Are You Ready for a Music Manager?
Are you ready to take your music career to the next level but don’t have the right connections and expertise? If so, it might be time to consider bringing a Manager onto your team.
Unfortunately for all the dreamers out there, signing with a Manager can be just as elusive as landing a record deal. The process of finding a possible new management partner doesn’t have to be confusing, although it does involve a lot of hard work (not to mention, smart work). If you think your band has the goods (killer tunes, an awesome live show, and active fans), sit down and brainstorm all the different ways you can work with a Manager to up your game. Then read on to learn what Managers are looking for in an artist and how you can find the right Manager at the right time in your career.
What a Manager does
Signing with a Music Manager can advance your career in ways you wouldn’t ordinarily be able to maneuver on your own. Apart from the prestige of being able to say “Talk to my Manager,” however, what can a Manager really do for you? (Side note: please don’t say “Talk to my Manager.”) It’s important to have realistic expectations about a working relationship before you agree to work together, so here’s what you need to know.
A Manager can open doors for a band and help them overcome hurdles. They’re not doing this out of the goodness of their own hearts, however, so expect to pay them around 20% of income derived from your musical career. To some people, this sounds like a lot, but it’s the industry standard. Of course, some ask for less, and some for slightly more. (If a potential Manager is asking for too much more, you should probably avoid signing with them. They’re either a scammer or completely ignorant of how the business really works.) So, what do you get for your 20%? A Manager can help you get to the next level professionally by handling any of the following:
- Helping you get a higher number of shows
- Helping you get shows at more prestigious venues
- Booking gigs for you in other cities outside of your market
- Upping your online numbers (newsletter subscribers, social media fans, etc.)
- Making connections with other industry types (Music licensing firms, Booking Agents, Producers, other bands and possible musical collaborators)
- Improving your press kit and imaging
- Upping your merch game
- Taking care of the day-to-day business aspects of your career
- Seeking and securing recording or publishing deals for the band
Music Managers are searching for bands that are the full package already. These are bands that know what they’re doing and need a little extra professional “oomph” to take them to the next level.
Make sure you’re ready
Before landing a Manager who can help you with these career-expanding moves, however, you’ve got to prove you’re already putting in the work, and just need someone experienced to take you to the next level. Honestly, this is the only way the Manager/Musician relationship will work. If you’re too green, a well-respected Manager isn’t going to take you on. This goes both ways — if you’re too new to the music world, you also might not be aware of when you’re being taken advantage of. You need to have spent some time immersed in your own music scene, making connections, building an audience, and booking your own shows before you seek outside help.
Music Managers are searching for bands that are the full package already. These are bands that know what they’re doing and need a little extra professional “oomph” to take them to the next level. How can you tell if you’re at or approaching “full package” level? Here’s what Managers want to see from you and your band:
- Quality musical recordings (i.e. no bad bedroom demos)
- Professional photos
- Social media presence
- A professional website and/or Bandcamp page
- Live concert video of your attention-grabbing stage show
- A band bio, and possibly an EPK (electronic press kit)
- A dedicated fan community (i.e. a large mailing list, high YouTube subscriber numbers or video plays, and/or active social media followers)
Yes, this is all stuff you can do yourself, as intimidating as it may initially seem, and it’s vital to have in place before approaching a Manager — or before a Manager will approach you. Remember, a Music Manager doesn’t exist simply to do the business-related stuff you don’t want to do; they’re there to help you build on your success.
Focus your search
A lot of people will tell you a good Manager will seek you out, instead of you seeking out them. There’s definitely some truth to this, especially if you’re already ticking off all the boxes mentioned above in our rundown of what’ll make you and your band intriguing to industry professionals. If you’re playing shows regularly, have an active and engaged audience, and are networking within your local music community, you should be on somebody’s radar. But what if you haven’t connected with the right somebody yet?
For starters, you can always try the old-fashioned cold call. Find bands with a similar vibe to your own (but not too similar, obviously) and write a professional, well-thought-out email to their Manager about why you’d be a smart addition to their roster. Another smart idea is to ask for referrals; after all, there’s a lot of truth to the old adage about how “it’s who you know.” Do friends in other bands you know have a Manager they like? Ask if they can introduce you to their Manager. You could also ask your friends in this band to play a show with you; that way you’ll be able to meet their Manager in person after you’ve already blown him or her away with your awesome stage presence and amazing tunes. Likewise, consider asking this Manager if you can take them out for a coffee or a drink to pick their brain on what they look for in bands or what you can do to make yourself irresistible to potential Managers. This is a subtle way to get in their line of vision without putting too much pressure on the situation.
Although it’s a bit more of a long shot, you could also try to land a gig for your band as a performer at an industry conference. You might slip through the cracks at a large to-do like SXSW, but there are smaller, more focused conferences for music industry professionals taking place in cities across the country, pretty much all the time. “Smaller” means there’s a greater chance of your band rubbing elbows with these folks, less musical entertainment for them to enjoy (or ignore), and therefore better odds of sticking in someone important’s head.
If you’re reading this forlornly because you’ve realized you’re nowhere near ready to net a strong, well-regarded Manager, there’s still another way to bring someone onto your team in a managerial capacity. Lots of baby bands began their careers with a trusted friend, devoted fan, or up-and-coming wannabe industry pro by their sides. Is there a friend or acquaintance with a head for business who attends all your shows? Is this person trustworthy, reliable, and committed to your band? Perhaps there’s a college student in a local Music Business degree program who’s itching for some real world experience. If you want managerial assistance but aren’t quite ready for the big leagues, these types of people are a viable option. Work together and see if they can help you get results, but be aware these relationships may have limitations, especially down the line when your band is attracting more notice but your helpful friend perhaps doesn’t have the equivalent music industry experience to help you advance in the world. If this happens, it’s ok. Most career musicians move up management tiers as their careers progress. A starter management firm can help you lay the groundwork before you move up to a well-respected boutique firm, and eventually — if you’re one of the lucky ones — graduate to one of the industry’s big-name Managers.
If you’re on your game, making things happen, and pursuing next steps for your musical career, the right relationship will come.
Find a good fit
Before you sign anything, make sure you and your potential Manager really jive. Ask yourself what you need and want in a Manager, and what this person can deliver. Remember, a newbie or unconnected Manager can hurt your career, especially if you’re signed to a contract with them and they’re holding you back because they aren’t helping you progress — either through lack of connections or because they don’t know what they’re doing. Then, when it comes to more experienced Managers, you need to know they have the connections that make sense for your band. For example, if you’re looking for a record deal and you have a very specific sound, a Manager who doesn’t have any real connections to this genre isn’t going to understand you and isn’t going to be able to help you. Oh, and don’t forget, they work for you, not the other way around.
Of course, none of this means the potential working partnership is all about you. The Manager wants to see you’re fulfilling your half of the deal; you can prove you’re professional and a pleasure to work with by being prepared for any meetings you make. You can do this by having reasonable expectations, explaining how you’re working towards these goals, and asking the Manager what they’d do to help you meet them. This all goes back to the earlier parts of this article in which we discussed being the full package and knowing exactly what’s realistic for a Manager to achieve with your band. Bring evidence of what you’re already doing and what victories you’ve won for yourself, then see what their vision is for you and your music. Don’t get so caught up in the importance of netting this meeting you forget to gauge the Manager on an authentic level, too. Do you like them? Do they get what you’re going for? Can you envision working closely with this person for a number of years? If not, you can pass. You don’t have to sign with a Manager just because they’re the first person who wanted to put a contract in front of you. If you’re on your game, making things happen, and pursuing next steps for your musical career, the right relationship will come.
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