Founder's Comment: Seth Kallen in the Forbes Interview about Artist Management

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This article is a comment of tamanguu co-founder Johannes Ripken on the following article: “How to manage Pop Stars like X Ambassadors” with artist manager Seth Kallen

A few days ago, I read this interesting interview by the Forbes editor Danny Ross and directly had some thoughts on this, which I want to share with you as “Lesson learned” for artist management. Seth Kallen is a successful and experienced New York-based artist manager.

I draw the essence from the interview below and supplement it with technical background knowledge, but I also recommend to read the entire interview as this is very interesting.

The role of the manager

In the beginning of the interview, Seth describes the role of the manager with a bunch of metaphors and sentences:

“A manager is captain of the ship, general of the army, (…) you’re the closest person to the artist and the music. It’s the most intimate relationship in the industry. I know about their hopes, their hang-ups, their families and financial struggles. The manager is the central point for everything having to do with short-term and long-term goals. You’re the mouthpiece for that artist to the industry, and of course, you’re the therapist for the artist as well. (…) you’re trying to assemble a team that can help move their career forward. I work for the artist, they do not work for me.”

The last quote “I work for the artist, they do not work for me” is crucial for the long-term artist development. The artist’s identity must guide the ship and the crew (to use the metaphor of Seth). Otherwise, the ship won’t run smoothly and not long-lasting due to the lack of authenticity and passion of the artist. If you as a manager are not able to be passionate or enthusiastic about your artist’s identity, you are the wrong manager for this artist.

Passion and sympathy for the artist and his music

“I’m a fan! People laugh at me sometimes because I’m usually in the front row singing along.” “The primary question I ask is, ‘Do I love this music and do I love this person?’’ I’ll listen to their music for a month straight, and if I don’t get sick of it, I’m in.” “We’re friends and we like being around each other — that’s very important to me”

Here it becomes clear how essential the emotional relationship between artist and manager is. Both on a musical level and on a personal level, similar or even identical ideas must exist. This relationship goes far beyond a purely business relationship. This is not only relevant for one’s own motivation and belief in an artist, but also to arouse enthusiasm and win over external as well as media and collaboration partners.

Continuity

“It’s a combination of putting out little fires and always making sure that we’re growing a fan base.”

Seth Kallen describes that you have to be always focused, attracting the attention of the fans and media continuously, so that the fanbase grows. That is continuity in artist management.

“We thought their new album was done, but he keeps writing better songs. Instead of going on vacation for three weeks, he told me to set up co-writes in L.A. It’s nonstop.”

Thus, it is not only the management who is continuously and actively involved in the process, but also the artist who is equally committed to living the same continuity and showing initiative.

Holistic approach to artist development and artist management

At several points in the interview, it becomes clear that Seth Kallen pursues a holistic approach to artist management.

“I tend to get really granular with Panama Wedding. I’ll put on headphones and type away: “Maybe change this lyric,” or “Speed up the song,” or “Take out the guitar.” And with X Ambassadors, we have discussions on whether to put out songs that are left-of-center, or songs that people might expect.”

Musical artist development is a very sensitive subject, since it is about the artists’ content with the highest emotional connection: music. Artist managers should consider here individually how intensively they can influence the process and also should based on their own competencies.

“I liked talking with the guys about vision, song selection, and creating a MySpace page.”

This is where the diverse, holistic job of an artist manager becomes clear. The artist’s vision is part of strategic management, song selection close to music creation, maintaining the MySpace site (back then) which today is synonymous with Spotify, Facebook, YouTube, Instagram or Twitter. The latter shows that there are nowadays more possibilities, but it has also become more complex to manage management in a truly holistic way.

“First, write music every single day while being open to criticism, learning and growing. Second, be great live. If you can sing in front of someone and turn them into a fan, you’ll get them to stream songs. And third, just be a good person.”

This last piece of advice on what artists need to bring with them is similar to the holistic qualities required for a successful artistic career and its management.

The rest of the interview is interesting, relevant and full of anecdotes about how he pushed his artists’ careers. Between the lines one can guess how much work is required to create structures and relationships when reading the interview. Without a well-established and well-maintained network of key decision-makers from media and cooperation partners as well as industry insiders, he would have been very fortunate to be heard by them. Well, luck is also part of it here and there.

Here is the link to the full interview of Forbes Magazine: “How to manage Pop Stars like X Ambassadors” with the artist manager Seth Kallen*


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