Everything an Artist Wants to Know… from an artist manager

KRISTEN DABBS first made her way into the music industry as Paste Magazine’s advertising director. After five years of helping to launch and grow Paste, Kristen left to work for another music magazine, American Songwriter. In her first months at American Songwriter, she helped to developed a new website, American Songspace. She then left to manage a project that she and her husband, singer-songwriter Trent Dabbs, started in 2005 – Ten out of Tenn, a collective of Nashville artists. In 2009, she and Charlie Peacock co-produced an award winning music documentary based on TOT, Any Day Now. In 2010 she joined forces with BMI’s Jody Williams & producer Paul Worley (Lady Antebellum, Dixie Chicks) and helped launch Musicians Corner, a free weekly concert in the park series. Kristen has two children and co-owns Ready Set Music, a record label and management company for Ten out of Tenn, Young Summer, Trent Dabbs and Sugar & the Hi Lows. 


After many years of working with and alongside of so many indie artists, I feel as though I’ve gained a decent perspective of what it is that helps artists to build lasting careers and what limits artists to scraping by album after album. The hard truth about being an independent artist, and even an artist on a major label is that you will spend many years scraping by until you’ve figured out what it is that works best for you. For some artists, touring is their bread and butter and they may spend 3-5 years touring and building a fan base before they are able to see a real profit from it. For other artists it might be tv/film placements that start paying their bills month to month. And ultimately, album sales will benefit from more touring & more placements.

So here are a few tips for indie artists & things we would look for when signing an artist:

1. Be Patient

When we moved to Nashville ten years ago, Trent had a record deal and a booking agent and an album with a release date. We were ready for things to start happening. But then he met with a lawyer who told him not to plan on making any money for at least 5 years. What?! That made no sense to us – wasn’t he supposed to start making money as soon as the record comes out and tours start to happen. We both thought that lawyer was crazy. Sure sure enough, 5 years after moving to Nashville, Trent started making a living from his music. Don’t expect things to just start happening naturally when you put out a record or sign a record, management or booking deal. That’s where the journey begins and when your hard work comes into play.

2. Work Hard, Work Smart

Trent gets upset when I say this, but making a great record is a small piece of the puzzle for an indie artist. Granted making a great record is what will carry your music career, a good record will be easily forgotten. Once the recording process of making an album is finished, you’ve got to get to work. But don’t just work hour after hour on things that don’t add up, or do tours that aren’t well promoted or in meetings that you haven’t done your research for…STUDY, RESEARCH, READ. Meet with managers of indie artists, other artists, send your record to publicists and get feedback, don’t be afraid to ask for advice. If you’re not getting the feedback you want, it’s because the music isn’t as good as you think. Try something different, find what works.

3. Always Work on Getting Better

Whether it’s your live show, your songwriting, singing or guitar playing, never stop practicing and growing as an artist. It’s been amazing to watch artists that we met in Nashville almost 10 years ago grow into ridiculously talented musicians and songwriters. No matter how great you think the song you just wrote is, you can write a better one.

4. Don’t need them, make them need you

I’ve met with many artists in the beginning of their careers that have said they just need a manager to step in and help them, but the truth is that there are no managers that just want to help out. When you aren’t making any money, neither will they. Wait until you’ve gotten to a place where you’ve built a great fan base, made an amazing record or started to get some good tv placements, when you have started to build a buzz, managers, booking agents, licensing companies, etc. will start to find you.

4. Plan 10-20 years down the road

I read a quote once from Derek Sivers (CD Baby) that said “Pay close attention to what excites you and what drains you & pay close attention to when you are being the real you and when you are trying to impress an invisible jury.” Make sure that you are enjoying what you are doing and that it’s what you want to be doing for the next 20 years. If touring is exhausting for you and playing live in front of people makes you miserable, stick to writing songs – you can make a great career out of just writing songs. If you just like to perform and don’t enjoy the writing process, get with people that like to write, find good songs – do cover songs to build your career as a performer and then get to a place where other people write songs for you. It’s important to find what you are the best at and what excites you.

Such valuable advice, Kristen. Thank you so much. I think Kristen and Trent have embodied so many new milestones for an indie artist, demonstrating how you can have a sustainable career in this changing industry – you just have to be true to yourself, work HARD, ask for feedback and always get better.  Don’t miss her husband Trent’s FILL THE WELL – it’s Dabbs week here at Alva Leigh.


Leave a reply

Built by 360 Zen

© 2014 Alva Leigh