Interview with JASON MOREY, manager for Macy Gray, Kaci, Disney TV show Hannah Montana - Jun 17, 2007
ďItís a fine line between getting your music out there for people to sample, and giving it away for free, especially if you are interested in a record deal. You have to have something to sell,Ē...this is just one of Jason Morey's thoughts on the relations between an up-and-coming artist and a record label.
Morey helped Macy Gray (Top 40 US) switch between record labels, and is currently involved in a diverse management roster that also includes Kaci (Top 10 UK) and Vanessa Williams.
Morey also represents Disney TV show Hannah Montana, and he talks to HitQuarters about the potential of a new market targetting 'tweens and teens' - kids aged 6-13.
How did you become a manager?
Itís been a long way around. My father is a famous manager, Jim Morey. He managed people like Michael Jackson, Mariah Carey and Neil Diamond. I grew up in this business. My first job was assistant tour manager for Rod Stewart. I was working under the famous tour manager Bernie Boyle.
After I did that for a while, I worked for William Morris in the television department. Then I eventually came over to Gallin/Morey associates right at the time when it became Morey Management Group.
Now we are a part of Frontline Management, too. Irving Azoff has put together a number of management companies under a parent company. So under Frontline are Azoff Management, Strategic, Morey Management Group, HK, and more. Iíve been managing artists for 10 years now.
What kind of artists do you have on your roster at the moment?
We have a very eclectic roster in general. We represent Michael Feinstein, Macy Gray, Vanessa Williams, Miley Cyrus and a number of other acts. We try to not have too many artists in one particular genre.
What makes a manager?
My personal belief is that management is a very common sense type of business. You basically have to handle problems and solve them. The business has changed, even for the limited time that Iíve been in it. In the beginning it was much less of a marketing position.
I think that as time goes by, managers are taking a much more intense position as marketers or marketing partners for the labels. As it becomes more expensive to release products, everyone is trying to find out how to get your artist exposed.
Whether itís film, TV or even print, itís becoming more problematic today. People are not buying CDs the traditional way they used to. I think half of all music listened to last year was not purchased.
Because of the changing music business, managements also have to change, taking on a little bit more responsibility.
Do you have somebody responsible for each and every artist on your roster?
We tend to combine everybodyís skill sets. Itís very difficult for one person to be an expert in everything. One person might be more prone to marketing or technology. And another one might be more knowledgeable about touring or radio. Itís very much a group effort. So if you are in America and sign with Morey Management you get the services of every single one of our managers.
What is then your part in the company?
I think I tend to be specialised a little bit more in technology, marketing and have become more and more interested in the Ďtween and teen demographic. All the recent success with Disney, the high school/new school project, the Hannah Montana project, which I represent, or the Cheetah Girls targeting music towards a 6-13 year old demographic.
Itís been very successful. I think that the real reason that itís so important is, that itís most of the young kids first experience in music and touring. The first time they consider themselves big fans and their parents take them to a big show. I think if we want to do a really good job and create music fans we have to give them great experiences the first time out.
How do you look for new talent? Are you going to schools, talent shows etc.?
No, not really, although Iím always looking for new talent. Usually I look for artists that are either close to signing a deal already or I can point my finger to prove that they have attraction in the marketplace. I want to see that they have figured it out. That people respond to their music, that people like their music as a band and as a brand.
Very few managers today are going to sign an act and do everything for them. We help them open doors and when the door is open they have to take advantage. Iím looking for projects that have various components for exposure. If for example Disney comes up with a television pilot or show that has some music attached to it, it is much easier.
They have Disney radio, worldwide television distribution, they have a couple of different labels as well as a team that really understands the marketplace. We are working very closely at the moment on Hannah Montana.
Is there any gap in your roster you would like to fill?
Yeah, Iím interested in signing some more acts focused on the Ďtween world. Something thatís a little younger and targeted at boys.
How do you launch an artist?
With Miley Cyrus for example we try to brand her as a credible artist, which is a little bit more difficult. She plays two characters on a television show. When we are releasing the next album with her it is a double album and the first CD is Hannah Montana from the soundtrack. The second CD is Miley Cyrus. She is not a character, but an actual artist.
She was a musical artist first but always wanted to be a singer and when Hannah Montana came along it was a perfect fit for the show. Everything seemed to happen hand in hand. The TV soundtrack debuted No.1 on the Billboard charts.
What media are you focusing on to launch the record?
Weíre trying to attract the parentís attention. We get to the kids already through Disney. But we also have to sell the concept to the parents in a number of different ways. You have to prove to them that the music is good and the brand is safe enough for the kids to enjoy.
We are marketing to 9-11 year old kids, eventually. For example we do an outdoor concert at a park for Good Morning America and we are expecting around 5000 kids to show up. We do in-store signings, we have a 54-date tour in the fall that will feature both Hannah Montana and Miley Cyrus.
How would you try to break a band in the US nowadays?
I would make sure that the music is different and still good and that the band has something that lends itself to a creation of a brand. Then you hit the ground running. Maximise the exposure of the group, get them playing as much as possible.
You always start up by setting up a team. A booking agent, a film agent, a TV agent, someone who is looking for commercial endorsement and sponsorships. Making sure that you put together the right team at the label. We have people in-house who are doing this, but we also rely on our partners.
Would you try to first launch it locally in the area the band is from, or go straight for the whole US?
It depends. If the music is very radio friendly then it would make sense to go for a radio single first. If the music is not very radio friendly you have to start locally to build a fan base.
Are you involved in the creative process too when it comes to the music?
Yeah we are involved usually as a sounding board, as another set of ears. We help the artists making the music formatted, marketable; help them bring a little bit of direction in the project. We help the artists collaborate with producers. We definitely look for songs and encourage the artists to write themselves.
Thatís really important for artists today. Artists really have to be portrayed as being real. People donít buy anymore into someone who is just a puppet kind of figure. People want somebody who is truly creative and artistic and if they are, it adds to their revenue stream.
How did you come across Macy Gray?
I think it was through her attorney, a while back. He was helping to get her some management meetings and we kind of hit it off. She had a couple of managers before and we signed her when she was still at Sony and helped her to make the transition to Will.i.amís label.
She had some difficulties at Sony. She had some problematic releases and kind of a downturn with the music business after she had such a huge success with ĎI tryí.We helped her find a new home and now she is on Will.i.am. She was the first signing for his label at Interscope.
What do you think convinced her to sign with your management company?
One thing that we pride ourselves with is an extreme amount of communication with the artist. A lot of times itís that what it takes because so many things happen at the same time. They need one person who is always available. It is a very hands-on approach.
How do you come up with a concept for an artist?
90% of the time I try not to sign artists that already donít have a sense of who they are. I think thatís one thing an artist has to figure out before they take on a manager. That always leads to trouble down the road when they figure out this isnít what they want to be.
We try to sign acts that already know exactly what it is that they want to do creatively. We put the last 10% on it to help them create a direction that helps towards marketing, radio, to format it to something thatís usable to the label.
This sounds like you go in at a quite late stage. How do you deal with a situation when there is already another manager involved?
A lot of managers like signing acts really early. A lot of times they then get to a point where they have to admit to themselves that they are not capable of taking it any further. Maybe they donít have the relationships to take the artist to the next level.
Itís quite frequent that we get calls from managers that have developed an act from when they were really young or a certain stage and then they want to take them to a management company who can help them really break. We donít share management. Itís very difficult to co-manage an artist.
At what stage do you think an artist should get a manager involved?
My advice to young acts is to learn as much about the business as they possibly can by doing it themselves for a while. Book your own shows in local clubs and bars. Develop online and marketing campaigns slowly. Learn the basics of how long it takes and how much work it takes to develop yourself locally as an act.
Once you know how to do that and the amount of work that it takes and you create some traction in the marketplace then maybe itís time for you to look for a manager.
I would also recommend that you consult either a very knowledgeable music business attorney before you sign a deal with a record company or get a management in place. The reason is that there are certain tools that we like to put in agreements that help us as managers to do a better job for the artist.
Itís very hard for a manager to come into a situation where you sign a new act that already has a terrible deal with the label and then they want to go out and have the whole world at their fingertips.
What are these tools? Can you give an example?
One example would be tour support or with smaller labels where the artist has his/her own publicist. A good publicist or public relations company can be a very valuable tool for an act that is trying to create awareness in the marketplace.
They can be very expensive. Sometimes they are about 4000$ a month and you usually have to have them for 5-6 months. The label wonít pay unless they have to.
Does a booking agency expect touring support from the record company?
They donít expect it. If itís there it opens up the options. Itís not always the right solution. Itís only right if you think that itís going to put you in a position to break or at least establish an artist. In the end of the day the artist has to pay it. They have to recoup that before they make money.
If you would be an upcoming artist what would you do to get awareness out there?
I would do every single show I can find. There is no substitute for being in front of people and play.
What Internet tools would you use?
Everybody has to have a Myspace page these days. I think in a lot of ways Myspace has even eclipsed the importance of artists having their own website. You have to make sure that you maintain a database of fans and not just email addresses: start collecting cell phone numbers for texting.
Make sure that your efforts are directed towards a certain group of people. Itís a combination of everything. Itís a fine line between getting your music out there for people to sample, and giving it away for free, especially if you are interested in doing a deal with a label. You have to have something to sell.
Would you invest as a band in a recording in an expensive studio?
If you are prone to technology then itís only a benefit today for people to have their own recording studio. Iím not talking about something very expensive. You know itís not very expensive to get a simple Protools and learn how to use it. Do it on your own. Donít spend an incredible amount of money to create demos and not have any money left to support yourself.
How long is the process of signing an artist to your management company?
It depends. It could happen in a week or a month. Even as managers we sometimes want the process to go slowly because we like to know who the client is before committing, and vice versa. Itís only fair. A management deal is a very personal situation. The nature of being a manager is more long-term.
An agent tends a little bit more to be short term. I want to make sure that the client really knows me and that I really know the client. We do everything from helping out with business to helping out with family or personal situations. Itís not just all about the music. Itís about the career of the artist.
Would you sign an artist from another country? Isnít it hard to establish a personal relationship when the artist lives in another continent?
Iíd absolutely sign one, in a heartbeat. It really isnít that hard. As managers we travel all the time, thatís part of our job. So you will see us personally and then anything is just a phone call away today.
We represented a lot of international acts, from Julio Iglesias to Vanessa May. We have a long history of signing international products.
What would you say are the biggest problems you came across dealing with artists?
The big problem today is expectation. The simple fact is that labels donít do as much as they used to. So itís wrong for an artist to go in and expect that a label is handing them a career. Itís very important for the artist to understand that they sometimes get out of the process as much as they give.
Did you ever have a problem with one of your bands or artists related to drugs? How did you deal with that?
Iíve seen it before. My opinion is that life is too short. I wonít put up with it. The other reason is that we as a company benefit from signing acts that have a potential to become long-term and lucrative brands and if the person is self-destructive itís counter-intuitive of what we are trying to do.
Is there a fixed share that you get when you gat involved with an artist?
Usually itís 15%.
Are you participating in all the income?
Thatís the standard.
When you do a management deal do you commit to invest money in it, too?
We wonít put money as an investment into the project. But we invest a lot in overhead. Because the simple fact is, especially with a label, itís quite a long time before these artists make money. Sometimes two or three years. So we know that we put in two-three years of our staff and overhead into a project that is probably not going to pay soon.
Do you deal with the tax situation of an artist, too?
In a way we do. The manager is the last line of defence to the artist. We give the artist guidance; hook them up with good business managers, good agents, good attorneys, and good publicists. In the end of the day our relationships help the artist to put together a team of people who are extremely well-prepared.
Would you go with an artist for a niche market, or would you try to make it the most mainstream it can be?
It really depends on the music. It depends on the band, their likeability, the age group. There are so many different factors for the approach that you take. Sometimes it also depends on the strength of the label.
If the label has a fantastic radio department with a string of recent success and it's right for the band, then it's good to go for a big single. If itís an indie label and they donít have very much radio success, the last thing you want to do is put a single out and have it fail.
Interviewed by Jan Blumentrath
Read On ...