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Do you need an artist manager in SL?

Probably not.

I have to make a disclaimer upfront that so far my experience with SL’s brand of artist-manager has been abysmal. So much so that I have sometimes thought of following a strict, “we don’t deal with artist managers” policy.

In RL, I quite like most people in the arts management business. Contrary to the Hollywood image of the abrasive artist manager insulting and strong-arming booking agents, most managers are essentially sales people/marketers and to market something you have to be polite and charming. All effective managers are both.

Quite a few years ago I was first hired into a position where I would be responsible for administration (and later negotiation) for all guest artist contracts for a major symphony orchestra in the USA, with an artistic season of about 150 concerts per year in a 39 week annual season. I worried that I would not be up to the task of what I expected to be hard, confrontational contract negotiations. My boss and mentor gave me a perspective that I’ve never forgotten: Artist agents and producers share the same goals–they want the artist to work in the shortterm and they want the orchestra to be here next year so the artist can perform again! Starting from this point of shared interest, the negotiations are all about finding the middle-ground that will work for both the presenter and the artist.

I remember once running into an abrasive manager in RL. A famous conductor had asked for a particular (little known) singer that he had heard on his travels. From beginning to end the singer’s agent was a difficulty. He took administrative time away from more important issues for the concert as he haggled and complained about inconsequential details for his singer client. He was rude and arrogant. The singer was talented and a rather nice young man. After the concerts were concluded, I decided to tell the singer that while I’d enjoyed his performance, his agent was difficult. He laughed and said, “That’s what agents are for?”

I replied, “Are you sure that your interests are served by an agent who has guaranteed you will never be hired here again and when my colleagues call to ask me how it was to work with you I’ll have to say that it was extremely difficult?”

He said, “oh that’s not how the business works!”

He was wrong. That’s exactly how the business works. When you are not well-known, presenters call the places you were last booked at, and the people who make the decisions about contracts do not need the hassle of your “agent from hell”. That agent/manager nearly sank the young man’s career before he wised up.

What do agents do in RL? They provide a website and promotional material for artists, advertise their roster in trade publications. They proactively promote the artist locally, nationally or internationally, as situations warrant. They negotiate sometimes complicated contractual arrangements. They assure that travel, itinerary and accommodation is taken care of, taking some responsibility for the artist’s schedule. They liase with the presenter before and during the rehearsal period. For these services, they are paid an average of a 10% fee.

In SL artists fees or tips are a token that really only serve to defray the artist’s inworld costs. There is no margin to pay a manager. There are no complicated contracts, no travel, no hotel. It is no mystery how to get in touch with presenters… you simply IM them. With no IATSE stagehands to worry about, schedules for soundchecks and concerts are flexible and adhoc arrangements are possible.

I believe the first time I ran into an artist manager in SL, it was a guy who had never worked in the music biz in RL in his life and hadn’t been in SL for long but was sure smitten with the young lady he was “representing” so his motivation for volunteering his services as manager. To prove his love he was going to slay many dragons for his lady in the form of SL concert presenters, it seemed. Music Island does more promotion of artists that perform on our series than almost anyone in SL–many do none, leaving that up to the artist. Yet I was harrangued to do more, including some promotion that was too early and in the wrong format to reach most SL concertgoers. Much of the recommendations were counter-productive. For example he wanted a stage set-up that would have increased lag for audience members. SL is very last minute, while events need to be scheduled 1 to 2 months in advance, promotion needs to be focused in the last week before the concert. This new manager wanted early “press releases” sent out more than a month before the concert. Most attendance at concerts come from inworld group announcements, not SL or RL press mention. (and recently Twitter has become a large vector of concert promotion).

Another memorable time, I ran into an artist manager who seemed most interested in self promotion. He wanted to control all aspects of the performance and expected me to post a notice for the concert that advertised it not as a concert on our series but a concert on his series. He gave me a pre-fabricated poster with his organization’s logo on it. Apart from the fact that the logo stupidly obscured one of the performer’s faces (!!!) the size and style didn’t fit the Music Island lightboxes. While I am happy to use a preferred artist photo, I unify the posters of all artists in the display by using a limited pallette of fonts, text box fill colours and text colours. Trying to make the best of this strange poster I had been given, I edited it to our size and style and decided I could live with the concert being billed as a “co-production”… even though this had never been discussed… and I sent the edited poster back to the agent/manager. He pulled the concert without further discussion. I seldom see announcements of concerts for any of the artists he represents. Perhaps I’m not looking in the correct places, or perhaps others found him as strange a duck as I did.

Finally, and perhaps most tragically, I ran across an SL artist manager that was in the business of feeding the ego of a rather talentless young man, exposing him to ridicule throughout SL.

The last story I can think of was concerning an SL promotional agency scam. An artist asked me if I thought it would be worthwhile him signing with a particular agency to attract new and more lucrative gigs. The monthly fee he would have to pay them amounted to his fee for a big concert… so about 1/4 of his SL income in a month. They offered a clickable poster connected to his website and schedule and the use of their performance space for one concert a month. In assessing how much this might be worth it was essential to look at the site traffic. How many people were passing through who might click on the poster? How many people attended concerts at the venue. Turned out that the traffic was about 1/40th of the traffic at Music Island in the past month. In a single concert, the artist would reach more audience members than a month of exposure through this promotional agency scam. For the same fee as the agency was charging the artist could have got a premium account from Linden Labs, bought a starter plot in a heavily trafficed part of the mainland and put up his own advertising display–and had a little office space on top!

It would seem to me that with friends like these, you don’t need enemies! Legitimate reasons to find help with your SL music activities could include language barriers, unfamiliarity with SL, or extreme busyness in RL. If you do decide to have a paid representative in SL, ensure that they know the SL and RL music scene and are prepared to work with venues and series to enable the smoothest scheduling, promotion and presentation of your concerts.

We will give you emotions and impressions at our unforgettable festival! There is no better time than time spent with good music among friends.

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