Friday, December 5, 2014

Q&A with Artist Manager Laurel Stearns

Laurel Stearns at #ScionAV Music(less) Music Conference 2012
Laurel Stearns speaking at Scion Music(less) Music Conference 2012 about building a team.  Click to view the panel discussion.

With major experience and an independent mindset, Laurel Stearns manages artists from Red Fang to Jenny O.  Visit for more on her Downtown L.A. office's wonderful roster and read ahead for Ms. Stearn's insightful answers to @Auditrix' music business questions:

Cedar Boschan: What is the difference between a business manager and an artist (a.k.a. "personal") manager?

Laurel Stearns: I'm an artist manager.  There is a big difference between business management and artist management.  The artist manager is involved in every aspect of a band's/artist's life, while business management handles the money flow.  Both are hugely important.

Boschan: Legendary manager Shep Gordon said, “The three most important things a manager does is (1) get the money, (2) always remember to get the money, and (3) never forget to always remember to get the money.” What are the three most important things that you do for clients?

Stearns: I love Shep and that statement holds true today.  I would say:
  1. Create infrastructure
  2. Create opportunities, and 
  3. Get the money!
Boschan: Can you offer any tips to collecting your clients’ fair share?  

Stearns: Make sure  your deals are clear and papered/paper trail... Get this done before any work happens

Boschan: How are you compensated?

Stearns: We get paid when the artist gets paid.  I never commission of deficits...and, please, with merch it should be a commission of the net.

Boschan: What are fair commissions for members of an artist's team?

Stearns: Booking agent = 10% and business manager = 5%, while artist management varies between 15-20%; it's an endless job.

Boschan: When should an artist fire a manager?

Stearns: If the visions are completely different.  The manager is the closest person to the band....if the vision and vibe is off, it might be time to part don't need to be best friends but both parties should have a similar path with similar goals.

Boschan: Would you be willing to share an example of a failure in your career or one of your clients’ careers and what you learned from it?

Stearns: Yes, taking on artists that I didn't have a pure gut feeling on, bringing them on because of others telling me I should, those never turn out well. You have to be 100% passionate about it otherwise it usually doesn't work.

Boschan:  What is less important now than it was five years ago?

Stearns: Getting on the radio.  While it still can impact your career immensely, there are so many ways to grab exposure now...licenses for commercials, TV, film, fashion, every area of the internet, podcasts, etc.  The combination of life steeped in music is really limitless now.

Boschan: What has grown in consequence over the past 5 years?

Stearns: The amount of competition for attention; everyone can make a record and the outlets to expose it are everywhere... keeping your fans loyal and focused is not easy, but if you are truly great at what you do, I still believe you will be found at some point.

Boschan: What are the key metrics you rely on to gauge success? (e.g., SoundScan sales, YouTube views, Facebook likes)

Stearns: All of it...SoundScan is probably the last as you can have a billboard #1 streaming song that does not equal record sales.  But all of it adds up and means your music is getting out there.

Boschan: Your clients have viral videos.  How have you leveraged audiovisual media to create income opportunities for your clients?

Stearns: Absolutely, Red Fang have built an incredible relationship based on their love of PBR [Pabst Blue Ribbon beer]... they chose that beer naturally... it entered into their video aesthetic and we have built a real relationship with PBR because of it.  For example, PBR purchased a van for the band and Red Fang played at PBR events. It's been a organic fit that is recognized by both parties.

How do you approach a potential brand partner on behalf of an artist?

Stearns: I look for truly creative ideas that make the brand interested in the band...begging for money to sponsor something is not appealing...create the engagement by coming up with amazing ideas...don't ask the brand to do that for you. Brands will show up if you have a great idea.

Boschan: You were a label A&R person and became a manager.  What was your role at the label and how has that influenced you as a manager?

Stearns: I was actually a manager first...I was also independent...that was my single most important point of view.  Being independently minded helped me stand out in a corporate environment.

Boschan: Specifically what do you look for in a label partner?

Stearns: I love working with people that really get into the individuality of the band/artist. We work in a creative field and when I feel like I get a rubber stamp plan laid out in front on me, there is nothing more heart wrenching than that...When you work in the arts, get artistic.

Boschan: Do you have any crowdfunded projects on the horizon?

Stearns: We have a collaborations record with Linda Perhacs coming that will be crowd funded.  She has a great label, but there are so many fans out there and we wanted to engage them all in this process.


At Dilettante, Stearns oversees a roster of artists that includes folk icon Linda Perhacs (Asthmatic Kitty/Secretly Canadian), Red Fang (Relapse), Jenny O. (Thirty Tigers), Rodrigo Amarante (Easy Sounds/Vanguard), Team Spirit (Vice), Black English (Arts & Crafts), Babes (Harvest), and PPL MVR (Atlantic/Elektra). 

Stearns joined Dilettante from Prospect Park (The Firm).  Previously, Stearns  helped launch the L.A. arm of Redlight Management, where she brought into the fold the likes of The Decemberists and Alberta Cross. She also has served as an independent manager for artists such as The Dirty Dozen Brass Band (Mammoth), The Descendents, ALL (Epitaph), GWAR (Metal Blade), The Paladins (4AD) and Plastilina Mosh (Capitol).

Prior to her career in artist management, Stearns was an A&R rep at Capitol Records, where she worked with bands such as Interpol, The Decemberists, Shout Out Louds, Fischerspooner, Sparklehorse and LCD Soundsystem. While at Capitol, Stearns began noticing that many talented bands could not find a place within the major label system. Seeking to create a home for such bands, Stearns and two partners launched Cold Sweat Records/Caroline. The label would ultimately discover the likes of Wives/No Age, Battles, Devendra Banhart, and Health, releasing music using non-traditional methods.

Stearns has also served as music supervisor for acclaimed indie films, such as The Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia (Johnny Knoxville) and Miss Meadows (Katie Holmes).