Times are changing swiftly for the music industry. Once upon a time, everyone was trying for a record deal. Don’t get us wrong, a big label like Universal Music behind you can catapult your career, (we’ve got plenty of artists who would agree with us.)
Nowadays, a manager is seen as just as important as a label – and some would say, necessary to getting that label deal. There are many things a manager can do for you besides that, and having a well-vetted, intelligent, business savvy person by your side will bring you leaps and bounds closer to your musical goals. A not so great manager can do the opposite. Read about some tips we have on how to find good people – and take a glance at our shortlist of ‘5 things to ask someone who wants to be your manager’.
Getting the right manager is crucial, but what do you need know about them in advance? We’ve taken the pain out of guessing and laid out everything you need to know about music managers. Well, the important stuff.
Managers of today are heavily involved with the artist, with every aspect of their career. It’s becoming more prevalent that a manager has their own management company, or comes from one. Loan rangers are few and far between, but can still be the best option. The benefit of management companies is that they often have in house promotion teams and development teams for their artists (but you also fall risk of not being priority or, valued only for profit).
Regardless of their size however, a good manager is one that has your back no matter what. They work hard for you and are worth the 20% you are paying them. That’s the going rate and hasn’t changed for many years. 20% is a fair and standard deal for a good manager. Some even accept 15%, but we’ll get to that later.
What exactly do managers do?
They accelerate an artists career and build relationships with venues, DJ’s, festivals, labels, potential sponsors – anyone you could ever work with as an artist.
They negotiate deals for you – whether it’s a record deal, sponsorship or pay for a gig etc
Offer professional advice, which can encompass pretty much everything else to do with your career.
Be a barrier of sorts between you and the industry – to endure the difficult conversations and negotiations on your behalf. A permeable barrier if you will. Letting through the things that you need to know, and shielding you from the things you don’t.
Help an artist build a team of professionals around them. Good managers have connections to lawyers, booking agents and publicists they can trust. When you get to a high level in this industry, you will need a lawyer, a booking agent and a publicist.
Present you to labels. Managers work on a commission, so if there is pay dirt for you at a label, they get some of the pie. Same goes for gigs and sponsorships, and whatever else can bring you both money.
The rise of the DIY Manager
As this is a new era for music, where the DIY artist can flourish, there are many DIY managers to match. What do we mean? Managers take on a lot more today than they did a few decades or even years ago. The landscape has changed since then and the manager now does much more. A manager may even take care of your social media accounts and secure money from investors to finance your recordings. They certainly find avenues to distribute your music (Spinnup, hello! Say hi!), digital platforms to publish articles about you, and they find producers and other musicians for you to work with. A good manager does a lot.
So what are they worth?
Contracts need to be well thought out, pondered, and shared with your music lawyer before signing anything. The money it costs to do this is money well spent. There are so many stories of people getting burned, on both sides of the fence, because a contract was rushed into.
If at any point you can’t agree a contract with a manager – it is ok to walk away. A bad contract can haunt you for a long time. So how do you know what a bad contract is? By figuring out what is included in a good one.
A good manager will agree they are there to enhance your career any way they can. As they are in a commission based position, it is in their best interests to do so. Here are some important points that will safe guard you in a contract. You must agree:
How much commission the manager is entitled to and for what.
How long the agreement is for
Who collects money (we advise it’s either you, or a business manager)
How long the manager is paid commission – a sunset clause is important
Let’s break these points down a little further.
Where does the commission come from?
Commission is often 15% or 20%. Anything less than 15% and you’ve won the lottery, and anything above 20% and you’ve probably been taken for a ride.
A typical stock standard contract will base commission on gross earnings. Be careful here, as this means on EVERYTHING you earn without expenses being deducted first.
Let us give you an example. Your gross earnings from a national tour is 20K, and your expenses for travel and food, your band, sound engineers, venue hire, and promo costs 18K. You are left with 2K and your manager is still to be paid a 20% commission on gross earnings. Meaning they are owed 20% of 20K – and that equals 4k. You are now down two thousand pounds/euros/dollars.
You need your lawyer to step in and revise the contract to protect from things like this. Commission should be paid in a way that does not drown the artist. Negotiate commission to mean 20% after certain, or all expenses are paid – definitely not on gross earnings. Certain forms of income need to be exempt from a commission grab – and these are income streams that you need to spend to further your career. Things like an advance from a label to record your album. That money needs to go to a studio, engineers, mixers, mastering engineers, producers, and musicians. If a manager takes a chunk of it, you are in a weakened position.
It is crucial that certain expenses are deducted from ‘gross earnings’ and then the manager is paid a commission based on the remaining balance. This needs to be written into a contract and be very specific. What are your expenses that you’d like to included? Touring costs, music and video production, travel, accommodation….you can decide this, and what we have listed are considered reasonable.
How long is the agreement for?
Contracts of this nature are often three years. It depends on how long you wish to be tied to your manager. Some start with an 18 month agreement and the option to extend (please add a break clause also). The manager’s lawyer will be pushing for terms to be in his client’s favour. And yours will be pushing for a contract in your favour. You will meet somewhere in the middle. Remember, you can walk away. And so can they. Only sign if you are committed to the agreement and feel good about it.
A length of the agreement can be tied to goals being achieved. For example – if the manager gets you signed with a major publisher within six months then the terms stay the same, otherwise you may break the contract early. It’s not unusual to have this, but an overall better solution would be to have a 30 day notice clause. Either party can give 30 days notice to the other before leaving the contract. This can be harder to negotiate and usually only comes in near the end of a contract. Consider it anyway. It comes down to how good your lawyer is at negotiating.
How long do you pay commission for?
Until the end of the contract, or until a sunset clause ends. Watch for the sneaky wording (or lack there of) that gives a manager the right to be paid commission for the length of an artist’s career. There must be an end date to it, otherwise you will find yourself paying an old manager as well as a new one. And if you make it big, rest assured an old manager will find you and come for their commission.
Commission entitlement should end at either:
– The end of the contract
– At the end of a sunset period
A sunset clause states that there is a finite amount of time after a contract end date, where the manager can be paid a commission. A sunset clause gives the manager the right to collect commission from any other contracts they secured for the artist during the initial contract term.
The argument here is that you would have never been given the publishing contract without the manager’s help. That might be true, but you must protect yourself in this scenario. The manager will have a sunset clause to ensure they get paid from contracts that are longer than your agreement with them.
Of course you would prefer their commission ends the same day your agreement with them does, so you must negotiate the length and terms of the sunset clause. A sunset period can last around five years in general, and commission decreases with each year. Year one of a sunset clause may give 10% commission, year two gives 5%, and so on until the manager is no longer entitled to payments.
When you see a sunset clause in an agreement, negotiate!
Who is in charge of collecting the money?
This can be you, if you are great at managing finances and paying people on time and making sure you have enough funds to continue working. A lot of artists, once they hit the level of needing a manager, use a business manager. Basically this is an accountant.
Hire the accountant yourself so they must report to you. You can give an accountant as much or as little power as you like. Do you want them to pay your taxes for you? Sign that off in a contract with them. Do you want them to meet with you regularly and guide you on what you can and can’t afford to do? Write that into the contract you have with them also. Contracts between you and an accountant are much less binding and can be broken usually with 30 days notice, and some immediately. No need for any complicated documents here – especially when it comes to control over your money. You should have the most control over it at all times.
Would you like your accountant to simply work out how much to pay who, and then you go ahead and pay everyone instead of them doing it? Great, do that.
If you do decide to allow an accountant to pay invoices on your behalf, you are letting them into your bank accounts. We are not saying they will do anything untoward, we are saying you must also be checking regularly that things match up.
Those are the main points in a management agreement. Another one to think about is asking the manager to be exclusive to you – or at least only have a small amount of other artists to dedicate their time to. If they truly see you as an asset, they will agree to this.
While you increase your presence online, you can rely on us to give you advice like this to help guide you in the right direction. We will distribute your music worldwide and have some of the best label reps in the world at Universal that regularly check out Spinnup artists.