The role of the music manager has arguably grown over the past decade. Record labels are no longer investing as much money into artist development, and as a result, that task is falling to the musicians themselves and their managers. A good music manager can help you navigate the music business, find your voice and your niche, connect with your fans, make connections with industry professionals, and generally make things run more smoothly.
Unfortunately, an amazing manager is not always in the cards financially for musicians starting out, so here’s some great advice from artist manager Emily White. Emily is a super manager and Co-Founder at Whitesmith Entertainment, which is a full-service talent management firm based in Los Angeles and New York, spanning the music, comedy, film, TV, and sports industries. This interview originally ran on Hypebot. To see the full interview, visit hypebot.com.
What was it like starting out for you? Did you always know that you wanted to this from the beginning? If not what was the happy accident or moment of clarity that got you where you are today?
Emily White: I absolutely set out to do what I do. I studied music and business in college. I went to a school called Northeastern University in Boston. I know they’re quite a few music business programs out there now. But when I was in school in the early 2000s, there was kind of like 3 to 5 that I really narrowed in on. Doing a lot of internships while I was in school really paved the way for my career. I did about 8 internships as an undergrad all over the industry; in Boston, New York, and London. Probably most significantly I started working with the Dresden Dolls when I was in school because they were an up and coming Boston band that I was a fan of. I started as their intern, and merch girl. Then tour manager and day-to-day manager and eventually became their manager. The day that I was supposed to walk in the commencement ceremony, I was at Coachella starting a 3 continent tour with [Dresden] Dolls and Nine Inch Nails. Around that time I also worked out a deal with Madison House who became the bands management company and I tour managed the band for a couple of years from age 20 to 23. When I wasn’t on tour I worked at Madison House. So Madison House is really where I learned my management skills and I was really lucky to work for Mike Luba and Kevin Morris, who are really wonderful music loving people. Whether they realize it or not, they really built businesses around the artists, and that was always their strategy, kind of not relying on outside partners. Madison House had an in-house label, and publicists and travel agency and merch company and PR firm and all these things. So that was the kind of mindset I came from, and I definitely apply those tactics on just about everything I’ve done since.
Vincent: How have you found that technology and the internet has improved music business for you personally? How about everybody else? Also, what is your favorite digital resource?
Emily: Technology and the music business has extremely benefited me both personally as I fan and absolutely professionally because it really allowed artists to be able to make world class recordings from their bedroom, and also eliminated the gatekeepers of distribution. So for 40 or 50 bucks an artist can distribute their music worldwide on TuneCore, and be on every iTunes, Amazon, and Spotify, and Rdio, and Rhapsody store and platform in the world. What it did is it leveled the playing field for artists, which is awesome, because they didn’t have to sit around and wait for someone to pay for a recording studio and then manufacture plastic CDs, and get their music out to everyone. So for me it’s been very exciting. I’ve always really understood the internet and technology. I love Rdio, Spotify and all the streaming platforms because this is what I wanted to happen when Napster existed. I remember being a teenager in the 90s and in my head I was like ‘I’d pay $15, $20, $25’ [for a streaming music service]. I thought I’d pay $50 a month for the service. So it only took the music industry 15 years to get it together, and offer a legal, viable alternative to Napster, but I think that’s really cool. However, there are obviously plenty of people that made a lot of money back in the day, and they’re not all necessarily evil… that are griping that their income has gone down. That’s something that really hit home for me at MIDEM one year. Because where I see nothing but opportunity in the new music business, and my young bands who are making money, and any sort of income are really excited because they are making a living playing music, they don’t have anything to compare it to. If you are the heirs of famous songwriters, and have multiple homes to keep up. Suddenly those revenue streams do go down. I know that sounds ridiculous, but if you are a person, that’s your experience. That’s your perspective. I know for a lot of people their incomes have changed, but ultimately I think technology has just been great for the music business. Like I said it is made in a level playing field for artists, which means hopefully the best art really wins. I think it’s also weeded out industry people that weren’t in it for the right reasons.
Vincent: When artists are just starting out, do you happen to have a best strategy for getting content, be-it songs, videos, or memes to blogs and social mavens? So in other words what are your methods for forming relationships with these people to break the “stone wall” of silence and to get them to actually react to you?
Emily: I love starting from scratch, because when that’s the case I’m not cleaning up messes and you can just be really organized from day one. So we start with the fans. A lot of times you can ask artists to add email addresses of their friends and family members. I looked after a 6-piece band once. When they all did that, there were 700 people on their email list from the get-go. So that’s pretty powerful. I’m kind of a spaz who likes to know everything that’s going on. I’m really aware of pretty much every email address that is added. What we do is start building out, just a Google spreadsheet called Fancy Friends, and in that we put tastemakers and industry people and things like that. You can also grab those email addresses and see those people based on who is tweeting at, or about the artist through their Google alerts, because if they are blogger. When we get our first piece of press, even if it’s just a local piece of press, it’s so easy to look at that article and grab that journalist’s email address. So the artists/me can contact them directly in the future. If you’re not able to, or don’t want to hire a publicist. You kind of build out your own roller deck and make it really targeted. Which can also be the case if, maybe you did just come up with a video or something, I mean a video is kind of a big deal, but you just have something simple that you want to spread the word on. It might not be like an album, or a big campaign or whatever, that way you have a list of 3, 4, and 500. Hopefully 1,000 tastemaker type of people that you’ve built up over years. So those are the kinds of tools we do from day one, whether it’s a new artist or someone established we’ve taken on.
Vincent: When you’re talking about bands/songwriters relying on the getting the publishing, do you have recommendations for songwriters who are just getting going, trying to get their songs… or that might already have great songs recorded, but want to get them to the music supervisors, so that they actually hear the music when their ears are bleeding?
Emily: Sure. I’m about to write an article on this because I’m very methodical about it. I think when you’re first starting out, don’t be afraid to work with kind of like a re-titling company like Music Dealers or Jingle Punks. I’ve had a lot of success with those companies in early days. Sometimes industry people just gasp at how big a cut those companies take on top of the fact that they are re-titling. But it can be a really good foot in the door. What you need to remember is that even though they’re taking a 50% commission, I can see it in backend in royalties and hundreds of thousands of dollars through the artist’s PRO. You know when a proper sync is landed. I’ve also had every publisher in the industry calling me after that happens. So I don’t think an artist should really be above that, even though it’s not the best deal out of the gate. The real key there is finding humans at those companies. So not just being their system, not being annoying obviously, but really having a relationship with your rep. If you are lucky enough to live in one of the cities where they have offices, maybe playing parties at their offices and showcases. And even writing and recording when they have specific briefs come in. So that’s a great way to start to establish an initial relationship for yourself. At the same time I would definitely send your music, if you really think it’s ready to go and it’s the best it will ever be, send it to a Terror Bird music and Zync and Lip-Sync. Those companies are really great, because they are so selective. They totally know what they’re doing. They also don’t take any ownership. So that’s really nice. So if they’ll take your music on, that’s awesome.