The Artist-Manager Relationship

By: Edna Landau

To ask a question, please write Ask Edna.

When I opened the Arts section of The New York Times three weeks ago, I saw an interesting article about a singer who was new to me, the South African soprano Pretty Yende. The first name certainly called attention to itself, as did the large picture of Ms. Yende, taken from her debut in Le Comte Ory at the Metropolitan Opera in January. The New York Times reported that “since Ms. Yende’s debut, her phone has been ringing with offers from agents. So far, she said, she has turned them all down.” This statement got me thinking. My first reaction was one of admiration and respect for an artist who felt she needed more time to complete every aspect of her training. (She apparently said: “This is my year to study.”) I felt it would take real courage to turn down management offers, especially if they were from well-established, reputable agencies. However, after a bit more reflection regarding this particular artist, who is already very much in the public eye and who had time to hone her craft during multiple years in the Academy at La Scala, I wondered whether she was wise to turn away management offers. The decision would seem predicated on the fear that a manager would push her too hard, too soon, but that is not what a good manager would do. A young, immensely gifted artist whose career is about to shift into high gear needs an insightful, skilled and sensitive manager at such a juncture, more than perhaps at any other time in their career.

Many people think that a manager’s role is simply to help an artist get engagements (and in a few rare cases, endorsements). That is certainly part of the picture, but an excellent manager will also do the following

1)  Consult with the artist (and possibly their teacher or mentor) about suitable repertoire at any given time. For a singer, this can be particularly critical. The manager may help the artist to resist the temptation to accept an opera role for which they are not yet ready. In the case of an instrumentalist, conductor or ensemble, the manager may have ideas about repertoire that is infrequently performed which, if it suits the artist, may help them gain attention. In all cases, the manager will attempt to find opportunities for the artist to perform new repertoire in smaller cities and venues before taking it to larger markets.

2)  Make introductions for the artist to major conductors and presenters and help them establish relationships that will become important and meaningful throughout their career. They may also have the ability to set up auditions for the artist with conductors who they think might be nurturing to them.

3)  Negotiate appropriately on behalf of the artist, based on their considerable knowledge of fees commanded by artists in different stages of their careers – something that is awkward and difficult for the artist on their own. They may also have some influence on finalizing a rehearsal schedule if it seems less than optimal for the artist.

4)  Act as an intermediary with presenters who may request additional activities beyond the performance which could place undue stress on the artist. Their objectivity can help artist and presenter arrive at a schedule that works well for both.

5)  In this time of increasingly complex media contracts and the potential for unauthorized use of an artist’s performance, steer their artist through these waters (perhaps with the help of an attorney), unless the artist prefers to totally delegate this responsibility to an attorney.

6)  Introduce the artist to public relations experts who can get the word out about important debuts and special projects, and who can help in pacing exposure for the artist, commensurate with the level and number of their engagements.

If an artist has achieved a modest amount of success but feels that they want to continue their studies or professional development for a few more years, that is not in itself a reason to turn down management. The right manager will be sympathetic to the artist’s wishes but will begin to create a buzz about them, while temporarily putting some seemingly premature high exposure dates on the back burner. If an artist is successful in building a relationship with this type of individual, it may develop into a successful partnership that could endure throughout their career.

Note: While writing this column, I learned that Pretty Yende is represented by Zemsky Green Artists Management. Nevertheless, I proceeded to post it because I felt that the topic merited attention.

To ask a question, please write Ask Edna.

© Edna Landau 2013

Comments are closed.