Last week, two music management titans – Ty Stiklorius of Friends at Work and Lily Crockford from Crockford Management — joined the UK’s Music Managers Forum 2021 AGM for a joint interview that touched upon some key topics that impact the music industry at large.
They discussed their newly agreed partnership, which offers clients of both companies staff in the UK and US, why the UK’s traditional artist/manager deal is no longer fit for purpose and their issue with ‘hustle culture’ in the US.
Stiklorius founded the LA-based Friends at Work in 2015 and today represents John Legend, Raphael Saadiq, Salt-N-Pepa, Charlie Puth and Lindsey Stirling, among others.
She’s also co-founder and Partner of Legend’s production company, Get Lifted Film Co (La La Land, Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert).
After working at Universal Music Group, Crown Management and First Access, Crockford joined Crockford Management (run by her father, Paul) in 2013.
Alongside Jesse McNamara, she looks after a roster of artists, writers and producers including Astrid S, RuthAnne Cunningham, Fiona Bevan, Rationale, and Get Cape. Wear Cape. Fly.
Here’s an abridged version of their interview from last week:
Ty, what have you learned about the UK music market through the partnership with Crockford Management?
Ty Stiklorius: I was surprised to find that the way we do commissions and how the business works [for management] is very different to the UK. In the US, we commission oftentimes off the gross for most of the business.
I’ve been doing this with John Legend for over 16 years now and it’s been a partnership. We co-own businesses together, we’ve built so many things. I was surprised that [it’s not the same in the UK] because management is such an all-in existence and a job. Managers should be well-compensated, and part of more of the top line [rather] than just getting scraps at the bottom.
“Revenue from the music side can only go so far sometimes. deeper equity ownership with your artists can be a better approach.”
Revenue from the music side can only go so far sometimes and deeper equity ownership with your artists can be a better approach. It’s harder to do because it’s building a whole business, but when managers can, we should own equity in what it is that we’re developing.
It’s an incentive, like “This is my company. This is a brand that I’m building with John Legend that he owns and I own and we’re both putting in all of our blood, sweat and tears”. Managers often take the short end of the stick, we’re kind of like, “Sure, don’t pay me until the end of the year”, but having been a business woman with an MBA and worked in big public companies and in other spaces that had nothing to do with the music business, I saw different models out in the world.
Lily, has the partnership approach that Ty has with her artists had an influence on the way that you now structure your deals?
Lily Crockford: It definitely has, do the lawyers let us change the ways? Not so much! It’s definitely coming. Honestly though, as managers, we need to be having more discussions with our artists and explaining it to them more. As much as you need the lawyers involved to dot the i’s and cross the t’s, although I know they do a lot more than just that, ultimately, what we’re doing is managing people. It’s a personal relationship.
So if an artist wants you all-in as a manager, what are you getting out of that? As managers, especially in the UK, our approach is often: ‘Oh, the artist is in charge, it’s all about the artist, we should just be grateful that we get to work with them’. But we work incredibly hard, we support everyone, we’re available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.
When you find those right artists whose business you can actually share in, you will put in more as a manager and they will ultimately get more out of it. We need to explain that because the model is so set in its ways. And the model is set in its ways because of The Beatles and there were four in the band and the fifth was the manager. It’s kind of crazy that we’re still following that.
“The [music management revenue] model is set in its ways because of The Beatles and there were four in the band and the fifth was the manager. It’s kind of crazy we’re still following that.”
We’re fighting a lot right now for our writers to have a master point and that’s great for our writers but it also goes both ways — we’d like to share in the master too, in theory. But I don’t think we’re going to get it from the lawyers and I don’t think we’re going to get it from the labels. I’m very fortunate to work with at least one artist who I don’t even have a contract with but he always takes good care of me and that’s quite rare to find. It’s not because they’re not good people, it’s just because they don’t necessarily understand.
We definitely need to take a bit of guidance from the US for the sharing model — agents take their money off the top and it just whittles down and whittles down and eventually managers get paid, and then the lawyers get paid. We need to have more open conversations with artists and not be worried. If an artist says, ‘Oh, no, this is outrageous’, they’re probably not the right artist to keep working with.
TS: I don’t even like the word manager. It may be because John and I have known each other since college, and he’s one of the smartest people I’ve ever known, but it’s hard to think of me as John’s manager. If you don’t know what that means and you’re not in the music business, it sounds submissive, right? John Legend doesn’t need somebody to manage him, he needs a partner to run his $50 to $100 million global annual business.
“I don’t even like the word manager. If you don’t know what that means and you’re not in the music business, it sounds submissive, right?”
It has all different kinds of revenue streams, complexities, brand conditions and sensitivities. And then it also is about that fact he’s an actual person, he’s not a toilet paper roll. So he has to be a father, be home and be a good person. As the CEO of our global companies, I have to take that into account first and foremost, before anything else. So it’s this very unique relationship and I don’t think there’s much else like it. When we first started Friends at Work, on the website, we didn’t say the word manager because we thought this needs a new lexicon.
When you’re a partner, you’re not in some client service relationship where the artist calls you at 3am or midnight on a Friday or Saturday. My artists would never even dare to treat me with that level of disrespect, unless it was really something important.
We’ve created boundaries, healthy relationships, they care about me and I care about them. And you establish that in your financials as well. You get what you pay for and if your artist knows that you’re that good that they need you to run everything for them, and you help build it, you’re strategic, and good at relationships, then you deserve to get the compensation that’s not this tiny little piece of this person who’s become incredibly wealthy.
Going back to the deal between Friends at Work and Crockford Management. Do you have any advice for managers who don’t yet have the opportunity to find a similar deal with a company in the US or UK but who also want to ensure their clients careers are global without running themselves into the ground?
LC: It’s important to note that I don’t think either Ty or I went out looking for this partnership, it happened really naturally. I actually met the President of Friends at Work [Adina Friedman] at a party and it turned out that one of our artists in the UK was supporting one of Friends at Work’s artists that very night. It was totally random.
Something that we’re really good at in this business is communicating, meeting and finding people and talking to them. That’s literally what our job is all the time. You [don’t] have to necessarily partner up, officially. But partnering up with people or being part of something like the MMF will help. It helps managers to explore other opportunities, listen to other managers talk on the MMF weekly calls and email chains, and just hear what other people are doing and ask questions.
There are a million things we still don’t know and there are no managers out there who know it all. It’s changing all the time and there aren’t any stupid questions. Young managers especially get nervous about asking questions in case people think they don’t know, but you’re probably asking a question to a bunch of more senior managers that don’t know the answer, either. But if you talk about it, you’ll work it out and that’s what we need to do more of.
Ty, in your MBW INTERVIEW you spoke about how the environment at Friends at Work is more matriarchal than the experience you had in your previous roles. What impact does that have on your approach to management and leading a company?
TS: Well, that comes out of the fact that when I started in business, I was in a company that was all men, other than personal assistants and admins. In that environment, I got pregnant and was told, “Oh, you can’t be a manager and be a mother. You’re never going to be a big manager now that you are going to have kids because you’ll just never see your kid. So you have to decide.”
I had previously worked in professional environments with badass women CEOs who had kids and travelled to China for a week so I just thought it was so dumb and shortsighted. I made a little mental note, like, one day when I leave this company and start my own, we’re going to have a whole mother’s unit.
“when I started in business, I was in a company that was all men, other than personal assistants and admins. In that environment, I got pregnant and I was told, ‘Oh, you can’t be a manager and be a mother’. I just thought it was so dumb and shortsighted.”
I also thought that it’s part of the ego and insecurity of management that managers have to be at every show and travel around the world with their client. When I was becoming a manager, I had a newborn and I would travel and put my daughter under the Hooter Hider.
I showed up, but John and my clients knew that I was smarter and better for them back behind the desk, with the team, fielding calls, doing the right work, analyzing things, doing the due diligence. I didn’t need to be at every show. There’s so many cool things that I missed, but I’m glad that I missed it, because I could be a mother.
I also don’t think the definition of a manager should be somebody who’s like, “100%!”. I remember hearing that when we were going up against some other management company. That manager’s pitch to the artist was, “I don’t have a wife, I don’t have kids, you’re going to be everything for me”. I guess for some artists, in their extreme narcissism, that’s what they want. But I don’t think that gives the depth of knowledge and experience that a manager should offer to the artists that they’re working with.
At Friends at Work, we have so many moms who are the breadwinners of their families and are also managers. We create such a team environment that we load balance, because [nobody] should be around the clock 24/7 or going to everything all the time. The matriarchal environment that we built is all about living our best lives. Even if we apply that to people who are not parents, I still don’t want those people so exhausted and stressed out that they’re not enjoying the luck of being in the music world.
I would feel more pleasure, joy, satisfaction and pride if Friends at Work created a whole class of powerful women managers who are making seven figures. That to me is more satisfying than me taking home ridiculous amounts of money that nobody needs and buying 10 houses. Having another $30m home in the Hills in LA is not as satisfying as knowing you have an entire workforce of people who will be empowered to make choices in their communities, with their families, with artists, and hopefully give back in the same way.
“I would feel more pleasure, joy, satisfaction and pride if Friends at Work created a whole class of powerful women managers who are making seven figures.”
The culture of management in the US has been, “How good of a hustler are you?” And how much money can you make? And if you make all that money, because you’re such a good hustler, and you put up the smoke and mirrors enough to get on the cover of Fast Company, the name of the game was then to take that money and invest it in tech and the concept of management never even mattered.
The only thing that mattered amongst the super powerful managers became, “How much money do you have?” And, “Did you get invited into the next round of [funding for] this Silicon Valley company?”
It’s just bad. Our purpose is to shepherd creativity and artistry and we should all be really serious about what that is.
Music Business Worldwide