Following on from our last instalment in Building Your Team series, today, we are going to look into perhaps one of the most important roles within your team; the manager. Hopefully, within your career, you will be presented with many opportunities. Your manager will either help to procure, navigate or maximise these opportunities, advising and guiding you through the business endeavours of your music whilst enabling you to focus on your creative.
The manager role can be somewhat all encompassing as more often than not, managers will work with artists as A&R’s, PR, agents, creative partners whilst also being your manager (particularly when you are first starting out). Perhaps being one of the most trusted members of your team, the difference between a good and bad manager can have a catastrophic effect on your career, so it is important you conduct your research and choose carefully.
LET’S DELVE INTO THE ROLES OF A MANAGER:
WHO ARE THEY?
Managers are the ‘hub’ of you career. Essentially acting as your ‘go-to’ person, your managers will aim to represent you successfully whilst carrying out your business affairs, keeping your contacts in order and your strategy in motion. To represent you successfully, this entails fulfilling an achievable aim/s such as ‘playing X amount of shows’ or ‘making X amount on money in X amount of time’ whilst remaining respectful to your vision. Music managers can come from an established management company or can be freelance individuals, neither of which is necessarily better than the other. It truly depends on your needs as an artist as some of you will be more business orientated, and thus require more exposure and assistance, whilst some of you will be new to the industry and lack the understanding required to be involved in such business decisions and career strategy.
With that said, there are different types of music managers including Personal Managers (day to day managers), Business Managers and Tour Managers. It is very easy to assume that once you have a manager that your career is set, but in reality, the question you should really be asking yourself is “what do I need a manager for?”. If you have nothing to manage; no live gigs, no music, no social media, no demos, what will a manager actually manage?
Although managers can open doors for you as an artist, you also need to work as hard (if not harder) and so, if there is nothing to push through that door, you probably don’t need a manager right now.
Some artists/creators opt to self-manage themselves which, although is usually only successful to a certain point, can work to educate yourself on the business. Although having representation provides and allure of professionalism to other potential investors such as labels, whilst also providing support to you as an artist, there is no shame in being self-managed for a bit.
Managers come in many different forms, whether they be one of your close friends (how Lady Gaga started), a parent (Brandy, Miley Cyrus, Usher), a freelance manager or industry figure with experience and keen to get involved, or from a management agency. The biggest and arguably most important factor in all of these potential managers is that they are a fan of yours, regardless of their past experience in the industry.
WHAT DO THEY DO?
Managers perform an array of tasks in an effort to execute your artistic vision in a successful manner. From arranging photo and video shoots, having your music playlisted, getting heard by tastemakers, labels or publishers to be signed, developing your artistic vision, securing blog and press coverage, negotiating business deals and terms and/or answering emails. Managers are one of the most consistently active people on your team requiring large levels of organisation, commitment and communication skills whilst showing an ability to cope well under pressure.
At its simplest, your manager will assist or spearhead the process of bringing together the people and projects to match the vision and aims set either individually by yourself or collectively with your manager. As discussed, a manager’s role will be different depending on what you need and what they can offer – and you don’t always have to stick with one (but of course, this must be discussed prior), as you may only need a manager to advise you on business matters or creative advice.
The roles of a manager largely depend on what point in your career you are as a client and what you want to achieve. Dealing with different aspects of your career, managers will strategically manoeuvre around the different characters and organisations in your career which all carry their own demands and challenges. With that said, having such an instrumental role in taking your career to the next step, a new manager with less experience is not always the worse option for you as an artist as they can provide a new strategy or insight into your next moves.
A good music manager will advise you whilst taking into account your best interests and will usually act as a point of contact between yourself and the outside industry and are therefore often the middleman. It is vitally important that a manager is diplomatic, able to problem solve and strategic in their representation of you.
WHEN SHOULD I GET ONE?
Managers can approach you quite early on in your development stages, when you have a buzz or before the buzz (and even after the buzz). Some artists get a head start without managers, and for many, managers are the first members of your team.
Some managers and management companies do not accept unsolicited demos, so it is sometimes not the best option to contact them first (although this isn’t necessarily a bad thing to do). Usually, it does work better in your favour if you are approached by them as you know there is a vested interest and passion in you as an artist and you are able to talk on more of an even playing field (people often want to discover and act rather than approached).
Similar to the previous article about lawyers, we would suggest talking to a few and keeping your options open before you commit to one. Talk to as many others (and consult lawyers) as you can, research the representation of artists/producers/bands you like and would compare yourself to and politely reach out to them. You are not always guaranteed a response but it is helpful to be on people’s radars.
Before committing to a manager, I would also suggest a trial period before signing anything to establish a working relationship. Often, this will feel like dating, however please don’t treat this as such (i.e. entering into a meeting with 30 character questions about their life). Some managers like to befriend their artist whereas others prefer to have a strictly working relationship. Making the choice between which one you prefer is down to you. Some great questions to ask a manager initially can be found here:
HOW MUCH DO I PAY?
The standard rate is 20% commission of your gross income (money you make before taking off costs) which does have exceptions and can be negotiated. If a manager asks for a fee upfront, this is a major red flag to walk away – QUICKLY. Managers can claim back expenses and put in their own capital (if agreed to) as can you, but, managers work from commission.
UK management company High Time work on a 50/50 commission which is very uncommon, but understandable in this instance for what they offer their artists. Some managers work on a specific commission rates, i.e. only taking 10% on income less that $50,000 and taking 20% on income over $50,000 but again this is all negotiable.
Essentially however, 15%-20% is the general figure depending on how much revenue you bring in – the more money you make, the smaller the justifiable commission rate requested). There are some other rules regarding live shows and advances you receive if signed to a label which can be waived, for example your manager only making money from a show after costs have been deducted, but you must speak to your lawyer about this before agreeing to anything.
DO I NEED THEM?
Honestly, yes. But for what purpose and when in your career is completely up to you. In the age of DIY, more power is in the hands of artists, meaning there is less of a need for publishers and labels, but even more of a need for managers to be able to generate creative and innovative ways for audience consumption.
Having a manager is not an indicator of success, but it is an opportunity. It is easy to feel comfortable once you have a manager, but really, the hard work increases tenfold as you are now responsible for someone else’s salary alongside your own. It is better to be approached by a manager rather than be approached, and it also important to know what you want and what you require from the relationship.
Having a manager can mean you are taken more seriously, but working with the wrong manager, one who is not passionate about your work, does not understand the vision, or has no plans for you can be damaging to your career. Do all you can for yourself to create a project that a manager would want to get vested into to give yourself an advantage, set some goals and get to work on some trial periods before you commit to just one, unless your first manager is the best for you which does happen!
You’ve reached the end, what a ride! I hope you’ve found this helpful. Now go make some stuff to manage – I’ll catch you next time when we talk about music producer/s.