Music managers tend to be a bit of a mystery to artists. How do you get one? What do they do? How do you know if they’re a good manager? This contract is scary – how do I know I’m getting a good deal?
Hiring a manager is not a decision to be taken lightly. You’ll usually be locked into a contract, and these contracts often have clauses that tie you to the manager for several years, even if you choose to terminate the relationship.
Beyond that, your manager will be involved with many important decisions throughout your career – from musical decisions to business decisions and everything in between. It’s imperative that they have your best interests at heart and that you trust them implicitly.
I have recently signed a management deal, and have been enjoying working with a hard-working manager that I trust and believe in.
In this guide, I will take you through what a music manager does, when the right time is to hire one, what you should be looking for, and whether you’re ready for a manager.
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What Does A Manager Do?
The most important thing a manager does is free up your time for music.
As we all know, the music business side of the industry takes up a lot of time and brainpower. Many artists complain that this takes up too much of their time and energy, leaving less room for actual music.
I think that this complaint is perfectly legitimate.
The truth is, nothing will happen for you on the business side of things if you don’t work on you music. Your music needs to be the real deal. Great songs, a great live show, a good brand, etc.
All of this takes up a ton of time and creative energy.
Management will take over a number of key business activities, which will free up more time for you to make music.
These activities are primarily composed of these things:
Building A Team
First and foremost, management will help you build a team of people to free up even more of your time.
They’ll help you acquire a booking agent to help with shows. They’ll help you hire a good publicist and/or radio tracker if that is part of your strategy.
They’ll also be pitching you to record labels and to support tours and support slots in key markets.
Management will be thinking about the big picture and trying to fit all of the puzzle pieces together. This means creating a strategy with you and then trying to execute that strategy.
Typically, management will be in correspondence with these team members all the time. They’ll be the first person your team will go to when there’s a problem or question. That way, you don't have to be the one to deal with it.
Helping You With Smaller Business Details
I often talk to our manager when I have to deal with small business details that I just don’t know anything about. Taxes, bookkeeping, scheduling conflicts, even business relationships that go awry.
Your management is there to help you deal with all of those things.
Depending on your manager and whether they have a management company, you may or may not want your manager actually doing these things.
My band is pretty good at business, so we like to take care of a lot of the day-to-day operations. It helps free up our manager's time for things that we can’t do – meetings with other industry, big picture scheming, working with labels and agents in other countries, etc.
Organizing & Improving Your Financial Outlook
Some bands are great with money. Others, not so much.
We were always in between the two. Not terrible at making and keeping track of money, but not especially good at it either.
Your manager makes all of their money off of your gross income.
That means that they care about how much money you’re taking in, because that’s how they get paid.
They also care about how you’re keeping track of your finances, because that’s how they ensure that they are being paid fairly and properly.
Managers will often track down ad placements, sponsors, grants, sync licensing, and other ways to make money passively. These income streams help the whole operation.
Doing Much Of Your Networking For You
If you’ve been an indie band for a while, you know how difficult it is to get the attention of industry.
It’s nearly impossible without another industry member on your side.
When we signed with management, our lives were changed.
People that we had emailed tens of times started coming to our shows, simply because it was our manager that invited them, and not us. People that never would have shown interest when we were independent were now suddenly interested.
In many ways, a manager is a gatekeeper to other industry people that you also want on your team.
Then, when those people show up at your shows, you’ll have someone who can introduce you to everybody and make sure everyone is comfortable.
Your manager will help you network and also do a lot of the networking for you.
Give You Advice On Every Aspect Of Your Career & Help You Make Decisions
As an artist, it’s sometimes hard to know what your next move will be.
A manager will help guide your decisions and facilitate whatever decisions you make.
They should always have your best interests at heart (your interests are their interests too), and often they’ll have the experience to offer advice.
Some managers also give their perspective on the music side of things – guiding your creative process and making sure that you’re producing quality.
Are You Ready For A Manager?
Being ready for a manager and wanting a manager are two different things. I wanted a manager long before I was ready for one.
Basically, you’re ready for management when you meet two criteria:
- You find it hard to keep up with all of the business side of music and the musical creation side of music.
- Managers start showing interest.
It’s usually a bad idea to go around looking for managers.
It’s not a bad idea to send your music to managers and invite managers out to shows, but trying to hire one is a bad idea.
You don’t want to hire on a manager. You want one to come to you. Ideally, you want to have several management offers on the table, and choose the one that feels right.
I cannot stress enough that your management can make or break your career.
A good manager can take you to the next level and become your best friend.
A bad one can hinder your career, your creativity, your finances, and drain the life out of your music career.
I am not exaggerating – I have seen it happen.
If you meet the first criteria and don’t have enough time to do all of the business, but you don’t have any interest from management, don’t go hiring the first manager you can find.
Instead, hire an admin assistant. Get them responding to emails, pitching shows, and taking care of some of the day to day.
It’s not very expensive to hire a friend that is interested in the industry and it can be a real win-win relationship.
It’s harsh to hear, but the truth is that you’ll be ready for management when management eventually comes along.
Until then, just keep making great music, playing great shows, and inviting industry out to shows.
What Should You Look For/Be Wary Of In A Manager?
As I said, it’s very important that you pick the right manager. They’re a huge part of your career.
Here are a few things to look for in a manager:
You Trust & Get Along With Them
We had a management offer once that just didn’t “feel right”. It felt silly turning down the offer, as it was the best opportunity that we had had at the time, but I am glad we did.
Our manager is someone we trusted implicitly from the moment we met him.
He clearly believed strongly in the music, cared deeply about music in general, had a ton of experience, was young and hard-working, and had a good plan for what he wanted to do with us.
He’s also a total music nerd and a fan of all things musical. We loved that. We talked bands and songs with him for an hour when we met him for the first time. It was awesome.
That’s how management should feel. Exciting, trustworthy, and fair.
They Have Experience & A Plan
Not everyone has experience in the industry, but trust me, the more experience they have, the more connections they have.
Now, that’s not to say you should go with the oldest guy in the business. We wanted to work with someone closer in age to us, and we love working like that.
Nonetheless, a good manager will have at least a few years of diverse experience in the industry. They should have a wealth of contacts and good relationships with everyone from labels, to venues, to agents.
If they don’t have experience, they should at least have a plan that you are excited about and that seems worth your while.
They Should Have A Good Reputation In The Industry
It’s important to ask around about the person that offers you a deal.
Get people’s professional and private opinions on the person. It’s a huge red flag when people have bad reputations, and you’re generally better off not associating yourself with that.
They Should Work With You For At Least 3 Months Without A Contract
It’s commonplace to work with an artist for around three to six months without a contract.
That way, both the artist and the management can test the waters and ensure that everyone feels comfortable with the relationship.
If either party wants out of the relationship, they can do so without having to jump through any legal hurdles and without any squabbles over finances.
Now that we've looked at some qualities to look for in a manager, here are some things be wary of:
Be Wary Of A Manager That Promises Too Much
If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.
If you start doing some digging on this manager, and find a bunch of shady information about them, run.
You don’t want somebody who claims they’ll take your career to the A-list with very little time or effort. You want somebody who will work with you towards your goals and plans.
Always be wary of these industry people. They are a big risk.
Be Wary Of Nasty Sunset Clauses & Sketchy Deals
If you don’t understand something in the contract being offered, talk to a lawyer.
Management contracts are densely worded documents meant to stand up in a court of law. They are not designed to be easy reading.
Hidden in these complicated phrases are things that may surprise you.
For example, you should not be paying any more than 20% of your gross to management. If you are paying 20%, you should expect that percentage to go down as time goes on, because ideally, the management is helping you make more money.
Be careful about sunset clauses. These are clauses in the contract that protect the management should you fire them. They’ll often hold on to some of your earning for up to five years post termination of contract.
These clauses can get ugly, and you want to make sure your interests are protected.
Ask around – talk to other artists and industry that you trust. Get their perspective on the deal.
If something doesn’t feel right, either propose a change to the contract or walk away.
Hiring management is a big step and it’s an exciting one.
It’s tempting just to jump into the first offer you receive.
However, conventional wisdom is that you should never take the first offer. If there’s been one offer, there is sure to be another. Why not choose from multiple offers?
And again, trust your gut. If it doesn’t feel right, don’t do it.