Demystifying the Business of Jazz

By: Laura Hartmann

I am delighted to have as guest blogger this week the widely respected and admired founder of LVanHart Artist Productions, Laura Hartmann. This is the first Ask Edna post that addresses jazz, and it couldn’t be in better hands. — EL

This summer, while having lunch together, my friend and colleague Edna Landau and I entered into a discussion about the differences between management practices in the classical and jazz worlds.  Afterwards, she asked if I would write a piece on this topic for “Ask Edna.”  What an honor!  So, here you go:

In thinking about how to approach this subject, I remembered a panel that I put together for Arts Presenters in the late ‘90’s called “Demystifying the Business of Jazz.” In the audience that day were artists who wanted to know how to approach the whole concept of finding help with their careers.  They were stumped as to how to navigate among the different people who are involved in a jazz artists’ life.  It can be daunting, but the key to demystifying the process is to understand what roles we each play.

In the classical world, companies like Alliance Artists, CAMI, IMG, or Barrett/Vantage Artists are ‘one-stop shopping.’  They provide management services as well as booking services, and they even have publicity and travel or operations departments. Artists may not need to hire anyone else to help them with their careers and get them work. However, in the jazz world, a given artist may have a manager, a booking agent, a publicist, or any number of people who may work out of separate offices.  The size of the team, of course, depends on the level of the artist. So, let’s examine the different roles and define each one.

The manager is the person who is responsible for guiding the artist’s career (the captain of the ship, as I like to think of it). They would include Karen Kennedy at 24/7 Artist Management, Gail Boyd Artist Management, Louise Holland of Vision Arts Management, and myself, LVanHart Artist Productions. The manager may also advance concerts and tours (including planning flights, booking hotels, ground transportation, hiring sidemen, budgeting, making sure the artist’s technical needs are met by each venue), assist with business, help in developing promotional materials, and guide the artist in finding a booking agent, a publicist, an accountant, or a record label. For providing these services, a manager would typically ask for a commission of 10-20%, depending on what the artist requires. Some managers are also asking for a small monthly fee to cover administrative duties that do not generate income, yet are necessary to care for the artist.

The booking agent books engagements for the artist, without necessarily providing guidance for career advancement. (In many states a booking agency must have a license because it is viewed as an employment agency.)  Examples of jazz agents would be Myles Weinstein at Unlimited Myles, Ted Kurland & Associates, IMN, Michael Kline Artists, and Ed Keane & Associates.  A booking agent generally charges 10-15%.

A publicist’s job is to generate and manage publicity for their artist, gaining attention in the press for their concerts, recordings, and any noteworthy developments, such as prizes and special projects. Some of the publicists in jazz are Seth Cohen PR, Don Lucoff at DL Media, Jim Eigo at Jazz Promo Services, and Michael Bloom Media Relations. Publicists are usually hired on a project basis, for example to promote a CD release or a specific tour. The fee is likely to be based on the duration of the campaign or the number of cities in a given tour. The publicist might also be hired on a monthly basis to help the manager paint the ‘big picture,’ beyond a single event.  Fees for publicists vary widely and really depend upon what the artist wants him/her to do.  Monthly fees can range from $400 to over $3000.

As you search for someone to help you with your career, it is very important that you understand the difference between the artist manager and the booking agent.  The classic mistake an artist makes is to go to a manager and think that they will book them a whole bunch of gigs.  Booking concerts is NOT their primary function.  If you have all of your business together, have a clear idea of how you want to grow your career and how to make it happen, you would just want to seek out a booking agent.  There are artists that do that very successfully.  Bill Charlap is one.  He is booked by Ted Kurland’s office, but doesn’t have a manager.  He has done an impressive job of furthering his career and he really knows how to take care of business!

But if you are like most artists, you want help with your career. You want help in making it grow, or you want to have someone to take care of business so you have more time to practice or write music. A manager is really what you are seeking. When my client Steve Wilson came to me almost 16 years ago, he was working in the bands of Dave Holland, Chick Corea and many others.  Yet Steve was anxious to lead his own ensembles.  That was a priority for him in taking his career to the next level.  Over the years I have helped him bring his quartet to Europe and have made introductions that led to dates in larger and more prestigious venues. We have also worked together to develop his creative ideas. A project with string quartet, featuring music from Charlie Parker’s ‘Bird with Strings’, began as a residency in colleges and has expanded into a program including a chamber orchestra and newly commissioned works, at venues such as The Kennedy Center and the Detroit Jazz Festival.

Now, as with all things, there are gray areas. Myles Weinstein is a booking agent for some artists who have managers, and others who don’t.  He finds that with the clients who don’t have management, he does have to step in from time to time to help with travel and advancing their dates, or even give general guidance. His primary focus, however, is on booking concerts, not guiding his clients’ careers. Karen Kennedy is a manager, all of whose clients are currently with booking agencies; but if she signs an artist who doesn’t have an agent — an up-and-coming artist perhaps — she will book gigs to get them going. Clearly, nothing is black and white, but if you keep the above guidelines in mind as you search for partners in your career, you will maximize your chances for finding the right team.

To ask a question, please write Ask Edna.

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