Interview – Artist management in the 21st Century (part 2)

With the music business changing at an incredible speed, Feast invited Biffy Clyro manager Dee Bahl and Idlewild manager Bruce Craigie to discuss the ever-expanding role of the artist manager in the 21st Century.  In the second of our four instalments Dee and Bruce talk about the day in the life of a manager, how the role has changed and what a manager should look for in a band.


Q: What is a day in the life of a music manager like?  What aspects of your bands’ careers do you look after?

B.C.  It’s an interesting one that, particularly now, as it really depends on the role that you take on with the band and what part of their career you get associated with as I guess what the artists needs and what the artist wants to do is what basically changed my role.  Basically looking at the areas where they need assistance whether it is help with the show or help with the crew and building a team around the band if you don’t have a traditional record company.

D.B.  Pretty much on a day to day basis I’d be dealing with the bands lawyer, dealing with the accountant , their agent.  The international department of the label or the press department or it could be the TV department.  Really depends on where you are in the lifecycle of an album or a release which dictates what your day is going to be like.  With Biffy Clyro they’re a heavy touring band so a lot of time is dealing with aspects of that such as putting a crew together, appointing a tour manager and so I have to think months ahead of what the band might be doing.  I spend a lot of time with the bands accountant working on budgets with the record label.  If you’re going into record an album I’ll deal with liaisng with the record label, with the producer, with the producer’s management.  It’s never dull.


Q: What should other aspiring managers look for in a band?  What important contractual issues should a manager look out for, or what red flags should they be wary about when considering getting involved with managing an artist?

B.C.  When you’re looking for a band you’re looking for somebody that’s going to entertain you, that can write good songs, somebody that has an idea of their direction, somebody that has the drive and knows what they want to do and why they want to take on a manager.  What’s the right time to take on a manager?  What role do you want to take on as a manager and what are you able to facilitate?  I particularly go back to the artist having drive  if they want to have a career out of the business.  Pretty much every band I’ve worked with from within record companies, publishing companies, right through to managing bands has had a very strong idea of what they wanted to do and what they wanted to achieve out of music.

D.B.  They’ve got to love the music that a band are making because if you don’t you won’t love the people making the music and it’ll be difficult to sell the band to the world.  It was really hard in the early days to get people to believe in Biffy Clyro.  If I didn’t love their music I couldn’t have done that job.  Obviously you want people who can write good songs, who really want to succeed and are attentive to what you’re saying.  A manager can bring opportunity and a band have to be ready and willing to take these opportunities.  In terms of contractual issues, the term of the contract, your commission, your expenses – make sure you’re not saddled with a lot of the cost.  Also if the term of the contract is up or the relationship breaks down you need to know what you’re entitled to given the amount of work you’ve put in.


Q: Since you started being an artist manager do you find that the role is changing?  Are you becoming more central to the whole industry?

B.C.  Definately changed.  The traditional way for a manager of earning any money has changed.  It used to be that you’d find an artist and you’d take them to a record company or publishing company and they’d offer you an advance and then you’d take a commission on the advance from the artist.  There are a only a few of these deals done now as the industry has shrunk and the amount of money available has shrunk.  That has made the role change a lot really.  The role used to be to motivate your artist and motivate the label and that was an important thing and now you have to do what the labels used to do and you have to be an all-encompassing person so instead of going to the label and saying what do you think on the marketing campaign you’re now involved in that sort of thing.

D.B.  Looking after the band, the tours, the releases are the same.  However as technology develops the change has been in online activity, social networks and how music is accessed and consumed.  There has been changes in how much labels have become involved in all aspects of a bands career.  They will only get involved if a band signs a 360 deal.  They are much more cautious now about signing and working with bands.


Q: Is now a good time to be a manager?

B.C.  Sort of.  It’s exciting but it’s difficult to make any money and that’s the big issue. Unless you’re bankrolled by a big company or you have a huge act that can let you take on a few other things and develop them at the same time then it’s becoming increasingly more difficult. That’s one of the reasons  I wanted to get involved on the El Jam project as I thought there are good bands out there that don’t have the access to the knowledge and the wherewithal about developing as a band. For example, it’s surprising how many bands playing gigs don’t have a website or don’t have a logo and are giving away music at venues and not thinking about the future and it seems fundamental advise that needs to be given and that can set bands back.  If they get an opportunity and they’re not ready  it can set them back and that is really damaging for bands.

D.B.  It’s always a good time to be a manager.  It’s always going to be a tough job and a thankless job.  There are a lot of opportunities out there it just depends about how you want to make a difference in relation to the band you want to work with.

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