For my second post in this series, I chatted with veteran Artist Manager Christine Carson to find out more about what she does on the day to day and how she got her start in the business. Christine lives in Brooklyn with her dog and cat. She is currently building an empire with Joyful Noise Recordings.
Tell me about your background and how you got your start.
I had graduated from college, was working in research at a large university, and was becoming quickly disillusioned by the academia world. I decided to take a stab at something I had always admired, and loved: music. I found an unpaid internship (fun, right?) at a management company in NYC. The internship lasted approximately one year, and in that time, I had somehow managed to squeeze interning five days per week into my schedule. I showed enough initiative for the owner to take a chance on a timid (at the time) twenty-something. Fast-forward four years, and I was lucky enough to team up with Karl Hofstetter (Indianapolis, IN) and run the Brooklyn office of Joyful Noise Recordings while managing artists on my own.
What did you learn while interning that allowed you to move into artist management?
I’m going to be completely honest: I was a child. I lacked any and all social skills. I couldn’t even answer the phone, or make a phone call, without a quavering voice and sweat pouring down my forehead. When I found myself in these common but anxiety-inducing situations, I had to learn to channel someone else, maybe the extrovert version of myself, in order to complete the task. I also learned the art of patience. Whether an artist was upset, a superior was yelling, or someone had sent a scathing email, I learned to breathe, and to think first before responding. It’s easy for egos, arrogance, and impatience to get in the way of rationality.
What does an artist manager do?
An artist manager is an auxiliary member of the band, an advocate, a business partner, and sometimes a therapist. Managers are the next closest person to the artist, so it is important to remember that the artist is essentially allowing the manager to be a part of the band. Because of this dynamic, a manager must first be an advocate for the artist. Managers must wake up in the morning and think to themselves, What can I do today to ensure I am looking out for my artists’ best interests? How can I seal that deal? Can I go to sleep tonight knowing I did my best to further my artists’ careers?
On a daily basis, a manager is acting as a "quarterback." Managers are on the front lines of all deals being made, large or small, and all tasks required to run a successful business. The day-to-day tasks can vary widely and may include booking travel for the band and crew, creating touring and recording budgets, implementing marketing plans, developing effective social media strategies for album and video releases, securing branding partnerships and endorsements, scheduling studio time, giving feedback about demos, approving music video edits, negotiating syncs, ordering merchandise, organizing street teams, and most importantly, making sure everyone is paid for their work. Honestly, the tasks can be anything at any given time...which is what makes the job so exciting!
What are some factors that determine whether or not you will manage an artist?
This is an interesting question because managers choose to work with artists for a variety of reasons. Some managers are strictly in the game for the money. It probably doesn’t matter to them if they like the artist, or if the artist is “manageable;” they are probably looking out for that million-dollar paycheck to hit their bank account. For me, it is about fostering a meaningful business relationship. If I love the music and can’t live without it, and the artist has one fan, I’ll most likely attempt to work with them. I’m looking at these factors: Do I believe in the project? Do I see the future potential? Are their songs constantly stuck in my head? It’s a bonus if the artist or band isn’t a jackass.
How do you manage an artist’s expectations of your relationship?
First, I remind myself that the artist is a human being just like I am, and we all have expectations and standards. From there, I approach conversations about desired results with logic and a realistic viewpoint. I certainly try to move mountains for the artist, and most of the time I do succeed at it; however, there is the off chance that I won’t. This is where thinking outside the box is critical. In my opinion, it’s better to set the bar a little lower. By that, I mean don’t promise the moon, and then when you can deliver something amazing, the artist is very happy! Lastly, I have to remind myself not to panic if we aren’t seeing eye-to-eye. We can talk it though, and hopefully find a middle ground.
What’s the strangest thing you’ve had to do for an artist?
The strangest thing I’ve had to do for an artist was run across Manhattan to get them a bag of cheeseburgers. I love a good cheeseburger. I understood the urgency.
What advice would you give to aspiring artist managers?
Keep moving forward. If you can't secure that dream job at that dream company, try interning for them, and making meaningful relationships. If you see an opening, go for it! The squeaky wheel gets the grease! Also, try to set up coffee meetings with anyone and everyone. It’s very important to have a strong network behind you.
How do people just breaking into artist management get an artist to take a chance on them?
Go for the small band who is gaining steam by touring constantly, packing rooms, and buzzing. It isn’t silly to dream big, though. If you think you can land Katy Perry as a newbie, go for it. Call me when you succeed so I can take you out for a drink.
What’s the best thing about your job? How about the most difficult thing?
The best part about my job is the autonomy. I'm not stuffed inside a cubicle hating my life. The most difficult part is managing the different personalities on my team. No one is going to be 100% happy all of the time, and I have to be aware of that. It’s sometimes difficult to remember that when someone isn’t happy, that doesn’t mean they hate me as a person. It’s business. Some feathers will be ruffled.
In the four years you’ve been doing this, what are some lessons you’ve learned?
I’ve learned to be patient, to ask for help, not to be a “yes man,” and to always answer an email from a stranger. It’s important to discuss ideas, learn about others viewpoints and experiences, and to let the intern or stranger ask you hundreds of questions. You never know who you’ll next boss will be, or who will bring you that GRAMMY-winning artist.
What’s something that people may not know about your job?
It never stops. Seriously. You have to be willing to marry your job, email, and smartphone. Think about that if you want a 9-to-5 lifestyle.