Questions for Three Composer Managers

Richard Guérin

You work for Philip Glass’s record label, but you’re also managing two composers right now?

My background in artist management comes from a year and a half at CAMI, where I was an assistant to a performing arts manager. I’ve just transferred the skill set I developed there to helping these composers. One is Evan Ziporyn, who is obviously affiliated with Bang on a Can, but he’s getting more and more known as a composer in his own right. And the other composer I work with is Giancarlo Vulcano, and he’s just a young composer trying to make his way. So our atypical, non-traditional relationship is basically that I’m trying to help them in any way I can, meaning performances, getting people to talk about them, know who they are, just working the industry circuit.

So when it comes down to it, what’s the checklist of things you have agreed to do for them?

Well, there’s all the traditional artist management stuff: scheduling, contracts, that sort of thing—the vulgar issue of dealing with money and negotiating a salary for a commission. But more than that, it’s grass roots soliciting. Forget about getting people to perform it, it’s hard enough in today’s climate to get anybody to just to listen to a demo CD. The reality is that the Boston Symphony won’t even play Philip Glass, so how are we going to get the Boston Symphony to play Evan Ziporyn? So it’s a unique relationship with a view toward the long term of getting young artists to establish working relationships with these composers, finding string quartets or conductors who might be music directors down the road who start appreciating what these composers do now. It’s bridging gaps. I’m basically an evangelist. People need champions no matter who they are. Without getting into the snobbery of certain demographics, basically what we’re trying to do is just get things going for these guys—get people to go to the concerts, hear the new CDs.

Are there things you can do more effectively than these composers, either because of your skill set or just because it’s more socially acceptable for you to push them in ways they can’t promote themselves?

By and large, the artists I’ve come into contact with don’t enjoy the business part and unfortunately the business part needs to take place. And just to have them wasting their time, in my opinion, on that part of it is a real issue. So a lot of what I try to do is alleviate all of that from their mind. As long as they have an interpersonal relationship with somebody they can trust, they can be free to create and do what they’re supposed to do as artists.

In these two cases, how did you connect with these gentlemen and agree to work with them?

I independently contacted Evan Ziporyn. It was really a matter of recognizing talent. They’re not going to be able to jump to the next level on their own.

Both of your composers are self-published, so you’re not interfacing with the PR departments of other companies. Do you see not being part of such an entourage as a hindrance or a good thing?

Well, there’s this very old, functional system in place which has served everyone very well for a very long time, and it employed millions of people. That old model works for some people. For my part, I don’t mind—part of my other job in obviously working with publishing companies and trying to get things recorded and so forth—but I think in Evan’s case it certainly helps that he’s self published. It’s one less thing that you have to think about. I don’t think it necessarily matters beyond just trying to have a situation where everybody, including the artist manager, has room to think outside the box, and in that way Evan is more flexible and so am I.

When a composer decides to get help of this sort, what does it cost?

Well, traditionally the relationship is a percentage of whatever sort of deal a manager cuts, whether it be a recording or commission. They just take a chunk. In the case of both of the composers I am working with, I didn’t want that traditional relationship, and we discussed this at length. We wanted it to be more flexible. So basically I’m working on retainer—I get a certain fee for always being on the clock rather than take a percentage of their activities.

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