Managing Expectations: the FUTURE [OF MUSIC MANAGEMENT] is NOW

A wise man who wears a crown – that would be Stormzy - recently said:

«My team is my everything, I’ve never been a part of something so extraordinary…I can pick up a phone to any of these guys and my wildest dreams become true. Everything I’ve done is a testament to these guys. I trust their guidance because we’re so in line, its the Merky DNA»

To these ears, it was really illuminating to hear Sophie Paluch and Ally McCrae’s fantastic How Did You Manage That? podcast, recorded backstage at the MMF and FAC’s recent Artist & Manager Awards, and the views of someone like Stormzy, who, when describing his relationship with Tobe Onwuka at absolutely nailed the special dynamic between artist and manager. Stormzy explained «[Tobe’s] my shield. He’s my man in the trenches, I think the greatest managers fight for their artist and they protect their artist – but not in a kind of corporate way… You’ve got to love your artist and believe in them wholeheartedly.

New Order echoed this when awarding Rebecca Boulton and Andy Robinson who have been managing them for 20 years since their original manager Rob Greton passed away. Stephen Morris commented «There can be few jobs in the wacky world of music as challenging as managing a band, it’s a frequently thankless task requiring the patience of a saint, a grounding in cat-herding and an encyclopedic knowledge of the 5 star reviews on trip advisor. A sense of humour is also pretty important as well as a grounding in the mysteries of gentle persuasion. Yes managing New Order is a pretty thankless task but somebody has to do it and these two people do it incredibly well.»

Artists like these are increasingly pioneering new and innovative routes to market – whether that’s, to take a few random examples, Billie Eilish, Charli XCX, AJ Tracey, Gerry Cinnamon or FKA Twigs. The role played by their business representative, their manager, is fast changing too.

They can be equal parts friend, confidante, business partner, cheerleader, investor and protector. They invest both financial and emotional capital. And the role has expanded considerably in the digital era, as managers are required to oversee and understand multiple areas of the business and, where possible, stitch them into a coherent and meaningful whole.

(This sounds much easier on paper than it is in reality!)

To better explain the role of the scenario to our industry colleagues and partners, the MMF recently resourced and published a major new report entitled Managing Expectations.

Launched at the BBC Music Introducing Live conference and based on survey responses from more than 180 individual managers, as well as a series of in-depth interviews conducted by Music Ally’s Eamonn Forde, the aim of the report was two-fold: to highlight the extended workload being shouldered by the current wave of music managers, and to identify any barriers they might be facing, and therefore holding back support to the next generation of music creators.

In detail, we examined how managers support talent development, how they are adapting to change in the recorded business, new forms of investment, demands for a diverse and expanding skills set, the challenges of mental health, and the evolving commercial models between music managers, their creative clients and their industry partners.

To keep things coherent, the report focussed predominantly on recorded music – although we are already planning follow up studies on live music, publishing, brands and other areas.

But even within these parameters, what we uncovered should, I hope, be of significant wider interest.

For a start, contrary to certain well-worn stereotypes, music management is clearly becoming a far more diverse profession. This was evident at the Artist & Manager Awards, as well as within make-up of the MMF’s membership, and confirmed by our survey findings which revealed 42% respondents identifying as female, and 20% as non-white.

Their client base is equally diverse – with 73% representing artists, 42% representing songwriters, 33% representing producers, and 17% representing DJs – and live music represents their most significant revenue stream, followed by recording/publishing advances, PRS royalties, streaming payments and PPL income.

Managers are also talented multitaskers and early-stage investors.

Alongside responsibility for their clients’ recording and publishing, a significant number oversee social media, PR and promotion, tour management, bookkeeping and even legal services.

It’s this relationship that can drive forward and sustain long term careers. Elbow frontman Guy Garvey when he received the Artists’ Artist Award in 2018 paid tribute to his manager, Phil Chadwick. «We nearly ran out of money before we finished our most successful record and the only thing that kept us in the studio working together and moving towards where we are now is Phil Chadwick’s dedication and belief in what we were doing.»

Three-quarters also said they invested their own money in their current clients’ careers, with many using personal savings.

In context of this seismic shift in responsibility and workload, it’s perhaps surprising that the model by which managers are paid hasn’t also been overhauled – with the majority still relying on commission-based earnings. With 56% of survey respondents earning less than £10,000 per annum from music management (and 21% earning nothing at all) that raises real concerns about the sustainability of emerging music management businesses – something the MMF is actively attempting to address with our Accelerator Programme.

Of course, many UK managers go on to build strong, sustainable and global businesses (25% claimed to earn more than the national average) but it’s important we can create pathways that enable a greater number to succeed. That, ultimately, is the MMF’s goal.

So, where do we go from here?

Aside from the future work streams to explore other areas of the business, and especially live music, Managing Expectations has identified five specific areas where music managers require additional support: access to finance, mental health provision, skills and training, greater transparency on income streams, and exploration of new commercial models.

Whether with our Dissecting The Digital Dollar publications, the Accelerator Programme, our Associate Partnerships or the Managers Guide To Mental Health, MMF is already active in most of these areas – however, it is on the final point, and the need for managers to break free from commission-based earnings and explore commercial models that better reflect their role, that might prove the most challenging.

However, if artists and songwriters are ripping up the manual, then it only seems natural that their managers follow suit in building new futures. I know many many MMF members are already knocking down doors and cutting innovative partnerships more in keeping with the current trend toward change and innovation. It feels inevitable that more will follow, until that door is finally broken down and new artist homes are built.

Chief Executive of the Music Managers Forum UK. Representing managers by campaigning for a fairer, more transparent music industry for artists and fans.