Why should artists look for soft skills to grow with independence in hand?
The artistic process is like photosynthesis for creatives. We absorb our surroundings: sound, space, light, whatever comes our way. In this relationship, the blooming flower is the artist, while the manager is spinning the planet and holding the sun.
In my experience, having had the privilege to meet and deal with some of the sharpest-minded managers out there, I can count on one hand the rules that represent the successful partnership between a recording artist and a manager. All four of them are soft skills you learn in the school yard rather than in the classroom: honesty, teamwork, loyalty and courage.
Honesty: Do you make art or are you an artist?
Mexico’s pop music master Luis Del Villar said at the Billboard Latin Music Week in 2018, “Not all those who make Art are Artists. The successful artist is seldom satisfied with their creative output because the journey is their identity, which is also their message.” It’s complicated when attempting to describe if the “real” artist exists or not, but the honesty it takes from both parties is the prologue of any artistic journey.
As the arbiter of their reality and their identity, your responsibility as the manager is to hash out brutally honest questions an artist cannot — for the life of them — answer. Their art is growing through them, and if you as a manager can’t see that flow, if you can’t understand that flow, it’s impossible to define it and therefore curate it for consumers.
Artists are releasing millions of pieces of content and art every day, but not all of them have a deep-rooted origin story in the mind of the artist. Ergo, not all of them have the monetizable edge that is required by an artistic asset. Honesty is key here: honesty in the recording studio, honesty during the contracts and honesty when the art just doesn’t fit. It’s only after you promote bad music that you realize there are no second chances in this industry, and reaching too far only gets you the chop.
Teamwork: Hire smarter to complete your round table.
You can be good at a few things, but specialize in only one. Find yourself other industry experts if you’re looking to expand properly, and be patient. For example, just like super-manager Matt Llewellyn from Dark Horse Management says, “The biggest misconception that emerging artists have is that success happens overnight. Artists, like most people, want immediate success and notoriety. It’s really important to set expectations for your artist.”
This business is a marathon. It does not matter how good your music is; it takes time to develop a fan base and develop relationships with the right people to gain exposure and momentum
Good managers hire; the best managers recruit. Your personal expertise — whether it be legal, accounting or just having the “ear for music” — is completely secondary to your capacity to mobilize the talent of experts. As the CEO of the artist’s image, you’re responsible for delivering every step of the way. From marketing to handling the emotional balance of the artist’s creative space.
Talking artist ROI, realize that the whole journey is a careful balancing act. Your returns come when the totality of the equation is well-oiled and aligned.
Loyalty: It’s rare. If you find it, keep it.
Relationships that are bonded by word and tested through trials are the key factor in your ability to scale. Monique Blake and Swizz Beatz, a 20-year-old relationship from kicks to camels, is a prime example of how loyalty pays off. The producer has expanded his brand every few years and now includes verticals such as fashion, art, real estate and even camel racing. Keeping up with that mogul mentality, Blake has gone from personal assistant to GM of Swizz Beatz Productions. The humility that comes with staying loyal is imperative to the long-game mentality that has an invariable advantage toward success.
Longevity in the relationship is what all managers strive for; loyalty is the glue. Your artist is going to grow through the world that you reveal to them. The artist’s capacity to reinvent their vision is dependent on your ability to navigate their emotional space and steer toward a well-founded end game. If your artist is a loose canon and you’re letting them burn their bridges, you won’t be able to salvage loyalty from the industry, because you, the manager, let that happen.
Courage: Bet big, bet bold, but follow the right beat.
Courage, the last and most important pillar in the equation, has everything to do with the manager’s capacity to recognize talent, accept their own capacities and utilize the resources around for one powerful strike. Betting on an artist is always the last step. You can have all the resources in the world, but if you can’t sign that check with confidence, then you’re just wasting your time.
Drawing from Luis Del Villar’s responses on a 2018 Billboard panel, as a super-manager, your courage should not just be mixed with foolhardiness, although some chances do work out. You cannot just release any track that comes your way as quality matters above all. This goes for your reach campaign too; as a would-be manager, you need to take chances with the bigwigs or you’ll never get out of your hood.
Honesty, teamwork, loyalty and courage — master these four soft skills and you’ll be able to take any career to the next level. The rest is just paperwork.