Artist Co-Management for the World: Building a Platform for the Facilitation of Song Writing and Record Production


This article draws an analogy between open-source software development and artist co-management networks, networks that form a platform for the facilitation of artists’ song writing and record production efforts. In the international popular music industry, the online environment is leading to more pressure being placed on artists and managers, rather than record labels, due to the fragmentation of the media landscape and the downsizing of recording labels. This is affecting the way in which song writing and record production are facilitated. In order for artist managers to help their clients to build and maximize their recording careers, the volatile environment that record labels are in means that artist managers must engineer new methods to effectively resource their clients’ album production.

As the artist management role becomes even more central it brings extra overheads and responsibilities. An international network of co-managers is a possible solution for increasing management service provision for artists in this context. This is a context in which there is a lot more work for artist managers to do that perhaps requires expertise that artist managers do not necessarily have individually. This will arguably lead to the need for greater scale, particularly when artist managers are dealing internationally in order to assist their client’s song writing and record production efforts.

This could lead to artist management becoming corporatized, or to the development of an extensive international co-management network (or both). Corporatization could come internally by way of the Manager/Agent/Record Label model or externally by way of major record label ‘land grabs’, whereby the record company demands a part or full ownership of the management entity and therefore a ‘360 degree’ participation in all aspects of the artist’s/manager’s income, an example includes Universal Music’s new artist management company Twenty-First Artists /Universal Management (UK) that has been set up by Colin Lester. While another possible solution for addressing the increased workload caused by the centralisation of responsibilities with the artist manager concerns decentralising responsibilities through co-management and the decentralised decision making that this enables.

This article employs Watson’s (2002) argument that the unique relationship between artist and manager is the nucleus around which a successful musical career revolves. In order to develop this argument further, Watson uses a bicycle wheel analogy to describe the structure that evolves due to the fact that (if successful) eventually the manager and the artist will assemble a network of other relationships to try and further the artist’s career. Watson claims that the artist and manager might build a team that includes record company staff, booking agents, live crew, publicists, accountants, music publishers, record producers, merchandisers and many other specialists. His analogy involves the unique combination of the artist and manager constituting the hub in the middle of a wheel. The artist and manager together work out where they want to go and how they want to get there. They then start assembling the additional members of the team around the hub like the spokes of a wheel.

While the individual spokes themselves are important, the artist/manager hub remains pivotal in every situation. An international artist’s career often involves a different network of people in each territory and so co-management is often proposed as a solution to this because there is a belief that an artist management hub is needed in each territory. This is known as split-territories co-management. This article will however explore an alternative to this, which involves co-management for the world. Co-management for the world involves having one artist management hub that consists of a network of co-managers.

Best Practices and Conduct

Artist managers’ attempts to form international co-management networks are hampered by a lack of consistency in relation to best practice and conduct across different territories. This research project therefore also examines the research question: What are the pros and cons of a Code of Conduct for artist managers in the popular music industry?

This project is encouraged by the International Music Managers’ Forum (IMMF), which is a voluntary body seeking to create new standards in relation to artist management practices and to the enforcement of international copyright law. Although in recent years they have drafted an Aspirational Code of Conduct (included later), their aim is constrained by lack of empirical research. This research project attempts to alleviate this through a comparative study of regulation (self-regulation and/or governmental) and best practices in the UK, Canada, Australia and the US and in the first half of 2010 I received a Macquarie University research grant that enabled me to travel and conduct research interviews for this.

Research Method

It is important to note the manner in which this article approaches the issues of artist management, song writing and record production. This article is not a neutral, disengaged reflection; the approach taken herein will analyse the subject in order to illuminate cultural practice and inform both internal and external theorisation of the cultural space in which artist management occurs. In other words, it is important to note at the outset that the author is an artist manager.

This article therefore uses a participant-observer method of research, a tradition that is well established in qualitative research practices. Such an auto-ethnography will be used in conjunction with ethnographic research interviews that were conducted by the author (Greene and Porcello, 2005). In assuming a participant ‘non autonomous’ (Titon, 1997) role in the processes of artist management, song writing and record production, this article will use an interaction model (Shelemay, 1997). In this context, the researcher’s own immersion in the project is required and therefore the ‘shadow’ of the researcher will be cast here (Macionis and Plummer, 2005: Rice, 1997).

To this end, this article is in part a case study of the Australian Indie Folk band Boy & Bear. I have been co-managing Boy & Bear for the world with Rowan Brand since 2008. Boy & Bear’s recordings are licensed to Universal Music Australia’s Island imprint in Australia and New Zealand, while for the rest of the world the band is signed directly to Universal Motown in the US with a release commitment for Universal Mercury in the UK. Their song publishing is with SonyATV world wide, their booking agent in Australia is Stephen Wade at Select Music, their booking agent in the UK and Europe is Lucy Dickins at International Talent Booking (ITB), and their booking agent in the US is Bobby Cory at CAA. Boy & Bear won the Triple J Unearthed J Award in 2010, was named Rolling Stone Magazine’s ‘Artist to Watch’ for 2011, and sold out 15 of the 17 shows on their debut headline Australian tour in October/November 2010. They have toured Australia with Mumford & Sons, Laura Marling, Angus & Julia Stone, The Hungry Kids of Hungary, Lisa Mitchell and in April 2010 they toured the UK with Laura Marling. Laura Marling also used Boy & Bear’s rhythm section as part of her backing band for the entire tour, which included Europe. In November and December 2010 Boy & Bear performed a capacity showcase at the Mercury Lounge in New York City and they completed their first headline (eight-date) tour in the UK with sold out performances in Oxford, Brighton and London. In April 2011, the band recorded their debut album at Blackbird Studios in Nashville with 10 time Grammy award winning producer Joe Chiccarelli (My Morning Jacket, The Shins, Elton John, U2, Beck, Frank Zappa, The White Stripes, Young the Giant, The Strokes).

Open Source Software Development/Artist Co-Management Analogy

While co-management and team management are not new to the music industry and have previously been discussed by Rogan (1988) and others, new technologies such as the Internet, and all this enables, present artist managers with new possibilities regarding the potential of international co-management networks. An analogy can be drawn here between co-management networks and open source software development. As Jarvis (2009) notes:

Distributed armies of programmers created the most important software underlying the internet, from the Linux operating system that powers most internet servers …

While label services have declined and this has led to the relative centralisation of responsibilities with the artist manager, the increase in workload to which this has led has also been exacerbated by the fragmentation of the media landscape. The paradigm shift from a mass-market mentality to a niche market one has led to the need for a management structure that works in the new paradigm, and an international network of co-mangers is a structure that could work. Networks of open source software developers are not chaotic, they are instead examples of elegant organization at work and therefore, in a similar way, an international network of co-managers could be a way to address the fact that ideas regarding song writing and record production, amongst the other areas of an artist’s career that managers’ oversee, come from everywhere.

Contrary to the common misperception, open-source projects are not anarchies. They have leadership and structure. Furthermore, a network of co-managers is potentially more efficient than a corporation. Coase (1937) reasoned that firms exist and grow when internal friction is less than external friction (cited in Jarvis, 2009). That is, when it is easier and cheaper to deal with insiders than with outsiders. In the contemporary music business, co-management networks exist because it is easier to deal with outsiders than to have a cumbersome corporate structure:

In a networked world, it’s easier for us to work with outside people than inside people … agencies and other companies … will look more like Hollywood studios, where 80 percent of what goes into a movie comes from outsiders … Google doesn’t change just the essence of advertising. It changes the essence of the company. The network is becoming more efficient than the corporation. (Ibid)

The primary goal of artist management companies is to build platforms or networks that help artists to prosper. An international network of co-managers would expand this ‘platform’. Record companies too are realising that growth will come less from owning assets inside one company and amassing risk there, than from enabling others in a network to build their own value, reducing their cost, and sharing the risk. Therefore they too are seeking to expand their networks by becoming involved in all aspects of their artists’ careers.

The Internet offers new opportunities for managerial talent and new stages for voices that could not emerge in the old systems of control. Artist management and co-management involves building a platform or network that artists can use to create and disseminate their work. However, for such a network of artist managers to operate efficiently and smoothly, consistency in relation to best practice and conduct needs to be achieved.

A code of conduct for the IMMF concerns how this platform or network functions. Openness and transparency are directly linked to notions of best practice and conduct as artist management practices are now located in a new paradigm in which we are witnessing the growth of the trust industry (Ibid). A network of co-managers would need to be a system of trust:

Google found value in trust. Others are creating systems of trust as the core of their businesses. Facebook helps us build lists of those we know and trust. eBay turned internet commerce’s disadvantage – fear of being robbed by merchants we do not know – into a unique opportunity by becoming the platform for trusted transactions of physical goods among strangers.

The code of conduct for the IMMF would provide a reference point for the establishment of the mutual trust that would be needed to realise the potential of a network of co-managers. This could help to facilitate a practice of open innovation within such a broad network of social interactions. Such a network is needed to build musical careers because the idea for a new product may spring from the mind of an individual, but only a collective effort can carry that idea through prototyping and launch (Ibid) and the paradigm shift from mass marketing to niche marketing requires a management structure that can service the many different niches.

Furthermore, the Internet has the effect of making people and companies more accountable and transparent anyway, whether they chose to be or not. This is because the voice of the consumer can be amplified through the practice of blogging (for example) and because there are now any number of means for a dissatisfied consumer to broadcast their views. In the case of artist managers, the consumer of their services is the artist and therefore without any consistency in relation to best practice and conduct that a code would help to enable, the artist manager is open to critical attack and they would not be able to easily defend themselves because without a code of conduct there would be no reference point for them to refer to in relation to best practice and conduct.

Research Results

Artist co-management is very delicate and can be difficult. The decentralised nature of co-management brings with it a number of pitfalls that need to be addressed. The establishment of co-management networks has great potential for addressing the issue of a lack of management service provision. New technologies such as Google Docs can increase this potential through the way in which they can lead to the establishment of international ‘virtual offices’. However, Keith Harris1>2 (2010) noted that the following pitfalls exist:

On the one hand it sounds like a great idea. But on the other hand, what you are at risk of ending up with is what I like to call a race to the bottom. For instance if you are negotiating something and the people who are doing the negotiating know that the manager over here is much more of a soft touch then they will end up negotiating with the manager they feel they can get the best deal out of, and also, from a commissioning point of view, there will be an incentive on each manager to get the deal done because they will almost certainly commission what they bring in. And unfortunately to get the deal done you work to get it done quicker, so you make the offer cheaper. So hence you get a race to the bottom of having five or six different managers and the artist ends up getting the cheapest deal.

One way to address the issue of how to share the management commissions is to co-management for the world. This has the effect of providing an incentive for the co-managers to do the best deals for the artist internationally because they share, and profit from, having the same global vision. Two managers who are managing one artist who is successful in three major territories can be more profitable for the managers than if they were to individually manage three artists in their home territory. It also means that the artist managers have a competitive advantage; they can move faster and be more creative because the artist-manager ratio is two to one. This however does not address the aforementioned issue of opponents in a negotiation figuring out which manager has the “softer touch”. Co-managers need to address this issue through communicating with one another. While co-management does require more communication between the managers, if they are co-managing for the world and communicating efficiently then the issues Harris outlined can be negated.

Interestingly, Danny Goldberg3 (2010) noted that his management firm co-manages artists internally and that contemporary artist management necessarily involves co-management or team management:

Every artist is different, that’s one thing I can say without equivocation. Some artists have somebody in their life who has a particular skill set, sometimes its somebody who goes on the road with them and has a greater role than just the road manager who’s an appropriate co-manager sometimes – you know I look at some of the people who work here as co-managers of artists because it’s a team effort and as people develop seniority here they get financial incentives that are the equivalent of being a co-manager. I think management is more and more of a team effort than just an individual effort because the services you have to provide are in most instances hard for one individual to do. However you characterize it, I mean all of our clients in one way of another are co-managed in the sense that they’re not just dealing with me they’re dealing with 5 other people … Again, at the beginning of a career, that’s not the most practical option for an artist but over time I think that’s a model that works, especially when dealing with international careers, you know, its hard to be in two places at the same time in different time zones. It’s really very difficult for one individual to do it all.

Rowan Brand and I have found a simple but elegant solution to this problem. With our client Boy & Bear we have been somewhat of an international ‘tag-team’. We have both been able to travel from Sydney Australia to be based in New York for approximately 6 months at a time each. We have swapped places four times which means that by mid-2011 we will have had a management presence in New York for approximately 2 years. By co-managing for the world we have been able to double our pool of contacts and while one of us may be able to establish a relationship, the other manager is able to follow up and manage that relationship. Working in different time zones means that the management service provision is provided for more hours of the day. One misconception about co-management is that it does not work because the decision making process is not centralised. However, decentralised decision-making can work well. Furthermore, artist management is a creative process, as Sawyer explains: “it’s group genius that generates break through innovation. When we collaborate, creativity unfolds across people; the sparks fly faster, and the whole is greater than the sum of its parts (2007).” Just as a band of musicians is often said to be greater than the sum of its parts, so too can a band of co-managers. While there can be tension, if the right people are chosen to constitute the group then this tension can be creative.

Split territories co-management and co-management for the world are quite different. Co-management for the world involves collaborating across all aspects of an artist’s career in all territories in which they are active, while split-territories co-management literally involves carving up the world between managers. Angus Vail, a US based music business manager, noted that:

Co-management is such a difficult thing. We had one situation where we had three managers involved. We had a West coast guy, an East coast guy and an Australian manager, and it turned out to be a disaster because nobody knew who was doing what and things were just falling through the cracks all the time. It’s a really difficult thing. Co-management is a really difficult thing, especially for bands that are coming from overseas, you almost need one, but so often I have seen that it doesn’t work. It’s a really, really hard thing.

Co-management for the world works better because the managers are able to realise the potential of group creativity and group flow. Csikszentmihalyi (1990) coined the term ‘flow’ to describe a particular heightened state of consciousness and discovered that extremely creative people are at their peak when they experience a unified flowing from one moment to the next “in which we feel in control of our actions, and in which there is little distinction between self and environment; between stimulus and response; or between past, present, and future (cited in Sawyer, 2007).” Basing his research on Csikszentmihalyi’s seminal work, Sawyer (2007) discovered that improvising groups attain a collective state of mind that he calls ‘group flow’: “Group flow is a peak experience, a group performing at its top level of ability.” He notes that the key to improvised innovation is managing a paradox: “Establishing a goal that provides a focus for the team – just enough of one so that team members can tell when they move closer to a solution – but one that’s open-ended enough for problem-solving creativity to emerge (Ibid).” Decentralised decision-making is necessary because participants in the group must always be willing to defer to the emergent flow of the group.

It is also necessary because group flow increases when people feel autonomy, competence and relatedness. It is important to note here that the role of the artist manager is to guide the artist or band towards a series of informed decisions. Artist management involves consensus decision-making and/or decentralised decision processes because a group of people is necessarily involved. Sawyer notes that: “managers can participate in groups in flow, but they have to participate in the same way as everyone else by listening closely and granting autonomy and authority to the group’s emergent decision processes (2007).” Co-management for the world can work well if the conditions for group flow are realised. Not only does this form of co-management address issues relating to workloads and different time zones, it enables managerial creativity to emerge through conversation.

Group flow requires constant communication and according to Sawyer it flourishes when people follow the first rule of improvisational acting, they: “listen closely to what’s being said; accept it fully; and then extend and build on it (2007).” Interestingly, differences in style are also necessary for group flow as is a certain amount of tension because if everyone functions identically and shares the same habits of communicating: “nothing new and unexpected will ever emerge because group members don’t need to pay close attention to what the others are doing, and they don’t continually have to update their understanding of what’s going on (Sawyer, 2007).”

For these reasons, open artist management platforms or networks would arguably promote innovation and diversity more effectively than the proprietary ones controlled by record companies. However, by drawing an analogy between the architecture of the iPhone platform and that of international co-management networks, the more complicated reality is that the closed architecture of the iPhone has contributed to its facilitation of innovation in important ways (Johnson, 2010)4. Consumers are willing to experiment with new apps because they know they have been screened for viruses, mal-ware and other stability problems as part of the app store’s approval process (Ibid). In a similar way the code of conduct would give co-managers a finite number of reference points for best practice and conduct in different territories. This would help artists to ‘trust’ the network because the behaviour of the participants in the management of their career is self-regulated by the IMMF. Having consistency in relation to best practices and conduct would hypothetically enable international artist managers to meet up and work together in a similar way to the way in which the iPhone’s platform has facilitated innovation:

The fact that the iPhone platform runs exclusively on Apple hardware helps developers innovate, because it means they have a finite number of hardware configurations to surmount. Developers building apps for, say, Windows Mobile have to create programs that work on hundreds of different devices, each with its own set of hardware features. But a developer who wants to build a game that uses an accelerometer for control, for example, knows that every iPhone OS device in the world contains an accelerometer. (Ibid)

In a similar way the following code of conduct would give co-managers a finite number of reference points for best practice and conduct in different territories. This would help artists to ‘trust’ the network because the behaviour of the participants in the management of their career is self-regulated by the IMMF. The following ‘Aspirational’ Code of Conduct, that was developed for and by the IMMF, is a broad outline of conduct:

(Aspirational) Code of Conduct of the IMMF

Music Managers must aspire, at all times and to the best of their ability to:

1. Devote sufficient time so as to properly fulfill the requirements of good management in the interest of the artists as they understand them;

2. Not knowingly act in any fashion which is detrimental to their clients’ interests;

3. Conduct themselves in a manner which is professional and ethical and which abides by best business practices and methods accepted in their country.

4. Conduct all of their affairs with their clients in a transparent manner;

5. Protect and promote the interest of their clients to the highest possible standard;

6. Exercise the rights and powers implied or granted to them by their clients in a written agreement for the client’s best interest as the manager understands them.

7. Ensure that no conflict of interest shall infect the discharge of their duties towards their clients.

Music Managers shall respect the integrity of other managers in their relationships with their artists and not actively interfere with same except directly with the manager. If approached by an artist who was previously the client of another manager, a manager shall endeavour to confirm that the artist has fulfilled his, her, or their legal obligations to the previous manager before entering into a management relationship with the artist.

Where a manager acts as publisher, agent, record producer or in any other capacity as well as a manager for his, her, or their clients, they shall declare such interests so that the artist has the ability to determine for themselves if they feel it constitutes a conflict of interest.

Where a manager acts in any other capacity as well as manager for his, her or their clients where such activity ordinarily involves the charging of fees or commissions, the manager shall not charge multiple fees or commissions, instead charging either the agreed management commission alone or the fee or commission usually charged for that other activity and forgoing their management commission. Where the manager elects to charge a fee or commission other than the management commission they shall first gain the consent of their artist.

Managers must ensure that all monetary transactions made on behalf of or in the interest of the client and all books of account and records must always be reasonably open for the inspection of the artist or their appointed representative.

Where a manager engages an artist under a written agreement, the manager shall endeavour to ensure that their client seeks and receives expert legal advice on the terms of such agreement before signing it.

Managers will endeavour to keep themselves well informed of current events and legislation, both national and international, as it pertains to the proper exploitation of their client’s career and the proper administration of their client’s business.


This article has drawn an analogy between open-source software development and artist co-management networks, networks that form a platform for the facilitation of artists’ song writing and record production efforts. While co-management and team management are not new to the music industry, new technologies such as the Internet, and all this enables, present artist managers with new possibilities regarding the potential of international co-management networks. The code of conduct for the IMMF would provide a reference point for the establishment of the mutual trust that would be needed to realise the potential of a network of co-managers. This could help to facilitate a practice of open innovation within such a broad network of social interactions.

The argument here is that traditional split-territories co-management deals are more fallible than co-management agreements that involve co-management for the world. This is because the latter is more likely to generate group creativity and group flow than the former because it generates a culture of collaboration that is based on flexibility, connection, and conversation and makes improvised innovation standard business practice. Such a culture seemed unnatural to some of the artist managers interviewed for this article because improvisation seems to imply that the co-managers do not have a plan and many believed that decentralised decision-making is dysfunctional. Many experienced artist managers have generated theories based on their experience, experience which has its roots in previous decades when adaptability and innovation were not as important as they are today because the sale of recorded music was a more profitable endeavour. There is a need for new research into artist management practices that will generate theories that will help us in today’s rapidly changing music economy in which the relatively stable monopolies that major record labels had are increasingly rare and new technologies are opening up formerly stable sectors of the industry to radical new competition.

Artist co-management for the world is an increasingly viable business model due to the advent of new technologies such as Google Docs and Skype. This is beneficial because having different co-managers can lead to the development of more analogies, which are essential to collaborative creativity, as these are more common when participants bring their various experiences to a group. Conversation between managers is also key: talking about building a global career with a co-manager leads to richer and more effective management solutions than solitary artist managers are able to generate. The most creative conversations concerning an artist’s management are like improvisational theatre dialogues; each manager reinterprets what was said before and builds on it in a new direction so that unexpected creativity emerges from the group.

About the Author

Guy Morrow
Macquarie University, Sydney Australia


1 Keith began work in the record industry in 1974. The first record company for which he worked was a small independent UK label called Transatlantic records. The label represented mainly British folk musicians but also distributed the Blue Note and Milestone Jazz labels.  In 1976 he joined EMI Records where he initially worked for several in-house EMI labels in the promotions department. These labels included Rocket where he worked on the Elton John album ‘Blue Moves’, Fantasy, Ariola and EMI International. He then joined Motown which was an EMI licensed label. He worked for Motown for two years ending up as General Manager for the label.  During this period at the label he worked with artists such as Marvin Gaye, Diana Ross, Smokey Robinson, The Commodores, Rick James, The Supremes, Thelma Houston and Stevie Wonder. He left Motown in 1978 and moved to Los Angeles to work with Stevie Wonder and became operations manager for Stevie’s companies. On his return to the UK in 1982 he formed his own management company and has been involved in the management of various UK based artists since. He has managed Junior Giscombe, Junior Tucker, Paul Johnson, & Omar. Keith managed Lynden David Hall until his recent death, and still represents Stevie Wonder. He is a Senior Fellow of the University of Westminster school of music film and fashion. He is a former Chairman of the MMF, the Chairman of Musictank and he is also the chairman of the African and Caribbean Music Circuit, a music touring organisation funded by the Arts Council of England. He is also a Fellow of the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts (FRSA).  Keith is now Director of Performer Affairs at PPL. (Source:

2 All comments attributed to Keith Harris, Danny Goldberg and Angus Vail were taken from personal correspondence with the author conducted in April and May 2010.

3 Over a period of 40 years, Goldberg has held senior executive positions with a number of major and independent record companies (including Led Zeppelin’s Swan Song Records), managed artists from Nirvana to the Beastie Boys, worked in film, and is also an author.  He is currently President of Gold Village Entertainment (GVE) and manages roster of artists including Steve Earle, Allison Moorer, David Broza, Rickie Lee Jones, The Hives, and Tom Morello.

4 New York Times, Sunday Business p.7 11 April 2010, Steven Johnson.


Aspirational Code of Conduct. Provided to G Morrow by IMMF Executive Director Michael McMartin for this research project; disseminated to the executive and membership of the IMMF at conferences    from 2005 onwards.

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