The pathway to success in the music industry is rarely as simple as just being a good songwriter, gifted singer or accomplished producer. To reach certain heights, you need to surround yourself with the right support and place your trust in savvy representation. Having smart support on your side can make all the difference between struggling in obscurity and gaining access to the shot that gets your music heard on a whole different level and gives your career a serious boost.
But what should an aspiring artist look for in these crucial roles? What are the key traits that indicate that a prospective representative is the right fit for your aspirations in the music industry?
To solve this crucial quandary, BMI’s Senior Director, Creative, Jessa Gelt sought out the expertise of two veritable movers and shakers in high profile management and A&R, Dan Petel and Evan Taubenfeld. As the founder of This is Noise Management, Petel counts an impressive roster of hitmakers under his representation. Collectively, his clients are responsible for over seven #1 hits and have over 26 gold and platinum singles. Additionally, in the last two years, This is Noise clients have accumulated nine BMI Pop, Urban and London Awards. Taubenfeld, meanwhile, is the head of A&R Crush Music and oversees management of its producer/writer roster and publishing operations. Some of his clients include Sia, Lorde, Train, Fall Out Boy, Weezer, Panic At The Disco, Lykke Li and Green Day. Prior to his career in A&R, Taubenfeld was an artist in his own right and a lead guitarist and collaborator for Avril Lavigne.
With that combined wealth of experience, Petel and Taubenfeld sat down with Gelt to shed some light on what to focus on when looking for representation.
Jessa Gelt: How does one know when it’s the right time for management, publisher, attorney, and when to build out the team in the development of artistry and songwriting?
Dan Petel: While everyone’s situation is different, I think the right time to add a team member is when you are so overwhelmed with the “business” you can no longer focus on the creative.
Evan Taubenfeld: Get a manager when you find someone who will tell you the truth, who you trust implicitly and who you’ll actually listen to. He or she will tell you when to get a lawyer or publisher since your situation is different from everyone else’s.
JG: It seems to me that choosing a manager is an essential consideration to the career growth for a writer or producer. From your experiences, what are some key aspects that one should look for?
DP: Your manager is an extension of you and your business. Find someone who is passionate about your music and has the knowledge and experience to represent you. It’s also important to find a manager that is honest and objective with you about your music, someone who will provide necessary criticism when you need it.
ET: Honesty, patience, kindness, diligence, humility. Also, it doesn’t hurt if they have a ton of leverage.
JG: In the early stages of one’s career, do you have any advice for someone who is self-managed?
DP: Educate yourself as much as possible on the business and ask questions. I would much rather deal with a self-managed songwriter who asks questions as opposed to the one that pretends they know what they are doing.
ET: Keep yourself honest. Ask yourself the questions you’d want them to ask you, and look in the mirror and answer honestly. Advertise yourself not with hustle or networking but with your music. Writing one great song is better than telling ten thousand people you can write a great song.
JG: What are some of the biggest misconceptions of the manager role?
DP: Managers will not single-handedly make you successful. I meet so many songwriters who think if they had the right manager representing them, they would be all over the charts. Your success will ultimately be up you and your skill as a songwriter.
ET: That there is a magic button that can make someone massively successful. The truth is that all of our artists make themselves successful; we’re just here to make sure it takes the least amount of time possible, and lasts as long as possible.
JG: If you had to think back over the course of your professional career, is there a mistake you made or something you wish you knew then, that you know now that impacted the direction of your career?
DP: I would say it was trusting the wrong people and not trusting the right ones. Don’t put too much stock into people who talk a big game.
ET: I would have focused more on the heart and less on the head.
JG: What is the first piece of advice you would give someone starting out as a songwriter?
DP: Be realistic about your music. Too many songwriters think the first song they write is the best song in the world. Realize that, for many, it takes years of writing hundreds of songs to have any success. I was ultimately realistic with myself, and realized I was not a great songwriter. That decision led me to my role as a manager, and It couldn’t have worked out any better for me.
ET: Write from your heart and don’t chase. Don’t worry about hits, singles, money, charts or what everyone else is doing. You are on your own path and if you make truly great music, then all will work out.
JG: Any advice you can give to an up-and-coming writer or producer when headed into the studio?
DP: I think it’s really important to make sure you leave your ego out of the studio. A successful session isn’t about how many of your ideas you can cram into a song, it’s about coming away with a great song, regardless of who contributed more to it.
ET: Check your ego. The point of a great collaboration is to complement the other writers/artists in the room, and have the sum be greater than the parts. You only hurt yourself if/when you act like a jerk or shut off other people from allowing their ideas to be heard.
JG: Where do you see songwriting headed and from your perspective, what shifts have taken place?
DP: I feel creatively the industry is taking more chances. There’s more music being put out than ever before, and more opportunities for different kinds of music to enjoy mainstream success.
ET: I think we’re going to see people stop chasing as much and start innovating a bunch more. There’s already too many good songs, no one needs any average songs, so the demand for truly exceptional, magical moments – which only come from taking chances, being sincere, candid, etc. – will lead to better and better music.
JG: What’s your most essential ingredient for songwriting?
DP: Being genuine. Everyone I know that’s having success in our industry writes music that’s genuinely meaningful to themselves and accessible to others.
JG: If you could change one aspect of the music industry, what would it be?
DP: There is still unfortunately a lack of appreciation and compensation for the creatives in our industry. I would like to see the ones that are creating all this amazing music be rewarded more fairly for their work.
ET: I’d eliminate the people who don’t add value or only care about their own personal gains/goals. There’s little room left for them already.
JG: What is the most challenging part of your job?
DP: I would have to say it’s just keeping up with all the new artists, songwriters and producers. There is so much new talent out there that it often becomes overwhelming trying to stay on top of everyone.
ET: Keeping egos – mine included – out of the equation, so we can make sure we’re solely focused on what’s best for our artists.
JG: Any key lessons you’ve walked away with?
DP: Treat everyone with respect. The office assistant will one day be running the company, the developing producer will have songs all over the charts. Regardless of creative or business differences, if you treat people with respect, they will continue to want to collaborate with you, and take your calls.
ET: Whether you like all of your peers or not, the truth is that they’re coming with you for the next 40-50 years. Be nice to everyone, and root for everyone, because the business is so small, we’re all really on the same team now.
JG: What do you love most about your job?
DP: I love being a part of a song’s journey the most. It’s such an amazing thing to watch a song go from a demo mp3 you get late at night in your inbox to being a song people dance to at a wedding, sing along to at concerts and hear all over radio. Is just such rewarding process to be a part of.
ET: Half of my childhood heroes are now calling my phone every day.