The thankless job of managing talent
Behind every good artisté is an even better management team which ensures that the talent they represent is considered one of the best.
What fans see is merely a façade created by the management in a bid to sell their brand and make it seem more attractive.
However, behind closed doors is a more gruesome truth.
The truth paints a picture of artists who fail to show up to paying events or rehearsals, because they are drunk or high or broke; or artists who cannot afford their own, so their crash on their manager’s couch until their luck changes and they make some money.
Managers who are responsible for talent in countries with huge music industries are more fortunate because at some point, they may be able to make back the money they invested in their talent.
However, Namibian managers have a lot of things working against them, with no real hope of ever getting their money back.
At the helm of Deal Done Records (DDR) and Antonio’s Art is owner and artist manager, Djokovic Dragan, popularly known as Antonio.
Antonio has signed and managed some of the best award-winning artists in the industry under his label, including Fishman, Miss H, Freeda and very recently Star Dust.
His label is one of the few which are financially comfortable and manage to churn out good artists who go on to attain national acclaim. However, things have not always been smooth-sailing for the entrepreneur.
“The biggest problem I have with managing artists is their discipline. Regardless of how big (famous) they are, local musicians are not disciplined,” he charged.
Antonio explained that the music industry in Namibia was not professional because musicians only care about making music, and not the whole logistics of it.
He added that one would find a manager committed to working with artists, but unfortunately the artist would have a full-time job and would not be able to make it to rehearsals or meetings, which is them being semi-professionals then.
“When you put a professional with someone who is semi-professional, they will obviously clash,” he stated.
Touching on a sensitive subject which most local managers have had to go through, Antonio said managers have no obligation to spend on the talent they manage.
However, they find themselves doing it beyond the scope of what is expected of them as professionals.
“Managers like me find ourselves having to spend money out of our own pockets to speed up the process of production because the artists themselves do not have money.
My artists sign contracts, which state that I get my money back once they make money. I have given artists money for personal matters, but I stopped doing that,” the manager stressed.
He explained that he had to stop giving some of his artists financial assistance for their personal problems because he made a loss as he was not repaid, and the experience left a bitter taste in his mouth.
Another manager - who opted to speak on condition of anonymity so as to not sever ties with the people she works with - said she initially started managing artists as a way to help her friend in the industry, but it wasn’t without its challenges.
“There are a lot of challenges we face as managers because firstly, artists do not see music as a business… so, they need to be micro-managed so that they can become a brand,” she said.
Apart from making sure the artists know that their music is a business which should make profit, she also said making sure that an artist knows how to build their brand through building relationships with the fans and the media was another challenge.
“The value-chain is also not connected.
There needs to be a clear line of communication between the artist, the producers, radio DJs and entertainment journalists, but it’s not there, which makes the job of a manager challenging. We are all to blame for this,” she explained.
The manager further stated that musicians’ lack of understanding that they can’t make music overnight was one of the issues she faced during her days as a manager.
All these reasons combined resulted in her taking a hiatus as a manager to focus on more lucrative aspects of music.
Although some managers see artists as the problem, Big Ben, who considers himself his own manager, said it was the other way around.
The musician, who is one of the most recognizable faces in the industry, said he chose to manage himself because he couldn’t find someone to do the job right as most people merely wanted to cash in on all the hard work he had done.
“I manage myself because I have not found someone who is willing to work for me. People want to ride on the brand which I have built for myself; they don’t know what it requires to be a manager,” he reasoned.
The award-winning musician said other artists have approached him with the request that he manages them as he is doing such a good job at managing himself.
He, however, had to turn them down because being a manager is a full-time job.
“I shy away from those requests because you need time to manage the artist, and you need a clear vision of what you want to do for them.
Namibians just want to get paid without realistic expectations of the business,” Big Ben explained.
He added that being a manager is a job where the individual should not expect to get any credit or recognition because their job is to make money behind the scenes.
Gazza’s former manager, Theunis Kandjii, better known in music circles as Zox, agreed with Big Ben, but explained that there are two kinds of managers.
“The first kind is the music label owner who is also the manger, responsible for signing the artists, which means he is responsible for all the musicians’ financial needs, which involve marketing and ensuring that the final product hits the shelves.
“The second is one employed by the musician, who is only responsible for making sure that the musician gets endorsements and exposure, but is not responsible for footing the bills,” Zox said.
Speaking from experience, he said the job of being a manager overall was a thankless one because a manager is not supposed to get exposure, only his artist is entitled to it.
“If you are managing a successful famous artist, you won’t have to foot the bill, the record label does that.
But most record labels do not have the money to support their artists beyond the production of the album
For managers, it is important to note that recognition is not important for them. Making sure their artists make money is what is important”, he stated.
by Faith Haushona-Kavamba