The manager-coach

“Andy, it’s the punk spirit”


We often talk about life influences or influencers (here I’m not talking about social media types extolling the virtues of a range of cosmetics or socks). But it doesn’t need to be a loved one or a so-called celebrity. One of the biggest influencers in my life – which is approaching six decades – was someone who I spoke to for 12 hours. This is my story about coaching, and my initial observations about mental health in the music industry.

Around 20 years ago my then employer offered me the chance to work with a performance coach. Whilst a little sceptical at first I thought ‘why not?’. We worked together for six two-hour sessions and I recall at the start of each one being asked the age-old question ‘what do you want your life to look like in XX years?‘. It’s the adult equivalent of ‘what do you want to be when you grow up?‘, and whilst fairly frustrating it does get you thinking. My answer was always ‘I don’t know’, so we’d spend the bulk of the two hours talking about immediate (and more boring) work issues.

But there are two things I recall vividly about the coaching. Firstly, I always came out of the session with an answer or solution that I’d convinced myself I’d devised. I know now that it’s a trick of the trade, an excellent use of questioning and listening techniques by a seasoned professional. Secondly, it took only about four hours for her to understand what makes me tick. I can be tenacious if there’s something I want; I most often won’t accept ‘authority’ figures as being right so I research and make my own mind up; I don’t like being told what to do; and I don’t believe in chance – you have to make things happen yourself. So she said the immortal words to me: ‘Andy, it’s the punk spirit … you’ve never lost it have you’.

Based on those six sessions I decided that I wanted to learn more about what coaching was and how it was done – ideally professionally, but at least better. Over the years I’ve obtained a couple of certificates and accreditations in coaching and mentoring but, while I understand the tools and techniques better, there is no substitute for putting in the many, many hours of practice on the job. In that respect it’s no different to any other job or skill, and I’ve been fortunate to have landed roles that paid me to increase my experience.

Coaching is acknowledged to improve performance and, by extension, results. However performance is also inextricably linked to other stuff going on in one’s own life. Therefore, whilst a performance coach may focus on technical aspects such as a vocalist’s breathing, a golfer’s stance and swing, or footballers’ positional play at free-kicks, if the ‘player’ has got other personal stuff going on in their mind they’re less likely to be able to carry out the coach’s instructions. Life coaches focus more on what make people tick, what their hopes, aspirations and worries are, and how to manage and plan for those. In other words, the personal aspects rather than the technical.

In my developing experience in the role of music manager I sense that, in general, the music industry still has some way to go to look after its ‘players’. The managers’ trade body in the UK, Music Managers Forum, actively encourages its members to think about aspects such as their clients wellbeing. And excellent bodies such as Help Musicians UK (“HMUK”) provide a range of welfare support. Importantly, they also undertake research into root causes and I thoroughly recommend reading HMUK’s Music Minds Matter’ survey from 2016. This highlights some of the unique cultural aspects of the music industry, such as the expectation that performers – who, of course, have bills to pay like everyone else – will often be expected to play for experience or exposure. As one respondent eloquently put it: “A plumber doesn’t work for experience. A doctor doesn’t perform surgery for exposure”.

And that’s on top of the physical and emotional cycles involved in creating and performing music. Longer-term, there’s the planning and anticipation of a new release and the euphoria or disappointment in its reception: short-term, the build up to a gig or tour and then coping with the mundanity of routine life afterwards.

Many people offer services as performance coaches to musicians; often they are musicians themselves that have worked at very high levels. And people also offer services as life coaches, trained in the techniques of coaching to help balance priorities better and cope with everything that goes on in life. A quick Google search however showed there are very few life coaches who focus on the unique situations of creative artists, and even fewer who are life coaches and managers.

In my experience, and using other industries for a comparison, whilst awareness and management of client wellbeing is improving in the music industry it’s still quite a bit behind when it comes to improving culture. It might well be rock ‘n’ roll, but the tone needs to be set better from the industry’s non-artists such as major labels and promoters, removing the perception of their greed and unfair contracts. Yes, of course they take financial risks with artists so are entitled to an upside, but don’t milk them until there’s nothing left.

Artist managers can help bridge the gap, seeking the best deal for their clients and negotiating as much as possible for fairness of pay and contract. However in many respects they should be more – a manager-coach – someone who is there to support the personal wellbeing of clients as well as business and financial.

I still have the punk spirit. But now, with the benefit of life, I know that punks need looking after like anyone else.

References and acknowledgements
Music Minds Matter at accessed 3 May 2019