What makes it possible for artists to achieve success? While it does happen that an artist can achieve success on their own, it does not happen often. The artist needs help, which is one reason why an industry has developed around the arts.
Eamonn Forde is a colleague that I met while in the UK at a music conference a few years back. He is a music business and technology writer for The Guardian. Last year he wrote an interesting article about the role of managers in the music business. He explores the relationship between firing a manager after success and a decline in the artist’s subsequent achievements.
Being a music manager myself, his article struck a chord with me. Over the years I have sat, listened and participated in discussing the artist and artist manager’s role. Specifically in terms of developing an artist’s career, creating opportunities, navigating the industry landscape and helping to break an artist out of regional somewhat obscurity into the hearts and lives of the global mass public.
Eamonn uses the recent example of popular New Zealand recording artist Lorde to illustrate the importance of the role of managers for artists to achieve success. Lorde, like many other artists, fired her manager recently after her achievement of global status. More often than not, artists seem to not be able to continue with the same level of success upon parting ways with the manager that helped them get there. In 1967, when Beatles manager Brian Epstein died, John Lennon said “Now we’re fucked.” Brian was The Beatles since the early Liverpool Cavern days. Three years later, in a drug-induced haze and irreconcilable differences, The Beatles disbanded.
Paul McGuinness, U2’s long time manager, left his position in 2013. He undoubtedly helped the band become one of the most famous bands on the planet. At music industry conferences Paul has been referred to as the fifth band member. Since his departure, U2 entered an agreement with Apple where they gave away their recent album called “ Songs of Innocence” to every iTunes customer, whether they wanted it or not. It turned out to be a mediocre record and a superb PR disaster.
One time, while I was eating quiche with Mark Knopfler’s manager Paul Crockford, he shared a story about what it takes to achieve results for a successful artist. It takes the ability to be able to cut through the ego and to work as business partners with each person focusing on their core competence and putting the artist’s brand above the artist manager’s commission (or salary as can be the case with very successful artists). This partnership role can be hard to balance after the artist has become successful. The best relationships are usually those forged at the onset.
The manager that has been there from the beginning, working hard in the trenches, gives the artist the ability to feel safe, especially because as the artist rises to a certain level, the machinery of the industry values profit over all else. At a certain level of achievement it becomes more difficult to ensure you have people around you who will tell you the truth, even if the truth is what you need. Good artist managers who started at the beginning, who stay grounded and grow with the artist’s career, are able to retain the artist’s brand and support the artist staying rooted in reality, even when the rest of the world would levitate them to egoistic grandeur – too often succumbed to by artists meeting with success.
I am not suggesting that an artist must have a manager to achieve success. Nor am I suggesting that an artist should keep a bad artist manager around because they were there at the beginning. Not all artist managers are appropriate. Beyonce is a perfect example of this. She fired her father as her manager and she just keeps shining brighter and achieving success upon success. But my experience and my instincts tell me that musicians must be wise and humble when considering whether to fire their manager just because the dollars have started rolling in and they think they can do “better”.
Rishi Deva is the CEO of Kupid’s Play Records. With two decades of experience in the music industry, Rishi has been nominated for numerous marketing awards and earned a Gold Record in the music industry for management.