So you've started a band, played some shows at local and regional live music clubs and built a bit of a following in your home town and maybe a few of the surrounding towns. You have a Spotify, Bandcamp, Reverbnation, Soundcloud and Bandsintown page as well as a decent following on all of the requisite social media outlets like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Tik Tok and even Twitch. You keep hearing from people that you really need to start building a team around you in order to make it to the always elusive "next level". You've heard that the team includes a manager, a booking agent, a record label, a publicist and some other titles you are only sort of familiar with like business manager (different from a regular manager). Chances are, at the level described above, you don't need any of those team members. As the leader of your band, if that's the role you have accepted, you are effectively the CEO of a business and that is a fact that you need to accept first and foremost, that your band is a business and needs to be run as such.
A good way to look at your band is the same way you would look at any other small company you start. You work hard, hustle, network, control your expenses, create revenue streams, a budget and a customer base. You typically do those things on your own, or in this case, maybe you have other band members you can share some of that responsibility with. One thing you don't do is go out and hire team members who you can't afford or who you don't absolutely need, until you get to the point where there is so much work that you can't possibly handle it all, and enough revenue coming in to justify bringing on a new team member.
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Yes, I get it, band managers, booking agents etc. typically work on a commission and you can probably find a close friend who'll gladly take on those responsibilities for free. That said, please keep in mind, you typically get what you pay for. A really good, qualified andamp; connected artist manager will rarely take on brand new artists that don't already have a solid revenue model, a good following in more than a few markets and a few solid selling releases under their belt. There are exceptions of course, but they are rare.
Let's talk a little bit about those exceptions. There have been more than a few highly successful artist managers who got their start as a friend of a band that needed a hand. Hell, I'd venture to say that a large percentage of top players in the music industry today got their start exactly that way, as voluntary help for a band they were passionate about or friends with. It's a great place to get your start in this business and a good way to learn the ins and outs of, at the very least, the live side of the music business. That said, most of those people moved on after that first experience, learned the music business, found a mentor, maybe took some music business courses or an internship at an established company within the music industry. The important thing is, they got their foot in the door, which brings me back to you, the band. You need to do everything you can to get your own foot in the door, especially in the beginning, without relying on the help of others with very limited or no experience. As the CEO of your company, you are the overseer of your brand. You need to know everything there is to know about the music business in which you operate. If you don't, I promise you, there are a lot of people out there who will gladly take you for a ride, promise you the world and deliver a goosegg.
So when do you need a manager for your band or your musical project.
As I mentioned above, the answer is simple. You need a manager when there is too much business for you and your band mates to handle yourselves and when you have realized that you are in over your head to the point where you don't know what you don't know. Only then should you consider finding a manager. And that's where it gets sticky. Put plain and simple, if you decide to engage a manager for your band or project the one thing you should know more than anything else is that your decision of who will be your manager is possibly the single most important decision you will make in your career as an artist. Let me repeat that, Your choice of managers is the single. most. important. decision. you. will. ever. make. as. an. artist. Period. Full Stop. Highlighted in bright yellow marker.
Lets jump into the meat and potatoes here of what an artist manager does or should be doing for you and your career. It has often been stated by many within the music industry that an artist manager should "take care of everything allowing you to do what you do best, write and perform your music". In fact, this is actually one of the biggest lines that new, inexperienced artist managers use when attempting to woo an artist to work with them. If you are an artist in need of management and someone comes along promising to do this, run. Or, I guess you could politely let them know that you are going to look elsewhere. This goes back to my statement earlier, that as the artist, you are and should be 100% in control of your career. You are the CEO, whether you have set yourself up as a corporation or not, of your enterprise. Any manager who you bring on board works for you, not the other way around. With that in mind, any artist manager vowing to take care of everything and allow you to just write and perform your music, can be expected to mismanage and misdirect your career, whether intentionally or not. If looking at it from a corporate structure standpoint, the manager should be considered the COO, or Cheif Operating Officer, of your career. He or she handles the nuts and bolts of your daily business under your guidance and direction. A good artist manager also serves to advise and consent. Some of a manager's duties would be as follows:
1. A good artist manager will advise and consent on all business decisions, contract negotiations, member relations (hiring of new band mates, etc), studio, producer andamp; engineer choices, potential record label, publishing, booking agent, attorney, business manager (different than a personal manager), co-write agreements, merchandise andamp; endorsement deals and a myriad of other daily decisions that you will find yourself needing to make throughout your career as a recording and touring artist.
2. A good artist manager will also advise and assist you as your "right hand man/woman" on all things related to your career, and act as a shield between you and unpleasant situations that could reflect negatively on your brand. He or she will, in certain stressful situations, play the "bad cop" allowing you to be the "good cop".
3. A good artist manager will be tasked with finding and hiring the right booking agent for you and working with that agent daily to determine which markets you should be targeting, submitting you for larger tours, planning your own tours, tour budgeting, making sure you have adequate merchandise stocked for your tours, engaging a publicist to help in the promotion of your tour dates. Click here to learn more about what a booking agent does and why you may or may not need one. Your manager will also work with your business manager, if you have one, on the budgeting and accounting for your tours. Click HERE to learn the difference between a manager and a business manager.
4. A good artist manager will know how to utilize his or her relationships within the music industry to find you the right record label or distribution deal and then work with that record label or distributor to maximize your brand awareness, sales, and fanbase. He or she will also be responsible for dealing with the DSPs, Performing Rights Organizations (PROs), your publishing company if you have one, or anyone else that may come into your sphere outside of your fans (and sometimes, he or she will have to deal with them as well if they get a little unruly).
5. A good artist manager has a strong grasp on marketing strategies and ways to build your brand awareness and will be able to take the skills that he or she has developed and turn them into opportunities for you and your career. He or she will be instrumental in procuring a publicist for you and working with the marketing department at your label to maximize the short window of time before and after each release you put out in a way that will grow your career and take you to the next logical step in your career progression.
Those are just a few of a good artist manager's expected duties. While those are his or her responsibilities, you should also know everything your manager is doing, when and why he or she is doing them and how it will affect your career. Of course you might say that there are situations where your manager may have to do or say things that may not sit well with you and maybe you want to be kept in the dark on those situations. Not a good idea. Know everything. If there is any time that you feel your manager could be keeping something from you or not being transparent, that is a big and high flying red flag. Dont ignore it.
We arent going to get deep into the weeds here with regards to a manager's compensation, term of employment or any of that as that will all come in future posts here broken down in easy to understand language, though I will state that for the most part, most managers tyically take 15-20% of your earnings, some on gross, others on net, though the definition of gross and net as it applies to your revenue is, well, more complicated than I wish to go into here, so stay tuned. Better yet, if you would like to get really deep in the weeds of management compensation, terms, etc. grab a copy of Donald Passman's book All You Need To Know About The Music Business, and read it cover to cover. It can be a bit mindnumbing for those with short attention spans (most of us), but is choc-full of quality content.
That said, I'll leave you with this. I have mentioned here that I don't believe you should get a manager until you are so damn busy that you can't possibly handle all the work of running your career yourself and I stand by that statement. Hell, you may never need a manager. Some of the biggest and most respected artists in history have been self-managed. If you do though, find someone who is willing and capable of taking you to the next level in your career, has years of experience, a verifiable track record and is willing to live and breathe YOU. Sound impossible? Maybe not.
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