What have artist managers, football coaches and startup studios got in common?



Two things that are ingrained in many countries’ cultures are football and music. To an extent they go hand in hand — both blend art, commerce, fashion and entertainment, and have huge numbers of passionate fans.

In both businesses (and they are businesses, like it or not), there’s often one person in a quarterback position who is more likely to get fired than get the limelight, and arguably has a thankless task no matter how much success the wider team accrue. That’s right — the manager.

In music, I see a manager as CEO of an artist’s business. The artist themselves is the visionary founder, and the majority of artists are best off following that visionary creative path rather than moving into a CEO role (although they should never take their eye completely off the business side…that’s a very dangerous position to be in).


A football manager may not be the CEO of the club, nor the players’ individual businesses (that’ll more likely be the agents), but just like the artist manager they have a close connection to talent, and this article in the Financial Times really resonated with me. It’s definitely pertinent for talent managers, but the advice here can be translated to almost any other area of business where star talent is a key to success.

What the artist manager and the football manager do when it comes to identifying and developing talent can also be compared to the technology industry’s recent wave of startup studios.


The Startup Studio

I came across the startup studio concept fairly early on during the journey towards setting up my new company Rozel. It’s very well summed up in this post by the guys over at Makeshift.

Note: It’s also worth checking out their product Attending — I’ve used it a few times now and it’s a very useful tool for all sorts of event planning. (I’m not on the payroll, by the way)

In the Nesta session that Makeshift were part of, they identified the following attributes that were part of a startup studio. Taking each one of these in turn, I see strong correlations with how talent managers develop their rosters:

1. focused on building multiple products / startups simultaneously

a talent manager will often have several clients on a roster, and to a growing degree more than one of these clients will be active at any one time and need servicing accordingly.

2. generally own the majority of all the things they work on from an equity perspective

the area of music rights isn’t getting much clearer (companies like Kobalt notwithstanding) but most likely that at an early stage, the talent and the manager will be the only two people due income or owning IP.

3. generally have full time staff working on design, dev and marketing

consolidation at the top end of the music industry as well as a shift towards direct-to-fan models and the rise of the attention economy has seen management companies have a need to build teams to take care of their clients’ growing design and marketing needs. Whether the majority will be in-house remains to be seen, but having a retained team of some sort is likely to continue as the lines blur further.

4. attempting to make their process additive — i.e — more value from each thing as you do it

generally, an engaged fan base for a musician are tribal. if what’s being added is of good quality and fans want is, the value derived from each fan should increase.

5. “lab” is frequently used to describe a startup studio because they conjure up a “digital workshop” more so than an agency or accelerator. They’re a place to tinker away on different ideas and build multiple things at once.

whilst talent managers may not consider what they do a ‘lab’, the nature of their setup is much more akin to this to an agency model (whether booking, marketing, etc) where projects and clients are rotated at a much more rapid rate.


Managers as Startup Studios

Taking the idea of a manager being CEO of an artist’s business one step further along, it could be said that early-stage artists can themselves be considered as startups. This is because they usually;

  • are high risk
  • have a very small chance of breakout success
  • have no product-market fit defined
  • need to make something people really want if they are to succeed
  • are able to grow rapidly

The manager’s role as the startup studio is to develop a number of these startups at one time, with the hope that one or two will become big hits (i.e. a ‘Unicorn’ in startup parlance), and maybe a few others become solid ongoing businesses, whilst the rest will unfortunately face the inevitability of not reaching the heights that the founders set out to achieve at the beginning (i.e. in effect they will fail).

Furthermore, managers, just like founders and startup studios, are now more often called upon to make their own investments of capital.

In the technology world, a lot of startup studios are being backed by an exited entrepreneur, or in the case of music it may be a talent manager with a big breakout artist on their CV. I see a future where these studios increase in popularity, but without as many big names above the door (simply because there are proportionally not enough of these available, especially in a music market where the big breakout successes are growing in scale but dropping in frequency).

The main challenge for a relativity fledgling manager/entrepreneur wanting to continue develop their ‘studio’ offering is therefore one of capital. In technology, this typically means angel investors or VCs.

But what about the music industry?

I’ll be looking at a few ideas around this, and also what a future music industry accelerator/incubator could look like, in part 2… coming very soon 😉

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