By Kenny Kerner
I was sitting at the computer with an empty page staring me in the face when the phone rang. It was a friend of mine in another band. He was pissed because he felt that his Personal Manager seemed a bit distant and removed. Oh, sure, the manager critiqued their songs, gave them good, sound business advice, and always acted in a professional manner, but it was the little things—the things that really bordered on being a friend to the guys, that my buddy was complaining about. And that ticked him off.
New bands need nurturing. They need to be developed, groomed, and taught right from wrong. If you think this is sounding more and more like a parent's job, you're right. But then, don't children have the same complaints about their parents? Aren't they always complaining that their parents are parents but not really friends? Sure!
The artist-manager relationship is a fragile one. It's based primarily on blind faith, trust, and lots of hard work. And even then nothing is for certain. It takes years to develop a relationship with a manager that transcends mere career goals and segues into the private lives of the artists.
Totally honest means that as a manager, you can and must tell an artist that his new song sucks—if indeed it does suck. And as the artist, you must accept that criticism and not flip out or take it as a personal insult. By doing so, you have taken the first step toward piercing each other's outer layer and have moved one step closer to touching the nerve center of the relationship.
You and your manager are together because you both feel a common bond: the music, the spirit, the attitude, and the personalities. If your manager drops the ball, understand that he is human and though he may have had a bad day, tomorrow might bring him (and therefore, you), closer to achieving your mutual goals.
Sharing common experiences between manager and artist is a surefire way to break the plane and cross from business to pleasure. If your manager is so inclined, hanging out at rehearsal sessions, recording dates, or even jumping into the van for a whistle-stop tour with the band, is likely to do the trick. But only when the timing is right.
Not every manager wants to enjoy the company of his artists after hours. Some need to clock-out at the end of the business day and put work on hold until morning. Then, there are others, who so enjoy their artists, both as creative entities and as people, that the mixture of business and pleasure goes almost unnoticed. It becomes one.
Though the other members of an artist's Pro Team may come and go (clearly, artists often change agents, business managers and attorneys as they do record companies and publishers), a Personal Manager, if the fit is right, can last a lifetime—beyond even the most spectacular career. But to fit right, like a new pair of shoes, it must be worn in good weather and bad, day in and day out. Only then can both foot and shoe grow accustomed to each other.
My pissed off friend needs to learn that this professional relationship is based on give and take. And when it is ripe, I'm betting dollars to donuts that the manager will often anticipate the band's wishes—almost telepathically. And you know what? The same is true of the artist. In time.
So how does one go about breaking through to the other side with his manager? How can you feel totally comfortable so that getting that deal or that tour or that advance is only one part of a bigger, deeper, longer-lasting, more meaningful relationship, where ideas, regardless of their immediate worth, can be shared openly without inhibitions? The answer is simple: Like a marriage, you never stop working at it.
By now, most of you probably think I've been sucking on that loco weed while writing this column. Not. This entire industry is based on relationships. But the one you develop with your Personal Manager—the person who is responsible for forging your career and hopefully, catapulting you to stardom—is perhaps the most fragile relationship of all. And, at the same time, the most important. Understanding the person that is the manager, is half the battle. The other half, of course, is his understanding of YOU!