When it comes to managing a business, it sometimes helps to think outside the box. Though most of us turn to leaders within our industry for advice and guidance, sometimes it’s those in an entirely different field who can trigger the most off-the-cuff thinking.
Jordan Kurland is a twenty-year veteran of the music industry and owner of Zeitgeist Artist Management in San Francisco, CA. He’s always had a passion for music, but, never being a musician himself, didn’t know where he fit in to big picture. As a result, he took it upon himself to learn everything the industry had to offer, and was drawn to the business side of the trade.
I interviewed Jordan to get a glimpse of his world. Here’s his story:
Q. What’s your background? What led you to artist management?
A. I was always a huge music fan. From the age of five or six I was listening to the BeachBoys and Sean Cassidy. I discovered The Who at age 10 and listening to music became a lifelong obsession. I started collecting records and knew the ins and outs of the albums. In college I considered becoming a music journalist because I thought that was the only way to get involved in music without being a musician. I didn’t even realize there was an entire business around discovering and promoting bands. When I learned that, it just clicked. I worked on campus booking shows, interned at record labels, and interned at a management company in New York. Things took off from there.
Q. You’ve worked with some really well-known artists. What marketing techniques were instrumental for Death Cab for Cutie’s growth?
A. The most important takeaway here is that they were always true to their core values and vision.
Death Cab had been a band for six years and released three studio albums before they were on mainstream media’s radar. They had already developed their brand and mission statement so-to-speak. Because of this, they have always been very clear about who they are and where their strengths lie. That doesn’t mean that they didn’t try new things or stretch in new directions, however, they’ve always been clear on what the goal is and when they did veer off course, they made it clear why they were stepping into this new terrain.
From a management perspective, this is key for marketing any product or service. The message needs to be uniform and consistent from day one.
Q. When a band is just starting out, how do you begin promoting them?
A. Based on where the band is in its career, it varies. The first thing we do with a new group is evaluate where they are in their career path. Creating music is an art but being in a band…playing professionally…it’s a business. Musicians come to us so they can make money and reach a larger audience.
So, without compromising integrity, without “selling out”, we look at what they could be doing better from a business perspective.
First, we help them set realistic goals and expectations: where do they see themselves in 3 months, 6 months, 9 months, a year? We look to the future together and essentially draw up a business plan for a band.
Q. How long have you been in the music industry?
A. I’ve been in this field, and been paid for it, for 20 years now. I like to think I’ve been a music fan since birth.
Q. What makes the music industry different from other businesses?
A. Managers and bands come in all shapes in sizes. In some ways it’s like a small business running another small business. It’s usually about career development. Oftentimes we are working with acts where it’s not about getting a song on the radio, it’s about developing a long-term touring career. We aim to build a fan base regardless of more commercial outlets. Of course, most artists have commercial ambition. They want success. We guide them and help them make credible decisions without compromising how they see themselves.
Q. How is managing a band like running a business?
A. A band is just like any public facing small business. The same principals apply. In a business, you care about customer loyalty and engagement. When it comes to bands, that’s just fan engagement. In both cases, it’s about connecting with PEOPLE. What’s going to work for your audience? When you find the core audience, how do you expand? Marketing, promotion, and publicity take a real timeline. There isn’t any magic bullet that says a band will be successful but you do the things that are proven to work. You create opportunity to get there.
Q. Do you have a default strategy for managing an artist, or is it unique for every performer?
A. I’d say it’s unique for every performer. You have a general template – certain things to get in line. But the default is to build a career, build a fan base. Look at their goals and evaluate next steps for helping the artist achieve those goals. You might not hit every goal, but you need to set them and know what they are.
Q. What trends do you foresee for 2014 in the artist management industry?
A. I think we’ll spend the next few years figuring out how streaming is going to affect the music industry and the monetization of it. Right now we’re still in the early stages of streaming, so we’re still getting a sense of consumer patterns.
From the business side, we’ve seen that guitars are making a comeback. Electronic music is still here and will be present, but we may see it start to fade a bit. In 2014, I predict that more bands will be playing actual instruments.
This interview reveals that Jordan Kurland’s approach to artist management is similar to that of a more traditional business owner. Despite the fact that the entertainment industry is unique in many ways, managing a band or artist is much like marketing a company. Business owners can learn plenty from Jordan’s promotion strategy.