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Career Overview: Handles all personal and business related financial needs of music business clients, including taxes, tour budgets, investment strategy, and contract negotiation.
Career Salary Range: $25,000 to $1,000,000+
Become a Business Manager
Chris King, Vice President of Business Development and Client Services at Nashville’s Blue Sky Group says “to summarize what a Business Manager does, we handle all financial needs for our clients, both personal and business related. We work in conjunction with an artist’s Manager, Attorney, Booking Agent, and other team members to ensure a true cohesive financial plan is in place at any given time. Included with handling finances (outside of what a basic Bookkeeper does) are tax filings, worldwide tour budgeting and reconciling, asset protection with insurance and company structuring, assisting with investment strategy, estate planning and oversight, contract review and negotiations, royalty tracking and auditing. The list can go on and on.
If there is such a thing as a ‘typical’ day it would include handling cash receipts and bill payment, income tracking, bank reconciliations, cash flow management, tax planning and preparation, and tour budgeting. On top of that, if a client calls and needs assistance, for the most par,t we stop what we’re doing and help them. Whether that means setting up utility accounts for a new residence, filing an insurance claim, paying a bill over the phone/computer, [or] figuring out why their credit card isn’t working. On top of this is the fun work that happens a few times a year for a number cruncher – going to a client’s show and seeing all of the hard work you do in the office come to fruition with a show in front of hundreds/thousands of fans stepping out of the struggles of day-to-day life and enjoying an amazing entertainment!”
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Most Business Managers start their careers as Interns before finding full-time employment and working their way up the career ladder. Knowing where to start can be confusing, as “different firms call their entry-level position by different names.” King says, “Essentially, a new hire would be applying for a Bookkeeper position and beginning to learn the accounting side of the business. As you learn and grow, there are a variety of positions you can apply for. [At] a firm like mine, we like for our employees to be versed in all areas of business management, so an employee works on all areas of the client – personal, touring, royalties, etc. Then, there are firms that have different departments for each of those categories instead of [being] all-inclusive. As someone learns the business and feels confident in their knowledge, they can apply for jobs that best fit their skills.” This could mean landing an Account Manager position, then working one’s way up towards a VP of Business Development title, and eventually becoming President of an existing firm or opening one’s own firm.
Education & Training
“Although a passion for the industry is beneficial, there are more aspects than being an avid music fan that rise up as important,” King advises. “The most important knowledge to have starting out in business management is a good understanding of basic accounting principles. Until you’ve worked within a firm for an extended period of time, 90% of your job revolves around accounting.” To learn these basic principles, aspiring Business Managers should look into college degree programs in Accounting, Business Management, Business Administration, or Finance.
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Experience & Skills
Experience in the worlds of finance and entertainment, gained through internships and education, is important for any aspiring Business Manager. Beyond this, King says, “when interviewing new graduates for jobs at my firm, I don’t think there’s any experience or special skills that will elevate them above other applicants. Myself and others are looking for someone with a good work ethic, an understanding that the job isn’t as glamorous as outsiders see it when you say you ‘work in the entertainment industry,’ and the willingness to get the job done no matter if it takes putting in extra time above the normal forty hour work week.”
“I think it takes a variety of personalities to build a great business management firm,” King says. “All firms (which goes for most business) need introverts and extroverts – the combination of both these type of people blend into a great team! However, in order to move through the ranks and advance in your career, you’ve got to be able to communicate with clients easily, without being intimidated, and network within the music industry.”
As there’s an entertainment aspect to the job of a Business Manager, the work lifestyle can differ on occasion from that of a typical financial professional. King explains, “A majority of our work is done during normal business hours, 9am to 5pm, Monday through Friday. There are the occasional shows at nights or weekend meetings with clients as you further your career, but we mainly stick to bankers’ hours. But of course, the more popular an artist becomes, the more demanding a Business Manager’s hours can become. As a firm, we try to stick to normal business hours, but working longer hours isn’t a bad thing in our world. It means that the clients are growing and that’s the ultimate goal in all of this.”
He adds, “Business management is 100% a team business. There is no way I could serve my clients to the best of my ability without an amazing team around me!”
Business management demands a special set of skills, in both music industry and financial knowledge. If you’re looking for an entry-level gig in this field, your path may differ from the paths of others. King says, “Funny story about myself, I got lucky becoming a Business Manager! I went to the University of Tennessee at Martin to get a degree in Accounting and decided I’d figure it out from there – not sure I’d recommend that, but it worked for me. My university didn’t offer any Music Business courses. After college, I moved to Nashville in hopes of finding a job I loved. After reading about a business management firm hiring for someone with multiple years of tax experience, I submitted my resume, having no experience at all. I introduced myself as outgoing and up for anything. The HR Director laughed at my email and kept my resume on file until they had an entry-level opening. I got the call and interviewed, explaining that I had no knowledge of the music industry, but was able to clearly show my determination to succeed in any job I set my mind to. And as they say, the rest is history.”
He adds, “For anyone looking to start a career in business management, it’s obviously important to be in a city that has a lot of opportunities within the music industry – Nashville, New York, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Miami. If you’re able to get an internship during college, I extremely suggest doing so. Most companies want someone to graduate college with experience and there’s no better way to obtain that than an internship. Next, apply everywhere and be confident in interviews. If you don’t know an answer to a question during the process, don’t tell a lie because it’s easy for the interviewer to read body language and be turned off if someone already seems untrustworthy. Finally, after landing a job, work hard and understand your role within the firm. Each role you obtain, knock it out of the park and your work will be rewarded with new opportunities and moves up the chain of command.”
“Most business management firms themselves earn income based on a percentage of the income received by their clients, or hourly,” King explains. “Employees within the firms are paid hourly or [receive] salary depending on their experience and level within the company. Annual income can vary greatly depending on the number of years you’ve been with a company, your role within the firm. and the size of the clients you’re working with.”
Unions, Groups, Social Media, and Associations
“I’ve noticed they are not a lot of professional groups or online resources for individuals looking for a job within business management,” King says. “Nashville, however, has some great industry groups for people looking to get involved: Leadership Music, SOLID, and Young Entertainment Professionals.” While Nashville, in particular, seems to have many helpful organizations for those just beginning their music business careers, it’s a good idea to take a look for groups operating in your own community — especially if you live in an entertainment industry hub like New York, Chicago, or Los Angeles. Meetup.com is a good place to check for informal networking groups.
- “Intern or work while getting your education. This shows your willingness to learn and the ability to multitask.
- Apply and submit your resume to every company you can find. You may not think the job description is for you, but it never hurts to try.
- Begin networking with anyone you can find that’s willing to lend advice. I go to coffee or lunch with students at least once a month who are looking for information on business management and ways to get started. I love when students reach out to me. It shows their eagerness to be great!”
What is the single biggest suggestion you would give to someone wanting to get into this career?
“Never be afraid to ask questions. Like anything in life, it’s impossible to improve yourself and grow without asking questions. Learning and understanding are essential to furthering yourself professionally. The more a Business Manager learns, the better we can service our clients.”
What’s the #1 mistake people make when trying to get into this career?
“Sitting in the back seat instead of exploring the open road. Read articles online, read contracts if you can get your hands on them, and stay up to date with the changes in the industry. The music industry is ever-changing and unless you’re willing to change yourself, you’ll fall behind.”
What is the question people should ask about this career but rarely do?
“What exactly do you do? Most people hear ‘Business Manager’ and think we’re just an Accountant. People don’t understand all of the areas we’re able to provide services and knowledge to our clients. We are more hands-on and walk alongside our client to help them make financially wise decisions.”
What is one thing I should have asked which I didn’t?
“When it comes down to it, what makes a Business Manager successful? Answer: building trust with a client is my #1 priority because I would want the same thing if someone were handling my finances. The most important thing I stress to all employees and students asking for advice is to treat the clients’ money as if it’s your own. Meaning, just because some have more money than the average person, doesn’t mean they want it wasted on late fees because bills aren’t paid on time.”
If you could describe in one word what makes you successful, what would it be?
Chris King is the Vice President of Business Development and Client Services at Blue Sky Group in Nashville, a full-service business management firm that works with top record labels, artists, and publishing companies. They represent Songwriters with multiple #1 hits and some of the most respected artists in the industry.