A good manager can make or break an artist’s career. And today, a manager must be more than the person who makes sure the artist gets to the gig on time. In the last ten years, I’ve watched as managers and management companies have become increasingly more important powerful. Many of them (Paul McGuinness, John Silva, Guy Oseary, Troy Carter, Scooter Braun, anyone at Q Prime) leave me with a sense of awe. Medium takes a look at the rise of today’s super-manager.
The evolution of the music industry is putting greater power into the hands of top artist managers and transforming their firms—traditionally very small, behind-the-scenes operations—into miniature conglomerates operating across media, tech, and consumer brands.
The root of this transformation is the broader shift in power from labels to artists, and thus to artists’ management teams. The internet empowers artists with the ability to directly engage fans and distribute digital content on their own, a dynamic that has made record labels—whose deals usually give them the majority of an artist’s music revenue—increasingly less necessary for building a national, or even international, audience.
The whole EDM genre, which has been on fire over the last few years, has thrived largely without major labels or radio. In hip-hop, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis (with manager/agent Zach Quillen) built a passionate fan base locally and online, leveraged that to run their own (profitable) tour, reinvested earnings to self-finance the production of the The Heist, and then went to labels only later with the negotiating power to strike a la cartephysical distribution and marketing deals.
Even in the more common arrangement of taking a traditional record deal—which remains the norm and likely will for many years—top artists and their managers have been faced with an increasing hand-off of responsibilities as the labels downsize their investment in developing artists (mainly because they themselves are tight on money). Management firms, talent agencies, and publishers are in response expanding to handle many functions that were traditionally label services.