No Glitz, No Glam: A Day In The Life Of A Local Artist Manager

It's very, very hard work.

  • By: Afiqah
  • Tuesday, 29 January 2019
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No Glitz, No Glam: A Day In The Life Of A Local Artist Manager
In the entertainment world, a manager could make or break an artist’s career.

Despite that, they are rarely seen in the limelight though. A manager is often too busy handling matters behind the scene. However, there is no denying that they indeed play a huge role in getting things in place to successfully pull off a show.

Their hard work deserves to be acknowledged, so we sat down and chatted with three of our local artist managers to learn the truth about the hows and whys they do what they do. 

Meet The Managers

An experienced figure in the artist management world.
Nana was a fresh graduate holding a Business Administration degree majoring in Finance from the California State University. Upon her return to Malaysia, she boldly took on an entirely different path.

She stepped up to the plate to become the manager to Amy Mastura, whose career was beginning to bloom at that time. That role lasted from the year 1995 until 2012.

Since then, she has been managing the songster that makes most – if not all – the ladies swoon; the amazing Anuar Zain

Iman knows his stuff.
Iman Tang started off as part of a team in charge of organising gigs for local bands. He then expanded his reach by getting involved with the organisation of regional and international concerts too.

Having been through it all, he realised how most Malaysian artists then did not have managers who play a part in growing their careers. Hence, he took the challenge of being one.

The first band he managed was Malaysia’s pop and alternative rock band, OAG. He had also previously managed Dewa 19, the legendary Indonesian rock band, for matters that take place outside their home country.

Since 2015, this Perakkian has been managing the career of one of Malaysia’s most popular actresses, Fazura

Wawa with her cousin, Yuna.
Nor Zaina Wardah, or better known as Wawa, has been the manager to our homegrown superstar, Yuna, for many years.

The International Islamic University Malaysia graduate embarked on this journey as her cousin’s music began to be widely accepted by the mainstream listeners. She started off by constantly tagging along with Yuna during the start of her career. Eventually, she was given the responsibility of replying e-mails.

She would later ‘get promoted’ to become Yuna’s manager.

That was 12 years ago. As Yuna went global, Wawa continued to hold the post as her manager within Malaysia until late last year. Through Yuna Room Records, Wawa had also managed Bil Musa, Hani & Zue and Pastel Lite.

While she may have taken on a new path as a Creative & Marketing Manager with a local music label, the experiences she gained during her stint as an artist manager are indeed valuable. 

What Does An Artist Manager Really Do

The duties of an artist manager are not as simple as what many would think. Besides having to plan and organise the artist’s schedule, they also act as the middle person that connects the artist with other parties for business dealings. 

Managing an artist is no easy task.
In Wawa’s case, having had to manage the schedule for Yuna, who resides in the United States of America, means communicating with each other at odd hours. It also got more complicated as she had to work together with the management team that Yuna has over there too – yes, there is a separate team on the other end.

“At first, I find it quite difficult. I was managing her in Malaysia and Asia part but there’s still another manager in the U.S. who manages all the worldwide deal,” she revealed.

“I’d have to let them know which brands she is working with so that there is no clash of interest. In terms of organising her schedule, I’d have to do it six months in advance – I had to fight with the U.S. team to fly her back.”

Making sure Yuna gets her work done.
However, they were able to find their dynamic to ensure that Yuna can rock the best of both worlds. 

Of course, being an artist manager is not merely about answering calls, replying e-mails and getting the artist’s schedule in order. It is, in fact, so much more than that.

“As a manager, you cannot just sit down and wait for calls to come in,” Iman said. “You’d have to go out and meet clients to create prospect work.”

It goes hand in hand with their responsibility of having to deal with endorsements for their artists and find sponsorships for events such as concerts.

Also, Nana emphasised that the ability to make a good presentation is a skill that an artist manager MUST have. 

Building your artist's brand is also very important.
Iman also stated that it is part of the artist manager’s job to build the artist’s career. He likens it to the process of constructing a building.

“There are different stages to work on – foundation, flooring, tiling, internal stuff,” he said. Once completed, only then it would be ready to hit the market.

Iman also highlighted how good planning is important for the artist to make his/her breakthrough in the mass market. Apparently, his word of advice led to Fazura’s involvement in the famous television show, 'Hero Seorang Cinderella', which further escalated her popularity. 

Fazura in 'Hero Seorang Cinderella'.
Besides that, reading contracts is a big part of an artist manager’s job too.

“Contract wordings are totally different,” Nana said. Therefore, it is crucial for an artist manager to have the knowledge and skills to read contracts.

“You cannot jump into the industry not knowing how to read contracts,” she stressed. While Anuar Zain Network does have their own lawyers who would go through the documents, Nana explained: “We need to vet the contract first before passing it over to them so that we would also understand it”.

As for Wawa, who has an artist with a background in law under her care, she said: “Yuna doesn’t read the contract but she’s aware of it. But I read the contract. We’d always make sure that whatever contract we sign would be a win-win”.

Then, there is also the financial aspect of it.

“We’d have to make sure that payments are received on time,” Iman said.

Nana has to take care of the financial aspects too.
Nana finds herself managing both personal and business financial needs of her artist, which includes concert/album/tour budgeting, royalties, handling cash receipts, income tracking, tax filing, bank reconciliations, cash flow management, the list simply goes on!

“This is to ensure everything is on track due to artist's hectic and busy schedule,” she said. 

More Than Meets The Eye

Anyone who has ever taken on the responsibility to manage would know that it is not an easy task. It comes with all sorts of challenges and one is expected to overcome them all by hook or by crook to ensure that the desired result is achieved.

Despite being in the entertainment industry – an industry that is commonly associated with the glitz and glam – being an artist manager is most certainly about the hustle. 

“We are not managing a product; we are managing human beings. Human beings have feelings and emotions,” said Nana.

Hence, intrapersonal skill is crucial.

“It is important for the manager and the artist to have a good relationship. I always say that when you take on this role, you are coming together as a family. You just cannot help it because you will be working together a lot,” she elaborated. 

Yuna-nd I both.
All three of them mentioned that teamwork is crucial to pull off the work that they do. 

“We are like each other’s partner-in-crime,” Iman said of his relationship with his artist. It is certainly not a one-man show.

“If the artist is good, but the manager is too slow, it wouldn’t work. If the manager is so advanced but the artist is not up to the mark, it wouldn’t work either.”  

Some may consider working with relatives as an easy way out. However, that is not how Wawa sees it.

“She may be my cousin but when at work, we keep things professional.”

Just like family.
Nana, who has long been friends with Anuar Zain before managing him, takes the same approach too. As a manager, good communication skill is essential, she told us.

“Sometimes, people don’t understand why we request for business class for the artist. So, as the manager, I’ll have to explain that if otherwise, it could turn into a fan-meeting session back there and since the artist will be busy the moment he lands, he would need the good rest he could get while on the aeroplane. Hence, the need for the business class seats.

"Another example is during events; why we’d request extra seats – we need it to have the make-up artist around the artist in case touch-ups are needed,” stated Nana. 

Iman and Co.
These are matters that need to be enlightened and explained clearly to ensure both parties understand each other. This is also a part of the manager’s responsibilities.

Also, a nine-to-five grind is not how an artist manager rolls.

“I have to be flexible on the timing,” stated Nana, citing that it is to accommodate clients who may only be available for meetings during odd hours. Iman said the same thing.

“I work for as long as I could keep going – and that could last till 2-3 in the morning,” he told us. 

Doctor, Lawyer, Engineer… Artist Manager? 

Early in their careers, both Wawa and Nana had to face the skeptics.  

Wawa admitted that when she first got into this field of work, her parents were not too keen about it. The bar was set with her sisters being involved as educationalists – one a teacher, the other a lecturer.

“They were not ashamed or anything like that but rather, they were worried about my future.”

Well, it is safe to say that over the years, she had managed to win their confidence. 

Wawa was with Yuna since her early days.
Apart from that, Wawa also had to face those who do not take what she does for a living seriously. There were those who actually came up to her only to express their thought about how her job as an artist manager is just a playing matter.

“They say it is not a real job,” she told us.

They would also raise questions on how long she could actually sustain in this industry. Well, she knew better to not take heed of what the doubters had to say.  

Nana also had to deal with the same issue. Early in her career, with the qualifications she had obtained, many raised their eyebrows over her decision to become an artist manager.

“People were doubting if there is a bright future with this job,” she said. Well, she had faith in what she wanted to pursue and here she stands today; an established figure in the industry. 

Based on the insights we got, we can firmly say that being an artist manager is as real of a job as it gets.  

What Keeps Them Motivated

“The fun and most rewarding part is actually going to the events/shows/ concerts; seeing all of the hard work comes to fruition with a show in front of hundreds and thousands of clients and fans enjoying themselves and having a great time at each and every event,” Nana explained.

Just a hug (and a picture) would do for Iman.
As for Iman, it is the genuine gratitude expressed by the artists he manages is what drives him forward.

“It is when I get a thank you message or a hug that really feels comes from their heart. It is not so much about the dollars and cents – they’re just numbers. It’s the sincerity.”

“A lot of people have the talent but when they write songs – especially indie artists – they don’t know about copyright and publishing.”

Wawa is happy to have had the ability to help the artists under her grow their career – it is something she will always treasure. 

Making A Difference

Wawa and Nana both became an artist manager without any formal education or training. Today, they are set to make a difference in the industry through their own ways of contributing. 

Wawa is now also a part-time lecturer, teaching music students the subject of Copyright & Publishing at Universiti Teknologi Mara Shah Alam.

Nana is currently enrolled in Universiti Utara Malaysia doing her Master’s of Science majoring in Artist Management. This mother of one plans to complete it by the end of next year. Getting a Ph.D. is also part of her plans. 

Nana has plans on giving back to society.
Why all the hassle to go through formal studies, you ask? Well, Nana aspires to improve the landscape of artist management industry in Malaysia.

“We don’t even have any books for reference here.”

Realising that there is a lack of formal education where this industry is concerned, she has in mind to establish an academy of her own that focuses on all things related to artist management.

“Even now, I’d have to get books from Europe because they’re not available here,” she sighed. 

With over 20 years of experience in the entertainment world, she intends to give back and contribute to the future generations to take on this industry with better knowledge and guidance.  

The Common Misconceptions

“Sometimes, people think that we are being so difficult,” Iman laughed.

Do not be mistaken, though, for usually, they are just doing their job. He gave an example of how during events, in an effort to look out for his artist, he would ask fans to wait until she is done with her meal before she could take pictures with them.

“They would say that the artist is okay with it but the manager is the one being so controlling.”

A fan request could turn into a chaos in no time.
Well, he explained: “If she takes pictures with one fan, she will have to take pictures with all the other fans. She would not be able to finish her meal.

“And what if when the picture was taken, the artist has chili stuck on her tooth? The netizens would be criticising her for not taking the time to get ready for a picture.”

It is not easy to please everyone, Iman said. 

Wawa, too, spoke of similar incidents. She would often be in a situation where she has to explain why her artist is unable to comply for picture requests – and she tries to do so in the nicest way possible. Usually, it is because Yuna is eating.

“Otherwise, she wouldn’t be able to eat,” Wawa explained.

It's not easy to please everyone.
As fans, we should try to be more understanding too. These famous figures are humans just like we all are – they’ve got to eat, they also have bad days once in a while. The managers, on the other hand, are trying to care for the interest of both parties. It is not an easy situation to handle – it is a delicate one. They have to be very careful to not offend anyone.

Wawa also acknowledged the existence of managers who are not exactly honest when it comes to matters of money.

“Yes, this situation exists. We have also heard of big names being cheated by their managers,” she said.

It would not be fair to paint all managers with the same brush though. Throughout her years of managing the talents, she has always firmly upheld the principle of honesty.

“The clients would also come back and work with you knowing that you are true.”  

All the three managers also mentioned that they do not seek to steal the limelight from their artist. As a matter of fact, their purpose is to bring more attention to their artist. 

Words Of Wisdom

Nana said: “It is essential for anyone who wants to be an artist manager to have some knowledge. Being an artist manager is not something you can just wake up on one fine day and decide to do. Think about the knowledge that you would need to have to have to manage a product.

"As an artist manager, we are not managing a product; we are managing human beings. Human beings have feelings and emotions”.

Do you have what it takes to tackle the situation? The door to learning is always open. 

Being a manager is not a glamorous job, says Iman.
Iman reaffirms that being an artist manager is not a glamorous job at all.

“There are many out there who thinks that being a manager makes you look cool but that is not what this job is about. Reminders, deadlines, follow-ups, public relations, meetings – these are all the manager’s responsibilities.” 

Although there are those who think that the entertainment industry is of less importance, Wawa encourages you to listen to your heart.

“If you believe in yourself and you really want to pursue a career in it, do it. Never take in the negative vibe.

“Be humble. Stay true to yourself. You must be very hardworking and have good time management skills. Don’t be lazy. You have to be committed,” she added.

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