Bull Horn is an avenue to give wings to the stories that matter most. This series, from Red Bull in partnership with the Chicago Reader, invites guest writers, artists, activists, and community members to share their ideas and amplify timely, crucial topics they feel are important now.
Managers’ Special is a collective of Chicago music managers who strive to support emerging artists and music industry executives through community building and strategic collaboration. The board members of the organization believe in investing in local talent and infrastructure so that artists can develop thriving careers without leaving their hometowns. For more information, visit www.managersspecial.org or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Chris Classick: Managers’ Special came together because we realized there were so many managers in Chicago working with amazing talent, but they weren’t really connecting with each other. We thought, “We should get all of the managers together for a little brunch.” It became a place where managers could talk about all the stuff managers go through. We realized that we see things through the same kind of spectrum, but we felt disconnected from each other. We needed to create something where we could work together and share all the ideas we have for our artists.
Love Graham: Chicago historically is a segregated place—it’s probably one of the most segregated cities in America. Anyone who’s been around for a decade-plus in the music scene has felt that on a microcosmic level. Over the past several years, there’s been more of a spotlight on Chicago’s music scene, but as managers, we’re challenged by not having the infrastructure to be able to leverage one another’s resources. Chicago has just as much of a pool of talent as New York or LA, but on the coasts, they’ve been able to build out the infrastructure to be able to control the marketplace. With Managers’ Special we’re pushing back against that way of doing things; we’re creating a new marketplace so that we can work within our own pool and have more control of our narrative and the things we do in our city.
Tamika Ponce: As a manager, a lot of your days are spent figuring out how to do things, and things are always changing. With Managers’ Special, you get to connect with people and see what everyone else is working on. When something comes to your table you have different people to pull from. “What was your experience like? What should I expect?” And as you get to know what a brand or a label is looking for, you’re able to connect them with others in the city. A lot of people are interested in working with home teams. They want to work with local photographers and artists, or they want to record at Classick Studios or Complex.
Von Harris: You can’t really pinpoint a manager’s tasks; you might be the booking manager, you may be doing digital marketing, or anything else until you find your team. I work with a lot of artists at the beginning stages of their careers. For me, Managers’ Special has been about building my network so that I can take some tasks off of my shoulders.
LG: When the pandemic hit, there was a need to find the resources to help carry people through this emergency. We’d been doing brunches and events, but we decided, “Let’s turn this into a nonprofit organization, pool our resources, and find ways to give grants to artists and managers in this time of need.” A lot of artists we work with—a lot of artists, period—come from poverty, but a lot of managers come from poverty, too. We’re all trying to make it with nothing. If Managers’ Special can help people get their feet off the ground, that’s what we want to do.
TP: We hope to make our grant program available every year, not just to give money to artists or managers, but to give them a crash course into the music industry to make sure they have all of the fundamentals in place, whether it’s providing a sounding board, or connecting them to distributors, studios, or other artists. We want to help build a community they can lean on while providing some financial freedom. Getting into your first deal can be very intimidating; we’re trying to take some of that pressure away.
Merk: It’s great to have a platform like Managers’ Special where you have this sort of “Angie’s List” of resources and you can ask questions. This job presents its problems, and your problems as a manager are pretty much designed by your environment—an up-and-coming artist from Dolton might have different issues than an up-and-coming artist from Wicker Park. A lot of artists have very small networks, and when they come to our luncheons or meet-ups they’re able to see manifesting their talent locally is much more of a reality than it is a dream.
CC: Let me put the mike down. As managers, we’re here to serve our artists and do everything in our power to help them get to the next level. The biggest legacy I want to leave Chicago is to show that we don’t have to leave Chicago. We all feel the same about that. The power is in the people, so the power is in our hands. We do want to bridge the gap between Chicago and New York, or Chicago and LA, but our biggest problem is bridging the gaps within our city. So our biggest purpose is to keep sharing with each other.