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Artist Management Series: Vanessa Magos

Like almost everything in the music industry over the years, the role of artist managers has changed. As independent artists gain more traction and power, there’s more at stake and more responsibility. All of this translates to the need for business development in pushing an artist’s career forward. And that means being on-call, setting expectations, negotiating deals and contracts, and handling areas of business once typically considered foreign to a manager.

In order to take a deeper dive into the ever-changing role of the artist manager in 2015, we’ll be interviewing some of the best in the independent music world throughout the month of July! From newcomers to veterans, from pop to alternative to country, we’re digging into daily lives of those who not only manage musicians, but actually challenge, support and push them to succeed.

First up is Vanessa Magos. Vanessa has been co-managing indie pop sensations VÉRITÉ and Betty Who under New Torch Entertainment, a three-year old management company based in New York City. She’s been on the grind non-stop for two years and enlightens us with her views and experiences on the management game thus far. Enjoy!

How did the artist/manager relationships that you’re currently involved in begin? Is there any ‘typical’ way this goes down in 2015?

Vanessa Magos: I feel that things are becoming much more personalized and self-sustained, both in the sense of the relationship between artist and manager and between artist and fans. Your relationship with the artist is critical; the bigger they get, the more challenges and insecurities they naturally face, and in a way you as the manager act as the core team between all the different moving pieces involved in the development process.

One of our artists, Betty Who, was a friend of mine before anything on the business end began, which definitely instilled trust since the beginning of our working relationship together. Betty and Ethan (Vanessa’s management partner and co-founder of New Torch Entertainment) went to college together and started everything from the ground up, so they have a really special connection there. With VÉRITÉ, we were introduced by her producer who was helping her look at management companies. We fell in love with the music and wanted to get involved. At the end of the day it’s making sure everyone is on the same page and has that shared vision for the project, no matter how or where you find each other initially.

In your two years of doing this, what have been some key lessons you’ve walked away with?

As a new manager I am constantly learning new lessons every day. One of the biggest things I learned quickly was that you are solely responsible for having the bigger perspective and understanding of the vision for the project.

What are the primary areas of business development that managers focus on in the first year of this partnership?

In the first year of an artist’s career you’re building the foundation that everything else will grow upon. You are bringing in the core members of the artists team…lawyer, publicist, agent, etc. that are going to be supporting the start of the artist’s career. But first and foremost, you and the artist are establishing your relationship and a shared vision and work ethic. Without a mutual vision and dedication to growth in an authentic way that supports the way the artist wants their career to unfold, things will waver. Focus is critical.

In your experiences, what are some of the biggest misconceptions of an artist manager’s role(s)? What did you go into it thinking?

Not many people really understand what a music manager does. From an outside perspective it may seem like either the artist or the manager is doing more than the other but the reality is that it is an extremely collaborative process. Neither the artist or the manager can do their job alone, and although their roles are very different, they both carry a lot of weight and need to meet each other halfway every step of the way.

The manager is the one person on the team involved in every aspect of an artist’s career. It’s a massive commitment. It’s such a complex thing – staying on top and managing all aspects of multiple projects. I feel that I’m constantly learning from others. I think people don’t realize how all-encompassing the role is. It’s a special position to be in because you have a bond with an artist that no one else does. You get to see such a different side that not a lot of other people get to see. Every high and every low.

Explain the importance of managing an artist’s expectations when it comes to getting the desired results of any given career goal.

I think the mentality of ‘always moving’ is important. We set quarterly goals, review them, and move on. With each set of goals, even if you have or haven’t accomplished them, you keep moving. You take a second to celebrate it, or you don’t, and you keep moving forward. I believe that maintaining consistent goals, and never letting yourself hit a ceiling is important because goals will change and evolve, and you have to keep it moving along. Humor always helps too.

vanessa magos photo by kate edwards
Vanessa Magos (photo by Kate Edwards)

Did Betty and/or VÉRITÉ have the resources of a label before entering your relationship? How do you go about building a team (booking, publicity, etc.)?

Neither Betty or VÉRITÉ had a label deal before working with New Torch. Ethan and Betty began working together in college and would brainstorm the project from its first days on their campus coffee shop between classes. VÉRITÉ was a waitress at Applebees who would record demos in her apartment at night after a 12 hour shift. Betty is now signed, and VÉRITÉ remains happily unsigned. Both projects are exciting and challenging in their own ways. As you build your team, things change and adjust, but at the end of the day, the manager is by the artist’s side first and foremost steering the ship.

We’ve been very fortunate with both of these projects to have amazing teams of dedicated and passionate people supporting each of them every step of the way.

When it comes to being presented with a label deal for an artist in 2015, what factors do the artist/manager team have to take into consideration?

I think what it comes down to is making sure that the label is on the same page as the artist. You don’t want to get into a deal simply for the sake of feeling cool and having a record deal and then a year into that relationship find out that you’re not on the same page with the artist’s overall vision. That’s hard and tricky to navigate, but it’s the artist and manager’s job to consistently be in communication with the label and make sure everyone is constantly aligned. It’s very easy for things to shift off-course if communication isn’t strong. Early on is the most important time to have those conversations and ensure everything is working as it should internally.

How important is music publishing to the artist manager in maximizing the artist’s catalog? What kind of role do they play in staying on top of it?

I think publishing is a huge and important thing, and it’s something I’m constantly focused on for our artists. For us, we want to keep an open dialogue with the artists’ publisher; whether that be sending them new music, pitching new collaboration ideas, pushing their synch department, etc. We do whatever it takes to make sure our artists are at the forefront of peoples’ minds.