Emily White: Why Commission Based Teams Are Awesome For Musicians & Why You Should Want One

English: The Raconteurs performing at T in the...
English: The Raconteurs performing at T in the Park, Scotland in July 2008. Left to right: Patrick Keeler, Brendan Benson, Jack White and Jack Lawrence. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Guest post by Emily White of Whitesmith Entertainment and Readymade Records.

Managers in the Entertainment industry take a lot of flack and have various stereotypes associated with their image and motives. In fact, music industry professionals in general are often pegged as sleazy, heartless businesspeople leeching off of creative minds to (gasp!) make money.
With the decline of the modern music industry over the past decade, job pools have shrunk and competition is fierce to work in a field that many in the general public view as on its last legs. However, the people in the industry who have stuck around through the music industry’s metamorphosis throughout the 21st century have narrowed the field to people who truly love working in music (for the most part). They are skilled in working with artists and have a deep knowledge of music driven for the most part by a love of music.
I’ve spent most of my career working as a manager. Managers work on commission. No matter what level an artist is at in their career, managers generally only derive income if the artist has revenue coming in. Thus, it is in the manager’s best interest to do whatever is best for the artist all-around, keeping short and long term creative and career goals in mind at all times. In addition, this model incentivizes this manager’s work and ensures that actual work gets done.
So much of my job is to make certain that people working with our artists do the things they said they would do, prioritize working on their music if their plate is too full, and complete projects all the way through. Publicists, promo, and marketing folks have almost always worked for a fee up front. I value their work and skills. Even in a world-of-mouth social media society, I treasure a well-trained PR person who can work with myself and our artists on discussing how we can best communicate their genuine selves through media channels from a TV chat show to Reddit. Radio is still, arguably, the number one driver of music sales in the industry and is a vital tool to any release campaign. There are folks who have relationships to get music on the front of digital retail, etc. You get the idea. Just because we can put music out into the world all by ourselves doesn’t mean it still doesn’t need or benefit from promotion.
But how do we get the fast world of modern marketing and promotion to slow down for a second? Take a breath, listen to the music they’re working on and select projects that they really feel they can have an impact on to get the word out as far and wide as possible.
Don’t get me wrong; there are brilliant promo folks throughout the world who are selective with their client base and time while creating and executing diligently thought-out campaigns. However, most of the time, my artists often feel that press reports exist to impress us or the publicist’s boss or that radio folks just take on whomever will pay them.

Brendan Benson & Emily White
Brendan Benson

All too often, I hear about promo firms that just pitch/throw everything at the wall hoping that something sticks instead of selecting the most effective promo opportunities and creating a strategy. For Brendan Benson’s new album, I wanted to figure out a team that first and foremost loved and believed in Brendan’s music, but also who would put thought into what kind of results we would get from their work in a music campaign.
Brendan is an extremely gifted artist who has been on majors, indies, and hybrids of both. He spent 2011 producing five albums, including his own. For a writer, musician, and producer like Brendan, creating his own label was a no-brainer. We launched Readymade Records & Publishing a few months ago so his creative output has a platform in which music can be released whenever and however he wants without barriers.
However, once music is created, most agree that a promotion campaign is still necessary for all of the reasons outlined above. There are a few options here that have been tried over the past few years. Often a private investor will come in to fund the team that a label might have had in-house in eras past. Other times publishers are getting involved to hire promo teams since they might have artists who are unsigned in their catalogs. Or, if they can afford it, the artist can fund the team themselves.
In Brendan’s case, he had already laid out his own investment to fund the recording of the album. It was hard for me to justify Brendan spending even more on hiring a team to promote music he had already spent his own funds on. Why go into even more debt before we’ve even released anything? In addition, this is a man that has been staring at long press reports for 15 or so years. Like any artist, he’s looking for tangible results from his team, not just lists of outlets that have been pitched his music.
Brendan is the producer, writer, and artist on his album and hasn’t been paid yet. As his commission-based manager, I haven’t been paid on any of the work I’ve done putting this album together. But neither of us is worried. We really believe in the new album, What Kind Of World, and we’re both used to being paid “later.” For Brendan that is often in the form of royalty statements and for me as commission-based manager, again I only receive income once the artist has. But, if Brendan is the creative and financial reason his new album exists, why should everyone else be paid first?
Creating A Commission Based Team

Our promo team for Readymade Records is entirely commission-based. Team members will be paid for a year on sales and synch revenue, the latter historically being Brendan’s number one revenue stream. I’m mentioning the length of the term, as I wanted to figure out a way to encourage promo folks to work music longer than just a few months. As Readymade Records evolves, the more projects a team member takes on, the more revenue streams they have coming in every quarter, creating sustainable income for both the team and the artist over a longer period of time than just for a flat fee in front of doing the work.
We are so honored to be working with experienced yet forward-thinking companies such as Nashville’s Thirty Tigers, Big Hassle, Terrorbird Media, Hard Boiled, Inc., Dick Huey & Corey Denis at Toolshed.Biz, Scott Cresto’s Music Alternatives, Lojinx, Chapple Davies, & Freeman PR in the UK, as well as Downtown Music Publishing & BMG Chrysalis.
Assembling a team who is willing to be paid based on the results of their work in promoting music is a risk. However, this model benefits the relationships between the artist, their team and the team’s work on the artist’s music. The team can also work together without ego for the greater good of the artist and always focus on moving the project forward. In addition, we think we’ll get the best out of our already great industry folks by aligning their revenue streams with the artists.
I’m biased, but if you have a team member who is willing to work on commission via management or promotion, be psyched! That person is working with you because they believe in you and your music. Sometimes commission-based team members are taken for granted. If you have one, realize that they are your partner in moving your music and career forward and don’t have to be there. The goal here is to work together and maybe by reverse engineering how we’ve structured team payments and paying people on actual results instead of projected revenue, we’ll move forward in a way that benefits both artists and industry folks for the long-term.
© Whitesmith Entertainment 2012

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