Monday, 19 September 2011

Shovelling medieval sewage..

I have often said that managing bands can be both the best and worst job in the world.

If you are lucky enough to have a successful band then there is genuinely no job quite like it. Your clients will of course have convinced themselves that their creation of a work of unparalleled genius is solely responsible for their new found largess, but no matter, because their agent will actually return your phone calls for a change, your bank manager will become a real person again (as opposed to being an Asian call centre), the youngsters at the record label may actually remember who you are for once and you will suddenly find you have a large and interesting circle of new friends.

When things are not going so well however, being an artist manager is a little like being a medieval sewage specialist: lonely, labour intensive, hazardous, smelly and ultimately pretty unrewarding.

I have been lucky enough to experience both sides of the job, although like most of us rather more of the latter than the former, and what follows (with my tongue firmly lodged in my cheek) is a distillation of some of the lessons I have learned.

1. Nigel Lawson once said that there are only 2 kinds of Chancellor: those who get fired, and those who get out just in time. Same thing applies to Managers.

2. Management is a risky business. The odds that your act will cause the BBC to suddenly remember that their job is to play decent records as opposed to championing the latest bunch of musically incompetent teenagers masquerading as the industry's newest buzz band (god how I hate that term) would give any self respecting adrenaline junkie pause for thought, yet most of us stand loyally by our acts through thick and thin until... well see 1 above.

3. It is ALWAYS your fault. There are no exceptions. Get over it.

4. If you are expecting a pat on the back when things are going well, you will be waiting for a very long time indeed. Once again, get over it.

5. An accountant I used to know once said to me "If you are talking to a merchandiser, imagine he has a large red neon sign above his head. The sign is flashing and spells out the following message: I am stealing from you. You cannot stop me you can only limit the damage". This piece of advice took on ironic significance some years later when the accountant in question was convicted of embezzling large sums of cash from several of his clients to feed his drug habit. You really could not make it up.

6. Get a signed contract with your artist before you lift a finger, take a call or draft an email. Resist your natural inclination to get on with the job whilst your deal is being agreed. Remember, anything you manage to achieve on your artists behalf during the negotiation can only weaken your position. The more successful they become thanks to your selfless diligence, the more you will find yourself desperately trying to defend terms which your client and their lawywers would have agreed to without a second thought had you not been so trusting.

7. NEVER EVER represent your friends, because after the business relationship breaks down (see 1 above) you may find that you feel very differently about the people concerned, no matter how long you have known them.

8. Always issue your invoices on time and make sure you get paid. You may think that you are helping your act by deferring money which you are owed, but all you are doing is providing an unsecured loan to a business which (statistically speaking) is almost certain to fail.

9. In management, he who makes the fewest mistakes wins. The odds against your act succeeding are so steep, and there are so many ways they can fail which are beyond your control (to quote John Malkovich), that to add to them by arseing up stuff which IS within your ambit is careless at best and flat out suicidal in most cases. I once stupidly upset a very powerful promoter and it cost me my business. No matter that I had been ill, or that my wife was in hospital, nobody cares, and rightly so. The odds are just so long that you simply cannot afford errors. I made a mistake and I paid for it.

10. Hunter S Thompson once said "The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There's also a negative side". I have always tried to be neither a pimp nor a thief, and on the whole I feel I have succeeded. Whether or not I've been a good man is for others to judge, but I certainly feel, in so far as my dealings in music are concerned. that I have occasionally been treated like a dog, even if I have not as yet died like one.

1 comment:

Tim Parsons said...

That's an unusual adjective to describe a promoter; powerful. If correct to do so, is it still the case?
I get your comments and recognise the "in the cheek" caviat but it's also worthwhile noting, it can be an immense bunch of fun, a lot of managers adore the trappings of the fifth Beatle and it beats a day job.....