Indie Artist Management: Economic Realities & Insightful Strategies

Three personal managers of independent artists outline pathways for success in an increasingly competitive marketplace – a Los Angeles Music Network program, reported by Scott G (The G-Man).

“An artist’s music must be something I love,” stated Jennifer Yeko of True Talent Management. “It has to be music I want to hear in my personal life as well as when I’m working.”

This view was echoed by Ben Laski of Sonic Management, and Steve Ross of Raving Loon Management, as all three spoke on the Indie Artist Management program presented by the Los Angeles Music Network (LAMN).

“I will never work with an artist whose music I don’t love,” said Ross. “Commercial radio,” added Laski, “sucks, and so…” He waited for the applause to subside, “…and so, why would I want to work with anything other than music that means something to me?”

Each of them acknowledged the economic realities of the marketplace (“The product has to be viable at some point,” Ross pointed out), but all three were adamant that their personal reaction to an artist’s music was the primary factor in selecting them for representation. “It’s like a marriage,” said Ross, “so it’s best to make a careful choice.”

Speaking before an audience made up of equal numbers of indie managers and artists seeking information about management, Ross, Yeko and Laski provided insights into their approach to guiding recording artists to achieving commercial success as well as their maximum career potential.

Moderated by Tess Taylor, LAMN President, the event covered a lot of territory and generally moved rapidly from one topic to the next, although too much time was spent on answering repeated audience questions about California labor law dealing with booking agents.

Basically, no one may “procure employment” for a client in California unless they are a registered agent who has posted a bond and followed other formalities. Since this means that managers are putting their entire contractual relationship at risk if they book a gig for a client, there were a lot of managers in attendance who were hoping to find a loophole in the law.

Both Laski and Ross are attorneys, and Ross has obtained his agent license in order to book gigs for his clients.

During a spirited Q & A session following the formal part of the presentation, one artist asked four questions without waiting for an answer and there was a bit of fun for the rest of us as we watched the microphone being wrestled away from her. It’s nice to see passionate artists, but there is also something to be said for displaying a modicum of decorum in public.

Highlights from the presentation:

On obtaining publicity for clients:

Ross: “You do whatever you can for publicity.” He occasionally spends time in music chat rooms to see who is into which artists in local markets. “You call, write, give out 200 sampler CDs. It all builds for the future.”

Laski disagreed: “I don’t believe in artists giving out free samplers to fans. Make an EP and sell it for $5.”

Yeko: “We call music editors to get reviews and write-ups, but the main thing is to figure out your goals ahead of time. Under the right circumstances, you can’t give out too many flyers or CDs.”

Ross: “Writers across the country can be very helpful when bands come in from out of town.” He also recommends that you “get on-air appearances for your artists who are on tour. Call people, tell them why your artist will be good for their station or their club.” Taylor challenged him to give an example of how he talks to people on these calls. To much laughter, he said, “If I’m talking to a club, I always say the artist plays ‘good drinking music.'”

Laski: “There are different levels of publicity. At the start, you call reviewers. As you move up in sales, you hire a publicist to work a release or a tour, and you make certain he is in the proper genre of music. You can also call the BMI or ASCAP publicist, who can be helpful in getting contacts in the press.”

On preparing marketing plans for artists:

Yeko: “It’s helpful to list your goals, and the steps you need to take to achieve them. This is a good idea even if you don’t follow your plan exactly as it was written.”

Ross: “Unfortunately, marketing plans require marketing money.”

Laski: “Marketing plans are too time-consuming. We plan what we need to do as the need arises. Too many factors change as you go along.”

On touring:

Ross: “Outside of L.A., you can actually make some money.”

Laski: “Touring is going to be a losing proposition at the beginning of an artist’s career, unless you can get tour support from a record label.”

On making money for indie artists:

Laski: “We place songs on TV and film soundtracks. It not only makes some money for artists, it is excellent exposure.”

Yeko: “We have had great success with film and TV placement of songs, but some of our artists have developed clothing items and merchandise that actually generate more income at shows than CD sales.”

On artists looking for a magic formula for a breakthrough:

Yeko: “There is no shortcut to success other than hard work.”

Ross: “When you get those e-mails from people offering to set-up showcases, or the ones that tell you all about a great CD sampler they’re sending out, run away. These are never a good deal.”

On must-do lists for artists and managers:

Ross: “Whatever you receive from anyone, whether it’s a writer, club owner, or someone at retail, thank them!”

Yeko: “Look into the NACA, the National Association for Campus Activities at We’ve also had an artist who did an entire summer of playing shopping malls.”

Ross: “When you send CDs to radio or press, remove the shrinkwrap. And do not send a CD to radio without a proper 1-sheet.” NOTE: you can download a PDF of a proper 1-sheet here:

Oddly, the most provocative statement of the evening failed to draw any comment from the audience or the panelists. Taylor began the program with a prediction that “In the wake of industry changes such as the Sony/BMG mergerHealth Fitness Articles, indie record distribution may ultimately move from a single digit percentage to as much as 25 to 30 percent.” Perhaps this is really a prelude to the next LAMN or NARIP presentation.

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