The role of talent management in music has existed as long as the music industry itself. Bob Dylan’s manager Albert Grossman and unofficial “fifth Beatle” Brian Epstein were essential to the success and influence of those artists.
But how important is talent management in 2015’s music industry? With the shrinking music economy, the ease of home recording and the increased emphasis on DIY ethics, what role does a band manager actually play in Winnipeg’s geographically isolated music scene?
It’s a bigger role than you might think, and it’s getting bigger.
Chris Burke-Gaffney has witnessed the shift in the music industry firsthand. The manager, songwriter and producer founded CBG Artist Development in 1994 and has worked with many noteworthy Canadian pop artists including Chantal Kreviazuk and Sierra Noble.
“I call my company an artist development company,” Burke-Gaffney explains. “New artists typically have the raw skills, but not the assets. That can mean anything from finances to songs to backing musicians to the wherewithal to create a team. My job is to build those assets that [will] help push them up the ladder. My role transitions between producer, songwriter, consultant and manager.”
Burke-Gaffney has always taken a hands-on, creative approach to management. It’s an approach he says was atypical in decades past, but has become increasingly relevant.
“I’m not saying [my approach] is better or worse than others who just do the business side, but as the industry has shrunk more and more people are wearing many hats,” Burke-Gaffney says.
In April 2009, Tim Jones co-founded the management company and label Pipe & Hat, which manages such artists as Mise en Scene and The Revival. Despite being a newer company than CBG, Pipe & Hat takes a similarly varied and dedicated approach that has paid off for its artists.
“We do everything but get onstage and make the music,” Jones says. Pipe & Hat company employs photographers, videographers, designers and engineers in addition to managers.
“Most bands will say, ‘We want to make an album.’ They record a CD, play a release party and maybe sell a few hundred,” explains Jones. “With our acts, we ask, ‘Why do you want to make an album?’ That begins a lengthy process of finding producers, visual artists, and creating an entire business plan around the album. Most musicians aren’t business minded. They’re artists.”
For Jones, the immersion that’s essential to good managing goes way beyond the business side and into the personal.
“Last year we had a tragedy,” Jones explains. “Alex Danyliuk from The Revival passed away. It was hard on everyone and I learned that being a manager means arranging for counsellors and psychologists, making sure everyone who needed to could heal. But I also had to be the person saying, ‘The reality is, we have to find a new drummer. It feels like a dirty thing to be thinking about, but we have to begin that process.’”
Yet, Jones doesn’t shrink from the added layers of responsibility he took on through that experience: “These people are more than business, they’re close friends. You can’t just know the band. You have to know the people.”