By AK Karrasch
Learning about the music industry dates back to some of my earliest memories. In one of them, I’m wearing my Snow White costume, sitting so close to the television I could feel the static on my face. As any kid, I was both inspired and naive. It’s embarrassing to admit it, but I vividly remember the day I was skipping down the hallway in my Snow White pajamas and came to the realization that I wasn’t actually a princess. This was my worst day so far.
Only now is it obvious that these fairy tales set us up for failure. It’s already challenging, navigating through life as a naive young woman, especially when society imposes its own ideals upon you. The fairy tale idea that one day “the one” would show up someday had a trickle down effect in many areas of my life. To me, the music industry was my fairy tale. One day, a record deal would show up and kiss my lifeless body and I’d awake to a successful and thriving music career.
That idea of “just wait, someday your prince will come” translated in my life as, “wait your turn”, “listen to your manager”, and my favorite, “you don’t actually know what’s best for you.” With this logic, having a manager seemed like the perfect way to break into the music industry. Even with absolutely nothing to manage, being able to say, “this is my manager” would give me a false sense of security and legitimacy.
I was first introduced to my manager when I was 16. For the sake of privacy, let’s call him, Steve. I saw a man with a wonderful wife and kids. Steve had character, charisma, and endless knowledge about the music industry. He made it clear he believed in me, and it was nice to be noticed. In the next two years his role would evolve from a friend to a mentor and eventually someone I could trust.
When I was 18 I was excited when he presented me with a contract – my ability to trust someone fully after only witnessing them display common human decency amazes me – I took his words as wisdom. Steve was the teacher, I was his student. When he told me to move to a new city, I did it. He’d call himself “the coach,” and despite my indifference to basketball or that metaphor at all, I was on the bench awaiting his direction. Over time it felt like he was family. He’d address me as his little sister.
My mom loved him, trusted him, was grateful to him, as was I. I assumed that all managers were mentors in their client’s lives in some capacity, and while I still have hope that healthy relationships like this do exist, it’s important I recognize that what I experienced wasn’t normal, no matter how much I tell myself it was.
There is a fine line between managing and controlling. That line is easily blurred with good intentions, trust, false hope, and even Jesus. (It is merely impossible to stand up to someone that uses their religion as a shield). While so much freedom came from confiding in Steve, allowing him access to my personal life set the foundation for the breeding grounds for emotional abuse.
The more I trusted him the more he could control me. When I was in the midst of a horrible break up with an abusive ex-boyfriend, Steve reluctantly helped me escape. He reassured me that I deserved more, I was worth more. I honestly felt indebted to him. This was the most vulnerable state Steve had ever seen me in. Looking back now it’s obvious his intentions were far from pure, because searching for the means to express my gratitude was never ending. I couldn’t tell him “thank you” enough. My persistence became a nuisance that could only be muted with authority.
I was reminded regularly that I had to earn his trust back, because my hardships “hurt him” and changed the way he saw me. From this point on my life was under a magnifying glass. I had to obey his rules. Who I could date, who I couldn’t, if I should at all. If I was allowed to consume alcohol, or not. If I had a cigarette I would owe him $500. Every morning I was expected to be at the gym by 7:30AM.
These are just some of his rules. If I was tardy showing up to the gym or wasn’t where he thought I was, I was already anticipating a phone call. When he yelled I told myself he was “caring for me loudly”. If I felt his anger or intensity wasn’t justified I would muster the courage to speak up and defend myself, but that usually resulted in him telling me “your interpretation of me is shit”. Those arguments were only ever resolved with having to apologize incessantly.
Questioning my own reality was a common recurrence, so It only made sense I followed his rules. He promised me if I could prove to be disciplined I would be ready to showcase for a record label. This would give me incentive to stay obedient, and it would also give him credibility as a manager. This showcase was the light at the end of the tunnel, blinding me from seeing his true agenda and final con, siphoning thousands of dollars from my mother.
Steve may have been an awful manager, but he was a master at manipulating. Dangling carrots in front of my face was just something he did in his down time. When I would get closer to proving my worth he would move the goalposts. Only now is it easy for me to pinpoint the red flags and tactics he would use to control everything around him.
When I tell people about this, it all seems so obvious. The truth is, anyone can be manipulated. When you are, you have no idea it is happening. Steve used methods like “word salad” when talking with me. A technique that’s used by inserting irrelevant and often fictional facts in conversation in an attempt to confuse and distract you from the point. Deception is the controller’s greatest weapon.
When you’re suddenly not able to trust instincts you’ve counted on for your whole life because you’re convinced not to, there’s a chance you are being gaslighted. Gas lighting is another manipulation technique that comes naturally to narcissists. The music industry is polluted with people that will use their power to prey on vulnerability and intimidate you. It’s important to look out for red flags and trust your intuition.
Being vulnerable may seem like a weakness, but it was my fuel to walk away. I learned the only way to disarm Steve was complete indifference. Since removing this toxic person from my life I have experienced drastic changes in my overall mental and even physical health. I no longer have the urge to apologize or hide who I am. I have accomplished more for myself in the last 2 years without a manager than I ever thought possible.
If there are people in your life that make you doubt your abilities, they don’t deserve to be around you. I have been asked if I have forgiven Steve or if we’re on good terms. I spent the whole relationship forgiving him or begging him to forgive me, so no, I don’t feel any moral obligation to forgive him. I have found peace in acknowledging reality. No matter what good you think someone has done for you, it doesn’t ever excuse emotional abuse.
I won’t deny that if it weren’t for meeting Steve, I would not have met a lot of people that I still call friends today. However, worrying if I owe him something because of that doesn’t keep me up at night. I looked forward to the day I could speak openly about this. I’m doing so with the intent to raise awareness and encourage anyone that lacks courage in their life to find it. If you are in a relationship with someone that makes you feel worse about yourself, find comfort in the thought that you will never be able to change that person’s interpretation of you.
You may fear that the loss of their presence in your life will cause you unimaginable grief, but by extracting them from your life you are re-claiming your own. It is important to respect others always, but in order to do so we must respect ourselves first.
Comprised of Jameson Flood (production, guitar, keys) and AK Karrasch (vocals), ALKE formed when the duo met in 2015. After spending some time together in the studio, the connection between the two of them was evident. Their effortless creative chemistry allowed them to create a bounty of memorable tracks. Following performances in Los Angeles, including a show at the prominent Dirty Laundry in Hollywood, Flood and Karrasch made the move to LA. When they aren’t creating their own new music, ALKE occasionally collaborates with other artists by either lending vocals or adding to the track’s production. With inspirations that range from NAO, Phantogram, Fleetwood Mac and more, ALKE’s sound is sure to make waves with each upcoming release.