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What stops Indian artist manager from earning the big bucks?



Multi Grammy Award winning artist, Ed Sheeran’s firm ‘Ed Sheeran Limited’ has reported to have earned 32.6 million pounds in 2018.

His manager of eight years, Stuart Camp’s business firm ‘Grumpy Old Management’ collected 29.5 million pounds. A mere difference of 3 million pounds.

Now that’s a lot of money. The managers, unlike the artists, are not followed by a legion of fans who buy tickets, stream their songs or buy their merchandise. But Camp has earned almost as much as his superstar client.

Such amount of income for an artist manager is unheard of in India. There are various reasons for the same, primary being the difference in the role of artist manager in India and the west.

Where did Camp make his moolah? Is it a reflection of how organised the artist management system is in the west or is it a result of clever negotiations by Camp.

The role of an artist manager

It is in fact a combination of both. The artist/talent manager is basically like a brand manager or a business head. The role doesn’t only involve handling the concert bookings but also content which is primary to any artist. Shows and concert bookings are largely dependent on the content. If the artist manager has the knowledge of music he ends up playing the role of an A&R too. They have to be the sounding board to the artist when new content is been created. Their inputs while writing new lyrics, composing melodies and producing tracks, getting collaborations done, suggest artists/musicians for the same are vital. They basically also are a part the creative team.

“An artist manager’s role is literally heading the artist’s brand and business. The manager has to organise all the elements required to run the brand. In the west, the managers play a holistic role while in India, most think of themselves as booking agents. They think their role is get X number of shows and earn their commission and that’s the end of it,” said Mannu Kohli, who manages Pakistan based singer Shafqat Amanat Ali.

To put it in layman’s terms, the artist’s manager’s duties have to ensure their artist’s career is headed in the right direction while promoting it through various collaborations, endorsement deals, handling their legal and accounting aspects. The need to integrate the artist as a brand to ensure artistic success as well as monetary influx.

“To sum it up the artist manager’s role is to help and assist the artist in any and every business related matter that would otherwise keep the artist away from their music,” explained Nirav Thakar.

Nirav looks after the work of leading music composers Salim-Sulieman and is of the view that it’s all good as long as the artist manager’s dedication and bargain towards their own artists aren’t compromised.

India vs West

The entertainment industry in the west is very clinical with only one model while the Indian counterpart is flexible. There are multiple models here. Lot of artists are signed with big agencies who in turn allot them a manager who is most probably on their payroll. Second is when individuals manage artists. There are multiple arrangements between an artist and a manager. One can be on a monthly retainer plus earn commission on whatever business one generates or purely just on commission and even just on a retainer.

In India the main difference from the west, seems to be the bifurcation of the management and booking agency. Here most managers play the dual role of the management as well as the booking agency. Artist management as a profession is fairly new to India and has been around for maybe the last 10 years or so. Before that the artists has secretaries, whose role was mostly limited to taking bookings. Most booking agencies have now graduated into artist managers and vice versa.

“I guess it has to be taken upon by the industry practises that have been started since back in the days. Firstly clarity between both roles wasn’t there and by the time people started realising it they also realised there’s too much on their plates and now to bifurcate and legitimise things it would be altogether a different hassle,” said Ankit Khanna, owner and founder, DNH Artists.

The artist management profession is still evolving in India. The lack of knowledge about the role and limited education about the business aspect of the music industry has restricted the managers from earning the same amount of money as their western counterparts. The entertainment industry in the west has predefined norms which protect the monetary rights of professionals working with an artist. The managers have a personal legal team ensuring they are not exploited.

Vijay Iyer, who handles Mithoon, emphasised,

“The west is strictly professional while here we are more emotional. I cannot go home without arranging for my client’s transport.”

With expanding business opportunities, Indian artists are becoming more dynamic and are becoming more aware of their rights and other legal implications, like royalties, registration with various societies et al. This has also vastly expanded the artist manager’s role. The role is not restricted to show bookings and song recordings but has grown into ensuring the artist is protected by copyright, gets their due royalties and payments, exploring monetising opportunities and basically representing their client in every sphere of their professional and at times personal life.

“I believe the title ‘Artist Representative’ fits the bill more aptly. The managers represent the artist in negotiating, coordinating, communicating on their behalf. In a healthy Artist – manager relationship, the manager most times should know what the artists response or requirement in a certain situation would be,” stressed Nirav.

Adding to Nirav’s thoughts, Mannu said,

“The role is evolving, a lot of managers are now performing the holistic role. They are now handling the artists brand, image, content whether film or non- film, monetisation, royalties as well as show bookings. It is about time that their earnings increase.”

The evolving industry and its effects

The main source of income in the Indian entertainment industry are the live shows and concerts. The live show industry has undergone a major transformation with the clients demanding professional and upscale production and execution. The time where the singers would hold the microphones and sing while standing on the stage is done with.

The pre-production for shows now hold as much importance as the execution. The scale is as big as a movie shoot. There is an array of professionals involved, monitoring every aspect of the show. Right from the stage setup, the sound and lights, the choreography, the show flow et al is managed by an individual who is a master at the art.

The artist manager now basically overlooks the execution and works alongside the team which he has handpicked. The manager is expected to negotiate the deals for these shows. The business skills of the manager can ensure a fat cheque for both, his client and himself. Most artists do not like to be seen as negotiators. They don’t get into the legalities of business beyond a point. The artists want to concentrate on their art and leave the business to the manager. It’s a ‘two to tango’ situation, with both parties relying on each other for a better deal.

“This is not only a job here, we become a part of each-others life. This is not the 1980s or 1990s, artist management has reached a stage where there are different people for every role. But there will always be a personal manager,” smiled Vijay.

This seems to hold true even in the west. It is more of a human trait. Sheeran is known to be quite a prankster and even inserts “stupid clauses” into the contracts. One such reported demand is that his manager carries a laminated picture of Harry Potter wizard twins Fred and George Weasley in his wallet.

I happened to bump into Billie Eilish’s manager few weeks ago and I was amazed to know that she was working towards giving her rest of the year off after October. It’s a small thing. I was really moved and touched by the fact that they understand what their artists need and it’s a great thing to organise and work like that,” recalled Ankit.

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