Oakland, CA — Behind every great artist is a team of people who help make dreams come true. It’s fun to daydream about having the fancy cars and flashy jewelry that the entertainment industry flaunts, but it’s important to understand what it takes to get there. In our new series, Inside the Industry, we go behind the scenes and talk to entertainment-business vets about their experience in their respective fields.
In our first profile, I interview A&R and artist manager Xtina Prince. Today, Xtina manages Duckwrth, while also working as a full-time A&R for Republic Records. She talks about her daily responsibilities, the specifics that go into managing and A&Ring, and various difficulties she’s had to overcome. These jobs aren't for the faint of heart. While Xtina is completely transparent about the fact that it’s not easy being a manager/A&R, she also shares what she loves most and what keeps her motivated on the job.
MM: Can you summarize the main aspects of your role as a manager? What about as an A&R representative for a label?
XP: The main aspects of my role as a manager are to keep everything together. The number one component/priority is managing — the artist, the people around the artist, the different and various relationships that it takes to make the artist's career move forward, and managing myself. My life isn't just managing, or just A&Ring, it's about balancing everything.
Then I would say opportunity — finding and meeting different people, relationship building, networking, talking about the artist and roster and different people to work with. It generates opportunity. Artist development is a very, very important part of management, probably the most important. Making sure the artist is moving from step 1 to 2 to 3 and that their career, creatively, professionally, financially, is progressing.
I don’t know if A&R and management are all that different. You're almost pulled into a management capacity in A&R, if you really care about what happens to the artist and the artist’s success at a record label. So I would say the main components of being a manager are pretty much the same components of being in A&R. The larger component of my role in A&R is a campaign manager; my job is to make sure everyone in the building thinks this artist is hot, and they are the future, and everyone prioritizes this artist to the best of their ability. I have to make sure everybody likes me so they'll like the artists I’m bringing to the table. It really is, aside from listening to records and booking studio time, about championing for your artist and making sure they have everything they need.
MM: How did you get into management and how did you wind up managing Duckwrth?
XP:At some point, I just decided I didn't want to be an artist seriously (I was an artist). I started to really enjoy helping and seeing words on paper turn into a song. I’m huge into research so I love looking into new tools like marketing tools, and I would use them to help artists get on DatPiff, and you know I would just research. I was a geek about music stuff and I loved it so much it was easy to help people. And that gave me a natural desire to manage people.
For Duckwrth, I was asked to look for music for The Weeknd and as I was looking, I found a video of Duckwrth’s, and it was grainy, not great quality but it was so sick and I was like “Who is this kid, I love this!” I found a song called “Hoverboard” — I thought, let me just reach out and see if I can help. So I reached out and he told me he had a manager, so I said well if you need any help here's my number, just reach out. One day he reached out; he said he needed help putting out a song, and I said cool, I’ll help you. I helped him find a blog premier and get the word out to different people about who he was. We talked on the phone a lot but never met. I wasn’t really managing him at the time, I was just kinda helping him, then by like the third year I said “Dude, you can be so much further than you are right now, how about I buy you a ticket to NY, and if you like me, and we like each other, then we’re good...we work, we make it happen.” So he came, and was supposed to stay for a few weeks and [then] he ended up staying with me for 2 years.
MM: What have you learned from previous mistakes made on the job, if any?
XP: The biggest thing that I learned is business first. Because when you're managing an artist that doesn’t have anything, that no one knows or cares about, it’s a lot of your own energy that goes into that and the only motivation you have is that you believe in that artist and their music; there’s literally nothing else. So you have to really know for sure that this is what you want to do because there is a lot of giving before you get anything. With that said, the mistake I made [when I was managing one of my first artists] was I was a little naive. I thought — I’m going to give everything; this person is going mess with me and that means this person is going to be loyal because they know I put the energy in, and they’ll at least tell the world how dope I am. Because while they’re laying in their bed at 12 o’clock...I’ve been up since 8 begging and pleading for people to listen to their music. But then you find out when people want to be successful, they will walk over you for that. My mistake was I should have gotten the paperwork. So I learned very quickly to give a little, but just enough to see if there's a relationship to be had. Just don't give everything right away — and that’s a mistake I won't make again.
Second is attention to detail. I was young and overlooked something. I had a band that I booked flights for, and I didn't pay attention to baggage fees and they had to pay $2,500 in baggage fees! I felt so horrible. They called me and I didn't know what to do so I told them I would give them my next paycheck. They said no, but I felt it would haunt me for life because I could’ve just read that baggage policy! So I gave them my paycheck.
MM: How do you go about finding opportunities for Duckwrth?
XP: I talk to a lot of different people — I’m always talking about him. I could be in a room for something that doesn't have anything to do with him and I’ll talk about him. Just talk about him. I don't go out and seek opportunities in that way but what I do is find him resources like places to record, producers, to work with, brands to work with, I just find him things to keep him in a position to do what he's doing. I told him I was going to make him successful and so we had to figure out what was successful for him and what was successful for me.
MM: Duckwrth just finished his headlining world tour, what was the process for setting that up?
XP: He has a booking agent and we have done so many tour runs where he was an opening act (Anderson .Paak, Rich Chigga). He wanted his own headlining tour and we felt like it was time. So we reached out to his booking agent and they began setting it up. We have a small team, but it’s a dope team. Kyle was the coordinator for the booking agent for Anderson .Paak when Anderson .Paak wanted Duckwrth to open. So when it comes to artist development on the touring side? Kyle, his booking agent, did that. He was out there telling people he was the future and he was hollering Duck’s name wherever he could and that helped lead us here.
MM: Working in A&R, what resources do you usually use to scout new talent to sign?
XP: Word of mouth is the first resource. Somebody coming to me and telling me about something they think is cool. I usually stumble on artists as a result of listening to music that I like. I don't spend time listening to what's poppin’ right now — if I don't like it, I don't listen to it. I still enjoy listening to music so if I hear something really cool, if it’s an artist on Spotify, I’ll follow that artist or I’ll save that album. Spotify will suggest something else to me that no one’s ever heard of that sounds like what I was just listening to and so I’ll start looking more to find out who this person is. Interestingly enough though, most things came to me. I didn't find SZA, she was brought to me. A lot of people who know me, know what to bring me, and [know] that they probably can't bring it anywhere else. It's a lot of energy. People think that being in A&R is easy — it's not easy. You have to constantly prove you're making the right decisions. You’re under the microscope, so at least when you're getting up fighting every day, make sure you're passionate about it. Even if the research doesn't match, if I'm passionate about it then I will do the work and eventually, the research will match. Knowing the research and statistics can show me what's missing and, [that] can be good tools to pay attention to, but shouldn’t be the deciding factor.
MM: What was the best piece of advice given to you when you first got into the music industry and how has it shaped you?
XP: The best piece of advice given to me was you feel like “You push and push and push, and then one day you feel yourself finally being pulled and it's the greatest feeling in the world.” How has that shaped me? I be pushinnnn, I be pushing my a** off, pushing! And sometimes I feel a little pull, and I'm like alright cool, at least I'm not pushing for nothing. Watching people like Mary J. Blige, and Diddy in the industry made me feel like it's all just a good time. But it is work, you're not walking into Candyland. I also don't think about it like it is real work work, it’s my life.
MM: Any words of wisdom or advice you would give an up-and-coming manager or someone starting out in A&R?
XP:The first word of wisdom, be an assistant. Know what it's like to support someone on a good day, on a bad day. When you have to wake up every day when you feel like shit and still be responsible for someone else, you learn a lot about yourself and you learn a lot about where you need to go. It requires a lot of self-discipline. People who have never been in that subordinate position don't make great leaders.
Another word of wisdom I would say — be passionate. Don't ever lose passion. If you lose the passion you might as well do something else. If you're going to do this, be passionate, do it because you love it and want to be a part of music history. We are the people who are going to shape what people listen to. If it gets to a place where it's just about the money, or about the Instagram posts, or the ones who want to be more popular than the artists, it does a disservice to the music. Be part of the solution by being passionate.