I recently spoke with music industry professional Ronnie Traynor, the general manager of 360 full-service music and artist management company Various Artists Management. From the interview I conducted, I was able to identify key management principles that Traynor puts into practice through her role as general manager as well as while managing her roster of acts that include Charli XCX, The Libertines and Tom Grennan.
Throughout the interview, one of the most striking management principles discussed is honesty and the idea of having a transparent and open relationship with clients. When discussing her opinions on professional vs informal relationships with clients, she states
‘it’s very much a relationship based business. You need to be able to have the relationship where you can be honest with the acts and you can look at things that doesn’t work like that outfit…or that song, sometimes it’s quite tough.’
This helps us to determine the type of relationship Traynor has with her clients. As she sometimes finds it quite difficult to honestly criticize her acts, it suggests that she isn’t a controlling or even a dictating music manager (as may be interpreted in the cases of Colonel Tom Parker or Sam Lufti in the controversial Britney Spears scandal.) However, the fact she can honestly criticize them proves that she isn’t so friendly with them that it is hard to be honest when something isn’t working. This is particularly important as the artists put their trust in her by giving 20% of their income to the management, thus they are expecting that she is getting the best deals for them and ensuring their money is being spent correctly- the relationship must be honest and transparent to maintain the trust.
Similarly, she also talks about honesty in terms of being honest with herself. Throughout her career Traynor has worked across the creative industries, including working as a producer for music related shows on Channel 4, as well as a marketing manager at Distinct’ive Records. She notes
‘Music is quite hard sometimes because most music is very personal and some people like some things and others don’t like other things so sometimes you have to look at something objectively and be able to give honest feedback as to how it works within that project.’
This is a particularly important principle that people working across the music industry should always prioritise because while you may not personally choose to listen to the music that you’re producing and marketing, you must look at it within a commercial sense and if it will enhance the artist or labels profile. This leads on to Traynor stating in relation to the brand partnership side of her business ‘I have to be very confident it’s the right act for the brand.’ This suggests that she must be honest with herself as if a brand approaches her looking for an artist for their promotional campaign, she must ensure that she provides them with someone that she is confident will suit the brand and not just one of her own acts for her own benefit as both parties are trusting her to make sure the partnership is successful. Therefore, she must trust herself in the decision-making process and always be honest with her acts, the brands and herself if something isn’t working.
Another management principle discussed is the idea of flexibility as a manager should always be available to solve problems for their acts/team regardless of the day or time. In the interview Traynor states;
‘It’s a 24/7 job and you have to put the hours in… I could get home at 11:00 at night and if my artist is in LA I could be talking to them til 12 or 1 o clock in the morning, or if something goes wrong and my phone rings in the middle of the night you have to be there but it is also a lot of fun.’
The impact of this is that if a manager isn’t able to be flexible then they may not be meeting the expectations of their clients which could cause a breakdown of the professional or even personal relationship. For example, in a hypothetic situation if there is a problem such as a rumour posted that may be libel thus cause defamation of the artist and the manager of such artist isn’t flexible, they won’t be able to act quickly to communicate with the artist, lawyer or a PR representative and such the problem could escalate. This would cause the artist to lose trust in their manager. In Traynor’s case, as she acts as a middle man between brands and artists when promotional deals are being formed, she must be flexible as some of the brands may be global, thus she could be talking to representatives all over the world, and similarly her acts may be in other countries with different time zones. If Traynor was only able to communicate during office hours, it may cause these deals to fall apart and brands taking their campaigns elsewhere. Traynor demonstrates how crucial this for her is by denoting it as a ‘24/7 job.’
As part of the interview, we also discussed how Traynor got into the music industry and what advice she had for young women looking to enter which uncovered another significant management principle; a passion for the job. This principle ties closely in with the previous as without a passion for music and for the work you are doing, you wouldn’t be willing to put in so many hours and be so diligent and flexible. She states that you need
‘a passion for the industry because it’s an industry that changes constantly, its literally week to week, year on year.’
Unlike jobs in other industries (perhaps more 9-5 roles) working within the music industry requires regular research, learning and keeping up with the changing trends and technologies which Traynor goes as far as to refer to concurring ‘at the moment it’s all video based content for Instagram and that could change again.’ To be able to even complete the job at hand and to a level that will meet the expectations of clients, managers must be able to keep up-to-date with changing trends and have an understanding of the wider industry, perhaps even past the area of expertise they may be working in. For example, in the case of Justin Bieber and manager Scooter Braun, Braun noticed a globalization of Latin-American/Spanish music and capitalized on this by cutting a deal for the remix-rights of hit song ‘Despacito’ by Luis Fonso and remixing it with Justin Bieber and re-releasing it into Western markets.
To further this, a passion is particularly important because the role of a music manager is becoming increasingly difficult and thus another principle you must have is perseverance. The music industry has changed, with access to technology increasing, the cost of creating music decreasing and the range of genres, artists and talent becoming more and more saturated. This is corroborated in the statement;
‘It’s harder to break artists these days, there’s a lot of artists out there and the amount of artists you crossover to make big bucks or to become globally known names it a lot more difficult because there’s so many more access points to the market.’
This idea is supported by the concept of the streaming age, making it harder for a plethora artists to chart or get exposure instead having radio playlists and charts dominated by an oligopoly of artists. Similarly, in his book ‘The Music Industry Handbook’, Paul Rutter also quotes;
“…although small independent labels may unite with a major to enjoy greater success, lt is the major that ultimately has the finance, promotional tools and media influence to make a significant impact with the artist on a wider scale.”
The impact of all this evidence from both Traynor and secondary sources is that working within the music industry and doing so on a successful level is more and more difficult and requires the hard work, flexibility and integrity that Traynor discussed throughout the interview. Concluding that these are management principles she swears by.