When people ask me what I do and I respond that I am an artist and band manager, they drop to their knees with a “Wow, that’s cool!” response. Yes, managing an artist or band is quite a prestigious job to have and is definitely a talking point amongst music lovers and the celebrity-obsessed twenty-somethings.
The reality is that it is probably one of the most challenging positions that any human being can hold and requires nuts of solid steel. Although mostly electrifying, there is limited glamour associated with managing a band, trust me! As with any job, there are the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. One moment you are put on a pedestal where you think that you are invincible and that you hold a position of respectable power and have the right to be proud; the next moment you are reduced to tears through frustration and questioning your reasons as to why you became a band manager in the first place. The constantly changing landscape of the global music business combined with a declining state of the South African economy make the role of a manager tougher and the necessity for strategic out of the box thinking more important than ever.
There are many misconceptions of what a band manager actually does. One of the most common perceptions is that they book gigs and that’s it. Band management goes way beyond typing up set lists and making sure that the band has water (and beer) on stage. Technically a band or artist’s career is in your hands. Most of the time, musicians lack business savvy and their thoughts extend no further than the next gig or studio appointment. A manager’s job is to take control and direct and lead strategy and that means nearly everything beyond being behind the microphone and penning tunes. A manager is thinking at least six months to a year ahead and is constantly looking for and creating opportunities that will add value to and sustain the overall professional health of the band’s career.
Picture the band as the core. The ring around the core is the manager, who acts as the gatekeeper and the general liaison between the world and the band. I’m talking about venue owners, booking agents, promoters, publicists, publishers, sponsors, labels and anyone else who plays a part in the business of music. This multi-faceted role requires not only a sound knowledge of each element, but the patience of a saint in dealing with people who all have strong opinions and most of all are of the impression that they are the only authorities in their respective fields. It is the manager’s job to sift through the bull-dust and detail and distil it into something that is simple and meaningful to the artist and answers the following questions: Will it make us money? Will we get exposure? Is there minimal admin required from our side? Will it free up our time so that we can focus on the music?
The highlights of being a band manager come in abundance. Nothing is more rewarding that working with a band or artist from the ground up and seeing and playing a passionate role in the exponential growth and success, both in the personalities, the music and the respect gained from fans and within industry circles. A band manager gets to know the artists as people and gets to engage with them on both a personal and a professional level and more often than not very solid friendships are formed. This is something that fans only dream of and definitely a glamorous element of the job. A band manager becomes a safe space, a sounding board, a confidant, a psychologist and someone to rely on with implicit trust. It is very humbling to be that person to a group of people who are hugely in the public eye. We get to tour the country (and sometimes abroad), we get to meet people in the industry we wouldn’t usually have any contact with, we get to listen to new material and work in progress the whole time and in most cases are allowed to have input in to the creative process. This is all great fun and there are many good laughs and memorable times.
On the flip side, the hard side of band management is not for the feint hearted. We often have to handle over-inflated self-opinions from people who think that they’re megastars after one mildly successful single. We deal with drunk and disorderly behaviour from band members and very often have to do major damage control and bail them out of sticky and sometimes aggressive situations. Very often, due to the impatience associated with the frustration of things moving more slowly than hoped, we are the people who are on the receiving end of a tongue lashing. Not to mention that venue owners, sound engineers and label managers are notoriously difficult and it can be very challenging to remain calm and not blow a fuse at them. Playing “bad cop” is also part and parcel of the job and very often we are tasked with dealing with situations that we would rather avoid. A vastly sensitive part of being a manager is breaking it to a band that a performance was not up to scratch or a song that they have written and recorded isn’t actually that great. It is a gamble and some will take it as constructive and learn and grow, others will fall to pieces and will lick their lacerations of wounded pride.
If there is something I’d like to express to artists and bands from a manager’s perspective, it’s this: a manager is an extension of your team and not a supplier, a manager often invests a considerable amount of time in to strategy and planning and sometimes walks away with only a few Rands at the end of the month. A simple “thank you for your hard work” goes a long way and instils the loyalty that backs the passion and commitment needed to drive things forward. We are all in this together and are all on the same side!
To conclude, band management is immensely exciting. However it is a job that only a few can honestly endure. If you have a strategic business mind with simplicity, vision and clarity and a passion for music. If you appreciate that you will celebrate the good times but will almost certainly have to roll with many punches, then this is a job for you. Band management can be both financially rewarding and emotionally fulfilling, yet at the same time demands large amounts physical and emotional strength and stamina. As band managers, we do what we love and we love what we do and believe in those we work with 110%. You will never find a more passionate bunch of eccentric people!
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