Words of Wisdom from the Man Himself
Today, the 14 of us lucky enough to call ourselves interns at The Colbert Report were priviledged with a seminar with Stephen Colbert himself. Not the fake pundit mind you, but the actual man behind the character. Amongst the many pearls of wisdom and great antecdotes he shared with us were two pieces of great advice for making it in the arts and/or entertainment industry that really stood out to me.
I’d heard similar sentiments before and none of it was truly revolutionary but hearing them from him made them especially poignant and real.
The two points that really hit home for me were:
The five things needed to make it in the biz:
1. Don’t be Crazy
2. Always be excited about what you are doing.
3. Show up to work every day.
4. Be willing to help others
5. Don’t expect credit for doing your work.
“When deciding to work in arts or entertainment, think if there’s anything else in the world you’d rather be doing, and go do it instead.”
Think about it, I know I am.
Not Your Usual Suspects
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“Wherever there’s talent, there’s a talent manager.”
That’s a line from the recent New Yorker profile of Scooter Braun—the man who made Justin Bieber a household name. Here’s just one detail to show off Braun’s business savvy:
Braun uses Bieber’s fame as a P.R. platform for his other clients… He makes it worth Bieber’s while: when Braun signed Carly Rae Jepsen, he gave Bieber a fifty-per-cent cut. Braun told him, “We’ll be partners. But you’re going to do your part, being a loudspeaker: put her on your tour, sing a song with her.” And Bieber obeyed. The homemade video of him horsing around to Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe” got forty-eight million views and made the song catch fire.
Seems kind of gross, right? Well, back in the early 60s, the same tactics helped an unknown folkie named Bob Dylan get famous, too. From Ian Svenonius’s Psychic Soviet:
[Bob Dylan’s manager Al] Grossman saw that the money in music was in publishing, and he recognized Dylan’s protean songwriting capabilities. He encouraged Dylan’s writing, even setting him up an office at the Brill Building… and ordered his other managed acts (most notably Peter, Paul & Mary) to perform his songs, thereby breaking him to audiences that would have found his voice undesirable. Every night at their sold-out concerts, before signing “Blowin’ in the Wind,” Peter, Paul & Mary were induced to announce that it had been written by “the most important songwriter in America today, Bob Dylan.”
The myth (and marketing) is that music legends arrive on the scene fully-formed and their careers unfold as a natural outgrowth of their artistic genius. But it’s rarely so — behind almost every musical genius who achieved success is a smart manager. (“When Mozart was a child piano prodigy, his father, Leopold, travelled around with him, booking tours and stoking his son’s reputation in the Salzburg court.”)
And when we do acknowledge that managers exist, our ideas about them usually fit one of two models:
One is the underappreciated visionary: “the manager who gives everything to the artist, sacrifices for them, and then, once the artist becomes successful, is cast aside” (Andrew Oldham and the Rolling Stones, for instance). The other is the manager as Svengali: a scheming puppeteer who exploits a star to satisfy his own greed or ambition (Lou Pearlman, the impresario behind the Backstreet Boys and ’NSync, whom Justin Timberlake later accused of “financial rape,” and who went to prison for conspiracy and money laundering).
But for artists who achieve long, prosperous careers, a manager fills a much more nurturing and stable role: they’re often a friend, supporter, and maybe most importantly, the one who keeps the money flowing so the art can get made.
Neil Young’s manager, Elliott Roberts, “handles Young’s business and artistic interests with a great deal of savvy, so Young is good at making money — which helps, because he is also good at making it go away.”
Bruce Springsteen and his manager John Landau have a soul-mate-esque relationship that has guided most of the Boss’s career. After they met (Landau was a critic who wrote a review calling Springsteen “rock and roll future”) Springsteen invited Landau to help out in the studio while he was recording Born To Run. (“He helped Springsteen cut ‘Thunder Road’ from seven minutes to four and advised him to revise the opening of ‘Jungleland.’”
Landau quit his job as a critic and became, in essence, Springsteen’s adjutant: his friend, his adviser in all things, his producer, and, by 1978, his manager… Landau fed Springsteen’s curiosity about the world beyond music. He gave Springsteen books to read—Steinbeck, Flannery O’Connor—and movies to see, particularly John Ford and Howard Hawks Westerns. Springsteen started to think in larger terms than cars and highways; he began to look at his own story, his family’s story, in terms of class and American archetypes. The imagery, the storytelling, and the sense of place in those novels and films helped fuel his songs. Landau was also a catalyst in making Springsteen into a big business, pressing him to play bigger halls, overcoming his nightmarish early performances at Madison Square Garden. And he pressed him to think of himself the way Otis Redding did—as both an artist and an entertainer on a large stage.
When Landau had brain surgery, Springsteen was with him “nearly every day.” Indeed, when a good manager is lost, the result can be devastating to the act. John Lennon traced The Beatles’ demise to the death of their manager, Brian Epstein. “After Brian died, we collapsed. Paul took over and supposedly led us. But what is leading us, when we went round in circles? We broke up then. That was the disintegration.”
Dig into almost any big rock and roll story and you’ll find a manager. Whether they were good or bad for the artist might be arguable, but they’re there. Elvis had Colonel Tom Parker. The Sex Pistols were the brainchild of Malcolm McLaren. Tony Defries gave David Bowie the money and the attention that helped him become Ziggy Stardust. The list goes on and on.
And that’s just the music business. Don’t get me started on how valuable a good literary agent is…