What it takes to manage musicians

Clément Ishimwe and Dida Nibagwire share one thing in common: They all manage musicians. The only difference is that while Dida manages a single artiste, Mani Martin, Clément manages a handful of them.
Clement Ishimwe owns KINA Music which manages several top musicians in the country. (Timothy Kisambira)
Clement Ishimwe owns KINA Music which manages several top musicians in the country. (Timothy Kisambira)

Clément Ishimwe and Dida Nibagwire share one thing in common: They all manage musicians.

The only difference is that while Dida manages a single artiste, Mani Martin, Clément manages a handful of them.

As the founder and CEO of the KINA Music record label, Clément is a household name that needs no introductions as he manages some of the cream of Rwandan pop musicians:

The biggest of these names in KINA Music are Knowless Butera, Tom Close, Christopher, and the Dream Boys.

For her part, Dida is more of a road manager, with less of the responsibility and managerial clout that comes with managing artistes under a record label.

The two shared their varied experiences on the job with Moses Opobo…

Clément Ishimwe, CEO of Kina Music Record Label

Clément is not just the founder and boss at KINA Music, arguably the biggest and most influential record label in Rwanda today.

He is also a music producer, pianist, songwriter, composer and singer.

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2015 Primus Guma Guma winner Knowless Butera is managed by KINA music record label which is owned by Ishimwe. (Timothy Kisambira)

“First of all I didn’t get into music because I wanted to be in the show business. I went into music because it was my passion,” he explains, adding that he’s been in the game since primary school.

Why a manager for an artiste?

“When you’re an artiste you are a business company. Like any other business you will need a manager who is not you because you are a company,” Ishimwe explains.

“You will need someone else who will have another point of view which is different from yours.”

He equates a record label to any other business whose ultimate goal is to make profits. 

“As a record label, you find artistes and work with them, in order to produce benefits through their talent. You produce their music, you manage them, and you try to find everywhere that they can make money from their talent while the artiste concentrates only on singing. The money which comes from that helps develop the artistes and helps the record label itself. 

As a record label, Clément and his team of artistes are together “almost every day”. 

“Music is something which we do every day. If we are not in studio we are shooting music videos, or promoting songs on radio and TV and in the clubs, or doing shows.”

He further explains that there are no set criteria for joining the label. 

“We do auditions with different artistes then we choose. We also do talent scouting because it’s business. It’s not like an NGO just helping people. We do auditions rarely, like once in five years so that the artistes we get we develop them. We got Christopher from one of those auditions. To develop their talent takes long, that’s why auditions do not happen every day or every year.”

But running a big music record label in town also comes with its own stresses. 

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Dream Boys during a concert some time back. The duo are under Kina Music record label. (Timothy Kisambira)

“Every day I meet many people who tell me they are talented but want me to help them, but because of the responsibilities I have it’s not easy to help everyone. I’ve been helping and I’m still helping, but I can’t help the whole world. At a certain point I’m forced to tell people sorry I can’t help you.”

Other times he just tells them to wait for auditions when they come. 

“Others want me to help them as friends, but you know it’s business. So it’s not about me, it’s about the business. You are talking about a name someone built and invested in, so you have to respect that.”

How much of an artiste’s life does he manage?

“It’s better you share ideas, because you know as an artiste you sell your name, your personality, your reputation, how you look, how you sound … actually you sell yourself in a way, so you have to control everything; the way they talk to people, they way they do interviews, how they dress, how they look, each and every little detail you have to pay attention to it.”

Just how big is the KINA Music team?

“You have to have musicians with who you work hand in hand. You have to have people doing promotions on radio and TV, basically every type of marketing and promotion.

You know music also is a feeling. Sometimes when you talk about a team you won’t be able to count them, because even fans are part of the team. Most of the things we do we get a lot of help from them, so the team goes up to a number I do not know.”

How is the money shared?

Here, he is tight-lipped: “That will always be confidential like in any other business. The only thing I can say is that there is a way of sharing the income.”

Satisfaction: 

“For me it’s passion and it’s business. All my life I haven’t done any work that is not related to music and I would say I’m not complaining about my life.”

Dida Nibawgire on managing singer Mani Martin

Dida has been a theater performer and actress for the last eight years. Currently, she works with the Ishyo Arts Center as a Project Manager and researcher. Besides this work, she also doubles as singer Mani Martin’s manager.

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King James, who has also won the Guma Guma music competition, is also managed by KINA Music record label. (Timothy Kisambira)

She first met Mani Martin in 2010, at Ishyo Arts Center for a project, and over the course of time, worked with him informally on several gigs and projects. Owing to the chemistry between the two, she signed a formal contract to manage the singer at the close of last year. 

“When I met him (Mani Martin) in 2010, we (Ishyo Arts Center) needed him to feature in a theater play as a singer. I knew him as an artist but had not got the chance to meet him in person,” she explains. 

“Working with him made me realize how humble, passionate and talented he was.”

From this point she started helping him out with some administrative things that an artist can’t be able to handle himself. She did this just as a friend who believed in his talent. It is much later, towards the end of 2014 that the work started getting more demanding, and the two decided to start working professionally as Manager and Artist. 

“It’s not an easy job, especially going by the artist’s set standard as a live performer. And it’s so hard sometimes to get people to understand why his price and that of his band are high. But slowly things are coming together.”

The fact that she is a woman managing a man in a still largely male-dominated field also gets in her way occasionally: 

“People always come up to me and ask …ooh, so you are a woman managing a male artist? Then they go to the artist (Mani Martin) and ask ..ooh, so you have a female manager? Why did you go for a female manager?”

She has had to find ways to deal with it. 

“It’s not the biggest challenge I face on the job and I enjoy facing it so people can get used to it.”

She thinks the market for live performers in Rwanda is “really small at the moment, and it’s hard to get contracts. There is need for a larger network to be able to sell an artist like Mani Martin.”

Still, she enjoys the thrill of the job and asked why, she attributes it to the nature of her client:

“As a singer, what defines Mani Martin is the fact that he has a unique voice, he is a big dreamer, he takes risks, and will put effort to achieve whatever he sets as his goals. He is very ambitious and I like that about him.”

How they work:

“We meet regularly, like twice a week at least. It’s not easy to describe a typical working day as our work is in series if I can say, and we go through different stages whenever we have a contract,” Dida explains. 

“We first sit down and look at the request and see if it’s in our capacity to deliver, and to which extent we can deliver. Our typical working day then would be to brainstorm on a job, and come up with proposals, both artistic and financial.”

The other meetings between the two are mostly general; to look into what could be improved in the singer’s music (searching for new opportunities in and out of Rwanda, dressing, stage costume, performance structure, interaction with audiences, how to work with the media) are some of the issues that pepper their day-to-day conversations, “to make sure we improve every day and we are always open to new advice and ideas,” she concludes. 

She contends that all musicians ought to hire professional managers. She reasons that it takes a lot of work for one to build a name as an artist, leaving no room for them to handle other aspects of their career. 

“When an artist is managed, it increases his level of creativity as he then has more time to concentrate on his artistic work. At some point it’s not only a manager that an artiste needs, to make it big, it’s a team of people with different skills that are required but we aren’t at that level yet, but slowly the team grows and things get done better then. Building a brand can’t be achieved by one person.” 

I ask her whether she gets paid for the job, and if so, whether it’s by salary or commission terms and she says:

“Yes, I’m paid a commission, it’s a renewable contract I signed with the artist and methods may change later but for now it’s commissions.”

 

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