Revolving Doors: Artist Manager Musical Chairs Highlight Industry Change

Cardi B, Kanye West, Adam Levine, Travis Scott
AP Photo / Getty Images / AP Photo / John Davisson
– Cardi B, Kanye West, Adam Levine, Travis Scott
GUARD CHANGING: In recent weeks, Cardi B, Kanye West, Adam Levine, Travis Scott and others have all changed their management.

The past few weeks have been busy when it comes to artists changing managers, which raises a salient question: Why? 

Sometimes performers switch partners when an artist outgrows their original manager, who usually takes them from the ground up to the threshold of success, but is ultimately unable to take them all the way to the promised land.  
Think of Bruce Springsteen’s Mike Appel, who grudgingly gave way to Jon Landau, the Rolling Stones’ savvy Andrew Loog Oldham, losing out in a power struggle with Allen Klein, or Owen Husney, the man who discovered Prince, giving way to Robert Cavallo, Joseph Ruffalo and Steve Fargnoli. The days of career-long managers like ZZ Top’s late Bill Ham, Bob Seger’s Punch Andrews and U2’s Paul McGuinness is a thing of the past.
Landau, who has both managed Springsteen and co-produced several of his records since 1975’s Born to Run, points out the business has changed a great deal since he started.
“Being a manager today is so much more complicated though some things remain the same,” Landau said. “Great artist, great songs, great records and great show — and you will go far. If you have all of that, then everything else falls into place, and if you don’t, no amount of marketing, no matter how modern and state-of-the-art, will make a difference in the long term.”
Artist managers still earn the traditional 15-20% of an artist’s net proceeds from touring, album sales, merchandising, publishing and now, increasingly, streaming, which means for every $1 million generated by an act, the manager earns between $150-200,000 himself. 
With real-time streaming, though, the traditional album cycle has been turned into a 365/24/7 business, which means the manager has quite a bit more on his plate.
Veteran record executive Allen Kovac, whose Tenth Street Entertainment management roster includes Motley Crue and three-time hard rock Grammy nominee Nothing More, points to streaming as the one key area that managers need to learn. 
“Today’s managers have to understand the value of how to use that data, as well as keeping a steady flow of product,” Kovac said. 
“You now need your own personal relationships with the streaming services,” adds Foundations Music Partner/Manager Drew Simmons, whose clients include Young The Giant (signed to Fueled By Ramen/Atlantic Records) and Republic Records act Noah Kahan. 
Pointing to streaming and social media helping break U.S. newcomer Kahan in Australia, Simmons insists having Universal Music Group’s global presence was instrumental in coordinating the effort.  “The manager tends to be the quarterback, providing the impetus, then helping coordinate the team at the label.”
Tenth Street’s Kovac also uses a sports metaphor, this time to describe why an act and manager part ways, “It’s when the artist refuses to listen to the coach,” then insists, “Not one client who’s left me has ever done better afterwards. You can look it up.”
Of course, clients change representation for any number of reasons. “It’s a personal business,” adds Simmons.  “You never know the precise reason someone leaves.”
There has been a flurry of well-publicized break-ups recently. Rising superstar Cardi B, just before the release of her debut album Invasion of Privacy, signed with Atlanta-based Quality Control’s Kevin “Coack K” Lee and Pierre “Pee” Thomas, home of Migos and Lil Yachty, a joint venture with Motown and Capitol Music Group.  She was previously repped by Haitian-American Shaft’s New York-based The KSR Group, whose client roster includes Fetty Wap, Meek Mill, Young Jeezy, Ne-Yo and The Breakfast Club radio co-host Charlamagne Tha God. This move seems to be one that keeps things all in the family, as Cardi B is engaged to Migos member Offset.
Just a week earlier, Kanye West split with Croatian manager Izzy Zivkovic, who has been his official rep since 2010, but whose history with the rapper goes back even further. Zivkovic had been splitting the duties with Scooter Braun’s SB Projects, which will now manage him exclusively, along with a roster that now includes Justin Bieber and Ariana Grande. Zivkovic’s Split Second Management is now home to Arcade Fire and Banks, among others. Kanye West, for whom Irving Azoff (a co-founder of Oak View Group, Pollstar’s parent company) once served as an unofficial advisor, parted ways with him in 2012. It’s hard to keep up with the mercurial West, who seems loathe to take direction from anyone, but the ambitious Braun and West seem to have established a mutual rapport.
Travis Scott announced he’s moving on from Three Six Zero’s Mark Gillespie, whose clients have included Calvin Harris and Frank Ocean, partnering with Roc Nation in 2015. The dynamic, chart-topping hip-hop artist’s new team includes Azoff and Scott’s veteran associate David Stromberg, who has been GM of the rapper’s Cactus Jack company since 2012. 
Last week, three key founding partners of the Nashville-based Roar – which reps Dwight Yoakam, Bob Weir and Dead & Company (co-managed with Azoff / Moir), among others – has set up a new L.A.-based firm, Activist Artists Management, taking their acts with them.
Tragedy can also initiate change. The recent death of Career Artist Management founder Jordan Feldstein last December led his longtime clients Maroon 5 and front man Adam Levine to remain with a revised CAM, run by Levine, longtime Feldstein colleague Adam Harrison and Azoff. Remaining acts Miguel, Elle King and Robin Thicke – along with their managers – will join Jay-Z’s Roc Nation, which officially ends its previous partnership with CAM.  
Sometimes, artists are just looking for another point of view, a fresh perspective, especially in a world where streaming is the rule, and suddenly overwhelmed major labels are no longer capable of accomplishing all the tasks they once did.  When Wolfson Entertainment’s Jonathan Wolfson took over the management of Daryl Hall & John Oates from their longtime manager Brian Doyle (who dated back to the duo’s alliance with Tommy Mottola), he was a Gen X fan of the band and sought to expand their audience to a new generation via his executive production of “Live from Daryl’s House,” a weekly webcast – most recently carried by MTV’s Palladia – that brought in up-and-coming artists like Chromeo and Minus the Bear to perform the H&O songbook with Hall.
Milk & Honey President/founder Lucas Keller, who now manages producers, songwriters and EDM DJs, including hitmakers Warren “Oak” Felder (Alessia Cara) and David Hodges (Kelly Clarkson), insists a manager’s main job “is to instill confidence in the client… to evolve that relationship and foster that belief on both sides.”
Keller points to the fact “some managers tend to oversell and under-deliver,” and how A&R – once the sole domain of the labels –  has become an important aspect of his job.
“Today, an artist manager has to create value beyond working the record label,” says Keller. “A suite of artist services, strong A&R and an experienced manager that has vision and can instill that belief are still the three ingredients that make up the secret sauce.”
Former Red Light Management exec Bodie Johnson, the founder/owner of Denver-based Backforty Management, works with a roster of buzzing indie acts like Shakey Graves, Liza Anne and Langhorne Slim. He says the current rise of the independent label fits in perfectly with his skill set. “They’re allowing the artists to hold the reigns and, at the same time, giving managers more privilege and responsibility. Listening to the fans, getting real-time feedback and analytics allows me to guide both my artist and the label where they need to go. And, from what I understand, that didn’t usually happen at a major.”
Finally, though, for a manager, a successful, long-term relationship with an artist takes a mutual trust and belief in a common goal, says Johnson. 
“It’s all about achieving their success point, not necessarily yours. When I choose to represent someone, I have to know they’re into it for the long haul, to go the distance,” he insists. “I want to be like Jon Landau with Springsteen and retire with my artists.”