Mary McFaul has directed the music career of songstress Laura Love since 1991 and has 30 years of experience in artist management, publishing and licensing, booking, tour management and more. In addition to Love, Mary’s consulted for artists such as Catie Curtis and Tim O’Brien, and her current roster includes up-and-comers Vicci Martinez and Jo Miller.
I asked Mary to share her thoughts on wearing the multiple hats of the music business:
In Jeri Goldstein’s book (“Be Your Own Booking Agent”), you’re quoted as saying “go to the doors that are open.” Can you elaborate on what you meant by that?
While I think it’s admirable to be persistent and to not be discouraged by the many “no”s that you will hear as you try to get your music out into the world, there is a time to stop beating your head against a closed door. For example, every singer-songwriter in Seattle wants to get airplay on KMTT The Mountain, which is a premiere, national leading AAA station. Other AAA stations look at what The Mountain is playing and follow suit, so it is a great boost to get airplay on KMTT. However, they simply don’t play independent music. However, KBCC, the station that broadcasts from Bellevue Community College, plays hours and hours of great independent music every week. KBCC certainly has a smaller listenership, but they’re a great, influential station in the college/community arena, and there are a bunch of those sorts of stations all over the U.S. I counsel artists to forget about The Mountains, and go look for the KBCCs, where the door is open.
Some artists seem to think “artist manager” means “glorified booking agent.” What’s your philosophy on the role of a manager?
Manager” and “booking agent” are two different jobs and ideally should be done by different people. A booking agent approaches presenters and festivals on the artist’s behalf, negotiates the deal, and writes the contract. They might send out promotional materials to the presenter and they might collect some travel details, such as directions to the gig, but those items are negotiable.
The Manager is less defined, as the manager can be whatever they negotiate with the artist. The artist works closely with management to define goals and expectations. Management goes to work furthering those goals and reaching those expectations, such as securing recording and publishing deals, taking care of licensing requests, keeping up with online radio and merchant opportunities, communicating with the web master, dealing with legal matters, and directing the booking agent. So very basically, the booking agent gets the gigs and the manager does everything else.
Any time a booking agent does anything for the artist beyond booking and contracting the gig, the artist is getting a big favor and should remember to thank the agent and properly reward him/her.
What things does a band that is serious about attracting management have to bring to the table?
Managers work on percentages of the artist’s gross music income. A manager would want to see the past few years gig history complete with all revenue from gig fees, merchandise sales and any other deals, such as licensing, television appearances, etc. along with any information on pending recording/licensing deals. Anything that clearly shows that the artist is on a roll, on an incline. You should be clear about your goals and expectations and have some knowledge of what a manager can routinely provide.
We are here to exploit the business of your music career, so be businesslike in your approach. All the time we hear a pitch that goes like this: “I have a really good band and we just released a really good CD so we thought we should get a manager.” I know a million really good bands with new CDs, it really doesn’t mean much to me. But if you tell me “I have a band that has seen a 30% income growth per year for the past three years. We have four record labels interested in releasing our most recent CD and we are selling out 200 seat venues over the Northwest. We’ve hired a publicist to help out, and feel that we would benefit from professional management at this time.” Now there’s some information that might get you 30 more seconds of a busy manager’s day.
How has the field of artist management changed in the past five years? Has it become easier? More difficult? What are some of your biggest challenges today?
I’m not sure that it’s the field of artist management that has become more difficult, but the entire field of providing music for commercial gain has become more difficult. There are so many artists in the world all vying for the same gigs, the same record deals, the same audience, and there is only so much money and support to go around.
The internet has provided an incredible opportunity for independent artists to get recognition and to get their music out to the world and that’s an amazing and wonderful thing. And it also presents challenges for established artists who depend on CD sales and concert income to get to your town every year. With legal downloads, the artist goes from making a small percent of a $15 CD to making a small percent of a Â¢99 downloaded single. Attendance is down at most of the clubs and festivals that my artists play and has been down for about five years. We all recognize that this is a time of transition and it is important for all musicians to figure out as many revenue streams as possible.
I know it seems crass to a lot of artists to see so much talk about money and commerce, but think of the reality of taking your five piece band from Seattle to Boston to play a festival. The fesitval offers $2000, which sounds like a lot of money to a lot of musicians, but do the math: minimum three days on the road, five airfares, van rental, three hotel rooms for three nights, food, commissions off the top if you have an agent and/or manager, and it would be nice if the band got paid. If you take that gig you’ll be at least $2000 in the hole, which you could possibly make up in CD sales, which are in steady decline. I get emails from fans every week asking, “why doesn’t Laura Love play on the East Coast more often?” The answer is, “because we can’t afford it!” That’s my biggest frustration today – I represent excellent artists who have large, enthusiastic fan bases and still it gets harder and more expensive every year to get to them.
What’s one myth about your profession you’d like to see exploded?
The myth that it’s the manager who makes the career happen. It’s the artist. Period. If the artist has what I call The Thang, that is, a quality that is undeniably attractive to some group of people who will form a critical mass of an audience, then the manager can help direct that quality and keep track of the details and connect the appropriate dots to fully promote that artist. If the artist lacks The Thang, then there’s not a darn thing I can do for them. If an artist comes to me with The Thang, and if I recognize it and decide to take her/him on, then I just hang on for the ride.