“Artist Development”: What it is. What it’s not… (AKA: DIY or get some help)
When I am not making my own recordings & videos or scoring television or films or playing live — I am an artist development consultant. See? :-)
Since I have consulted for years, I have noticed there’s some misconceptions on what “AD” is and what it is not. I think there’s been a story engrained into the psyches of you lost and downtrodden artists that you will have to labor like Cinderella until you meet your very own “fairy godmother” (read: music publisher, label, manager, etc.) who will make all your rock n’ roll dreams come true. Sadly kids, even if you are Taylor Swift or Ed Sheeran and you are signed to a big fat label deal, you gotta’ carry your own water and you are 100% responsible for having the fundamentals in place to be ready to capitalize on the opportunities that do show up.
What are the “fundamentals”? (deep sigh) You could read my whole series on music monetization which goes into detail on all this... But since you are a musician and historically very lazy, I guess I have to “help” you with this too…
So, here’s a ‘cheat sheet’ with some important questions:
Do you have complete metadata inputted with your finished masters? Do you have songwriter collaboration agreements with bandmates and co-writers? Do you have a publishing company set-up at ASCAP, BMI or SECSAC? Are you registered on Sound Exchange? Are your social media platforms and your website set-up and looking great? Are you SHARING on social media in such a way that will help create engagement with your music and with you? Are your videos clever, engaging and as high-quality as you can manage? (BTW, you can shoot 4K 60fps on a iPhone now) etc… This is but a few of the “fundamentals”.
To keep things simple on helping you discover what “AD” is and isn’t, I have made two lists: what it’s not & what it is…
What It’s Not:
- A pseudo-”manager”. I have far too much respect for great managers to think my work is that of a manager. However, much of the work I do could be seen to cross the line (occasionally) of being “managery” (for a limited time). I hope this experience might give artists an idea of what to expect when they do decide to sign on to a manager. The legal definition of a manager is to “advise” their clients in guiding their careers. With respect, despite the fiduciary responsibility that managers have in their work with their clients, I try to avoid advice as much as possible because there is rarely any commitment or anything at stake with advice. It is a bird’s eye view that doesn’t empower clients. It’s easy and cheap. You also have to watch how “advice” might be the manager leading an artist to make decisions for the manager’s benefit and NOT the artist’s. (read: manager commissions can poison relationships) Therefore, I work with the artist to untangle a given situation so they can make choices for themselves that work for them without the specter of my financial benefit coming into it. (BTW, these days most major artists pay their “managers” a salary and not a commission)
- A babysitter or a concierge. Here is my philosophy on “AD”: “Give a someone a fish and you feed them for a day. Teach them how to fish and you feed them for a lifetime” is a quote from the Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu, founder of Taoism. I am committed to empowering artists. That means giving them the tools so they can do it themselves. I do make connections and use my network to “help”. Ultimately, however, the artist must make these connections and do the work on their own. Watching clients rail against doing the job of metadata inputting and song registrations is humorous when they start saying: “why isn’t someone doing this for me”? The answer is: unless you are signed to a ‘big’ publishing deal — no one will do your registrations for you. Consider that the work you are resisting and complaining about is part of why your career isn’t moving in the direction you want to go in. #brutaltruth
- A garbage collector. Clients sometimes want me to clean-up the “messes” in their careers (or their families, lives, etc.). Again, my job is to empower them to be responsible for their foibles and deal with their BS. What do I mean? OK… This is a real-life example: A female client signs a horrendous deal with a male “producer” (she even paid him $10,000 to record 3 songs on top of signing over her rights to the music). In the course of hearing her story, you discover that they were sleeping together and now she wants OUT of the contract. It was literally the worst contract I have ever seen. (deep sigh) Happily, I did extricate her but this experience only solidified my feelings about what the line is when working with artists. Life is life and sh*t happens. However, part of being successful is your ability to navigate around the icebergs you create for yourself versus the ones that “pop up” (death, taxes, cancer, etc.). Artists cannot be so weak or fragile that they cannot fend for themselves inside the industry. Cultivating this weakness is how you will be rolled over by the industry like roadkill and you will find yourself bitter and without a career in music.
What it is:
- Coaching. My definition of coaching is: “I say. You do.” No questions. No complaining. No explanations about the “big picture”. The problem is that most artists are arrogant, stubborn and fearful when being told what to do. This makes “trusting” me as their coach (cough, cough) challenging. I am told often that my clients “ know” their own lives better than I do or they simply ignore what I say as a way of circumventing my coaching. Frankly, I don’t care how you feel about the coaching. I am operating inside of what we said we would accomplish before we began. I know that most of my coaching isn’t popular with my clients. That said, I believe that when coaching is followed and executed as intended that it can be the most effective aspect of what I do because new actions always lead to new and unexpected results. That’s exciting! Now, I just have to get some of my more timid artists willing to jump off that cliff when I say so. A new career on a new path awaits…
- Teaching. I spend a lot of time instructing my people on how “stuff” works in the industry — mostly copyrights and publishing. It’s amazing to me how little information on music business my clients have even after years of college or being out in the world. What’s worse is that they learned things incorrectly like SoundExchange and a Performance Rights Organization (ASCAP, SESAC, BMI) are the same thing…(really?) Teaching on top of errant information is challenging (read: very, very frustrating) but I center myself and I get grateful that I can steer these people towards the right answers. I also train people is how to share themselves, how to do interviews and what exactly they want to put in a music video. I have taught at 4 universities and teaching is a privilege in any context.
- Cheerleading. I remember when my kids were learning to walk that I cheered even when I knew they were seconds away from falling down. I cheered even louder when they picked themselves up and starting walking again. That’s what “AD” truly is… Acknowledging the new actions and the mistakes and then the glorious corrections. Success is never a straight a line. Success can be elusive so you are forced to walk a path that isn’t clear. Sometimes, it isn’t even a path… What takes most artists out of being artists is no support from their friends or families. Yes, you are paying me but I wouldn’t take you on as a client unless I was truly committed to your success. No amount of money can make someone authentically care. It sucks (for me) because I actually do care. Yes, I am nursing a colection of broken hearts from my experiences in artist development.
- Another pair of eyes. We can only see what we see from our point-of-view. Simply having someone look from another perspective can be invaluable if you are willing to accept what they see as JUST AS VALID as what you think you see. In the past, my clients have been signed to record deals, label deals, publishing deals, manager deals and more during our time together. My experience is different than theirs and I can help sort out the often confusing and overwhelming considerations and questions that arise. If nothing else, having someone on your team for these moments is crucial. One of the most important things that an artist does is create a team of people who will work with them. No one is successful alone.
So, this is a quick overview of Artist Development. If you are looking at doing “AD” with someone (even me), make sure they are vetted thoroughly. If they promise you that you’ll be “famous” because of working with them, run away. If they promise that your fundamentals will be set — keep talking… That’s the most valuable thing you can have done as an artist and its crucial to walking the long road to being artist successfully.