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Music City

How has the role of managers and management companies changed over the past few years?

Clint Higham
Morris Higham Management
(Kenny Chesney, Jake Owen, Martina McBride)

The power has really shifted, and we’ve had to take on additional staff to handle more of the artist-development duties. In the last six years, I’d say it’s doubled. And now, we’re having to keep in touch with the songwriters, the publishers—even trying to find the artists early and grow them from here. It is used to be 80-90% of the acts came to managers out of relationships with the labels. Now we’re the ones finding the talent and trying to develop them—through getting them out on the road, building their socials, helping get the music right, even getting it on the radio. Old Dominion had two charted singles before a label ever decided to get into business with them.

You also need to have resources. With Jake Owen on the CMT Awards last month, he needed a big-boy performance, and we were willing to partner with the label to make sure it happened. You have to be sure your artist is willing to really do the work if you’re going to manage like we do, but there’s a huge difference between momentum and a career—and that’s what we’re in the business of building. Fortunately, the live aspect’s never been better. There are more opportunities for acts at every level—43 new festivals in the last 24 months, and they need talent. So that helps, but it also takes money to do all this.

Ken Levitan 
Vector Management
(Kings Of Leon, Trace Adkins, Emmylou Harris, Rodney Crowell, Drake White)

You have to be better prepared with your artist, especially young artists, because radio is only going to give you so many shots. You need to have so many things in order; we have as many departments as labels do—maybe more.

There used to be a lot of smaller managers, but now there’s a lot of bigger companies because of what you have to put into an act. Radio is the most important thing, so you want to work in tandem with them. But now there’s the press, TV, social media, SiriusXM, Apple, Spotify and so many more places.

You have to understand what the labels are going through, the way their bottom lines are changing. Because of 360 deals, too, artists’ costs are tighter, so you have to watch everything and still be creative, but it’s also wide open. I like it better. I think it’s like the Wild West out there—and there’s a lot of opportunity to rewrite the rules.

Bernie Cahill
(Zac Brown Band, Dwight Yoakam)

Basically, more responsibility than ever is on the managers and less on the labels. Being an expert in touring, sponsorship, publishing and releasing records is not nearly enough—today, managers are expected to have a nuanced understanding of branding, business affairs, public relations, film/TV, festival production, ticketing, licensing, merchandising and 501(c)3s at the minimum. It’s also imperative that we fully understand and navigate the ever-evolving digital landscape not only from the artists’ owned properties POV, but also from the various platforms we need to service and monetize. By the way, this is an almost impossible task without a fulltime team in-house (we acquired Girlilla Digital Marketing in 2009) or a retainer-based firm that can keep your clients current as to both best practices and best-in-class partners. Lastly, the manager’s role today must be informed by a worldview—we don’t even think about a tour or a release without a global strategy in place. We may be in Nashville, but we are also thinking about Glastonbury.

Rich Egan
Hard 8
(Brantley Gilbert, Breaking Benjamin)

I can’t speak to how it has changed in Nashville; I’ve only been here five years. What I do know is that we continue to manage the way we always have, whether it’s a country act like Brantley Gilbert, a rock act like Breaking Benjamin or an alternative act like Dashboard Confessional. We put our artists first and try to continually build their careers the way they want them built and at a pace they are comfortable with. We have been extremely lucky to work with people like Scott Borchetta on Brantley, or Ken Bunt on Breaking Benjamin, who understand that they’re not dealing with cookie-cutter artists, and they lead their respective teams accordingly. It’s our job to make sure that everyone is pulling from the same side of the rope—labels, promoters, publicist, radio and everyone else that is so integral to an artist’s success. We’re very upfront about our goals and intentions for each project. We don’t promise what we can’t deliver, because when it is all said and done, we have to answer to our artists first and foremost.

Daniel Miller
Red Light Management/fusion music
(Lady Antebellum, Ryan Kinder)

As the artists’ advocate, we are faced with more opportunities and challenges than ever. To be effective, we have to take a more active role in every aspect of their careers. Of course, that means we have to educate ourselves and our teams, hire more specialists and remain competitive with decreasing promotional budgets.

Haley McLemore
Red Light Management
(Lee Brice, Tyler Farr, Maddie & Tae)

More than ever, we’re finding we have to be full-service—locating revenue streams, overseeing production costs, etc. We can’t rely on record companies to run records up the chart, then sell them. So now we’re building the bridges to the fans, defining the messaging. We’re doing social media, finding sponsorships, creating marketing plans and opportunities. Every day is different. If you’re a team player, you find open arms at the labels because they have so much on their plates. Access to the artist in country music is key, and we work to provide a lot of that, and to provide insight into who the artist is, what their music is about. And every artist is very different, so it’s about recognizing and honoring that. If you’re doing right by your artist, especially for the long haul, you’ve got it. We try to make the right decisions for the right reasons, not just based on the money—because you can’t put a price on getting it right.

Brad Belanger
(Sam Hunt)

Although I’m relatively new to the management world, I’ve been in the game and around the success stories enough to know that the biggest shift has been in the idea of marketing/brand development.  Managers not only “manage” the overall career, but it’s imperative that they also oversee and protect the integrity of the brand.  We coordinate with the label and publicists to make sure a very well-defined image/brand is connecting with the audience. 


John Peets
Q Prime
(Eric Church The Black Keys)

It seems to me that the mechanisms for music consumption are changing so quickly that we are all learning about new ways of exposing and monetizing music together. With all this innovation, many people are coming directly to the manager to pitch their ideas and viewpoints. It feels like the field is leveling. It’s causing more business discussions between the manager and label as to what are the healthiest choices to move our industry forward. Though I don’t feel like we’ve figured it out, I feel reasonably confident that it’s no longer a one-way discussion, and I’m hopeful that with the artists’ voices more strongly in the mix, the eventual results will be better.

Shawn McSpadden
Red Light Management
(Kip Moore, Clare Dunn)

As the record business has changed to more of a single-download and streaming revenue model, managers and management companies have had to adapt as well. With the changes in the marketplace, management companies now have people in marketing, promotion, branding and digital media to make sure that we can support our artists and can be better partners with the labels.  With technology and so many nontraditional ways for people to hear and discover music these days, managers are thinking outside the box more and more about how we get to the people who want to listen and buy music. Five or 10 years ago, all the resources were only with the label. Today it really is a team effort with all our partners to get the artist seen and the music heard.