William E. Ketchum III | August 25, 2016
On Monday evening (Aug. 22), Artist Republic Consulting Group, a music business strategy firm, hosted a private meeting at New York City's Viacom headquarters with 10 African-American managers to participate in a workshop on best management practices. Consulting experts Kentay Williams and Asantewaa Ricks -- who have collectively worked with acts like OutKast, Diddy, Usher and Elton John as well as corporate giants like Sony, Warner Music and ASCAP -- hosted managers including Justin Harmond, Margaret Ntim, Al Mealy, Howard Tseng, Miles Anthony-Williams, Nacole Powers, Karume James, Donna Dragotta, Kelechi Aharanwa, and Yaya Rey.
With the prevalence of streaming services, social media and the decline of album sales, Williams and Ricks have made it their job to help coach managers in ensuring talent is handled properly on all fronts with Artist Republic CG, found in 2013. Beyond consulting with other artists and companies, they conduct meetings, like Monday's conference, to help spread the word about their business and spark dialog among professionals in the same field. Viacom invited Williams and Ricks, they said, to have the conversation at their office after the pair worked on termed projects for their Global Strategy Division and also ideated proposals for BETX and discussing synergies with VH1 Save The Music.
At a time where elaborate album rollouts and visual album experiences are rapidly becoming an industry norm (see: Beyonce, Rihanna, Kanye West, Chance The Rapper and Frank Ocean's 2016 releases), Williams and Ricks recalled seeing a shift in responsibilities for managerial positions in the late '90s. Record label employees used to come up with the strategies behind an artist's album release and career moves while today's crop of upstarts often employ their entourages to handle both financial and creative matters. "In our communities, we do things together," said Williams, as exemplified by New York's A$AP Mob managed by the rap collective's longtime friend and business partner A$AP Yams as well as Chance the Rapper's manager Pat Corcoran, who encouraged the Chicago rapper to shun labels and go independent. "So most artists are coming out of their neighborhoods with their homeboy, their homegirl, their aunt, their uncle, their momager, someone." He added, "People are coming in with no skill sets. It’s not a problem, necessarily. The challenge is where do they go to begin to tap into understanding what those skill sets should be?”
“Black music is co-opted, black managers are disenfranchised, and I’m a black girl,” Ricks said, noting the obstacles of banding together in the industry. “Just like if we don’t step out and mentor those young brothers in the 'hood, our whole community has a problem. If we don’t specifically pay attention to black artists and black managers, our industry has a problem.”
They then took attendees through specific strategies used by managers and moguls like Translation CEO/founder Steve Stoute and KWL Enterprises CEO/founder Kevin Liles, while also showing the theories used by renowned strategists Henry Mintzberg and Michael Porter. A key element was Mintzberg’s 5 P’s of Strategy: perspective, position, patterns, ploy and planning. Each manager in attendance was instructed to think about each "P" in relation to the artists they were working with. "I felt really privileged to get a chance to be there. Artists have a big community, but there isn’t a community of managers where we can speak from our perspective,” said attendee Karume James, who first began managing an artist named AyoInMotion in January. "Nobody tells you how to be a manager, especially if you want a more strategic approach with helping your artists."
Longtime manager Miles Anthony-Williams of Righteous Music Media LLC, home to artists Darien and Margot B., added, “When they’re talking about the 5 P’s of Strategy, I’m like, what’s that? But when I started talking to Kentay and he started explaining it, I could give him an example of what I was already doing and already thinking, I just wasn’t saying it in that language." The workshop, he said, will help him better deliver his ideas "in ways that businesspeople and his clients can understand.”
Williams and Ricks then presented a case study of a current R&B artist, showing them his social media platforms, web site and music videos. The attendees immediately dug in, picking apart what they saw as flaws in his story-selling and how he was portraying conflicting messages to potential supporters. The artist’s Instagram page was full of videos that showed him singing classic R&B songs while staring at the camera, but his music videos aimed for trendy sounds that didn’t show him in them.
Before wrapping the meeting, Williams and Ricks called Jonnetta Patton, the mother and former longtime manager to Usher. Patton spoke about her own experiences and gave the attendees tips: focus on the artist, keep your phone on at all times, and be honest. “Times have changed since I’ve been in the industry,” she said. “Everyone works from a cell phone and social media. No one has an office, everyone works from home.” Patton also emphasized the importance of strategy, adding, “At the beginning of a project, we would always put together a three-year plan. [Usher] was an artist, an actor, a producer, so we had layers. When we got ready to put out an album, we always had three songs that we thought were hits. That’s very important, too. Identify at least three strong singles. Be honest. Don’t be afraid of getting fired because you’re telling the truth. That only makes the artist stronger, when you tell the truth.”
The power meeting ended with what Williams and Ricks called the "Artist Republic CG 8-Fold Path." The list included tips like: “Compete to be unique, not the best"; "Drive artists to make a clear choice about who they are and to whom they matter,"; and “Be okay with saying ‘F--k the Radio!’” Lakeisha Orange, who works with the management consortium Primary Wave Talent Management and represents acts like Cee-Lo Green, Syleena Johnson and Goodie Mob, said she plans to implement the lessons from the meeting into her work immediately. “For all the artists I work for, I’m going to write out this strategy,” she said. “If the best vocalists can still take singing lessons and I’m supposed to be a manager, I should be able to learn more and still better myself."
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