in the firing line, not the label. Notice I said “the artist has the perception”. Often it doesn’t matter how good of a job the label is actually doing, if the artist thinks they’re doing a bad job that is what the manager has to navigate. This is often why there is always a lot of tension between the label and an artist manager.
The best managers are the ones that can change artists’ perceptions when they don’t match reality. However, it takes a decade of experience to learn how to do that effectively, and sadly most managers don’t survive that long.
Secondary to getting fired, the other anxiety-inducing dynamic young managers have to push through is overwhelming imposter syndrome. Artists expect their managers to have all the answers and all the contacts – impossible as a new manager (and even as an experienced one). John Watson (who I believe is the best artist manager in Australia) often speaks about how an artist manager may always feel like the dumbest person in the room (forgive me John, I’m definitely paraphrasing here).
John points out that when a manager is speaking to a label, most know less about the recording industry than the label. When speaking to the publisher, they know less about publishing than the person they’re meeting. The same goes for lawyers, promoters, accountants etc and their respective professions. Artist managers need to manage these connections, ensure everyone is pulling in the right direction – all while knowing less about each sector than those they’re trying to collaborate with or hold accountable.
As a young manager new to the profession, this imposter syndrome is so overwhelming that most just quit. The more resilient operators can push through, learn and grow, but only for as long as their finances allow them. If their artist doesn’t break through and start making real money – all the resilience in the world won’t keep them managing artists.
Artist manager Jaddan Comerford on the Fear At The Top podcast
The Artist Management industry in Australia has a real shortage of talented managers and that is simply because of the stress versus the remuneration dynamic at play. The money an artist manager makes at the start of their career is close to $0. This is obviously unsustainable unless one of the first few artists they sign starts to make a meaningful income.
If I think of the best artist managers in Australia right now (there aren’t many), I do see a pattern of big success in one of the first few signings they had early on in their career. A big break out act early can provide the cash flow an artist manager needs to have a long term career in the profession, without that early success, most highly skilled managers move into other parts of the music industry or even leave the industry entirely.
I actually proposed we need to pay artist managers differently (more) in my 2019 story to try and retain more highly skilled people in the profession.
If we have more talented artist managers, every sector of the music industry will make more money – especially the artists.
Artist Manager Regan Lethbridge on the Fear At The Top podcast