Scratch below the surface of almost any producer, and they’ll tell you they’d love to find The One that can propel their artistry and careers to new heights.
No, they’re not talking about songwriters, vocalists, or A&R VP’s. The human resource many producers, mixers, and engineers crave the most is a manager. And as elusive as this goal may be for many hard-working studio pros, for others having a producer manager is a reality.
Peruse a partial list of audio achievers who have managers, and you’ll see a common thread of great creativity and platinum sales. Here’s just a few: Ron Anielo, Howard Benson, Steve Booker, Michael Brauer, James Brown, Chris Carmouche, Bob Clearmountain, Chris Coady, The Dust Brothers, Stephen Hague, Nic Hard, John Hill, John Holbrook, Trevor Horn, David Kahne, Kevin Killen, Holly Knight, Ryan Leslie, Chris Lord-Alge, Tom Lord-Alge, Lawrence Manchester, Paul Northfield, Paul Oakenfold, William Orbit, Hugh Padgham, GGGarth Richardson, Andros Rodriguez, Dan Romer, Jesse Rogg, Geoff Sanoff, Elliot Scheiner, Matt Shane, Chris Shaw, Trina Shoemaker, Sly and Robbie, Randy Staub, Tony Visconti, Andy Wallace, Josh Wilbur, Alex Wong, Brad Wood, and Emily Wright.
While having a manager is no guarantee of a multi-platinum career for a producer, mixer or engineer, there’s an undeniable connection between hits and the people in the above list, all of whom employ a manager. But can a producer manager actually get more – and better-paying – projects for their clients? And how does an emerging audio pro snag one of these desirable wingmen for themselves?
The most common expectation that audio pros have for hiring a manager is that their workload will increase significantly. Most managers see that as a primary function, but also point out that their job description has many diverse aspects which go far beyond that benefit.
New York-based music industry veteran Joe D’Ambrosio started his full-service management company 10 years ago, and has grown a roster that includes Tony Visconti, Hugh Padgham, Kevin Killen, Elliot Scheiner, Joe Zook, Larry Gold, Rob Mounsey, Jay Newland, Lawrence Manchester and many more producers, mixers, arrangers, songwriters and engineers.
“A manager really does three things,” D’Ambrosio says. “33% marketing you, 33% getting you work, and 33% getting you paid. That last one is quite important: You’d be surprised how many people, big and small, don’t get paid — or get paid in an untimely fashion.”
By removing his clients from discussing finances, D’Ambrosio explains, it allows them to focus solely on their craft. “The first thing I attempt to impress on the clients I represent is, ‘If you’re going to allow me the pleasure of representing you, you cannot talk about money. If people ask you how much to mix, tell them three words: Talk to Joe. He’s there to handle the business.’”
On the “gets-you-work” tip that D’Ambrosio lists, tuned-in producer managers can be a major asset in the current climate, where the plentiful major label projects that once kept everyone busy have slowed to a relative trickle. “The whole industry is smaller and more compact,” says Alia Fahlborg, Executive VP of Nettwerk Producer Management. “It used to be that if you were a producer, you didn’t have to worry about not getting the big pop or rock record, because there was plenty to go around. The challenge now is you have far more producers and mixers competing for less work, with smaller budgets than ever before.
“I’m always on my soap box saying that the producer is the next-most important person in the industry, besides the artist themselves,” continues Fahlborg, who counts Howard Benson, Bob Clearmountain, Chris Lord-Alge, Tom Lord-Alge, Mike Shipley, and Victor Van Vugt among her 21-client roster. “The rest of us are expendable, but the producers, mixers and engineers are the ones actually making the product that everyone else is selling. So their part in this whole thing is invaluable.”
But supply is at an all-time high in proportion to projects, as noted by Sandy Roberton, who is widely regarded as a pioneering force in producer management. Currently, Roberton’s L.A.-based firm World’s End represents a long list of audio pros including Nick Launay, CJ Eiriksson, Matthew Wilder, Atticus Ross, and Peter Katis.
“At any one time, there are only a handful of producers or mixers who are in demand at that moment,” he observes. “Bearing in mind that a good producer or mixer doesn’t suddenly become a bad producer or mixer, they are simply in and out of fashion. A good manager is constantly in touch with labels, A&R, artists, and managers to keep their clients’ name in their thoughts.”
As producer managers go about their task of marketing their clients to artists, managers, and labels, they strive to articulate an audio pro’s value to an upcoming project, while making their connection to successful past projects crystal clear. In the process, managers maintain a link between their clients and the outside world.
“Hopefully they’re in the studio all the time, so while producers are trying to be creative and focus on their current project, they need someone out there promoting them,” Fahlborg says. “It may take a year for a record to get made, and it can be really difficult for them to come out of the cave and say, ‘I’m here!’ So it’s really helpful for the manager to be out there, interacting with the industry, and keeping them in the loop.”
Debbi Gibbs, who heads up Manhattan-based Just Managing, and along with Dan Backhaus represents a nine-client producer/mixer/engineer roster including James Brown, Chris Coady, Geoff Sanoff, and Matt Shane, agrees that providing a conduit to the outside world is a key function. “What a manager does,” she says, “is to make sure that everyone can find them, that the artists who work with them are kept informed and responded to in a timely manner, and that the best projects that come in are scheduled and organized in the most effective way. So producers can do more of what they want to do.”
Of course, audio pros don’t just want a nonstop stream of projects. They want projects that fit their skillset and creative outlook, and a good producer manager will keep on top of their clients’ personal evolution. “You think about the combination of projects that they’ll be doing, how those projects will use their skills, and what will be the most effective musically,” notes Gibbs. “But a record producer often sees himself going in one direction, while the artist who’s interested in them likes something they did a year or two ago. Part of my job is finding projects that are halfway between where a producer’s been and where they’re going – rather than something that’s strictly about what they did in the past.”
When Working with a Producer Manager Makes Sense
So how does a producer, mixer, or engineer know when they’re ready to take that next step, and legitimately vie for a spot on a manager’s roster?
“Essentially, if a producer has gotten to the point where they are so focused on the artists they’re working with that other projects are getting away from them, they need a manager,” Gibbs says. “There’s a lot to be said for producers taking care of themselves, so they know the logistics of the business. But once that gets in the way of them doing the best job in the studio, they’re ready for a manger — if the business is taking up their time or distracting their headspace, they should start looking.”