Sharon Cho is a New York based Artist Manager who has been working with musicians both established and developing since she started her career. Unlike most music vets we speak to at PLAY MPE, Sharon wasn’t sure what role she wanted in the industry, but quickly found out management was her thing:
I started working in music management not accidentally, but it wasn’t my intention. I didn’t go to school for it, in fact, I studied something totally different, but I’ve always been passionate about music. It has been a constant in my life since I was very young.
I had some time off between semesters in school, and I was doing some music writing, going to a lot of shows in and around New York, and thought the one thing I didn’t know about was how the music business worked. I decided to do some internships, and at one of those internships, I completely switched gears. I can’t pinpoint it exactly, but within a few weeks, working in artist management felt very natural to me. I thought it was super interesting, and felt like I could really do this as a job. I spoke to the person who had hired me and was forthright about the fact that this was what I wanted to do; I started to read books on management and absorb anything I could. I would read every contract that was put in front of me, which helped me to figure out how deals were structured, and I was also answering phones, which was a great education in who did what and gave me a good idea of who was calling regularly and insight into all kinds of conversations. The company I was working for had just signed Duran Duran, and it was a defining time for the band as the original five band members had reunited for a tour and a new album. As it turned out, I was in the right place at the right time, because the owner’s assistant left their job and I assumed the role until they could find a replacement. After a month or so, it was clear I WAS the right person and I was offered the job. It helped that I had an immediate rapport with the band members. The band members were all so good natured and forthcoming, and it didn’t seem to bother them that my experience was limited. From then on, I worked my way up, became more involved in the day to day business, and now I co-manage the band and oversee the day to day operations of their business.
The differences in approach for a big artist vs. a developing one:
When I started, I worked with a massive artist to start. At the same time as I was helping with Duran Duran, I was assisting with another client, DJ Rap. DJ Rap was a drum and bass DJ signed to a major label. She was very established, but not the same as Duran Duran.
I had a different approach for sure, but ultimately, there’s one similarity: how you work with them should really depend on what the goals are. Where do they want to go in their career? What do they want to achieve? You need to develop a road map with any artist and figure out their vision.
I once worked with a band who were at an interesting point in their career… They had immediate success both overseas and in North America, they were young and good looking, and definitely in the “teen idol” mold. They took a break to figure out what to do next, and at some point, they decided they wanted to get back together and rebrand themselves, moving away from a teenage audience. This was the point where I connected with them. It was very challenging. When you have that level of initial success – and I see this in some ways with Duran Duran – and then you go away for a while, or the popularity fades a bit, your fan base still has this image of you in their minds, and that’s what they want. Fans don’t want the artist to change. It’s hard to come up against that and deliver something different. Duran Duran do that successfully, but they’re an exception. Most artists don’t find it easy to change their brand completely. It’s almost impossible to be the next “new thing” twice.
I also co-managed an artist that had a big publishing deal but hadn’t released any of her own music yet. While working together, she signed a label deal and released a record that did well. Why was she successful? We were very deliberate in our choices, spoke to the right kind of press and were able to position her in the right way so her audience grew with her. And it was all carried out in a way that was authentic to her and her music.
Pointers for indies who are self-managed:
Take advantage of early days to try things out, perform live at as many venues and in as many situations as humanly possible. If you’re lucky enough to have some success, touring is where you’ll likely make the majority of your living, so it pays to work on your live show and get it to be as strong as possible. There are so many different platforms now to do this, everything from IG Live to Twitch, while we wait for the world to open up again. It’s so important to develop a fan base and to be authentic while doing so, and sometimes that takes time.
Also, collaborate with other new artists and build a community of other like-minded creatives around you. You’ll need artwork and other kinds of visuals to go with your music, so it’s a good idea (and good fun!) to connect and grow with other artists from the beginning.
When is an artist ready to find a manager?
It depends, but there are a few things that artists should do before they start looking for a team. I think it’s important for a developing artist to think about their whole package: their sound, what they want to look like, what they want their live show to be like, etc… When you have a true vision of what all that looks and sounds like, you will be more viable to a manager.
You may have to try some things out to see what works and what doesn’t, and it’s much better to do that behind the scenes, at the start of your career.
When an Artist isn’t bad but just not for you:
That has happened quite a bit to me over the years. I have met some talented, amazing artists, but their world isn’t my world. Most of the time I won’t commit to someone unless I can deliver 100%. I have a good network of people around me, so if it isn’t a fit for me, I am able to redirect them. I can make a call to other trusted managers, agents or lawyers who might work better.
Managing an artist during a pandemic:
It was very difficult! Depending on who the artist is, your experience would be different, but we had a band ready to release an album and go on a worldwide tour and, overnight, everything was cancelled. One good thing that came out of this, besides personal things like having time to spend with their families, was that they were able to go back and tap into their creativity in ways they weren’t able to before. They revisited music they had been working on, with different perspectives on the world which resulted in presenting the new work with a more universal theme and narrative. I don’t think this would have happened without the conditions the pandemic forced many of us into.
I don’t think coming out of a pandemic is going to change the way I manage artists going forward all that much. There have been some revelations on how artists can connect with their fans, and those things will keep going. For example, the quality of live streaming on the production side has skyrocketed, and I think that will continue. That was something good to come of this. People can tune in from anywhere and have a quality live music experience. It’s impossible to recreate fully but I think we’re closer now than ever before.
More than anything, we all learned there were ways to connect and communicate while being physically apart. I would be happy to never do another zoom meeting again but, at the same time, I don’t think I have ever felt as closely connected to my artists as I do now. While the pandemic scuttered some of their plans, we were able to recalibrate. We all became ok with being flexible and ultimately, more focused on the big picture and the things that are most important to us.