Why does an artist need management? Everything you need to know at a glance
recordJet’s interview with artist manager Silke Grän
When do I, as a musician, need help? And at what point should this support come in the shape of a manager? How do you find potential managers and exactly what do they do? Sooner or later an artist will ask themselves these questions. Either you need help in some areas, there is simply too much for you to do, or because all the artists you know have management. To find out the answers to these and other questions, we turned to a professional: Silke Grän.
Silke, originally from Hamburg, studied event management and in the 2000s turned to the music management business. She prefers the title “consultant” rather than “manager”. Among others, she has worked with greats like Frida Gold or Tokio Hotel and is an expert in numerous areas, from managing tours to promotion and personnel management.
Silke, hand on heart: at what point is it worth an artist getting a manager?
Nowadays, artists do a lot themselves: they found their own labels, create great social media content, develop graphics, and produce music videos or photos. This includes many disciplines that artists didn’t tackle ten years ago. Musicians have become much more independent. They ask a lot more questions. They want to know more and be more involved in decision-making. This is a great development! In the past, management often took on these tasks, or at least it was mostly responsible for them. Classic artist management comes from a different time. And I believe that nowadays you can be very successful without management.
Once a musician has exceeded a certain size, however, I would advise them to focus on their own art. To concentrate on their skills. Some artists don’t get on well with business plans and strategies. They’re too dry and not the point of being a musician. From a certain size in terms of success, it makes sense to bring someone in to help. It should be worthwhile for both sides, if possible.
This includes artists learning how to let go of responsibility. My tip: give the to-dos and the things that need to be worked on to others, so you can be creative. Take time, write lyrics and melodies and immerse yourself in your work and trust your team. But I don’t want to say that artists should not get involved with management. Quite the contrary. I love working with self-sufficient people who know exactly what they want and what they don’t. Having management to filter, work on and optimise that as best as possible makes sense.
How does an artist find the right manager?
This has a lot to do with gut feeling; an artist should take their time over a decision like this. If someone is too pushy, I would always keep away from them. The second major point is your own tactics. As an artist I have to make an assessment myself and ask myself the question: do I want an individual manager that covers a wide range of areas and takes care of me? Or do I want to join a large agency, which represents many artists? One must be aware that both have advantages and disadvantages, and in searching for success (which everyone defines differently), you should make sure you don’t get distracted by other artists. Just because it has worked out for THEM and the radio plays a certain song to death, there is no guarantee that this same concept from this agency or solo manager will also be successful for you. An elaborate concept cannot be copied precisely from one artist to another; it has to be tailor-made and involves a lot of work.
And what’s really important to point out is that strategy, campaign and concept are different for every artist. What’s good about agencies, of course, is the fact that other, already established artists represented by the agency might help you. But regardless of the agency, vitamin B and gut feeling, I also believe that you have to be discovered as an artist. And of course there are good managers who give you a call if you succeed. The right manager, however, is the one who believes in your success and supports you, even if the success doesn’t come. Success takes lots of development work, and how often does it take several years before a door opens?
Of course, “being discovered” is not enough on its own. You should also consider the manager’s skills. Management should not just know the industry, but should also be good with people and numbers and have a few business skills. Since the term manager/management is not protected, anyone can hold this position, both in theory and in practice.
For what areas does management exist?
To name just a few in the music industry: artist management, tour management, personnel management, and project and product management. Good management often has knowledge from all areas, either individually or thanks to a strong team. In general, artist management is mostly paid in percentage terms. Tour management charges daily rates or a fixed fee for preparation phases. Personnel management also charges a fixed fee. Often the personnel management takes on the jobs for an artist that the management cannot cover.
The areas covered by personnel management or personnel assistants are more widespread in other countries than in Germany and depend on the size of the artist. A personnel manager has a very close bond to the artist and is often the link between artist and management.
What does a management contract actually look like?
Management contracts are concluded in writing, but often also orally. In most cases this depends on the size and structure of the company. If the artist comes out of a similar structure, then it makes sense to take on these contracts, adapt them or upgrade them as best as possible.
In my experience, it is more than advantageous to have no contract; I still work mainly without written contracts. As a general rule, only the basic conditions and a couple of fundamental points, such as percentage fee, or jobs that I’ll take care of are briefly summarised. This kind of oral contract is relatively normal for music managers. For me, and I think I speak for many in my industry, belief, trust and a common goal are much more important prerequisites for a long-term co-operation. They mean more to me than a signature on a piece of paper. An important point here is the fact that the connection between the management and artist is rarely a normal working relationship. It is often a friendly, perhaps even private connection. And that’s what I love about it! Night time phone calls without having to worry about opening hours are part of that. This connection should be based on fairness and should be transparent, then you can speak openly without any problems.
Because I, as a manager, also want to be able to part ways without any nastiness, because if the relationship is no longer working, both sides are hindered, which is totally unnecessary. It is also completely poisonous for the artist’s creativity if you have to carry a burden around with you for years. I would not feel happy about that. I want to unleash artists, not hold them back. Nevertheless you should protect and appreciate what you have built up.
I believe and hope that the oppressive contracts of the 1990s are a thing of the past. The deals between artist and management today are in most cases 20% of the gross revenue and/or separately agreed investments. So anything between 15 and 25 percent is possible. Normally, an artist should want to pay commission, since you then know that the best possible fees and contracts have been negotiated and because you know everything that is being done behind the scenes – which is quite often much more than you would think!
In your opinion, what makes good management?
Where should I begin? Just to put a couple of things out there that I try to practice and that, in my opinion, every good manager/team should do/have: respect, belief in the artist, trust, strength, skill, flexibility and reliability. They should have empathy and discretion, but also be ready to fight. A good manager should create a solid connection between art and business. They should have the skills to make a proper appraisal and to give good advice.
This includes a lot of patience – and I don’t just mean listening to what your protégé tells you, but also understanding exactly what they’re saying: only if you have understood your artist can you get their ideas and wishes under way and communicate them to others. A good manager is also motivated when things aren’t going so well. Of course strategic skills are also necessary. Managers often come from the music industry and know how it works. Therefore they’re good at assessing the market and also know the target group. A good manager should also have some understanding of copyright and contract law, even if we have great media lawyers for that.
How do you work?
What’s important for me is that I am not the manager OF someone, but I work FOR and WITH someone. I have worked in great teams for incredible people and you learn with every personality. I give advice and thus acquire my position. For me, personally, the foundational point of my definition of management is that the artist is doing well! For me this means bringing their favourite coffee to the set and to not impose yourself too much. You always have an overview of everything, develop strategies, work through hundreds of e-mails and sit at your desk for 16 hours so that everything is done on time and you also have to make tactical decisions – but for me my position also often includes assistance.
I do not want to push to the foreground. I deliberately chose to be “behind the scenes” and I try to represent the interests of my artists in the best possible way and yet to correctly assess the chances of success. Also very important for me and my artist is gut feeling. I love looking – and finding. If I believed I could make a lot of money with an artist, but it wouldn’t work on a personal level, I would not take the job. It is not at all about the genre for me. Whether rock or pop, if I sense the energy and the professionalism of the artist, then I am really keen to do the job as well as possible – and from the heart.
To be honest, in initial discussions with artists, I often advise them to not create a connection to management too quickly. Don’t tie yourself down too quickly, or for too long. Try it out. Give both sides some time. The music industry is not always a dangerous place. In fact, it is often a friendly place and that is precisely what makes it not always easy. There are such wonderful managers out there (especially the ladies, who should still earn a little bit more) and I really like our industry. As boring as it sounds, I really love it that you come across people like yourself two, three, or even ten times.
We would like to thank Silke Grän for this interview.