Loyal AOAM reader Jeremy asked me to address a topic I haven’t yet: managing the relationship with the label.
At the core, it’s a manager’s responsibility to look out for and grow the career of an artist. And it’s the label’s responsibility to create and market the artist’s records.
These two missions can be harmonious, but at times in most manager/label relationships, wind up at odds with each other.
Managers always want the most push behind their artist. Record labels need to push their priorities – the records most likely to break either because of their hit quality or the size of the artist behind them.
I believe what is great for an artist’s career will almost always be great for their records as well, especially in this digital era driven by engaged followers.
Not every record label sees it this way.
I had an experience a few years ago where a highly powerful executive refused to approve a small video content budget for an artist to support their extreme touring activity, despite the fact the artist’s 360 payments were significantly more than the amount being requested. In his own words, “The touring is your thing. We are a record label. We work the records.”
This individual’s statement implies a firm distinction in the roles a manager and record label play for an artist’s career.
However, it seems most successful artists these days have managers and record labels who are truly in it together. Then again, that is easier with success.
Check out a lecture from Sub Pop Records:
If your artist and or their record are not a priority at the label, you will feel it and it will likely affect your relationship. The challenge is knowing when their lack of prioritization is warranted and when it isn’t.
If you cry wolf how you’re not getting support, but realistically, don’t have a single breaking on streaming services or a burgeoning movement on social media, you may not be taken seriously.
When you’re not getting the love from the radio or international team, it can be beneficial to find the few people at the label who are invested in your artist and create together with them as you continue to try to motivate the promotional team. It’s always easier to make a project hot in a building when there are already a few champions.
When you are the priority and your record is breaking, you and your artist will likely get more opportunities than you can possibly take.
You will be tasked with doing several promotional activities (including shows at lower than market value), some of which may not be successful or even slightly off brand.
In the latter situation, you can try to find a way to position the opportunity to become more aligned with the artist’s brand or refrain from committing to promoting it too much (i.e. twitter instead of instagram).
If you feel strongly the proposed opportunity will not push the artist forward at all, it’s important the reason for declining it is legitimate. Even if the reason is in pursuit of the bigger picture (i.e. needing to make the next record), the radio team may not understand as their only focus is usually breaking the current record.
Promotional teams parlay one opportunity for another, so this can at times be confusing territory to navigate, especially when you need to keep the team motivated you and your artist are willing to do what it takes.
At the end of the day, there is no more effective way for an artist’s music to reach the masses than for their record to be a global priority at a major record label. If your artist is the priority, whatever you do, keep the label happy.
One question Jeremy specifically wanted to know:If 3B covers a lot of the (marketing, touring, etc) bases that your label also offers, do you just write off their teams when your plan is “better”?
I have never seen a benefit of writing off anybody’s opinion in my artist’s project, especially from a party as important as the record label. I never know where the next great idea is going to come from, so am always eager to have strategic conversations. It’s important each team member knows opportunities they provide will be taken seriously by management. Otherwise, they won’t put them forward at all.
It’s great to attract opportunities together by laying out a vision for them with each other – This process can make team members feel very engaged in the plan they helped create. This strategy works in reverse for labels as well in getting managers aligned to their vision.
If the label (or even certain individuals) have a different opinion on a key decision than the one you and your artist believe is right, you need to hear them out. Otherwise, you may never know why they see it differently. If the decision has been made, you must be firm in it. Your job is not to overturn their opinion or to “be right”, but to be clear with why you’re making the decision.
Check out a documentary on Virgin Records:
At times, this can cause friction with a label. If your artist is not the top priority at the label, staff may look for any excuse not to work your project, including that you’re not following their guidance. If the decision has already been made, stay focused on the path set forth, as well as mending the relationship with the individual over time and continue building with the label as a whole.
In situations of different viewpoints, it’s imperative to remember you will never get credit for being right if the decision turns out great. If it turns out to be wrong, you will likely bear the full weight of the decision.
In times you can’t agree, you can seek alignment so both parties can put their best foot forward together.
Two strategies which can be helpful to creating alignment –
1/ Delivering a clear north star strategy to the label which covers both the mission for the project, as well as targets and timeline.
2/ Weekly communication to the entire team.
I respect each individual’s responsibility at the label to have a complete understanding of the area of the artist’s project they are tasked to work on so they can report on it to the entire team.
While nothing can replace in-person meetings and phone calls, it’s amazing how impactful a routine weekly email (five bullet points or so) to every member of the team for priority projects in cycle can be.
It’s amazing how often information is not communicated between managers and labels or even passed onto key individuals within the label. Letting one person know about a decision may not mean the entire team is in the know. Consistent short updates can help prevent communication errors from happening.
Similar to artists allowing managers to make mistakes, I believe it’s important label personnel allow managers and artists to make mistakes and vis-versa, managers allow labels to make mistakes. Nobody can be perfect all the time. If perfection is the expectation, it’s impossible to take risks.
In my experience, record labels often operate on a one-by-one decision making process when it comes to marketing. I believe marketing budgets should be made at least quarterly, if not semi-annually, especially for projects with momentum.
Even when labels create these budgets, they usually don’t share the numbers with management. They don’t want the push back from manager’s extensive demands.
However, I believe creating alignment from the onset is a lot easier than the “start, stop” routine requiring executive input on tiny marketing decisions made one at a time. Today’s world requires a consistent flow of releases so planning content creation as far ahead in advance usually works to both team’s benefit.
Many labels still have red tape around content creation (appearance release forms, video approval, etc.). While it may sometimes be faster to operate on your own, there are benefits to bringing the label into the picture early and often, especially if the video commissioner and marketing team understand your artist’s direction. Even if they don’t, they can help you from making costly production errors, as long as they do not intercept your artist’s vision and start running it in the opposite direction. It’s worth mentioning video production rates may be cheaper if a manager reaches out and or negotiates than a major label.
As far as keeping the team engaged, consistent communication, notes of acknowledgement, building a relationship outside of work, artist swag, and treating relationships they introduce you to well are all great tactics to keep a label focused on your project.
Despite any differences you may have at times, once your artist is in a record deal, it’s imperative to keep the relationship solid whatever it takes.
Check out a documentary on the Atlantic Records label: