Music is a fascinating business full of individuals who barely remember how they got into it. Unlike other professions where one enrolls in a program or educational institution to obtain a specific job – as I did with journalism – music ropes in people from all walks of life, young and old. You could be running a small publication one day and suddenly find yourself booking shows for rock bands trying to break into the industry, as was the case for Michelle Cable, who started a music zine in the late ’90s at 15 years old in Eureka, California, and then began scheduling tours for the artists she interviewed.
“I wanted to create more momentum in this small town and bring bands to this community so I could have more bands to interview,” Cable tells Pollstar. “Through that, I had this cool network of contacts, and I started raising the number [of copies] of the zine. … I think anyone in the music industry starts doing one thing and it sort of expands into something else, and so I got into promoting shows locally.”
Panache music zine evolved into a boutique agency for independent artists and the venture wound up being a stepping stone for Cable as she gravitated toward management with garage guitar hero Ty Segall and slacker idol Mac DeMarco.
Cable’s trajectory isn’t so unique as many agents have plunged into management. Fellow agent Eva Alexiou-Reo, founder and CEO of FATA Booking Agency, believes her strength is in touring but couldn’t shake the itch to give managing a go after teaching a music industry course at Drexel University.
“I really loved hearing how a song developed on the creative side of things,” says Alexiou-Reo, who still dabbles in both roles while running FATA Booking and managing alt-rock band Transviolet. “There’s also a really important element in management and on the agent side of knowing the demographic of your artist. On the creative and branding sides, I feel like, as an agent, it really helped me to be able to manage knowing all these things.”
Heather Kolker, who co-founded Other Operation with Christian Stavros and manages indie pop trio MUNA, echoed Alexiou-Reo, saying that the knowledge she obtained as an agent was essential to her transition into management. Her opportunity came when Of Monsters of Men joined Paradigm, now Wasserman Music, and the band was without a team. She took on the role of manager to help them but juggling that gig along with a growing roster and motherhood was overwhelming. She left the agency to focus on management.
“Management is very different from agency; it’s not as one-lane,” Kolker says. “There’s a lot going on, and it’s way more personal with the artist. I wouldn’t say agenting is [a 9-to-5 job], but it’s a little more so than managing. It’s different and not for everybody. It’s not a job. It is a true lifestyle.”
Sometimes that inspiration to shake things up in your career doesn’t come from an event or experience but rather from a person. Veteran booking agent Tom Windish, head of business development and A&R at Wasserman Music, says he never considered management until he met R&B / soul artist Danielle Ponder.
“Her music and voice just blew me away,” Windish says. “I’m not looking to replace my day job and become a manager full-time, but I feel like I’ve learned so much, and I really wish I had done it much earlier in my career when I was much younger because I think there’s a lot of value for seeing things through the lens of the other people that I work with by actually being one of those people.”
Windish’s perception changed, with him realizing “the agent has a smaller role in it than I thought.” That’s not to say he believes agents aren’t essential to the development of an artist. He opted not to become Ponder’s agent because he wanted more minds in the room.
“I just want as many passionate people working on her behalf as I could get,” Windish says. “She has three great agents, and they all bring things to the table that I know I wouldn’t bring as an agent [and manager].”
However, not every leap into another lane in the industry pans out. Rachel Pestik joined Kolker in leaving Paradigm to manage talent only to realize she was better suited at an agency.
“Sometimes I miss the management side, but something that’s really cool is that a music agent’s job has evolved in the last decade,” says Pestik, who now works with artists such as MUNA and Nessa Barrett at CAA. “You can be so hands-on in so many different facets. You’re not really just booking tours anymore, which is more akin to the management side.
“I think who I am as a person, it was going to be a full-on commitment where I was going to be constantly worrying and being emotionally invested. … Even when Heather and I had Of Monsters and Men at Paradigm, we had an agent in place just to break it up because you can’t spend the time focusing and deep diving into touring. There’s a reason why there are specific roles on the team. … If you have one foot in both worlds, how can you really excel?”