Showing posts with label management. Show all posts
Showing posts with label management. Show all posts

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).

Monday, September 8, 2014

Q&A with California Talent Agencies Act Expert Edwin F. McPherson, Esq.

Edwin F. McPherson, Esq.

Distinguished entertainment litigator Edwin F. McPherson is the foremost expert on California's Talent Agencies Act (the "TAA").  On the heels of a recent Billboard piece - "Did the California Labor Commissioner Just Shake Up the Music Industry?" - we share the Q&A below to benefit talent representatives.  

To contact Mr. McPherson, visit or call 310-553-8833.

Cedar Boschan: What is the Talent Agencies Act?

Ed McPherson: The Talent Agencies Act is found in California Labor Code Section 1700 et seq.  Essentially, the Act governs the licensing and regulation of talent agents in the State of California.  However, what the Act also does is to preclude anyone who is not a licensed talent agent from procuring employment for “artists” in the entertainment industry.  The concept of “procurement” has been expanded over time to include any negotiation whatsoever, so that anyone who is not a licensed talent agent may not negotiate any terms of an employment agreement for an artist unless that person does so at the request of, and in conjunction with, a licensed talent agent.

How does it impact recording artists and their representatives?

McPherson: The Act was enacted to protect artists.  Many questions have been raised in the last several years (primarily by me) as to whether the Act really does what it was designed to do, or whether it actually hurts the very artists that it was designed to protect.  Several years ago, professionals in the music industry lobbied to amend the Act to exempt recording agreements from the Acts proscriptions.  That amendment went unchallenged for many years until the California Labor Commissioner, in the Dwight Yoakam v. The Fitzgerald Hartley Co., etc., et al., Case No. TAC 8774, determined that, because modern recording agreements include elements such as music videos, there are parts of a recording agreement that are subject to the Act and parts that are exempted from the Act.  Now that most, if not all, recording agreements include many other “360” type elements, the so-called “recording agreement exemption” is all but gone.

Unfortunately, there was never an exemption made for the negotiation or procurement of publishing agreements, perhaps because nobody ever contemplated that a publishing agreement could be the subject of the TAA.  However, not all publishing agreements are subject to the TAA.  If the agreement is a simple licensing agreement, licensing the use of one or more compositions, the procurement of that agreement is not considered to be a TAA violation; however, if the agreement purports to require the services of the songwriter to write songs for a period of time, the procurement of that agreement is typically going to be found to be a violation of the Act.

The unfortunate fact of life in the music industry is that agents in the music industry do not typically negotiate recording agreements, publishing agreements, producer agreements, or even mixing agreements – so the TAA basically leaves a musical artist without anyone who is adept at negotiating such deals, who is legally authorized to do so.

Boschan: What about music producers and mixers, and their representatives?

McPherson: There is now an odd dichotomy between how producer agreements and mixer agreements are construed in accordance with the TAA.  There is a case from a few years ago, entitled Lord Alge v. Moir Marie Entertainment, Case No. TAC 45-05 (2008), in which the California Labor Commissioner ruled that a management company that essentially did nothing for two mixer partners but procure employment for them was not liable for violating the Act because a mixing agreement is a recording agreement under the recording contract exemption to the Act.  Moir Marie actually found an expert witness who testified as such – and I can tell you that there is probably nobody else in the music industry that would say that a mixing contract is a recording contract.  In fact, most of the time, mixers do not record anything; they only mix the tracks that have been recorded already.  Even the Labor Commissioner thought twice about her decision, and granted Lord Alge’s motion for reconsideration.  However, unfortunately, the case had already been de novo’d to Superior Court, and jurisdiction therefore removed from the Labor Commissioner.  Although it is doubtful that a similar case will be decided in the same way in the future, lawyers unfortunately are still allowed to cite to the case for authority.

More recently, in fact on August 11, 2014, the Labor Commissioner decided Lindsey v. Lisa Marie Entertainment, Case No. TAC 28811 (2014), in which the successor of the same management company, doing exactly the same kind of procurement for a producer client, was found to have violated the Act.  The Labor Commissioner determined that a producer deal is not a recording agreement.  This, of course, is the proper ruling.  However, the interesting thing is that one could argue that a producer agreement is much more akin to a recording agreement than a mixing agreement.  The hearing officer in the Lindsey case treaded carefully around the Lord Alge case, paying deference to the hearing officer in that case, simply by saying that his decision was limited to the (producer) agreement at hand.

Boschan: How do you help clients who are impacted by the Talent Agencies Act?

McPherson: Although I have often criticized the Act, I have represented countless artists against their former managers and others.  Although I question whether the Talent Agencies Act is good for the industry as a whole, it would be malpractice for me not to use it to the advantage of talent that I represent when their former representatives come after them for commissions.  Similarly, I have represented managers against talent when I do not feel that they have violated the Act, or at least have not violated the Act in a way that permeates the relationship, as defined in the Marathon v. Blasi case.

Boschan: You are a Talent Agencies Act activist.  What changes do you think should be made to the act and why?

McPherson: I think that the entire Act should be looked at very closely in light of the entertainment industry as it exists today – not when the law was originally enacted.  However, the first priority has to be the Solis v. Blancarte case!


Ed McPherson has been practicing law for over 30 years.  He is licensed to practice law in California, New York, Massachusetts, and Hawaii, and has litigated cases all over the country.  He is a partner with the Los Angeles entertainment litigation firm McPherson Rane LLP, which specializes in the (talent side) representation of artists in the entertainment industry.  A substantial portion of Mr. McPherson’s practice involves the Talent Agencies Act, about which he has written numerous articles, given many panels, and has testified as an expert witness.