Billboard’s 2020 Top Business Managers: ‘Stay The Course’

On the Eagles‘ Hotel California tour this year, the band’s set includes “Life’s Been Good,” a Joe Walsh classic that might well be rock’n’roll’s greatest tribute to business managers.

“I live in hotels, tear out the walls,” sings Walsh. “I have accountants pay for it all.”

Business managers play a little-seen but essential role for every successful artist, dealing with increasingly varied sources of revenue, complex tax questions and financial investments, as well as professional and personal budgets (including unanticipated hotel bills).

Their contributions may go unnoticed until the unexpected happens — say, a pandemic-driven pause in the international touring industry throws a spotlight on that one executive who urged an artist to take out concert cancellation insurance.

The roles of business managers have changed in recent years as a wave of consolidation has swept their sector of the music industry, as online transactions have made digital security more essential than ever and as changes in tax laws have eliminated a number of deductions.

In the wake of the Wall Street turmoil following the coronavirus outbreak, business managers also have been the voice of reason. “My advice is, stay the course,” says Julie Boos, owner/business manager/chairman of Nashville firm FBMM. “Our clients are invested for the long game. So you’re going to have these moments, but we’ve planned for them. If anything, we view this as an opportunity.” (Long-term investors can benefit by buying during market declines.)

Beyond balance sheets, business managers can also discipline and inspire their creative clients. “I’m a registered investment adviser,” says Tony Peyrot, a partner in Dunn Pariser & Peyrot. “But mostly what I am is a coach or a shrink, and sometimes I have to kick [clients] in the ass, and sometimes I have to put my arm around them and say, “ ‘It’s going to be OK.’ ”

Ivan Alarcon
Co-founder/CEO, Vibras Lab

Alarcon, 41, teamed up with managers Fabio Acosta and Ramiro Agudelo to create Vibras Lab, which last year worked with J Balvin (and Balvin’s co-manager Scooter Braun) on a new deal with Universal Music Latino, believed to be one of the most lucrative contracts ever for a Latin act. Vibras Lab has brought together some 20 diverse professionals, including accountants, lawyers and business administrators, at the service of Latin stars such as Karol G, Piso 21, Sky, The Rude Boyz, Manuel Medrano and others.

Follow the Money: “Streaming, music publishing, touring and brand deals — if you are an artist [with a fully integrated career] you will be able to make great money from any of them.”

Claudia Arcay
Business manager; Carlos Vives, WK Entertainment and Vivas Ventures

“Nothing compares to selling thousands of tickets in multiple countries,” says Arcay, 42, whose client Carlos Vives has been playing festivals worldwide over the past two years and, in late 2019, sold out five consecutive shows in his native Colombia at Bogotá’s 14,000-capacity Movistar Arena. “Brands notice this fan base in their country and have an incentive to create partnerships with the artist.” Working with Walter Kolm’s WK Entertainment (Vives’ personal management firm), Arcay oversees branding partnerships for the superstar that include Pepsi and Target. Vives’ upcoming projects include a May 2020 album, a documentary, a podcast and a book about Colombian music.

Client Investments and Splurges: “Carlos’ label, Gaira Música Local, focuses on developing local Colombian artists. He also expanded his restaurant, Gaira, franchising it in the most-visited airports in Colombia — Bogotá and Medellín.”

Angie Barajas
Co-founder/COO, Business Management Lab
Louis Barajas
Co-founder/CEO, Business Management Lab

With a client roster that’s all Latin artists, including Nicky Jam, Yandel, Mau & Ricky and Ricardo Montaner, Angie Barajas, 57, and Louis Barajas, 58, have made it a priority “to give them peace of mind by having almost all of them prepare their estate plans,” says Louis. The husband-and-wife team, which reports 60% revenue growth for its business last year, brings another priority to its financial advice. “We create a ‘fuck you fund’ for all of our artists — a fund that will allow them to one day walk away from a bad contract or negotiations,” says Louis, “or from the entertainment business.”

Marius Bercovici
Partner, LL Business Management
Justin Kobay
Partner, LL Business Management
Bruce Seckendorf
Founder/partner, LL Business Management

For musicians who have chosen to stay independent both as recording artists and composers, education in financial literacy and the business of their creativity is essential, says Kobay, 30, who works with the music clients of LL Business Management along with Bercovici, 50, and firm founder Seckendorf, 61. “I can’t tell you how many clients we onboard that have songs or have had songs out for a year or two and aren’t even registered on SoundExchange,” says Kobay. “Or maybe we get a producer that’s a client and we can’t collect on SoundExchange because the artist never registered. We have to chase down the artists on that.”

David Bolno
Partner, NKSFB
Richard Feldstein
Partner, NKSFB
Michael Karlin
Partner, NKSFB
Larry Tyler
Partner, NKSFB

“Music consumption continues to increase, especially globally, and that will continue to drive the value of our clients’ intellectual property,” says Tyler, who counts Bruno Mars, Anderson .Paak, Alex Da Kid and Tori Kelly among his clients. “In touring, artists have so much control over when, where, how long and how profitably they tour. [Tyler spoke before the coronavirus outbreak.] Doing 15 to 20 budget revisions or scenarios is not unheard of in our practice to ensure our clients understand how much net revenue they will earn at the end of the tour.”

Giving Back: NKSFB this year began a campaign to support a charity “that directly impacts the lives of children struggling with cancer and severe illnesses,” says Tyler. “Having lost my niece at a very young age to cancer in 2019, this is close to me.”