Manager Jake Markow is in the business of building and breaking artists. One such artist is South Florida’s $NOT, who Audiomack championed in 2019 with an episode of our social series, Bubbling. The recent recipient of a Lyrical Lemonade music video, $NOT’s cult-like fanbase, signing to 300 Entertainment, and placement on the Euphoria soundtrack are only the tip of the iceberg. While $NOT is popping off, as we all know, it takes a village to raise an artist, meaning Markow has been a crucial behind-the-scenes player in $NOT’s burgeoning success.
Jake and $NOT connected over two years ago via Instagram DM—a fire emoji was involved—and the rest has been indie rap music history. At one point doing his college Spanish homework in a hotel room while working on $NOT’s debut album, - TRAGEDY +, Jake knows the importance of hustle and priority.
Jake Markow understands the key to artist development and management in 2020 is an organic connection between the team, the artist, and the fans. Jake calls me up in early October to break down gems for artist development and artist management in 2020.
Look out for your artist. “The number one job of an artist manager, regardless of the pandemic, is waking up every day and making sure the artist’s best interests are looked after. Whether that’s their immediate happiness or the best interests of the long term of their career. That requires everyday decisions, having the thought of, ‘What are the potential long-term ramifications of different options?’”
It’s a pandemic. Make sure people are paid. “During a pandemic, it really comes down to making sure the artist’s financial situation is taken care of. A majority of acts in 2020 make their money off touring, and that’s gone. A big thing is making sure they’re financially stable and can continue to do this for a living. Otherwise, a manager wouldn’t even have a job.”
Check on your artist’s mental. “Also, making sure they’re in a good space mentally. You’re not your client’s therapist, by any means, but there’s nothing wrong with making sure your artist is mentally staying well. There’s a lot of people who are going through it right now, and artists are people, too. Making sure they’re eating and sleeping well, and staying healthy [is important].”
Keep your artist hopeful. “At the beginning of lockdown, a lot of people were going through it, and a lot of people were like, ‘Fuck this! I’m not gonna do anything.’ One of your jobs, right now especially, is to keep [your artist] focused on [knowing] this isn’t gonna last forever. If you want them to be successful on the other side of [COVID], put in the work to build that foundation now.
“When it comes to $NOT and I, there was something going on in his personal life, and I said, ‘Fuck it!’ and got a one-way flight down to Florida. Off the back of me just going to be there, we started recording for this album we’re about to put out. Being there and being more than a voice on the phone is what you’re supposed to be right now.”
Be compassionate. “Compassion is an admirable trait of a leader. Personally, I believe in leading by serving. So, if you wanna be a good leader for your artist and team, then compassion plays a role in that. People that don’t think too deep into that or think they need to be hard 24/7, they might scoff at the word ‘compassion,’ but being an effective leader requires you to understand everyone’s going through something different. You need to take that into consideration while doing your job.”
Managers need something to manage. “There are a lot of different types of ineffective managers, and it all stems from the manager not being able to identify if the artist is worth managing. There’s a lot of kids out there right now I hear from on a regular basis. Kids wanna get on the phone, and I really, really wish I had someone who would’ve done that for me when I was a lot younger. I’m blessed to have mentors, but the one thing I wish someone told me was: ‘You can’t manage someone that doesn’t have anything to manage.’ A lot of kids are kicking the tires of a car that doesn’t have an engine.”
Your quick buck is never as important as your artist’s long-term success. “With an artist that’s actually working, [it’s ineffective when] the manager’s being self-serving. Thinking, ‘Oh, how do I make more money?’ Maybe they know the artist isn’t gonna be around forever, so they make decisions that won’t put the artist in the best place at the end of the day, because it makes them more money now.”
Understand your artist. “There’s also a lot of artist managers that are ineffective because they don’t get where their client lies in the grand scheme of things. So, they move weird and don’t put them with the right producers, touring mates, record label, designers, etc. The manager doesn’t fully get it and does shit that doesn’t ultimately work, but they think it’s cool. It’s not about what you wanna do—it’s about what your artist wants to do, and your job is to make sure it’s done the best.”
Social media is just one part of a larger business plan. “Twitter growth is something you see in response to overall career growth. So, you shouldn’t be focusing on Twitter. There’s so much more than social media.
“Artists are companies! There are so many other things you have to worry about. You have to make music people want to stream; focus on helping the artist make the best music. The business side—you have to make sure the agreements are handled, and lawyers are doing their job. Build out the merch company. That requires doing licensing for the merch and bringing on someone capable of running that company.
“There are so many different aspects to developing an artist, versus hiring a digital marketing specialist to run a meme campaign to get your Twitter to pop off. That’s working backward. Social media is more important than it has been, but there’s real-world shit you have to worry about more than online stuff. Your job is to make sure the artist, and your client, is paying the fucking bills.”
Keep it organic. “When it comes to being organic and not diving headfirst and getting thrown against the wall, it means taking it slow. Make sure the shows you’re playing are the right shows and making sure it’s a good look, not only optically. You have to make sure your artist is prepared for it. Make sure they’re touring with the right acts, and the touring company is doing well. You have to make sure the show goes on.”
Learn from your mistakes. “Learning from your failure is important. My favorite failure was thinking my career was ready to go when it wasn’t. So, I dropped out of college. Things started to take off with my band [while I was in college]. I was booking our tours; we were going on the road. I was basically managing the band, writing the music. I was the one who believed in it. I put in that work and thought this was gonna be it. We did a Southwest US tour. Played a bunch of shitty local shows for $50. We survived off of free food. I dropped out of school when we got back!
“My family didn’t fucking get it. I thought what I was doing was right, but looking back at it… It’s the best thing to ever happen to me, because I woke up one day, like, ‘What the fuck am I doing? This is not where I wanna be with my career.’ It lit a fire under my ass.”
Photos by Nathaniel Copes.