A letter from a seasoned agent to a prospective agent:
After 47 years of being an agent and manager in the music industry I have learned quite a bit and often by having to make my own mistakes (sometimes over and over again)
So, I would like to share the knowledge I have gained from my own pitfalls in order to help you avoid them… or at least not be surprised when you encounter them. I am known for being long winded (to put it mildly) and I vow to do my best to keep that to a minimum here.
What does it take/mean to be a good agent or manager? [Part 1]
Above all one must have a deep passion for what you are doing and an unwavering belief in yourself. You must also prepare yourself for more rejection than you could ever possibly imagine. You will hear dozens of nos for every yes you get. This can be quite difficult, even after you’ve done it for many years. Some no’s will still take you by surprise and knock the wind out of your sails, decades into your career. The key is to not take it personally, it really isn’t about you and those yes’s will totally be worth all the closed doors.
An independent agent with no experience may end up doing a ton of work for very little money, that is in no way consistent. We work for a commission basically, when we book dates, we make money… When we don’t, we starve. Your own talent may not be able to keep slow months above water… The industry has waves all of its own accord.
Be prepared that that instability may have an affect on your personal relationships. Not everyone is going to be suited to take this journey with you. Some will leave. The lack of consistent and stable future income can be too difficult for some people to bear. It can be a feast or famine kind of life and the famine part sucks. In 1980, my first wife was living off of saltines and peanut butter… this was all far too much for her to hold on to (or not enough), but all three of us found our way. (said daughter is editing this blog… so I imagine saltines have more nutrition than one would imagine!) It will break your heart to let them go, but they need what supports their passions and sense of safety too.
Not only will your romantic encounters possibly be made difficult by this teeter totter of riches, but your artists will come and go and will break your heart just as much. One of the most ironic things you will learn is: the better you do your job, the sooner your artists will outgrow your capacity.
Why? Because the minute you start drawing 1,000 people per night in multiple markets, or you happen to chart, or get that coveted record deal that you just negotiated, people will start hearing about them and will come calling. This industry, like Hollywood is full of sharks. Sharks way bigger and with deeper pockets than your own. (yes, my sharks come with pockets) To behave in the best interests of your clients you can’t even imagine fighting the shark… that’s all about your own ego and not putting your client’s needs first. (That doesn’t make it hurt any less though) If major agencies and managers and labels come calling you will take a deep breath, smile, shake hands and send your artists off with well wishes… despite every absolute inclination to the contrary. Many times when you get a record deal, the label will tell the artist that they need a bigger agent or bigger manager. They will introduce you to Mister So and So… and *poof* off they go into the sunset of celebrity.
This is all the more difficult because you don’t represent people that you are not passionate about. You become very close to your artists, you love and respect them as people, and you love their music. It hurts like hell to lose them, but you can’t tell them that of course. Just like a love affair when your partner lands their dream job or attains something they have desired for ages, you can’t stand in the way of their growth either. It is unlike most professions in how close you become with your client’s. You’ve been parenting their growth. But like a good parent, you have to push them out of the nest too.
Sometimes you make a mistake of judgement and it costs you. Occasionally, someone sells them a line of bullshit, they buy it, and there is nothing you can do about it. Other times it just doesn’t work. You do your best, but you just can’t move the ball across the goal line. Sometimes it is just not meant to be. It is no one's fault, everyone gave their all, but it just did not happen. Sometimes you agree to disagree or you just don't see eye to eye on direction, or their business acumen. Despite this, you will always love and respect their art and their craft.
Being an agent is like dating and being a manager is more like being married. They can both be very intimate, but the managerial relationship is more so because your decisions have bigger consequences. When in a manager role you have more responsibility. You may be holding all the money, and a Power of Attorney, and all their contracts. They have to really and truly trust in you… an unethical manager could cause devastation. Your choices have serious consequences that can seriously harm other people’s lives.
With that said, being an agent is also quite an intimate relationship. You may represent someone for 15, 20, 40 years! It still requires the same level of trust, dedication, respect, and friendship.
When working as an agent with my European artists, I sponsor their work visas, assist with their tax waivers, help to secure their backline, crew, hotels, and transportation. I have several artists whose money all comes to me, only because they can’t have a US bank accounts and don’t want to be traveling around the US with large sums of cash. I provide them a place to deposit their money, pay all their bills and wire them the balance.
On a club level the artists are paid in cash, but when you start playing theaters and performing arts centers many are city or foundation owned and they pay by check. Giving a band from England a $20K check does not do them any good when they try to pay any bills while on the road. Wiring it directly to the band does not work either as the only one who makes money on that is the bank. You can lose tons with international wire transfer fees and currency conversion fees.
So you will have to accept that your biggest successes will sometimes cost you and your children will leave the nest. Your biggest success can sometimes be your biggest heartbreak and it will scar you emotionally.
It is imperative to take pride in the fact that it was your passion, hard work, planning, and determination that got the band to the point where some larger agency wanted to take them. And really, that is a win.
Sometimes the move works, many times it does not because you have just destroyed the team that had built the passion and momentum and traded it for someone who has no idea who the band is, how they work, and they are involved because someone invited them to the party and gave them a chance to make some money, but they have no skin in the game, and no history with the band. The artist goes from being on act on a small roster, and perhaps the biggest artist on the roster, to being one of a hundred or hundreds, and you mean nothing in comparison to the roster that actually makes them money. So you go from being a bigger fish in a smaller pond to a minnow in an ocean
With all this said, since I’ve continued to do this for 47 years it may help to end with a little more hopeful perspective. I am an eternal optimist or I would not do what I do. I don’t want to sound like a negative nelly as I am not. I’m an eternal optimist who has received some really low blows. Let me say a few things:
I’m trying to be real and to be honest, to prepare you for what can happen. All of the struggles I encountered are not guaranteed to happen to you, however, I prefer you to go into your career with your eyes wide open for what can lay around the corner and not be shocked if it does. There are a lot of things that you can not control that will come into play, and there is not much you can do about it.
Ultimately you have to believe in yourself and the people you represent.
They may change, but you are what you are.
I will also say that the good outweighs all of the obstacles you may encounter along the way.
There is nothing like the feeling you get standing on stage with your artist as they play in front of thousands of people receiving the love you have always felt they deserved. It is a little taste of what your artist feels like on stage. There is no greater high and musicians are one of the few artists who actually get to experience the response to their art from their fans in real time. A painter or movie director does not unless they are present at the exhibit or movie, a writer rarely will unless they are at a reading., so it is a unique experience.
As the lyrics in one of my own originals says.
“The people come and the people go but the dream remains the same. Am I just a crazy fool for wanting to play the game, or am as the people say, Just Completely Insane”?
Me and Danny Johnson at NAMM in early 2020 (Pre-Covid)
Me and The Richrath Project 3:13 2021
Me and The Original Kiss Army circa 2012
Me and Dave Moody from Hairball circa 2021