Artist Management: What It Is and When You Need It
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songwriter playing a songmusic producer at work stationrock star performing on stagetour manager making phone callmusic teacher with studentmusic therapy session

You want to get your music to the next level and have decided you need a Manager, or representation.

It’s a Catch-22: you need success to get a Manager and you need a Manager to be successful. What steps can you take? What is the best approach to finding solid management for your music career? Every week I hear from some musician or band, asking me if I can help them attract a Manager.

Their idea of how and why to find a Manager seems fuzzy at best. Do they even know what they are asking for? The answer seems to be no. I’ve found most independent musicians lack a clear understanding of what artist management is, who does it, and especially when they actually need a Manager or a management team.

Before taking such an important step, every artist should first fully understand what artist management is, what Managers do, and how a Manager can help you at the current stage of your career. There are all kinds of myths and mistaken opinions out there.

Let’s dispel some of these common myths. I’ll describe a few of the different types of Managers, how artists usually find their Managers, and how someone interested in working as Manager might prepare for a career in artist management. I’ll share what every artist needs to know about management and what Managers need to know about artists.

Get Ready For Music Success

One misconception is that somehow having the “right” Manager is a key to certain success. It’s true some Managers can get you noticed quickly by labels or Booking Agents, get you on tours, television, or into the studio to produce an album. But a Manager won’t likely improve the sound of your music or make you a hit with fans.

You need to be ready musically to take on a Manager, and Managers tend to seek out musicians with perceived high talent, ability, and potential for success. If the Manager can’t believe in your music and imagine your future success, they wouldn’t want to invest the time and energy into managing you in the first place.

What will make a top-level Manager notice you is your fan base and momentum. This means you may need to be self-managed at the outset of your performing career. I usually recommend this to new artists, since it’s effective and humbling as a way to learn what it takes to manage your music career.

Armed with this experience and knowledge, you will be in a better position to find a Manager, and understand what kind of Manager will be the best fit for you. If you are looking for a top-level established management team to take you on, you had better be prepared to convince them your success is imminent and inevitable.

In the end, it isn’t likely a top level Manager will show an interest in a band or artist just starting out, let alone have time to listen to your music or watch your videos. After all, they are inundated with prospects vying for their time.

If you really do feel you are ready for the big time, there’s no harm in approaching an established management company. Networking in the industry is the way to find out who these companies are and how to reach them.

Some of them only accept submissions from qualified Entertainment Attorneys. Regardless, you should have a good Attorney before approaching any management companies or Managers. You should also have developed a fan base and social media following.

Seeking Management

I usually chuckle inwardly when I see artists and bands advertising for a Manager. If you need to look for a Manager, you probably don’t really need one. Remember a Manager is paid by the artist, so if your band isn’t already earning money, how will you pay the Manager?

If you are already working quite a lot and earning money with your music, you will be on the radar of many people in the music industry. The reality is typically that the Managers seek the artists out, not the other way around. This means when you get to the point where you really need a Manager (and can afford one), you will probably be getting offers from Managers to take you on as their client.

There are many ways this could happen, for example through a publishing deal which forces you to discuss your trajectory with your Attorney and Accountant. Winning a competition might be another way to get the attention of management companies.

Having an active networking strategy is crucial at this stage. I recommend LinkedIn for this, although not everyone uses it. LinkedIn is the premier business networking platform on the internet, and it is free.

If you decide that it’s time to seek a Manager, it’s better to leverage your networking strategy than to advertise. Most people ignore ads of this type. You will have better results through generating referrals from trusted sources in your network.

If you need to look for a Manager, you probably don’t really need one. Remember a Manager is paid by the artist, so if your band isn’t already earning money, how will you pay the Manager? If you are already working quite a lot and earning money with your music, you will be on the radar of many people in the music industry.
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Common Questions About Artist Management

When do I need a Manager?

The answer to this will be different for every artist or band. I usually tell people they need management when they get too busy to respond to all the emails and calls inquiring about their music, invitations to perform, opportunities, interviews, etc.

If you are unable to keep up with the current workflow related to running your artist career, you might be a good candidate for professional management. A Manager isn’t usually the first person you should look for when launching your music career. You will need a good Accountant and an Attorney before you hire a Manager. If five hundred people show up to every show, you might be ready for a Manager.

What can a Manager do for me?

There are as many different kinds of Managers as there are artists and bands. You should have a good idea what you expect from your Manager. Most management companies are small, privately run organizations. Some Managers work solo. You will need to evaluate your actual needs in order to decide what kind of Manager will be the best fit.

A well-established Manager who can get you on major tours and TV shows might be too busy to pay proper attention to your career. Someone just starting out in the business may be able to grow longer term with your band.

Think about a potential Manager as if they were an additional member of your band, as you will have to pay them accordingly. Be clear about your goals and let the Manager tell you how to achieve them. If they can’t help you reach your goals, they aren’t the right Manager for you.

What is in a management deal?

A “deal” in this case means a contract and contracts are written to benefit and protect both parties to the agreement. Most Managers will want to sign you for more than one year, as ramping up your career usually takes a lot of work early on to get momentum and they will want to be there with you to benefit later from the work done at the outset.

I think it’s reasonable for a Manager to expect a multi-year deal. Two years is a good length for the artist, possibly with an automatic renewal for a third year if stated goals are met.

It’s important to have a qualified Music Attorney review any possible management deal to make sure it is legal and your interests are protected. You should also check with your Accountant in advance of making a deal, to make sure that the financial and tax implications are well-understood.

What percentage does a Manager make?

While there are no standards for Manager earnings and ultimately earnings will be based on a negotiated agreement you can expect a Manager to ask for at least 20% of gross revenue from the artist or band. This means you should expect to pay out a fifth of your top-line earnings to the Manager, at minimum.

Some Managers take a lot more, based on what they do for the artist. It might seem unreasonable to give up half your earnings, or more, but there could be situations where this is acceptable to an artist.

Would you rather have a large slice of a small pie or a smaller slice of a much larger pie? It is also possible to structure a deal with a sliding scale, meaning the higher the earnings, the greater the percentage owed to the Manager. This is a way to incentivize and align the interests of the artist and Manager.

How do I know if a Manager is worth it?

Are you good at handling the business aspects of your performing career? Are you interested in learning about marketing, publishing, and negotiating contracts? Do you have a knack for planning? Do you have a network you can leverage to achieve your goals as a musical artist? Do you have enough time in your day to handle the many details of running a successful music business? Do you enjoy the business side of music? Does it interest you?

If you answered yes to some or most of these questions, you might not need a Manager. You might benefit from managing yourself and save some serious cash by doing so.On the other hand, if you feel anxious or befuddled as you dive into the picayune mundane tasks of day-to-day operations, you might be better served by finding a great Manager to assist you.

The Manager should definitely earn their money; what you pay them should be appropriate to the level of service provided. The Manager should be transparent with you about the work they put in, the amount of time devoted to handling your affairs, and the strategies used to reach the goals you’ve set together for the business.

What is the best kind of Manager?

The answer to this question, like the others, is: it depends. I would suggest thinking about the kind of career you envision for yourself and consider carefully the most desirable characteristics of any potential Manager in light of your professional and life goals.

Personal style may also be an important consideration. If you want to rise quickly to the top, tour stadiums, and become a pop icon, that could call for a very different type of person than a bluegrass band wanting to attract a small but loyal core following.

In the end, the best kind of Manager is one who can give you and your music the attention you deserve and will get you on a solid path to reaching the goals you’ve set out. The Manager should also be honest since you are trusting them with financial matters.

What does a Manager do?

Your Manager is responsible for handling the daily tasks of running your organization: returning phone calls and emails, booking gigs, sending contracts, monitoring social media sites, communicating with your team on important matters, coordinating your travel arrangements, organizing showcases, planning recording sessions or photo and video shoots, and so forth.

They should also be involved in the longer-term setting of goals while planning strategy and evaluating progress towards reaching them. They are like an additional band member who works specifically on all matters related to the business. A good Manager has the ability to recognize and uncover the best opportunities, and help you to overcome any obstacles to leveraging those opportunities.

Sometimes a Manager gets involved in artistic direction, making informed suggestions about the direction of the music. Or you might rely on their network to get you into the places you need to play, get you on tours, or find a great Producer for your next recording or video.

Be clear about your goals and let the Manager tell you how to achieve them. If they can’t help you reach your goals, they aren’t the right Manager for you.

Types Of Managers

Whether a company with several dozen employees, or a solitary individual, the kinds of Managers fall along a wide spectrum from one extreme to the other. Managers working solo typically have no more than two or three artists or bands to manage.

It’s not realistic to think one individual could manage more than that, with all the day-to-day tasks involved. If you encounter a Manager with more than two or three bands already offering to manage you, proceed with caution. It’s likely they won’t be able to pay enough attention to your real needs on a daily basis.

If an individual Manager is experienced and has an opening for you on their roster, it might be a good fit. The most important consideration is whether they will have enough time to devote to managing you.

Along similar lines, you might find someone who is new to artist management and will want to join forces with you for the long term.

This type of Manager will grow with your band and should be loyal to you since you will need to train them to manage your affairs. This is also a good reason to be self-managed first, as you will know what your real needs are.

Since the Manager is joining your operation at the ground level, they should have another source of income while you are ramping up your operation. In other words, your Manager could have a day job at the outset, as you might not be in a position to pay them much yet.

At the other extreme are companies or management teams with a star-studded roster and a record of high achievements for their artists. Most artist management firms have between six and thirty employees.

If you have this kind of company it could be great for your career, but a potential downside is they might be very busy and not able to give you the level of individual attention you would get from a Manager working solo. They will have all the resources and connections to make things happen for you, but it will also be very difficult to get their initial interest, as many bands are competing for their attention.

Who To Trust

In summary, whether or not you need a Manager will depend on the stage of your artistic and business development and there are many types of Managers to choose from. Since you should be prepared to commit to your Manager or management team for a minimum of two to three years, make certain the fit is a good one.

Conduct due diligence on your Manager — this means you should check references and perhaps talk to other bands or artists the person has managed — and perhaps check their credit score to make sure you aren’t entering into an agreement with a dishonest or bankrupt individual. Hiring a Manager is like hiring someone for any position; you should have questions to ask them and listen carefully to their answers.

Have your Attorney review any management contract for legality and favorability. It’s standard practice to get a second Attorney to check the work of the first one. It’s worth whatever this costs, to avoid much pain later if the agreements turn out to be faulty in some way.

Never sign anything you don’t understand fully, as this is one of the biggest mistakes you could make. There are countless stories of artists who were ripped off by their Managers. You must absolutely be able to trust your Manager with your finances. They should be patient enough to answer your questions and explain everything in the contract fully to you so you can understand it.

View From The Top

Managers in the music business are a special breed, as they must deal with all types of characters. The finicky artist, the demanding venue owner, the indifferent Publicist, late musicians, stingy Promoters, “famous” guests trying to crash the backstage hang — this requires equanimity and a cool temper to avoid going off the deep end.

One of the best books ever written about a truly legendary Manager in rock music is Peter Grant: The Man Who Led Zeppelin (Biography by Chris Welch, Omnibus Press, 2003). Grant was famous for his fierce loyalty to his band and for standing up for their rights, even when a gun was pointed in his face by a recalcitrant Promoter.

He appears in a few scenes in the film The Song Remains The Same. Anyone wanting to pursue a career in artist management should read this book and see the movie, as it shows the kind of grit and nerves required to succeed.

Compared to rock, management in other styles of music might be less vicious, but the truth remains there is no easy business. If there was, everyone would be doing it. Business, and especially the music business, is not for the faint of heart.

Any artist or band who works with a competent and committed Manager should consider themselves lucky. It’s a key ingredient of success. On the other hand, a bad Manager can be extremely harmful in so many ways. When wading into the waters of music management, proceed with extreme caution, and do your homework.

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