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How Do You Manage: Secrets From a Seasoned Band Manager

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Photo by Trudi Knight Gav McCaughey on the right

With the industry trending toward indie artists and the DIY model, it’s hard to know when going totally alone is best and when it’s time to bring on a professional. You may not want the label, for example, but what about the manager?

We’ve asked top-notch artist manager Gav McCaughey to field some of our questions and reveal the secrets of managing a band. McCaughey is the manager behind Ginger Wildheart, the power rocker from the UK who has already shot past 500 percent in one of the most successful Pledge campaigns we’ve ever seen.

So, whether you’re a manager or an indie band functioning as your own management, you definitely don’t want to miss what this industry pro has to say.

What informs the vision you have for the artists you manage?

I think coming from an independent, DIY background has certainly helped mould my own management style. I’m very much hands-on. In the case of Ginger, who is a fiercely independent and creative artist, a similar outlook helped us to form a strong partnership fortified by a shared desire to pursue ambitious and often risky ideas with no fear. For me, it’s that partnership and trust between a manager and artist, combined with a very positive attitude and a strong work ethic on both sides, that really makes things happen.

What is the single biggest mistake you see artists making right now and how do you think it can be remedied?

I think many artists get too focused on trying to follow the latest trends and spend too much time trying to fit into a certain niche or style they believe will make them marketable or signable. They are looking backwards whilst running after a dying business model. The solution is simple: Rather than try and fit in with what is allegedly best for business, communicate to your fans directly and let them tell you what they want.

When we approached distributers and labels for an advance that would allow Ginger to move forward with the triple album, we were essentially laughed out the door. They didn’t see it as a financially viable option. They were dictating what they thought fans did or didn’t want. The PledgeMusic campaign enabled us to ask the fans directly. In doing so, we had our answer within the first six hours of the campaign -- we had beaten our target.

People love music, they love great bands and they love a great story. The industry is very different than it used to be but in many ways is stacked more in the artist’s favour than ever before. With such a direct line into fans, an artist has complete creative freedom to explore, and at the same time fans also have complete control as to which projects they want to see come into fruition. Its an ideal scenario for both parties.

Through Ginger Wildheart’s campaign, your camp did an incredible job keeping Pledgers informed. Why is this important to you?

We really wanted fans to embrace what we were doing and to give them a new unique experience … After the first video update was posted, it quickly became apparent that fans were eager to be involved and to get a glimpse into a world that normally is very private. That process is unique to every project. The frequent, sometimes daily, videos we produced allowed the fans to follow the journey intimately.

We could showcase some the band’s more “candid” moments in the studio as well as introduce the band as a veritable cast of characters, each playing a unique part in the recording process … Many people have said that the updates and videos have been worth the price alone, and the finished CD will now be the icing on the cake. For me, that shows that we are are doing something right.

It’s also important to have transparent and open communication regarding the schedule of events, so [fans] know exactly when music and product is due for delivery. Information is important, and the more you give them the better.

How have you seen fans respond to that relationship?

The fan response has been incredible. This whole process has added so much excitement and anticipation for this album release, which is something that has been lacking in the music industry in recent years. They are excited to be part of something that is new and different, and we hope this album will have a special place in people’s collections because of their involvement in the journey.

As the music industry has changed, how have you seen the role of a band or artist manager changing as well?

A manager’s role is a lot more hands-on than it used to be, which I think also applies to bands. Bands and managers have needed to become far more proactive in recent years than ever before.

Are there times, in your opinion, when an artist doesn’t yet need a manager? If so, what can they do to most effectively act as their own management?

There should be no immediate rush to get a manager, an agent or a label. Every new band needs to find their own identity, write their songs and practice. A new band doesn’t need a manager to do those things, and it is helpful for a band to be proactive and involved in their own Internet presence. A fan’s emotional investment is in you -- not your manager. Any manager is more likely to notice a band that has great songs, a great live show and who is on top of their Internet presence.

What advice do you have for artists and bands who are in the process of choosing a manager? What should they look for or run from?

They should find someone who is as enthusiastic about the band as they are, as no amount of money can buy enthusiasm. If you need to convince someone to be enthusiastic and proactive, it is probably a business relationship you won’t get a lot out of. As a new band, you need someone who sees the potential in what you do and will stick with you through the leaner times to see that potential flourish.

Ginger Wildheart’s campaign has passed 500 percent. What’s your strategy that has obviously worked so well there?

It was about going back to basics and making the fans -- the people who buy your records and come to your shows -- feel valued. This industry should always have been about that, but the bigger any organisation or band gets, people get replaced with numbers. It’s easy to become jaded from a business perspective when all you look at are falling sales figures and various industry stories of doom and gloom.

However, if you remove the figures for a moment and put together something that you, as a fan, would love to be a part of, then you are starting off on the right foot. If the fans love it, they will join the process. Their overwhelming enthusiasm and support is ultimately what has allowed us to take a crazy idea and make it into a huge success. It was never money-driven. It was fan-driven, and they drive everything we do.

What would you say your top three priorities are when helping an artist develop and maintain their career?

Rehearse. The importance of honing your craft can never be underestimated. There are so many bands that rush to play live and record. It really is a false economy. You only get one chance to make a first impression, so make sure it’s one people won’t forget in a hurry. No amount of tweeting and Facebooking will make up for your band’s miserable live performance!

Connection. Bands need to connect with their fans in a live environment and continue that connection though an online presence and, ultimately, through the songs they write. If they can’t connect with fans on those basic levels then it will be impossible to build or maintain any kind of career.

Planning. It’s vital everyone knows exactly where you’re going in order to move forward and progress. Its good for both band morale and business. Schedules are always adaptable over time, but if you start out with no direction and no goals, the chances are you will become disillusioned and remain exactly where you are.

Anything else you’d like to add about either this campaign or the industry as a whole?

Ginger Wildheart’s campaign has been an amazing experience, and we’re very excited about the future. PledgeMusic has enabled us to give fans a very personal and special experience, which in turn has given artists like Ginger a brand new way to create music going forward.

It’s sustainable, it’s fan-friendly and, ultimately, everybody wins -- 2012 is a very exciting time to be an independent artist and a music fan.

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ManagersPRO commented

Thank a lot for writing such a refreshing & inspiring article Artist Manager. It made my day! I’m grateful for your great advice. I have best artist management right now, but I wish I had read your article much sooner. I will definitely apply what I’ve learned here! Blessings & hope to see you at a future hip-hop show! Also visit @


Marc commented

Really great article, and still very relevant. I recomend a band to do some of the management themselves, especially in the beginning so they will know good management from bad. Definately engagement is the key!