Behind every commercially successful artist is someone you’ll never see in the spotlight — the manager. They won’t make the cover of Rolling Stone or Time Magazine. They don’t have fans asking for autographs at dinner, the paparazzi could care less, and they won’t be accepting any awards at the Grammys.
Make no mistake about it — managers are just as responsible, if not more so, for the commercial success that an artist enjoys. And the really, really good ones are rare birds indeed. I personally know only a few, and one of them is Robert Williams, manager and business partner of Larry Carlton.
I’ve personally witnessed the impact he’s had on Larry Carlton and many of his other artists’ careers. I’ve personally learned volumes about business from him — and not just the music business. I‘m proud to call him a mentor of mine — even prouder to call him a friend.
Robert’s philosophies, strategies and vision for achieving success have formed over an impressive 40+ year career working with a roster of over 700 musicians, comedians, performance groups, and touring events. He’s represented everyone from Blood Sweat and Tears, Ritchie Havens, Jay Leno, Jerry Seinfeld and Dennis Miller to the Gorky Bolshoi Drama Theater of Russia and Harry Blackstone’s Broadway Magic Show. You learn a lot about success with an experiential background like that.
“As a manager, your job is to dispel the myths and capitalize on the truths. True artists have a vision but are usually singularly focused; that’s great, and it’s a trait that’s the gift of being an artist. But in today’s entertainment world, if you don’t think outside of the box, you might as well get out of the business.”
Artists, not unlike entrepreneurs, tend to be unrealistic about how long it takes to establish yourself, hone your craft, build an audience and start ringing the register. Shows like American Idol, the X Factor and the Voice seem to foster the belief that overnight success is commonplace, and while that’s true for a very few, its clearly the proverbial ‘exception to the rule.’
“There’s no question that the core naiveté of this business is the misconception of growth time. In reality, our industry is no more or no less difficult to enter and succeed in than any other industry. Granted, there are those who may get a break and have success early on, but in those situations, the lack of knowledge and experience often has the artist ‘pay the piper’ later on.”
While the landscape of the music business has changed dramatically over the past few years, and continues to evolve, it’s really only the marketing tactics that need to be changed along with it. As will always be the case, success comes to those that work hard, stay confident, exercise patience and act professionally.
“Of course, you must always be a realist. But while being a realist, if you’re not positive, if you’re not patient, and if you don’t believe in yourself, you will not succeed. It’s just not possible.”
I asked Robert what career advice he’d give to young artists today. He generously contributed the following 10 Guiding Principles for Young Artists.
by Robert Williams
KNOW THE ARTIST YOU ARE
Know the artist you are today, and the artist you want to be tomorrow. Work relentlessly on your playing and performance skills. Hire professional guidance for your singing, playing, performance presentation — this will be the best money you’ve ever spent. Success is built on hard work, education and follow-through.
PLAY OUT AS OFTEN AS POSSIBLE
Every opportunity you get to play in front of an audience is an opportunity to work on your artistry. It’s also an opportunity to develop your fan base even if it’s one person at a time. In the beginning, it doesn’t matter how large or small the gig is, or how much or little you get paid — get out and play!
STAY CURRENT ON THE BUSINESS
The music business has changed dramatically over the past several years, and it continues to change almost weekly as it finds its footing. Stay current by reading all of the industry trades and blogs. The key word is “current” because last month’s articles are likely already out of date. Read Billboard cover-to-cover religiously to keep your fingers on the commercial pulse of the business. Know what genre your music connects with and become an expert in that genre. Stay open minded. Make informed career decisions. Don’t be a know-it-all, be a learn-it-all!
You will hear the word “no” far and away more times than you will hear the “yes’’ word. Brush it off. Stay professional. Stay positive. Keep in mind that by becoming an artist, you have started your own business, and YOU are the product. It takes time for any company to establish and then be successful with their product. Persistence, drive and positive thinking are the tools you will use to realize your dreams. Napoleon Hill said, ”What man can conceive and believe, he can achieve.” That’s pretty solid advice in my opinion.
DON’T LOOK TO THE PAST
The music business is moving and changing too fast for you to compare your path to success with the paths of current or older successful artists. The past is gone, as is the process that worked for those artists. Stay in the present and look to the future. Innovate. The past is just that…the past.
TEST MARKET YOUR MUSIC
To be commercially successful in the music business, you have to compose, record and perform music that people like. The more people that like your music, the more successful you’ll become. Ask for feedback about your music from everyone you can. Talk to your audiences, to other musicians, to professionals in the business. Put your music online, on Facebook, on YouTube, anywhere you can and ask for feedback there as well. You may not always like what you hear, but you will learn from it.
PROTECT YOUR MUSIC
If you write your own music, copyright it to protect it. Your music is your most important asset — it’s your intellectual property. Go online and check out ASCAP, BMI and SECAC. Decide which is best for you and join. Review all of the information you find there and follow their advice. If you’re unsure, consult with a good music business attorney (yes, there are many good ones out there to choose from).
PUBLISH OR PERISH
Authors publish books and musicians make albums. Composing, recording, packaging and distributing your EPs or LPs is essential — it’s what artists do. Despite what you might be hearing about the music business, artists are still selling albums. And many of them are doing so very successfully, through independent or major labels, selling direct to their fans at the merch table, from their website and from independent online music sites. There’s a lot of good advice online for how to go about the entire production process and then how to promote your albums. Publish or perish!
There are far too many very talented musicians who don’t have a clue how to behave professionally. And it’s usually these same musicians who complain about everything that’s wrong with the music business and how difficult it is to make a living. The music business is a business, just like any other business. Musicians are professionals, just like any other professional. To succeed in any business, you have to behave professionally. Be reliable, communicative, prompt, courteous and respectful – be professional.
FIND A GOOD MANAGER
The days of clueless artists and cigar-smoking managers who collect their percentage without taking an active role in their client’s career are over. Today’s artist should certainly be informed and savvy about all aspects of the music business. At the same time, artists don’t have the time, nor do they necessarily have the skill set to act on those decisions and manage their business on a day-to-day basis. A good manager behaves like a business partner. Find one that will take a personal and vested interest in your career, and be there at your side every step of the way.