Artist managers are often the unsung heroes of the music industry. They’re the great facilitators and decision-makers. Speaking with veteran manager, Atlanta’s own Rico Brooks—responsible for acts like Sonny Digital, Quay Global, Tasha Catour, and more—we discover the power of TuneCore as it extends to one of the most important players in the game.
Brooks, 48, has been managing artists since 2004. Working first with Boyz n da Hood and later Yung Joc, Brooks learned quickly about the industry’s shady dealings. Quick on his feet, Brooks adapted and rose to be one of the most respected artist managers in Atlanta. Though the game has changed in the 15 years Brooks has been playing, he remains sharp as ever, utilizing the power of TuneCore to help his artists achieve their goals.
“With TuneCore, you’re now able to keep 100 percent ownership of your masters and just put your music out directly without having to go through another company that’s gonna co-own your rights,” Brooks explains. “That’s one of the reasons why I like TuneCore. Also, if you have a little leverage and you’re trying to make a decision that’s not fully financial, you have income coming in that allows you time to make a sound decision. It just gives you more options and a little more leverage.”
Brooks tells me one of the most significant stressors for a manager is watching their artist make a deal for money over a deal that’s right for their career. With TuneCore, that stressor is all but eliminated. TuneCore offers artists two of the most invaluable resources in the industry: leverage and time.
“When we did ‘OG Bobby Johnson’ with Que, we were seeing five figures a month,” Brooks recalls. “It gave him a little time to decide on his deal.” Empowering independence and giving artists control of their careers is the essence of the TuneCore mission.
My full conversation with Rico Brooks, packed with gems and lightly edited for content and clarity, follows below.
DJBooth: Talk to me about getting into artist management. How long have you been at it?
Rico Brooks: I got into artist management in 2004 with Boyz n da Hood, signed to Block Entertainment, and we had a deal through Bad Boy. I started working with Block because he would come into the record store I was managing—I was a district manager over several stores. They came to me to get product placement in the stores. I built these great relationships with Block, and he had this one group Diddy was interested in signing because Kim Porter had introduced him to the group. Block was like, “I want you to work with the group.” It was Jeezy, Jody Breeze, [Big] Gee, and [Big] Duke. So that’s how it started.
I left the record store in 2005. I managed Yung Joc. We had success: Forbes list, GRAMMY-nominated, toured around the world. I didn’t know I [had the knack] for it. I went to Atlanta Metropolitan College; I have an associate degree in history. I [also] have a BA in history from Morehouse. I just started working with these record stores, and I knew how to manage people. Managing artists is similar but different. I knew customer service and organization skills, how to motivate people. But it’s different when you’re dealing with artists making six, seven figures. The exchanges are a little different. I learned, and I took classes. I’m even taking classes now! I’m always learning, trying to keep the iron sharp.
Just starting, what was the biggest hurdle getting into management?
I remember going to church and saying, “Dear God, let me be in the music business.” After that first tour with Boyz n da Hood, I started crying, like, “God, why you put me in this position?” I wasn’t used to the nature of the business. We did the chitlin circuit, so we’re going to these aggressive markets. These clubs [had a] shady atmosphere. Anything could happen at any moment, so you have to be sharp and ready for that. I had to be the one with leadership skills. A minor situation could turn major in the matter of a gesture. You don’t acquire [those skills] by reading a book. It’s not in a book if a promoter tries to trick you and say he’s going to pay you soon as you get off stage. You gotta say, “Hey, man, I need this money before we even get out the van.” You can have the book knowledge, but there’s the street knowledge and knowing how to read certain situations.
So our readers understand: What, exactly, does a manager do?
In general, managers are responsible for managing the overall career and objectives for an artist. If an artist has nothing to manage, then there’s no need for a manager. It’s changing as we speak. When I came up in the game, you didn’t just put a song online, and it blows up. A lot of guys had to get out in the streets, get to the club, and move around. I was part of that process of helping break an artist: Helping them pick the songs, move through the clubs. Even with producers, assisting producers in moving through the clubs, through the radio, and sitting down with them, coming up with their goals. The manager is the conduit.
What is the biggest difference between artist management 15 years ago and artist management today?
That’s a good question. When I came up, the internet wasn’t what it is today. Now, you have this information that’s out there if you click. But the younger guys still refuse to click and learn for their success long-term. The younger generation of managers can learn from older managers who have specific skill sets. Things have changed, but there are certain things, like relationships, [that haven’t]. I tell managers, today, if you have one hot client, you’re one decision away from not being in the music business. When you’re in that position, you should diversify.
Financially, what’s the most significant stressor for a manager with an upcoming artist?
There are two questions you ask yourself: Is this a music decision or a money decision? I’ve seen artists make bad mistakes because it was all about the money. They sign the deal with the most money, but not the deal that’s best for their career. Label A may give you X amount of dollars, and Label B may give you less but believe in you. Nine times out of 10, the artist will go for the money. I can advise and say, “This may not be a good fit for you.” But they’ll be like, “I’ll figure it out.” A year later, they may be dropped. If your decision is based on money, it’s gonna be a bad decision. I always let the artists make their [own] decisions because I’m their manager. I don’t have to perform their agreement.
Talk to me about the power of TuneCore—how does it help alleviate stress?
When I was coming up, to get your record in the stores, you had to sign [a distribution deal]. Some of these distributors had certain clauses, where you would have to buy these companies out. Today, with TuneCore, you’re now able to keep 100 percent ownership of your masters and just put your music out directly without having to go through another company that’s gonna co-own your rights. That’s one of the reasons I like TuneCore. Also, if you have a little leverage and you’re trying to make a decision that’s not entirely financial, you have income coming in that allows you time to make a sound decision. It just gives you more options and a little more leverage.
What controls or features does TuneCore offer an artist manager?
I had a couple of guys trying to put out some records quickly. TuneCore, if you’re in Atlanta, they have an office. It’s not just a website. They have a presence, and that makes a big difference. You could get someone on the phone. You can have that communication. They’re always doing things in the community, whether it’s stuff at A3C or their office. Sometimes, meeting that one person, that’s the link that changes your life and career.
What’s been your biggest success funded by TuneCore?
Most artists I’ve worked with have product come through TuneCore. When we did “OG Bobby Johnson” with Que, we were seeing five figures a month. It gave him a little time to decide on his deal. That record was one that was good for us.
What’s the one thing about being an artist manager getting you out of bed in the morning?
In the management career, you’re never made; you’re never tenured. No matter how much you do or how great you do, it could still never be enough. Your best may not be good enough. I had to come to grips with that. Everything you do may not be enough. What gets me up in the morning is you never know what tomorrow holds. That excitement in finding that new producer. Tomorrow could be the day that takes your career to the next level.