Entourage: Emily White

Entrepreneur and talent manager Emily White has a college degree in music business and an education from the school of practical knowledge. With eight internships under her belt and the experience of life on tour, the co-founder of Whitesmith Entertainment is a seasoned professional. 

Photo by: BriAnna OlsonPhoto by: BriAnna OlsonLong before Amanda Palmer became the first artist to raise more than $1 million on Kickstarter, her intern was scrambling to make sure Palmer’s then-unknown cabaret punk duo the Dresden Dolls was ready for gigs. Nearly a decade later, that former intern credits her experience on tour with the Dolls as one reason she’s got an edge in the talent management business—Emily White knows the industry from the inside out.

A co-founder of Whitesmith Entertainment talent management group, Emily spearheads a roster of artists that includes Brendan Benson (of The Raconteurs), the Hush Sound, GOLD MOTEL, comedian W. Kamau Bell, and Olympic gold medalist swimmer Anthony Ervin, among others. Kicking off her career by doing eight music industry internships in New York, Boston, and London while earning a degree in music business from Northeastern University, White moved from interning for the Dresden Dolls to working as their day-to-day manager, then tour manager, and, eventually co-manager. When Palmer and her musical partner Brian Viglione moved to the talent management firm Madison House, White landed a job in the big leagues.

Forming her own company in 2008, Emily currently divides her time between helping artists shape their personal brands through Whitesmith and getting new music wider airplay through her independent music label, Readymade Records. We caught up with her shortly after her panel at the South By Southwest film, interactive, and music festival.

Get In Media: You’ve said that part of your job is to “assemble the team around the artist.” What does that entail?

Emily White: That can be a publicist, radio promo person, tour manager, attorney, business manager, it totally depends because we tailor each plan around each artist, but almost all artists who are at a certain level have those people in place. Even when we’re starting an artist from scratch, we need to add those people because you kind of need specialists in each area. I’m like the CEO of the band or the artist and oversee their careers.

GIM: How do you stay plugged into opportunities for artists?
“I definitely encourage students to try a few different things. I even encourage students that are interviewing with us to maybe do two or three days with us and then two or three days somewhere else and try to do something totally different.”

EW: Various ways. In my 20s, I said yes to everything I was ever invited to. I loved going to shows. I always loved meeting people. I loved hearing their stories, so I’m 30 and I’ve built quite a network. Also, that work also exists online. Posting things on Facebook and Twitter has been really effective for us. I’m lucky enough to get asked to speak at a lot of conferences and things like that so I’m very on the ground there. It’s kind of all those things combined.

GIM: When you are deciding whether to take on a new artist, what are you looking for to find out if they’d be a good fit?

EW: Obviously, first and foremost, we have to love the music and that’s really 50 percent of it. The other 50 percent is if they care and if I think they’re going to be a good partner to work with because we are partners with the artists. I don’t consider myself their boss and I don’t consider myself to work for them. As long as we can work together and move forward for the greater good of their career, I’m all for it.

Of course my artists aren’t necessarily going to agree with everything that I want them to do, but they also know that I have their best interests in mind. So even when an artist turns something down, if I think it’s really important, I’m probably going to go back to them a second time and just say “Look, here’s my intellectual thought process behind this. Feel free to say no. It’s no problem, but I just wanted to explain to you why I think this is worthwhile.” If it’s someone that I feel like I can communicate well with and they’re a good person, that’s really the other 50 percent besides talent and being into the music.

GIM: Do you do a lot of vetting for your artists in terms of opportunities?

EW: Yeah, I do vet a lot of things. I am a really transparent manager. I probably show my artists more than they want, especially the older ones who are just like “Whatever, just tell me what to do.” But I still want to make them aware of the opportunities because you never know, even if it’s smaller, they might be like “Oh my friend runs that!” or “Oh I love that” or whatever. There are some opportunities that have come up recently that I literally know the artists won’t like at all. It just doesn’t fit their vibe and what they’re into. I’ve put the kibosh on things like that.

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GIM: What are some things that artists have turned down in the past?

EW: Promotional requests, when that just gets to be too much or too weird. Because I used to tour manage, I feel like I really have a gauge on making sure my artists don’t get burned out. I’d like to think that all managers and promo teams are aware of that, but I literally can empathize what it’s like to be on the road with these people. If we’re getting up at 6 a.m. to do a morning radio show and we’re doing promo all day and there’s a show at night, I understand what that feels like. I think it allows me to be a bit more mindful and not push the artists too hard.

GIM: Is that something you would recommend students have? Some idea of what an artist’s schedule is like?

EW: Yeah. I have interns all the time dealing with promo schedules and delivering assets and things like that. It might not sound like something you would necessarily learn at a $40,000-a-year school, but I also have students show up who don’t know how to do those things, so it’s important.

GIM: How does payment work in your industry?

EW: Managers are generally commission-based, but we also consult from time to time and that can be hourly or monthly.

GIM: Eight internships seems like a lot. Do students need that many?

EW: I think doing multiple internships is going to give people more experience and more perspective. I don’t think that they necessarily have to go that crazy, but the main reason why I did is because I didn’t know what I wanted to do within music so I was kind of trying everything to figure out what I liked and didn’t like. In hindsight, that definitely ended up being a great background for becoming a manager. I definitely encourage students to try a few different things. I even encourage students that are interviewing with us to maybe do two or three days with us and then two or three days somewhere else and try to do something totally different. We’re pretty independent and DIY, so go work at a corporate music office so you can kind of compare and contrast the differences.

RELATED: By presenting the insight of past and present interns and intern coordinators in the entertainment industry, we bring you a guide to the good, the bad, and the ugly of unpaid internships.

GIM: What is your biggest challenge?

EW: I don’t want to be too negative, but sometimes it is challenging when I do think it’s a great opportunity and I’ve gone back that second time and I’m still told no. Obviously I’m biased because this is what I do all day, but also because I do it all day, I know what I’m doing. I don’t tell the artists how to write the songs.

I have a great roster right now so this isn’t really a problem, but it has been a problem in the past and I see it elsewhere—artists can get in the way of themselves. It’s not even necessarily turning things down sometimes as not making a decision. Even in early days, when there’s a band buzzing and things going on, I’ve had people ask, “Oh, what do you think about this agent versus that agent?” They’re all good agents. Find one you have a connection with and make a decision because in the mean time, another band is going to make that decision and they’re going to be touring before you know it. As far as general challenges, I’ve figured out a lot of solutions. My inbox is immaculate. I’m very organized and on top of things. I have great systems with my calendar and Google Docs and things like that.

GIM: What are some tips and tricks you’ve learned?

EW: I respond to everything that’s sent to me. I return every phone call, generally within 24 business hours, and I do the things I say I’m going to do. Being accountable is incredibly important, and if there’s anything I’m proud and confident of, it’s my reputation in the industry. I’m also all about scheduling things and scheduling calls and stuff like that. I had a manager e-mail me today about something important like, “Oh yeah yeah yeah, I’ll call you.” He’s in England. It’s like, “No, let’s schedule a time.” And that’s me. That works for me. Brendan Benson’s producer/manager tends to be the guy who’s out DJ’ing until 4 a.m., but he’s making great connections that way. I’ve already exercised and I’m in the office by 9 a.m. everyday. I didn’t used to be that way. I used to be out late and stuff so everybody kind of has their own style, but as long as you get it done at the end of the day, I think that’s the most important thing.

“Things I’ve learned: don’t get too close to your clients. I’ve been fired twice in my life by my best friend and my boyfriend, and it sucks because I cared about those people a lot, but it does teach you to keep those things separate.”
GIM: It sounds hard to get all of the necessary contacts just in music, but you guys also represent athletes and comedians. Is it tough to be spread like that?

EW: No, it’s definitely to our advantage. I have immersed myself in the music industry for the past ten years, so that’s definitely my expertise and then my business partner is our comedy guru. There’s a lot of nice overlap in those fields when it comes to content, distribution, tickets, touring, merch, things like that. I think for both of us, it’s been really great to have that partnership where you can relate and you can give advice but you’re not necessarily too infringed.

GIM: Throughout your career, what have been the moments when you got lucky and the moments where you learned something the hard way?

EW: [laughs] I don’t know. I don’t necessarily believe in luck as much as I do good karma and putting good energy out there. Although with regard to luck…my favorite band is Oasis, so it was pretty cool when the Dresden Dolls were finally playing a festival that Oasis was on in Germany in 2005 and I met Noel Gallagher and he dedicated “Don’t Look Back in Anger” to me. It was amazing.

Things I’ve learned: don’t get too close to your clients. I’ve been fired twice in my life by my best friend and my boyfriend, and it sucks because I cared about those people a lot, but it does teach you to keep those things separate. Obviously we care so much about our clients, but there’s something to be said for being a little bit emotionally detached. You’re going to be emotionally connected because you’re living and breathing this stuff all the time but also I meditate a lot. I do a lot of yoga and I’m big on exercising because we have to deal with so many ups and downs in management. I can have an opportunity I might think is amazing and the artist might think it sucks or I have an artist really upset about something but then the next day, a thing comes in for that artist and they’re really happy. I can’t get too high on the highs just like I can’t get too bummed out on the lows. I have to keep a level head to keep moving forward.

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