Zael Ellenhorn is a manager at YMU, a global talent management company that includes RAC and more. After moving out to LA and building his own management company, Zael joined forces with YMU in late 2019 where he kicked things off by developing the marketing plan for RAC’s third studio album “BOY” before signing Kina and Ryan Caraveo in early 2020. For our most recent episode of How Music Charts, Zael walked us through his thought processes when it comes to managing artist relationships, developing social media strategies, and building super fandoms.
The Psychology of Artist Management
Though he avoided following in his parents’ footsteps by choosing not to study psychology, ironically, Zael ends up using it in one form or another for various aspects of artist management and the music business.
Any artist is going to be somebody who looks at the world a different sort of way than other people do…. That translates into a lot of different areas of your life, and some of those things can be really difficult, so figuring out how you keep artists focused, how you keep expectations managed while you still keep them optimistic when things aren’t going well, when you bring them back down to earth when things are going well, how you also are able to rely on data for that time when an artist is feeling like what should happen is not happening. Or when they feel like, “Oh okay, I don’t really know what’s going on right now.” If it is happening, you can look at the data; if it isn’t happening, you can look at the data…. There are so many different types of information that come in that are used as gauges for how a project is doing or how an artist is growing or how tour is performing … and when you actually rely on the core numbers to tell you that story, you can get a pretty accurate representation of it without all of the emotion that’s attached to what’s going on. As an artist, you’re going to be an emotional person; as a manager, it’s your job to be able to feel those same emotions, but also make sure that they’re not misdirected and help show them [the artist] where things actually are so you can make a game plan.
An Artist Manager’s Guide to Social Media
When it comes to social media game plans, it should probably come as no surprise that Zael often relies on data to drive important strategic decisions for his artists. However, the most informative data points for him tend to be indications that something went wrong and not that something went right.
The metrics that are helpful on the data analysis side are the ones where you can see stuff that doesn’t do well and then try to figure out why — why didn’t this post engage, why didn’t this one end up doing as well as the one before it? Sometimes there’s stuff like posting a tour flyer, which is going to have more text on it than your average photo and that’s going to negatively hurt the algorithm, but you still need to post that tour flyer. How are you going to follow up with that? Are you going to put a carousel before it so people interact with the photo and then you switch to the tour flyer? Using smaller pieces of data that you can A/B test methods with in terms of posting and then reacting to that data and then using that as your social schedule is probably the best way to do it.
Building Super Fandoms
Of course, all of the strategy and scheduling in the world can’t help an artist build their fandom if followers aren’t connecting with an artist’s content on a very personal level. Sometimes, that connection just happens, but sometimes it’s something an artist really has to work to develop.
You can either find your superfans or you can build your superfans. If you’re smaller, you have to focus way more on how do you make it so that if this fan likes my music, how do I make it so that they are as engaged and involved as possible with my career. How do you super-serve them, how do you give them opportunities that because they’re there early on, they feel like they have some kind of badge or some kind of special place within this career? It all comes down to figuring out how you can satisfy that core need that people have to express what it is that they like, express a part of themselves, by identifying really strongly with something that you can check out too. I think for super fandom, that’s really important, because if you can build a community of people that are all wearing a similar T-shirt and everyone’s kind of on board, then that’s really powerful. That’s the difference between … selling 15 and then when you do a merch shop and all 1K in a second, because they’re all going to go. Being able to mobilize a group like that so quickly is crazy powerful for building out an artist.