Music Managers: Help or Hindrance?

Olivia Finlayson discusses the impact that a managers actions can have upon an artists career.

Olivia Finlayson
1st March 2021
Image credit: popsugar.co.uk/celebrity, Wikimedia Commons, Robin JE Scott
From the classics: the Beatles managers' Brian Epstein and Allan Klein, Elvis' manager Colonel Tom Parker and Bob Dylan's manager Albert Grossman to the more recent Scooter Braun and Simon Cowell; managers dedicate their lives to guide musical artists through their careers in the music and entertainment industry. 

But is it actually worth it? Do they add value or do they hinder the expression of music in our increasingly controlling world? 

Let’s think back to the early beginning of ‘popular’ music; Brain Epstein, a manager of the Beatles, the ‘Fifth Beatle’, was a key component in their success. From being responsible from taking them from The Cavern Club to wider stardom, Epstein slowly over-time was a known result of the loss in The Beatles’ expression and control of their own work including the rights to it. Initially, in early 1962, only requesting 10-15% of their revenue. This quickly changes; By 8 months later, requesting 15-25%, then to creating Northern Songs, a publishing company which ultimately deprives McCartney and Lennon of the rights to their own work. Both McCartney and Lennon go from having 20% each of the rights to their own songs to having 0%, a change promoted by Epstein’s involvement with the band, following the purchase of Northern Songs by ATV Music Publishing in 1969... Later to be bought by Michael Jackson in 1985. 

What starts off as a blessing can soon turn into simply a curse

You may be thinking "well yes but this was 50 years ago? How is this relevant in our music industry now?"

Let’s take a more contemporary example, one which has been very prominent in the news recently. Scooter Braun, the manager of successful acts such as Ariana Grande, Justin Bieber and many others, has recently been in the spotlight for his feud with Taylor Swift, one of the best-selling musical artists with record sales reaching more than 200 million worldwide. Although not involved in her rise to fame, Braun, being the chairman of Ithaca Holdings, acquired the control over Swift’s masters to her songs, album artworks and videos. Consequently, those masters were sold to Shamrock Holdings for over $300 million, taking this financial gain to benefit himself over the artist. Braun consciously chose not to sell the masters to Swift herself due to her decision not to sign an agreement which would’ve stopped her from speaking ill of Braun and his productions. Henceforth, Swift is deciding to remake her albums to create them in her own way, to her liking. Her single Love Story has been re-recorded and is available to listen to now while the rest of the first re-recorded album Fearless (Taylor’s Version) will be released in April 2021. 

So overall, I guess time does really tell. What starts off as a blessing can soon turn into simply a curse, especially when avaricious managers are involved. 

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