Pop Life: Artist Manager Jami Stigliano
Before she oversaw the career of Australian singer Cody Simpson in 2009, Jami Stigliano spent 10 years on all sides of the business between label, publishing, and independent marketing. She's now the go-to girl for British singer-songwriter Neon Hitch and emerging rock recording artist Masha.
“I’ve always proudly said that I’m a pop girl; I grew up obsessed with pop brands, meaning Madonna, Michael Jackson, New Kids On The Block, [and] Debbie Gibson,” says the Waco, Texas native. “Musically, that’s the music I loved.”
However, it wasn’t until her college days at The University of Texas at Austin that she realized her musical interest was a career option. “I was a big ‘N Sync fan, so I had this aha moment like, “Wow, that’s someone’s job.” As the manager of two artists—aspiring rock singer Masha and Gypsy-pop star Neon Hitch—who is on the road more often than not, being an artist manager is now more hands-on than ever. Here, Jami shares her day-to-day duties as a manager, how technology keeps everything in order, advice for newcomers to the field, as well as some of the more challenging aspects of the job.
Jami also reveals a recent touring crisis (that’s kind of funny now but wasn’t so much in the moment), in addition to three lessons she’s learned the hard way as an artist manager.
Jami Stigliano: The artist manager’s role is definitely not what it used to be. You’re less of a manager and you’re really more of an entrepreneur and a business partner to your client. So everyday is not just managing their career and the day-to-day nuts and bolts that come with that, and big-picture strategy that comes with that, but you’re literally also running their business. And what that means is when they make music, you’re essentially their label.
As the changing landscape of our business, managers are now also serving as a 360-degree business partner. So day to day that’s everything that a manager would normally have, but then it’s also all the day-to-day duties an entrepreneur would have. You know, kind of a chief executive of a company.
JS: I have two clients. It’s Neon Hitch and a developing rock singer-songwriter named Masha, who is signed to Claude Kelly. She signed to Claude Kelly’s Carousel Music. And I intentionally only have two clients because artist management, it’s like a marriage. You have to give care and attention to every client you work with. So, as a manager, I’m very selective and intentional about my roster. However, I love working with developing artists and I love working with aspiring artists, so I definitely have ways that I do work with clients like that, but it’s more on a project-to-project basis. On a more limited basis rather than entering into a formal management relationship.
JS: I mean she and I—when I’m with her or not with her, we’re in constant communication. Be it via phone, via text, FaceTime, email. We’re in constant communication, because my philosophy as a manager, we’re partners in this journey. So the way I like to run my business with my client … it’s not [a situation like] “OK, let’s just check in every few days to see what’s going on with you.” I’m with her every step of the way. So a lot of the time it does mean me traveling with her depending on the show or activity that she’s doing. But I also have a great team that represents on my behalf based on what the needs are.
JS: Absolutely. As a manager you have your hands in everything. Not only are those other parts of their career important to the artist from a revenue perspective, but also they’re important in building the brand. I’m in the business of helping artists build brands. So for Neon specifically, the music is the core of her business, but there are other parts of her brand that need attention as well.
I always say, I keep my head down and focus, but I’m also looking down the road for what opportunities there are, what traffic jams there are, which route we should take. So you have to be able to focus on the details, but also look way ahead.
JS: I have a very lean and mean team. Including myself, there is four of us. We’re very tech-driven; we use technology to manage our day-to-day operation. My company doesn’t really use email. We use project management software [such as Teamwork, and Hootsuite for social media] where we run everything within that, including all of our communication with each other about it. Rather than us having email flying back and forth, we keep everything centralized. We use a variety of different apps [iCalendar is one] in terms of how we manage the artist’s calendar and schedule. We’re very organized in terms of how we communicate with our artists. During a bigger tour we use MasterTour to manage itineraries and travel communication. The great thing about the world now is you can make your team feel like 10 people, even if you only have a few people, just by being smart with technology.
JS: I’ve always proudly said that I’m a pop girl; I grew up obsessed with pop brands, meaning Madonna, Michael Jackson, New Kids On The Block, Debbie Gibson. Musically, that’s the music I loved. Even as a child I paid attention to the brands of these artists. So everything that they did, from their persona, their brands, how they represented themselves and the moves they made, I just always paid attention as a young consumer.
But in college I was a big ‘N Sync fan, so I had this aha moment like: “Wow, that’s someone’s job.” Only in college did it occur to me, so being the person who kind of curates those artists’ brand was a job that I wanted. Over the last 15 years I’ve worked mostly on the label side; I worked at Jive Records for many years.
And how I got into management, I was running the digital division at a company called Primary Wave, which is a music publishing company, but then we launched a management division by signing Cody Simpson and Cee Lo Green. So in the newly formed management position, Cody Simpson had a need. … We needed to develop his audience, his social media platform in order to communicate directly with his fans. It was a core driver for that project. So I moved my attention over to managing the day-to-day for Cody, but also with a strong emphasis on his digital presence. That was kind of my first foray into artist management.
JS: Neon and I met about a year and a half ago. We were introduced through her business manager at the time, and we immediately knew we had the same work ethic, and I was just very inspired by her strong vision for not only her music but also her entire career. And that to me, you have to start with an artist who has a strong vision of who they are, and then it’s your job as a manager to help them realize the vision and achieve the vision, and not necessarily have to create the vision for them. She has been and continues to be a pleasure to work with because she knows exactly who she is, and that makes a manager’s job that much easier.
JS: She’s what we call in the business a “real artist.” There are some recording artists who are great singers, and there are some who are great songwriters, and there are some who are great performers like Britney Spears, who I love. She’s a great performer, one of the best performers in pop music. The beautiful thing about Neon is that she’s what’s considered to be a real artist, in the sense that she’s not just a great singer, she is not just a great performer, she is not just a great songwriter, she’s a real artist. Which means greats like Prince is a real artist. People like that are real artists, which means they can do a lot of different things and it all makes sense.
JS: You’re working with human beings, and anytime you’re dealing with human beings in any capacity, you’re job is not linear. It’s just not black and white; you’re dealing with people who have emotions and feelings and ambitions and all that gray matter that makes life beautiful. That’s the beautiful part of being a manager, because you develop relationships with people. We’re unpredictable. We have different things in our lives. And with any human relationship, you can’t control a human being. So if any manager thinks that they can control their artist, you’ll bail. So it’s challenging to be able to get human beings to do what you want them to do.
I always say that artist management is about managing “The 3 Es,” which are egos, expectations, and emotions, including your own. It’s being able to manage someone’s expectation of things, and ego doesn’t necessarily mean you’re arrogant. You just have to be able to manage your own and your artist to make it work. Working 24/7 and traveling, those are challenges, but those are nothing compared to managing human beings.
JS: Right. Then it just comes down to communication. Communication is critical and no one’s a perfect communicator. You know, that’s life.
JS: OK, let’s see. … Oh, this is probably a good one. So Neon was, we were performing in Malaysia at a private event. It was a very big event there. The organization that brought her over had very specific expectations of what she was to do. What she was to deliver for the show. They pay an artist to perform and they have certain things they wanted us to do: Perform this amount of time. Do this many songs. I mean that’s just kind of how it works. So there’s a specific request, creatively, for the show that she has to do a wardrobe change halfway through her set. Which is not an unreasonable request. It was part of a bigger show and they wanted it to be dynamic.
Basically, what happened, she had about three minutes to make a wardrobe change. You know, we had everything prepared and ready to go to unzip her out of one thing and zip her into another thing. We had a team of people there to help. It was four of us there like, “You hold her here and you take this off her head.” You know, it takes an army!
So what happened was, we get her outfit off and we get her into the other thing. We go to zip up the bodysuit … zipper breaks. Like zipper breaks. Like not fixable, busting wide open. And it’s not that she didn’t fit into the outfit, it just, you know, shit happens. [laughs] It broke.
I have literally about 45 seconds to make a decision. Like am I going to fix this or put her back in her other outfit, because now she’s standing there with essentially nothing on. In that instance, that’s an example as a manager. Ten thoughts go through your head at once, so I’m thinking, “I can’t send her out there with nothing on, but I can’t put her in this. Do we have enough time to put the other outfit back on? Will they be upset that we didn’t meet one of the requirements, one of expectations of her show to do the wardrobe change?” So in an instant, you have to make a decision. So we’re in the moment and we were kind of freaking like, “Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God!” But afterward I looked back on it, I totally laughed.
So we put her back in her other outfit. She looked great. We did a wardrobe change afterward, so that after the show when she was mingling among the event, we had done a wardrobe change to make it more dynamic. And again, now it doesn’t seem like a big deal, but in the moment … I’m also thinking about the relationship with the great people that brought her there to perform, and you don’t want to disrespect them or not meet their expectations. Again, it’s something we laugh about now, but in the moment it was pretty scary.
JS: In terms of hard skills and just experience and knowledge, I would say get any experience that you possibly can. … As a manager, you don’t have a job description. You’re kind of just in charge of everything.
Personality wise? You have to be a workhorse. You have to love to work hard, and not just be a hard worker, but also you have to love to work hard. That’s one skill. Communication is critical. Being able to communicate with many personalities, many types of human beings all over the world. You have to be able to build relationships, keep relationships, and be able to nurture relationships of all kinds. Genuine relationships. It’s really what you can do for them and be a resource. Just be genuine about your love for others in the business.
3 Hard Lessons Learned as an Artist Manager
1. Respect the hierarchy
JS: Especially at a label or corporate environment. I learned that lesson the hard way as an intern. On my supervisor’s behalf I sent out an email about something and I basically put people’s name on the email in the wrong order. People take those things seriously. And maybe it’s about ego, but that’s just how it’s done. I think I put the head of the company last on the list and that wasn’t OK, even though it may seem silly to young people. Young people may read this and think, “Who cares, they shouldn’t care, everyone’s equal, blah, blah, blah.” But guess what? That’s not how it works. You respect people who are the head of a company. I meant no disrespect, but I didn’t use my head. That’s something I learned the hard way, and I remember specifically getting my ass reamed for it.
2. Get it in writing
JS: Anytime you do something and you don’t have it in writing, you will definitely learn the hard way. Not to say you have to have contracts on everything single thing, but you need to have things in writing to protect everyone. I had an artist play a show in good faith. First time at one club. And it was someone I knew. We said we’d get half the money before and when we get there we’d get the other half. And you know what, we get there, and we got screwed. we didn’t get the rest of the money. That’s a lesson I learned the hard way, you have to have contracts with people no matter how cool you are with somebody, and you have to handle your business. Because then you have to look at your artist and say, “I didn’t get the money.” Your number one job as a manager is to “Get the money!”
I recently saw a great show that I’m going to recommend called Supermensch [documentary film directed by Mike Myers], which is about Shep Gordon, a legendary music manager, and he said the number one thing your job is as a manager, “Get the money!” That’s definitely something I learned the hard way that I would do differently.
3. Timing (with artists) is everything
JS: The way and when you communicate with them about something, both good and bad, the timing of it is critical. That’s like with any human relationship. If you’re going to deliver bad news to someone, you better make sure you do it at a time that makes sense. If you’re going to deliver good news to them, do it at a time where it makes sense. Timing I definitely learned the hard way, where I maybe gave some information to an artist or delivered some news to them that maybe wasn’t positive at the wrong the time. And this is something I learned early in my career. It’s amazing that when you do it at the right time, that the ramifications or fall out is way more manageable.
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