Managing A Country Artist: Nashville’s Larry Fitzgerald
One cannot imagine traveling to Nashville without being exposed to country music. And Nashville is indeed a “Music City”. Artists like Garth Brooks, Shania Twain and Vince Gill have made country music universal. This paper will examine the role of a manager of a country artist in Nashville.
The management of a country music artist poses distinct challenges at every level, including radio promotion, touring and marketing. The example of Larry Fitzgerald is instructive. He is an experienced manager that began his career at the William Morris booking agency and continued working in the music business in various positions. Eventually Fitzgerald started up a management company with Mark Hartley in 1977. The Fitzgerald-Hartley Company has since become one of the most well established management companies in the business. Their roster includes an amazing assortment of artists including LeAnn Rimes, Kellie Pickler, Brad Paisley, Vince Gill, Colbie Caillat, and Olivia Newton-John. The Company has three locations throughout the United States: Nashville, TN, Ventura, CA and Houston, TX.
Often people are unsure of what a personal manager does. For Fitzgerald, a manager is a coach who guides and oversees a team .“Compare a manager to the CEO of a company that sells widgets; all the departments answer directly to him, including R&D, Accounting, Marketing, and Sales. He puts a team together and is responsible for making all the significant decisions. The players in the team really are the record label personnel, the business managers, the accountants, and the touring staff (including the road manager, the tour manager, the musicians, and the sound technicians).” The bigger the artist”, he says,” the more personnel there is.”
While Fitzgerald emphasizes that “experience is a major plus for a manager since this really is a business of relationships”, there is a need too for such qualities like long-term vision and patience, organizational and decision-making skills, and an ability to spot talent .
Having a passion for job and artist is key, and others have pointed this out. “[It] is the key ingredient to making an artist management relationship work. If you find someone who has real and genuine passion and isn’t a complete derelict, you will be better off…Ideally, your manager will also have the connections and the funding”( Howard)
Yet, what is different about managing country artists? Marc Oswald, artist manager for such country acts as Big & Rich and Gretchen Wilson, describes country music. “I would say the difference in country, as a genre, is that first off, it’s got 2,100 radio stations dedicated to it. There are more radio stations than any other format. It’s a fairly organized format, with the Country Music Association, for example. So it’s an organized genre with a lot of penetration and distribution.”
Another element of country music is that everything is essentially done through Nashville. Larry Fitzgerald describes for us the Nashville scene. “You really have to be integrated into the [Nashville] society. It’s a small community, and music row is kind of small. [You must] live in Nashville.”
Country’s audience is different too, for it is mostly US based. As Larry Fitzgerald says, “you don’t really have a world market; country music is pretty American and doesn’t translate to many other countries.” Marketing and touring strategies are therefore domestic.
When managing a country artist there are many barriers to cross before breaking into the industry. Having a presence in country radio is vital, but it poses quite a challenge for any aspiring manager. As Tony Brown once explained, “Radio manipulates us [all], we react to it; that’s the nature of our genre.”(Foehr). Even with internet and satellite radio, downloadable music, and audio streaming–hits on terrestrial radio are key. Says Fitzgerald: “We need radio because when you get a ‘hit record’ that means you get a couple thousand radio stations playing your song across the United States x number of times a day in peak hours. In order to really break an artists you need radio. Radio has become more and more difficult because they aren’t in the music business…they really are in the advertising business. So all they care about is ratings. They are going to do whatever they can to get the most listeners. Many of these stations now have changed. The might have one person that is programming a hundred radio stations. They are very, very hard to deal with. They ask for a lot and give very little. They hold record companies and artists hostage, in my opinion. They want you to play free shows and come in and go in the air for drive time and do interviews and photos. They promise you nothing. So the artist devotes all this time and energy and a record company develops a lot of money to purse all these ‘favors’ for radio. They won’t guarantee radio play. But we still will need them, unless we find another way. It is our main way for getting music out in large numbers all at once.”
Radio is concerned with quantity, which in country music means targeting the 35-45 year old demographic. Record companies, on the other hand, tend to target a younger audience because that is usually where record sales are. Radio play thre usually affects the sale of an artist’s album because hits translate into sales. Artist manager Marc Oswald explains this is not always the case in country music. “You have to have an organic, creative product that does more than just get radio airplay, it has to translate into sales. Country music’s biggest challenge is there’s a number one record every week and most of them don’t sell albums. You have to figure out how to have an impact on the radio and have an impact that’s going to be [more than] a number one record…[it has to be] a call to action. The action has to be buy the CD”.
The duo Bi & Rich are an exception. Although having songs played on the radio is still critical for most country acts, they have good record sales and fans buy tickets to their concerts without there being a hit at radio. But this is because Big & Rich draw in an unusually younger crowd, and radio tends to play less of them (Kosser).
Touring has its own challenges in country music. It provides one of the biggest pieces of an artist’s revenue pie, and a manager has to tread with care in this area. “ You only have the United States. You have to be really careful, particularly when you get to be a major touring act, [not to] burn markets. You can’t go out every year. So when touring is the only basis of the business, it makes it more difficult in the long-run”, says Fitzgerald. Touring is about getting the fan involved with the music. Fans involved with an artist are generally willing to spend money on them, whether through tickets, records, merchandise, or all of the above. And it is up to the manager to make the marketing and advertisement of the tour exciting.
However, making a tour an event that fans are willing to pay $50 or more is not an easy task. The advice Larry Fitzgerald gives on this is simple: “add an event artist.” There are several approaches to this, but no easy solutions. When a headlining artist that has fans that are willing to spend a decent amount of money on his tour is your competition, maintain the same level of “eventfulness”. Fizgerald adds that “if Brooks and Dunn had twenty-foot blow up cowgirl balloons, dancers on stage, and (sic) shot autographed memorabilia out of a cannon on their last tour, chances are your artist needs to do that and more…You want to make sure they are entertained. It’s not only about playing great music…”
As the music industry changes with the Internet, so does the role of the manager. Websites such as YouTube and Myspace have opened up a whole new world. Any person can surf websites and discover artists. Listeners no longer need radio to tell them which music is good. Music fans no longer need to go to a record store to browse for music. As Fitzgerald comments, “the Internet has [allowed us to] deal with people [i.e. audiences] directly and it has changed everything [I do].”
He continues: “managers are becoming more important in the mix…[they are] almost partners with their artists, because now we are looking for new ways together to market our music.”
Moreover, the business of management is no longer just about recording an album with a major record company and selling it. Taylor Swift is an example of a country artist who helped create a huge fan following by connecting with people online. As a manger, it is about branding your artist and there are more ways now than ever to do that.
Finally, managing an artist isn’t all just business. It’s not always about creating the best tour, or releasing the number one album. Neither is it just about the music. Managers work so closely and on such a personal basis with artists that they really become involved in their clients lives.
Fitzgerald describes this in a painfully honest way [abridged for this article] . “It’s really funny how most performers—artists, actors, singer-songwriters—anybody…I mean it’s really amazing how so many of them have such a low self-esteem, such a low self-image or are so totally insecure. Which is why they get onstage, it’s a way of masking [who they are] and having security and reaching out to people. It’s really hard, because Mark Hartley, my business partner and I constantly are joking that it’s ‘Dr. Larry [and] Dr. Mark’… I’ve been through births, deaths, divorce, drug and alcohol abuse… It’s really hard to separate personal issues [and still beprofessional about it]. I think any manager in any kind of business ultimately has to deal with supporting people. And life, a lot of times, just gets in the way. It is a really important part of my job…It takes its toll on me too …. I have lost three or four clients over the years to drugs or overdoses or whatever…I’ve had nervous breakdowns because of divorce, [and] I’ve had parents and children die. … [I see my job as] being a caretaker. “ That this happens in country music, just like it does in rock, pop, as well as in other more alternative genres, may not surprise.
By Sarah Beatty
Recommended Reading and Bibliography
1. Fitzgerald, Larry. Phone Interview. 19 November 2008.
2. Foehr, Stephen. Waking Up In Nashville. London: Sanctuary, 2002.
3. “Grand Ole Opry.” Country Music Hall of Fame. 12 December 2008.
4. Howard, George. “The Three Essentials of Management.” Artistshouse Music. 21 May 2007. 12 December 2008. http://www.artistshousemusic.org/articles/the +three+essentials+of+management+the+importance+of+connections
5. Kosser, Michael. How Nashville became Music City, U.S.A. Milwaukee: Hal Leonard, 2006.
6. Marcone, Stephen. Managing Your Band 4th ed. Wayne: HiMarks, 2002.
7. Oswald, Marc. “Managing Country Artists.” Artistshouse Music. June 2006. 12 December 2008. http://www.artistshousemusic.org/videos/managing+coun try+artists