How To Become a General Manager
What Exactly Does a General Manager Do?
General Manager Madelyn Scarpulla works at Loud & Proud, an indie label that has released records by String Cheese Incident, Lyrnrd Skynrd, Rush, Rob Zombie, and Lenny Kravitz. “No day is ever typical at Loud & Proud Records,” she says, “We are a unique label in the sense that we are small and truly independent. That means that I have my hand in virtually everything — every aspect of a record’s release from beginning to end. I wear a lot of hats…all the hats! So for me, there is no typical day, as I am responsible for so much of the label’s function. One day I could be on set at a video or photo shoot. One day I could be at the office generating metadata and barcodes for a release. Another day might be filled with marketing strategy meetings at our label’s distribution company, writing a marketing plan, working on budgets and pricing, having a lunch meeting with a media contact or strategizing with our social media teams. The beauty of being a GM at a small independent record label is that I have ultimate control and decision-making power over everything we do.”
Label GMs have spent years in the music business learning the ropes before ever applying for a Label Manager position. “In my experiences, I’ve worked with GMs who have come from radio promotion, marketing, publicity, and sales departments,” Scarpulla says. These people may have held roles such as Promotions Director, Staff Publicist, or Sales and Marketing Manager. “Personally, I am a bit of a unique case, as I’ve had a wealth of experience in many different jobs. I came from radio and radio promotion and have experience in marketing, management, sales, and creative services. So I am a rare breed, in that I am a ‘general’ manager in the truest sense.
My first job was in radio programming and promotion in Baltimore. It was there that I was introduced to the role of the Radio Promotion Reps at a label. They were the folks who walked into the radio station with brand new music. They brought the artists for their on-air interviews, they had the concert tickets, they brought us radio staffers backstage to meet the bands, and I thought, ‘That is the job I want.’ So I chased it and eventually became a Radio Promotion Rep for PolyGram Records in the mid-Atlantic. After being similarly attracted to the position of Product Manager, I made the segue to marketing and moved to New York. I’ve since done stints in marketing and sales at six major labels, three independent labels, and a management company. I carry much of that experience with me in my day to day duties today as GM.”
Education & Training
Aspiring Label GMs might want to consider programs in Marketing, Music Business, or to hone their writing and communication skills, perhaps English or Communications. On-the-job training, however, is more important than what a diploma says. “A label’s GM typically has many years of experience at a record label (either major or independent),” Scarpulla explains. “Through that experience, a GM has acquired an excellent understanding of what a successful campaign entails and how each department within the label contributes to that success. All marketing and promotion-related departments at a label report to the GM so the GM is generally a veteran on the marketing side of the business. [Academic] training and education don’t necessarily apply here, as job experience and a proven successful track record are key. Usually, a label’s GM will have come from a specific department with particular expertise in one area but because the person is a well-rounded veteran, all departments benefit from his or her leadership.”
What skills do you need to be a General Manager?
“Knowledge of the functions of each department of a record label is required for a successful GM,” says Scarpulla, “and as I mentioned, prior experience working at a label is required, too. It’s not just theory, nor is it X-number of years at the same label, doing the same job, but rather hands-on experience in a marketing-related field that makes the best GMs. Some of those fields are radio promotion, marketing, sales, publicity — all of those departments work together so closely and a GM must have a keen sense of how all those departments are co-dependent.”
“GMs are leaders,” Scarpulla says. “They manage people. They motivate. They support. They encourage. They create. They must endure pressure and stress. They must apply pressure and stress! The music industry is fun. It’s an enviable position to have but it’s not all fun and games. The best GMs are calm, cool, and collected while being able to both motivate and support their staffs. Our best GMs lead by example.”
The work lifestyle of a GM at an indie label and a GM at a major can vary widely. Scarpulla explains, “Being at an independent label means that I am completely independent. This means that my hours, days, and time are my own. I don’t punch a clock. I don’t have to be in the office by a certain time. I am not committed to weekly meetings. Basically, I don’t keep a regular schedule. The good news is that I can live my own life and keep my own hours and am very productive as a result. The bad news is that I feel like I work 24/7 and am always available and on call. But when you’re passionate about your work, it doesn’t always feel like work. A major label GM’s life is completely different and much more structured with an obligation to be in the office for nine to ten hours a day. No thanks!
Apart from our own employees and freelancers who work for me, I work closest with artists and their Managers. That’s probably the most contact that I have outside of our staff. A close second would be those at our distribution company, who are part of our day-to-day operations.”
“First and foremost, every aspiring young person should be an Intern at a place where they’re interested in working,” Scarpulla says. “Internships are hands-down the best way to land a job; assuming, of course, that the Intern works hard. Internships are opportunities to learn, grow, make connections, and gain experience. As an Intern, make yourself invaluable to whomever you’re working for, show your initiative, ask questions, be a sponge. You’ll walk away with references, mentors, experiences, and a starting off point for a job hunt.”
How Much Does a General Manager make?
Label GMs are salaried employees with benefits such as health insurance and paid time off. Although this is generally a high-earning career, salaries can vary greatly between indie and major label positions. This will be determined by the size and financial success of the label.
Unions, Groups & Associations
For aspiring Label Managers, record label websites are a great resource. “Every major music company has a human resources website with job postings,” Scarpulla says. Sometimes the job postings are just a formality as companies are legally required to publicly post positions even if they plan to hire from within. That’s not always the case so it’s worth scouring those sites and sending resumes. Even if the job posting is not 100% what you’re interested in doing, apply anyway. It may get you an interview with a Human Resources staffer and that’s a great foot in the door. Also, don’t be afraid to pick up the phone and call them to follow up, even if the posting says ‘don’t call us, we’ll call you.’ Persistence can pay off and it’s the Human Resources department’s job to find you. Make it easy for them to do so.”
“A Label GM position requires decades in the business,” Scarpulla says, “but you do have to start somewhere.” Here’s her advice:
- “Get an internship and get your foot in the door at a record label.
- Work your ass off and impress everyone you meet.
- Be respectful and polite. Learn as much as you can while you observe everything and everyone around you.
- Do not groupie out with the artists. Keep your fan behavior to yourself.
- Don’t be afraid to be a little bit of a job-jumper. Don’t get stagnant in one spot. When you move around, you meet new people, learn different ways of doing things, and spread your wings.
- Train yourself to be a future leader. Take seminars, read books, mentor children or students.
- Be articulate, both in verbal communication and also in writing. Don’t abbreviate and speak text-language in emails. It’s highly unprofessional.
- Set yourself apart from others by doing all of the above and adding your own special superpower to the mix.”
What is the single biggest suggestion you would give to someone wanting to get into this career?
“Stay focused and passionate. There are a lot of distractions in the music business but keep your eye on the prize.”
What’s the #1 mistake people make when trying to get into this career?
“There are so many. A few are expecting a meteoric rise in the business, being too big of a fan, and limiting oneself to a specific genre. Sorry, that was three!”
What is the question people should ask about this career but rarely do?
“I wish people would ask if the job is fun, glamorous, and easy, instead of just assuming that it is. It’s a common perception that the music business is all fun and games and parties. On the label side, it’s anything but. Well, we do have fun and there are parties, of course. But you know what I mean! We work very hard. It’s not always glamorous and we’re not always appreciated and there are probably more heartbreaks than triumphs.”
What is one thing I should have asked which I didn’t?
“What is my superpower?
I am a champion grammarian, for one. This helps me present myself in a professional manner over email, which is how 95% of our business is done.
Also, I am among the 4% of Americans who drive a stick shift, which has nothing to do with anything except that it might indicate that I’m a control freak.”
If you could describe in one word what makes you successful, what would it be?
“I really struggle with this question because I can’t find only one word. I believe my personal success comes from tenacity, toughness, feistiness, creativity, and overall professionalism.”
Extra Credit: The Beatles or Rolling Stones?
“Stones all day.”
Madelyn Scarpulla is the General Manager at Loud & Proud, an indie label that counts String Cheese Incident, Lyrnrd Skynrd, Rush, Rob Zombie, and Lenny Kravitz as members of its roster (past and present.) She has experience in artist management and radio and has held senior positions at five major labels. She has worked with Led Zeppelin, Young the Giant, Bon Jovi, KISS, INXS, Slipknot, Earth Wind & Fire, John Mellencamp, and Morrissey.