When it comes to expanding your team, one of the first roles you’ll want to fill is your manager. Why? Besides acting as your main consultant when searching for the remaining members of your team, such as a great agent, lawyer, label, etc., a manager advises you on nearly every business decision you make as an artist.
Overall, this person is your right hand in almost all things, and thus will likely become a regular part of your personal life, too. He or she should be a networking pro and know how to work relationships to benefit you, your brand, and your music.
That’s why it’s so important not to jump into the first deal with the first manager who approaches you or whom you find. Instead of resorting to “something is better than nothing,” take the time to find a manager who fits you and your goals and who is willing and genuinely excited to have you as a client.
It’s no easy undertaking — in fact, finding the right manager can be a bit of a process, and some artists cycle through a few different people before finding the one who’s truly right for them — but at the end of the day, it’s worth it to ensure you’re working with the right manager.
While there’s no one-size-fits-all lowest common denominator when it comes to music managers, there are a few characteristics you should look out for when evaluating potential candidates. For a truly expert opinion, we turned to the team at the MMF, a UK-based network of over 500 managers, for some key qualities you should look for in a manager.
What does a music manager do?
Defining a manager’s role is becoming more and more difficult for two reasons:
- Managers take on much broader responsibilities these days, including roles of label, accountant, tour manager, sync agent, booker, and more, particularly in their early days working with an artist.
- No two managers are the same. Some have creative talents and strong A&R sensibilities; some will have a knack for logistics, data, and social media and will plan an artist’s day-to-day; while others might be killer negotiators who go out and find you a brilliant deal.
In the US, however, the manager’s role is slightly more defined as they tend to fill one of two roles: the business manager or the personal manager who, between them, cover the creative and business sides.
So, the first question is not what does a manager do, but what do you need a manager for? What type of artist are you? Who is your primary market? These questions inform your strategy and, therefore, the sort of talent you’re after in a manager. Define your business, what’s going well (and perhaps not so well), and build a job description around that.
Another important point to consider is that even if a manager is on the personal or business side (or you have one of each), as you grow in success, the team around you will need to grow as well. Your manager is going to be the person that helps you build that team. So choose them carefully.
At the MMF, we impress upon all our members that they should be up-to-speed on music-industry knowledge. Even in areas where they might not be so skilled, they should try to improve all the time. Read our full Code of Practice to see the full range of abilities good managers tend to possess.
When do I need to get a music manager?
The barometer for finding a manager is pretty simple: Hire a manager when it’s worth paying someone a percentage of your income to perform those duties for you. Or, in other words, when you can no longer juggle all of your responsibilities and need to delegate to a team member.
You’re free to approach managers at any point in your career, but remember that until your “business” is up and running, you’re essentially asking someone to work for free for perhaps years (as many managers do) depending on your agreement. Keep in mind - if your contract with your manager stipulates a salary or percentage, you could actually be losing money yourself by bringing on a manager too early.
If you’re generating a healthy level of income already but you know it could be tripled with the help of the right team, that’s a clear indicator it’s time to start casting out some feelers for finding your manager.
How do I get a music manager?
Artists find managers a hundred different ways, whether through a mutual friend or fellow artist, by approaching someone from a distance, or by catching their eye with your music or live shows. If you’re going to start approaching potential managers, do your research, make sure they’re the right type of manager, and your music is up their alley. Make the approach personal. Sending out a mass mailer with links to your music is definitely not the best method.
Before hiring a manager, make sure they’re reputable by speaking to other people in the industry about their demeanor and behavior, checking with other artists they’ve managed (or still manage) to get some real-world insight and feedback, and seeing if they’re signed up to the MMF Code, which specifies principles every manager enrolled must follow.
Where do I start when I hire a music manager?
When starting to work with a manager, the most important things to work out are:
- What the manager’s role and responsibilities are
- The overall strategy for your career
- The terms of your working relationship
These conversations can last a couple of months, during which time you should be getting to know each other, starting to get a feel for how well you work together, and sensing where the manager’s strengths lie. Along with creating your working relationship, it’s similarly important to create boundaries.
All too often, business relationships in music get blurred by out-of-hours conversations and “offices" on the road, not to mention the mix of alcohol and party environments. While some of this cannot be helped and may even improve relations in some ways, it’s important to set some ground rules; for example, you could establish that on certain days you both clock out at a certain time, or that there are no phone calls or emails to each other past 8pm. These boundaries are essential to maintaining a healthy, working relationship.
By the time you’re ready to get started on the record, campaign, or tour that you’ve been planning together, it should also be the right time to put pen to paper. Management agreements are really the only time an artist and manager sit on opposite sides of the table; after that, those contracts are put in a drawer and forgotten about (unless you want to renew or terminate the relationship).
Make sure you both have legal representation and do a deal that you’re comfortable with. The MMF has created a sample management contract, which is available from our website but there are other types of arrangements out there such as JV’s, directorships, salaried managers, and many others, so you should both do your research and possibly even talk to an accountant about different types of business setups.
In the end, it’s important to remember that your manager will likely become not only your closest co-worker outside of your band but also one of your closest confidantes. Make sure you hold them to a high standard of trustworthiness and that their reputation checks out. Keeping an eye out for any red flags early on will help you avoid heartache and trouble down the road. With any luck, you’ll find the person to help you take your career to the next level and make a connection that lasts for years.
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