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Are You Experienced? ‘Friendagers’ Are Rewriting the Rulebook on Steering Artists In the Fast Lane

It's easier than ever for artists to become big online. But things can get complicated for the "friendagers" trying to navigate a daunting industry — without a rulebook.

In March 2018, the Indiana-based singer Omar Apollo got his first national break: an opening slot for the British soul band Jungle on its Northwest tour. There was just one problem. No one on Apollo’s team was old enough to rent a vehicle. Apollo’s manager was a 20-year-old former Atlantic Records intern named Dylan Shanks, whom Apollo had met on Twitter. “I was like, ‘Oh, my God, this is amazing!'” recalls Shanks. “But then it was like, ‘How do we do this?'”

Shanks’ story might sound familiar to the staggering number of young and inexperienced artist managers now winging it through the music business as they run the affairs of their suddenly trending clients. Careers take less time than ever to go from SoundCloud virality to the stage, where tours need to be booked, backing musicians need to be hired and, sometimes, visas and work permits need to be secured. That’s where it gets more complicated.

“When an artist gets their cousin or the guy down the street or one of their boys to manage them, they do it because they trust their guy,” says Wendy Day, a consultant who once managed the rappers Twista, C-Murder and David Banner. “But the person doesn’t understand the music industry, they don’t understand how or when the artist gets paid, and it becomes a clusterfuck.”


This can be a bigger issue for young rappers, says Day, since they tend to build internet buzz faster. Managers looking at online popularity often book clients into 5,000-capacity venues — skipping the crucial 2,500-capacity rooms that can pay $5,000 to $25,000 a show. “Those small venues,” says Day, “are where the artists cut their teeth and hone their skills.”

Of course, pop music management has always been something of a fake-it-until-you-make-it business: Irving Azoff was in his early 20s when he took on REO Speedwagon in the late 1960s, while Pat Corcoran was still in college when he began managing his friend Chance the Rapper. Now, however, there are only so many experienced management executives to pass on their knowledge, since college grads during the post-Napster downturn and the 2008 recession eschewed the music business. Even now, as streaming fuels double-digit growth, retaining executive talent remains an issue. And as the industry rebuilds, today’s rising class of self-taught managers will have an outsize role in shaping the future of their industry.

Label executives are getting frustrated because they must rely on today’s less experienced managers to execute their marketing plans. One label executive calls them “uninformed” and “untrained” for setting up gratuitous DJ gigs to bring in cash at the end of grueling tours, or failing to schedule an adequate number of days off, or not properly clearing samples. “Things [happen] much quicker than they ever have,” this source says. “You have these artists on one album cycle going to arenas, and they turn 20, and they slide down the hill and the manager has no idea what to do.”


On the other hand, “friendagers” — as Ben Baruch, founder and owner of 11E1even Management, calls them — can also be more determined and aggressive. “The business has become do-it-yourself,” says Barry Bergman, a longtime manager who is president of the Music Managers Forum.

“There’s more young, exciting energy coming into the business,” says Red Light Management executive vp/chief strategy officer Bruce Flohr, who works with Heart, O.A.R. and Switchfoot. “It used to be that you had to go to school, graduate, move to New York or Los Angeles or Nashville and get a job. Now you come home from class and your roommate is making beats and singing into the laptop and you’re saying, ‘Oh, wow, you’re really good, let me manage you.’ And, all of a sudden, you’re a manager.”

That’s how it happened for Negele “Hospey” Hospedales, 25, who cold-called then-unknown rapper YBN Cordae from his aunt’s house. “I was about to approach him to say, ‘You’re too talented to do this by yourself,'” recalls Hospedales. “And he started the call by saying, ‘I think you should be my manager.’ ” Hospedales managed Cordae from his first show in 2018 at Rolling Loud Festival before stepping back into a role as a strategist. In January, Cordae was up for two Grammy Awards.

“It’s a positive thing. It keeps everyone on their toes,” says Brandon Ginsberg, who started at Red Light Management as an intern over a decade ago and today manages Bassnectar and others. “If anyone gets comfortable with one way of doing something, you know that someone else is going to come in and disrupt that.”


Friendagers often have social media expertise that can be less intuitive for older managers and is now a crucial part of artist strategy. They just may have more questions about the details. “No one’s mad when I have to call the lawyer and ask, ‘What the fuck do we have to do right here?’ ” says Jake Markow, 25, who manages the rapper $not and graduated from the University of Houston last December.

Now a wizened 22-year-old, Shanks was eventually hired to work in Atlantic Records’ A&R department. He still manages Apollo on the side and just landed his first client an opening slot on Halsey’s upcoming Manic tour.

“He just trusted me,” says Shanks. “One of the first things I said to him was, ‘Listen, I think you’re going to be one of the biggest stars in the world, with or without me. But if we do it together, it’ll be a lot more fun.’ We’re the same age, and we have similar friends. And it has been fun.”

This article originally appeared in the Feb. 29, 2020 issue of Billboard.