Artist Management: How Managers Can Help Artists Build Music Careers - Careers in Music
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Artist management is one of the most exciting, creative, lucrative, loosely-defined and perhaps even confusing roles in the music industry.

Every musician needs a Manager, even if they operate as their own, though the vast majority of successful acts prefer to have someone else take on that task, as it requires an incredible amount of time, work, and specialized skills.

This article covers the basics of this role, including what they do, how they get paid, and what makes a truly great Artist Manager.

We’ll also hear from experienced Artist Managers:

  • Lisa Jenkins (Rodney Crowell, Don Felder, and Peter Frampton)
  • Ben Yonas (Jeremy Kittel, Los Rakas, Making Movies)

What Is an Artist Manager?

Defining exactly what an Artist Manager does is…not easy to do. In fact, there are countless ways to write it down, and it’s likely that if you asked 10 different Artist Managers what they do, they would have just as many answers.

At its most basic, an Artist Manager represents the interests of their client: a Singer or band. They may work with one act or several. They may operate solo out of their bedroom, or they could be signed to a major management company, of which there are several.

Why do artists need a Manager?

Ben Yonas (Making Movies, Jeremy Kittel, Los Rakas)

There’s usually a point in the growth phase of an artist where it just becomes too much to be creating music AND handling all of the business. At its core, the role of the Manager is to guide strategy, yet Managers also serve as a buffer to the outside world. Whether it be dealing with the Agent, dealing with Attorneys, dealing with requests … dealing with the plethora of things that hopefully are happening if you have some buzz.

Artists constantly get inundated with requests. People constantly want your time. The Manager’s job is to serve as that buffer so you can focus on the thing that ONLY you can do…make great music.

“Why do artists need Managers?” Because how else are they going to have time to write their next record. Artists need time to focus on their art. I’ve been in seven meetings today and it is 1pm; if you’re the artist and you’re doing what I’m doing, how much time do you have to create? How much time do you have to even think about your Instagram and what you’re going to post next? That involves creativity, as well.

It’s helpful to have people around you that serve as that buffer. But they had better know your brand and know what your core values are because they’re representing you and those values. Everything goes badly when you skip that step, and you have a Manager that has a different set of priorities from the artist. You have to get on the same page.

Lisa Jenkins (Rodney Crowell, Don Felder, Peter Frampton)

A Manager is like the CEO of a company and the artist’s most vocal advocate. They help run every aspect of an artist’s business life and are the liaison between the artist and everyone else. Managers can help put together the right team for an artist and oversee it. They wear many hats, have to multi-task, and be extremely organized.

What Do Artist Managers Do for Their Clients?

Artist Managers are responsible for representing their clients and doing everything they can to further their careers…but what exactly does that mean? A lot, it turns out, and it can change not just from one day to the next, but from one hour to the next.

An Artist Manager helps their clients with:

  • Artist development
  • Recording deals
  • Publishing
  • Licensing
  • Touring
  • Merchandise and brand opportunities
  • Relationship building
  • Press opportunities
  • Radio promotions

An Artist Manager needs to wear many hats, all at the same time, and they are the ones who touch every facet of the music industry for the singers and groups they work with.

When should an artist get a Manager?

Lisa Jenkins (Rodney Crowell, Don Felder, Peter Frampton)

It really depends on the artist. Usually, artists look for a Manager when things get too overwhelming for them to handle themselves. But, other artists have someone from the beginning to help get their career off the ground. Either way, an artist needs a Manager who is fearless in helping them achieve their goals!

Ben Yonas (Making Movies, Jeremy Kittel, Los Rakas)

I think it is important for an artist to make some things happen on their own first. Put out a single. Try to book your first tour. I recommend this for a couple of reasons. For one, you’re showing a Manager you’re competent and that you can do things on your own. It will also help you attract a more experienced Manager.

That being said, I’m not against your cousin or your best buddy [being your Manager]. Give it a shot. If you have a friend that has no experience but loves your music and is a superfan, who says they won’t pitch the music better than I would?

The key for me is authenticity. We all know that the artist needs to be true to themselves, but so do Managers. I can’t sell something I am not really behind.

Side note: don’t sign a long-term contract. One year is enough to feel each other out. Managers are typically the one to bring contracts to the table. If you don’t want a contract, then don’t ask for one. However, I would suggest you send an email that clarifies the terms: “we will pay you 15% of this income, but you don’t take 15% of that income.” You should have a clear understanding of what is expected from both sides.

Remember, Managers don’t get paid by the hour. We get paid in commission. We win and lose with the artist. We’re fully aligned 100%. That’s what I love about artist management…we are all on the same team!

Artist Development

While the musicians themselves are referred to as the creatives in the music industry, great Artist Managers are creative in their own way. The Artist Manager of a top-tier act will always be thinking about their client’s next chapter, what sounds they should explore, where tastes are headed and about collaborators. Artist Managers can work in tandem with executives and A&R teams at record labels to help partner their stars with Songwriters, Producers, other artists, and various other creatives.

Artist Managers may be the ones to come up with a future collaboration, to acquire tracks from a songwriting camp (or maybe even put one together), ensure their clients get in the studio with a hot Producer, get them on the remix of a rising viral hit, and so on. Some Artist Managers take the lead on this part of the gig, while others listen to the musicians they work with, making it all happen via emails, phone calls, meetings, and a lot of strategy.

Recording Deals

Most musicians these days are still looking for a record deal, and it’s an Artist Manager’s job to not only go out and get those contracts, but to negotiate them as well. First, an Artist Manager must find a way to entice a label into listening to a new act, coming to see them live, meeting with them, and then, if all goes well, signing them to their roster. That’s a very big job in and of itself, but it’s still only the first half of the process.

Once there’s interest from a record label, the contract must be drawn up, with both parties looking to get the best deal. Labels want to earn the lion’s share of royalties from streaming and sales, and they may even want to eat into merchandise and touring revenues, depending on the act.

An Artist Manager must counter their offers, asking for more money for their clients, more promises of promotion, larger budgets for things like music videos and advertising and so on. This requires the Artist Manager to understand negotiating, contracts and even legal terminology, to a certain extent.

Publishing

Artist Managers must ensure their clients get a good cut of publishing deals and that everything is in order in what can be a very complex process. Without diving too deep into this field (which we could discuss all day), Artist Managers need to properly submit copyright papers for songs their clients written, and if they worked with other artists or Songwriters, what percentage of future royalties each person will receive needs to be figured out as well.

Licensing

These days, every musician wants to hear their songs in TV shows, movies, video games and even in advertisements, as that’s where some real money can come in. An Artist Manager needs to not only negotiate those deals, ensuring their client likes the project and is paid well, but they should be active in seeking out those opportunities.

Sometimes the biggest names in the business don’t need to work too hard in this realm, but even their representation is typically thinking about something bigger, better and more lucrative in the licensing department.

Touring

Throughout the past decade or so, touring has become the biggest revenue source for most musicians, including chart-toppers. While most Artist Managers don’t actually plan concerts themselves (unless they are a jack-of-all-trades for artists who aren’t large enough yet to partner with several companies), they are heavily involved in every aspect of a tour.

An Artist Manager will work in partnership with Booking Agents and perhaps a record label to decide timing, which cities to play, opening acts, setlists, promotion, merchandise, ticketing, pricing, and so on. They will also work hard to ensure that everything is going smoothly once the shows begin, and depending on the relationship they have with their clients, they may actually trek from place to place with them.

Other Duties

These days, Artist Managers do so much more than even what is mentioned above, though those are the biggest focuses. Today’s Artist Managers need to be thinking about merchandise, opportunities with brands, fan relationships, field press requests (alongside a PR team, if there is one), take part in radio promotion (perhaps with a radio team, if the artist is large enough), as well as handle day-to-day activities like social media, email newsletters, updating the website and so on.

If it sounds like a lot has been discussed above, these paragraphs still don’t touch on everything.

How Artist Managers Get Paid

The vast majority of Artist Managers make a certain percentage of their client’s incomes. The terms of payment are usually very straightforward and strict.

What Percentage Does an Artist Manager Get?

What an Artist Manager makes depends on their clients, their experience, and whether they work on their own or with an agency. Almost all deals see Artist Managers making somewhere between 15 and 20% of their client’s total income1.

How Long Is an Artist Management Contract?

Some Artist Managers prefer to sign their clients to deals that last one year, others prefer two or three years, with the latter option being seemingly more commonplace in the music industry. That may sound like forever, but keep in mind how long it takes to create, record, and promote an album. Speaking of albums, other Artist Managers stick to album cycles, signing the artists they work with to one or several album cycles.

How Artist Managers Find Artists

Asking how Artist Managers find the musicians they decide to work with is like asking a record label how they discover acts they want to sign in that there are many different answers, and there is no defined way this happens all the time…though there are a few options that seem to be the most popular.

How do you find a good Artist Manager?

Lisa Jenkins (Rodney Crowell, Don Felder, Peter Frampton)

That is the million-dollar question! If you have an Attorney, Publisher or Booking Agent representing you, they can usually suggest good Managers. Or, look at who some of your favorite artists are managed by and reach out to them!

If you have contacts in the music business, use them and ask who they would recommend.

Ben Yonas (Making Movies, Jeremy Kittel, Los Rakas)

Word of mouth and some research. I think you can find out a lot by looking up the artists that you respect, that you would consider part of your creative world. Who manages them? Look into them. Look at artists who are doing well. Managers are easy to find (our email addresses are listed on the websites of our clients).

Look for a comparable artist. Or if you’re a solo artist, look for a comparable artist who’s achieved some of the milestones you’ve set for yourself in your career. You really wanna play Bonnaroo? Go find a Manager whose client played Bonnaroo last year. If you want to land an Audiotree or Paste Session, all those cool opportunities are out there. You can make them happen on your own, yet it helps to have representation who’s done things like this before and already has those relationships.

Does this person manage artists who achieved some of these milestones? It’s not required, but these are things you might look for. I still think your cousin could be a great Manager, even if she has no experience. If she’s the one in the front row who’s singing every word and knows everything about the music, I respect that. You can’t fake that. You can’t pretend to care about music if you don’t really love it.

If you open up Passman’s book on the music business [All You Need To Know About The Music Business], which is kind of the bible we all use, he nailed it. You want someone with a network. You want someone with a strong work ethic. Yet of course this works both ways. I love the music industry and I love developing artists, but I like to see that the artist is going to work as hard as I work. There has to be a balance there.

I don’t think it’s a requirement that the Manager has some massive list of contacts, like they know all the labels and have friends in editorial at all the DSPs. I think you can still win as a rookie Manager if you just have this real passionate love for the music.

I’ve had to turn down people that are really successful and I had to be honest with them and tell them that their music’s just not my thing. 300 million streams later, sometimes I wonder if should have taken that one for the team, but what can I say…I just wasn’t feeling it! Just because it’s popular on Spotify doesn’t mean I like it. It’s gotta be original for me.

Our motto at Yonas Media is, they’ve gotta have a unique perspective or something unique they bring to the world. So if you look at our roster, everyone is different and combines different music/genres in a way that’s kind of eclectic. I get asked frequently why we have a roster that includes violinist Jeremy Kittel, hip hop duo Los Rakas, alongside Psychedelic Latin Rockers Making Movies. What can I say? That’s my personal taste. I love all of this music and don’t really care what genres they fall into.

I try not to use genres to define my clients or when thinking about music. Max Gomez gets classified as Americana (a genre I never fully understood or identified with). He writes songs and sings in English and he’s crazy talented. I got referred to him by Charles Driebe, who’s a widely respected fellow Atlanta-based Manager–one of the best in the business. Max reached out to Charles looking for management and Charles was nice enough to recommend me. I didn’t even know who Max Gomez was, but I pulled him up on Spotify in shuffle mode, went for a walk, and I was just floored. I was an instant fan and thought…“I could do this. I could build his career.”

Also, I would like to offer some additional advice to those pitching Managers.

Let your music speak for itself. When you write your emails, start with a little bit of gratitude for taking up someone’s valuable time, and don’t do any self-deprecating. That’s always a red flag. Don’t put down your demo or your recording for reasons why it isn’t this way or that way. It doesn’t accomplish anything; it hurts you. Just own it. “Be proud of where you are and what you’ve accomplished”. Even if you’re not, pretend to be proud. For all you know you might blow someone away. Be real. People appreciate that.

You’re asking a complete stranger who manages a famous artist or a more established artist to invest in your career. That’s what management is. We invest our time and resources into our artists. I have a staff of six people, some full-time, some part-time. It all costs money. Despite the pandemic, we’re still here and we’ve been signing artists and growing. It’s a real commitment. It’s a long-term commitment.

If I may add a plug, Yonas Media offers virtual internships (so you can live anywhere). Info here.

Applicants should have an interest in learning more about the music industry through hands-on experience. Interns will gain experience in management, tour marketing, publicity, digital marketing, and social media management and work with one artist on our roster as part of their management team.

Through Other Bands and Friends

Perhaps the most common method for Artist Managers to find new acts they may want to sign is the oldest: word of mouth. When a musician, fellow Artist Manager, Record Label Executive, Booking Person, or even just a friend turns them on to a new Singer or band and they like what they hear and see, it may be time to take on a new client.

They are also more likely to listen to their suggestions than to a cold email. Word of mouth is still incredibly important in almost every aspect of human interaction, even to this day.

Social Media

Many record labels and Artist Managers focus on talent first, but there is an argument to be made for working with a name who already has built a following. Signing a social media celebrity looking to expand into music is not a sure thing, but it’s usually a safer bet than a completely unknown act that doesn’t have hit-making potential just yet.

Also, watching a track go viral on Twitter, Instagram, or especially TikTok can be a great way for an Artist Manager to find their next client.

Streaming Services

Many Artist Managers and record labels carefully watch streaming platforms and have their own programs to track which tunes are picking up steam anywhere in the world. This is a tried-and-true method for executives and Artist Managers to latch onto rising stars before they become stars and connect themselves to singles that are already done, but which just need some help becoming proper chart successes.

The impact that streaming platforms like Spotify and Apple Music have made on scouting new acts cannot be overstated.

What Makes for a Good Artist Manager?

So many things make a great Artist Manager, and while not everyone can claim to have every quality, some make up for what they may lack in one field in other ways. Artist Managers need to be hardworking, first and foremost. They must be willing to put in the hours and grind as hard as the musicians they’ve signed.

The best Artist Managers are aggressive (but hopefully not assholes), they have connections, they’re friendly, and know how to forge important and fruitful relationships. They are fast learners and they have a thirst for knowledge. They want to discover what’s new and hot, and they’re always looking for what’s next.

Perhaps most importantly, Artist Managers have to believe in their acts and their vision. If they don’t, it’s hard to stand behind the work in the way they must.

Artist Manager Lisa Jenkins
Lisa Jenkins

Lisa Jenkins is an Artist Manager with Vector Management in Nashville, TN. Lisa represents Grammy Award-winning musicians Rodney Crowell, Don Felder (formerly of The Eagles), and Peter Frampton in all aspects of their day-to-day career activities. Lisa supervises performances, budgets (touring and recording), merchandise designs, promotional materials, public appearances, fan experiences, branding opportunities, and social media strategies.

Prior to joining Vector, Lisa was Mr. Frampton’s Personal Manager and advisor on publishing, touring, and ventures including Framptone. Her scope ranged from hiring tour personnel to arranging a successful 2007 Grammy campaign for Best Contemporary Instrumental Album. She led the team responsible for Peter Frampton’s new memoir, Do You Feel Like I Do?, debuting on The New York Times Best Seller List.

Earlier in her career, Lisa worked with artists including Cyndi Lauper, The Mavericks, Lucinda Williams, Junior Brown and Jack Ingram, David Foster, The Smithereens, Take 6, John Sebastian, Billy Joe Shaver, Ronnie Milsap, and Bela Fleck & The Flecktones.

Lisa is a 2009 graduate of Nashville’s prestigious Leadership Music program. She is a 20 year plus member of the President’s Council/Advisory Board of Musicians On Call and has volunteered with the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights program to help build schools and teach math and reading in rural villages.

Artist Manager/Producer Ben Yonas
Ben Yonas

Ben Yonas is a Grammy-nominated Music Producer/Engineer and Artist Manager. His production/engineering credits include Mos Def, Estelle, TV On The Radio, Ledisi, Mickey Hart, Sammy Hagar, and Rubén Blades. He currently manages a roster of artists that include Grammy winner Lady Rizo, Grammy-nominated violinist Jeremy Kittel, Grammy-nominated hip hop duo Los Rakas, and the Latin Grammy-nominated band Making Movies.

Past management clients include Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart and Oakland Hip Hop duo Zion I. He earned his MBA from the University of Memphis where he was an Assistant Professor of Music Business, directed the music business program for six years, and led Memphis’ High Water Records and Music River Publishing Company. Ben currently lives in Atlanta with his family and is an Adjunct Professor of Music Business at Emory University.

  1. 1Billboard Staff. "What Artists' Managers Really Earn (It's Not Cheap to Be Available 24-7)". Billboard. published: 23 June 2015. retrieved on: 1 April 2021
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