Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The Role of Agents, Managers, and Publicists.

This is the second installment of the "Tell It Like It Is" series. Read the first ("Real Publishing is Vanity Publishing, Vanity Publishing is Real Publishing") here.

I blundered into an interesting question on Metafilter:
"Would hiring a publicist help me to transform my podcasting and entertainment work into a full time gig?"

This is an incredibly common mistake. I keep meeting musicians and other creative types who think a manager or agent will help them get gigs and increase their profile. And everyone believes publicists will ratchet up their prominence. But no. That's completely wrong, and reflects a misunderstanding of what it's all about. As both a writer and a musician, and someone who's dealt with a slew of publicists, managers, and agents over the years from every conceivable angle, let me set the record straight.

Visualize harried parents who've hired a babysitter, knowing full well they'll return home to a crying kid, a messy house, a ransacked refrigerator, and cigarette burns in the couch's upholstery. Why do they do it? Because it's their only hope to get out of the house and see a freaking movie. It's a sacrifice, and it costs, to boot. But at a certain point, it becomes necessary.

Whatever your creative pursuit, you can manage, agent, and publicize yourself much more effectively (and cheaply) than just about any manager, agent, or publicist who'd be willing to take you on. None will expend the time and care that you will. And none is more capable of making use of your own personal and business connections than you are. Most of all, if you're truly creative enough to be thinking ambitiously about your creative career, you certainly can apply more out-of-box creativity to the task than any mere biz middleman ever could hope to - and you can apply those strategies with undivided attention.

So what are these guys good for? You hire them when your phone's ringing so hard that you can no longer handle the inflow of work queries. And so you outsource to them. As with the babysitter, they'll screw up somewhere between slightly and catastrophically...but at least you'll have bought yourself time to go see a freaking movie (or actually work on music, writing, etc.).

Same with publicity. The job of a publicist isn't to make obscure people (or operations) famous. It's to manage the publicity needs of people and operations prominent enough to have publicity needs (and busy enough to need to outsource). The very first thing all these managers, agents, and publicists will ask you is for the phone number for every business contact you've ever cultivated. And they'll rotely call down that list. You could do that...and better, too! But at least now you don't have to. That's the point.

All that said, there are managers, agents, and publicists who plum the depths, promising nobodies that they'll make them somebodies. I'm assuming I don't need to tell you, intelligent Slog reader, what such people are worth (aside from the mega-rare instance of a discerning manager/agent finding a genuine diamond in the rough). Legitimate creative middlemen (indulge the oxymoron for a moment) don't, for the most part, seek out nobodies, because nobodies lack money, and 10% of nothing is nothing. Illegitimate (or, I should say, particularly illegitimate)
creative middleman look for nobodies with money from other sources...who they can flatter and suck dry.

Of course, if you're supremely uncreative and unenergetic (in which case you are undoubtedly a lousy writer, musician, artist, etc.) and you happen to have money (e.g. from your parents) to pay a good publicist, he or she can probably get your band's gig listed in the usual obvious places you yourself could approach if you weren't so lazy. And this may draw a few more bodies through the doorway. But your band stinks, so what's the point? :)

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