As a whole, today’s recording artists -- independent singer/songwriters and self-employed musicians, specifically -- have it tough. Many don't receive their due respect and truly are “starving artists.” And most disturbingly (and I will put this as politely as I can), many music industry-types actively pursue business models built upon taking advantage of these misaligned artists’ dreams and aspirations.
Thus it should come as no surprise that if we, as dutiful studio engineers, intently listen to an artist; care about them (and their work) and display a little intelligence that we may hear these words:
“Would you consider being my manager?”
We all know that being a good recording engineer and/or producer doesn't necessarily make one a good artist manager (or even make us slightly interested in the position, either). I like a lot of things about placing microphones, layering overdubs and creating vocal arrangements; I don't like a damn thing about booking, contracts, negotiations and marketing. So, considering these oft-common truths, I submit the following three nuggets of advice to recording artists -- whose most trusted source of advice is often their audio engineer -- before signing on “to be managed.”
1. Get Good
Get good -- or hopefully, even better than good. In this age of instant gratification, direct communication with the listener and viral exposure (the latter of which is probably the most effective music marketing today), there is no Oz-like curtain to hide behind, and that often even includes a ground-level manager. The competence to self-manage today is essentially mandatory; excellence is the new competence, as only “amazing” new artists gain widespread praise and the all-too-crucial “word of mouth” buzz. Marginal performers marginalize themselves way before any manager can help them through the inadequacy of being average.
2. Get Personal
Assuming you're listenable, the most important thing is to be yourself. I don't care how unusual, or bland, or disgusting you may be (or think you are). Your only chance of “making it” is to be the one thing that nobody else is more of, namely you. The music world is more competitive than most everyone realizes, and if you are handicapped by insincerity or effort-laden awkwardness you'll never have the required 100 percent to put into the ideal performance. Tap into what's artistically real inside you to discover the beauty, carefree ease and freedom that comes with personal truth and honest purpose.
It is most important to know that the music biz is in the midst of a major transformation; morphing revenue streams, monetizing and modernization have entertainment business relationships in turmoil, ripe for re-negotiation due to unseen pitfalls.
For that reason, modern recording artists must be realistic: don't expect much from old paradigms in our uncharted (and generally unstable) environment. Done right, you’re more likely to find yourself fully immersed in an artistic lifestyle, one that requires dedication, a long view, and fewer material rewards (as directly compared to the Joneses in the suburbs). You better love it, or you're gonna hate it.
If you are real good, real personal and really realistic, you may just find yourself enjoying a life of humble pleasures like artistic expression, personal freedom and the flexibility that comes from making your own decisions and pursuing your own destiny. And those are all qualities of life that few managers can, or will, give you.
Rob Tavaglione is the owner of Charlotte’s Catalyst Recording.