Jeremy Rwakaara – Indie Managers Association
At least a dozen times a day, I receive a phone call or an email inquiry from an artist asking: “how do I find a manager to represent me?” or “do you know any managers in (pick a state) who can manage me?” or “how do I go about finding a manager?” I often respond that the appropriate question is: “when should I consider being represented by a manager?” Since I get the (wrong) questions asked so frequently, I decided to write an article on management for artists.
What exactly a manager is or does is a topic that’s discussed frequently in music industry circles. There is no precise description of what a manager is or definition of what a manager does that everyone can agree on. Ten different people will have ten different opinions on the subject. In addition, the job of the manager is fairly complex and can differ from situation to situation; depending on the stage of the artist’s career and the areas that the artist needs help in (e.g. image development, publicity, label shopping, touring, recording, publishing, songwriting, licensing, merchandising, sponsorship acquisition, etc.).
There are generally four types of music managers that an artist may encounter at some point in their musical lives: personal managers, business managers, tour managers, and road managers. For this discussion, we will be concentrating mainly on the personal manager.
A personal manager (here after called simply ‘manager’) is an advisor, confidant, counselor, organizer, industry ‘buffer’, cheerleader, protector, and ‘honorary’ member of the band. A manager sees things from a different perspective than the band/artist (the ‘big picture’), and helps to devise a master plan that the band or artist can follow in order to achieve their goals. A manager is usually able to make difficult decisions without taking things personally. A manager plays an extremely important role in negotiations because they understand the long-term goals of the artist and can make sure that all contracts that are offered address the long-term needs of the artist, even when an attorney is involved. A manager plays a very important role in corresponding with record labels, publishers, booking agents, publicists, music media, and promoters, and in making sure that things get done on time and in the manner promised. An artist can easily get lost in the shuffle on a large record label roster, especially if the A&R rep that signed them is no longer with the company. The manager helps keep everybody exited about the artist, including label promotion departments, distributors, radio promoters, publicists, booking agents, concert promoters, media personnel, etc.
A manager is not automatically an attorney, a producer, publicist, publisher, or a record label; even though they sometimes perform functions that are similar in nature. If, separate from being a manager, they also happen to be an attorney, a producer, publicist, publisher, or record label, then they should wear the different hats according to the different roles, and not merge them all under the umbrella of ‘management’. This multiple-role scenario can sometimes present a ‘conflict of interest’, since part of the manager’s job is to help the artist decide which attorney, producer, publicist, publisher, label, etc.; they should sign or work with. An individual (in California and New York, for instance) must be licensed by the state to be a Talent Agent; which is a separate function from that of a manager.
There are lots of differing opinions regarding when exactly an artist needs a manager, but they generally fall into three camps:
1) As early in the artist’s career as possible.
2) Later on in an artist’s career, at the point when the artist cannot get any further by themselves, or when the workload is too great and additional help is needed.
3) Never. An artist can do without a manager.
Depending on where you are in your career as well as your philosophical outlook regarding managers, one of these three schools of thought will initially appeal to you as an artist. Let’s go through each one.
Management - As early in the artist’s career as possible.
If you are highly disorganized, lack a general business sense, find it difficult to focus on long term goals or be consistent, hate to read music books, lack financial resources, have had very little success on your own, and know very little about the music business, you should probably seek management as early in your career as possible. You will need a manager very early on in your career to develop a game plan for you so that you can avoid making mistakes that may be difficult or impossible to undo later.
For this option to work, however, the manager you seek should absolutely LOVE your work, be honest, committed, patient, organized, hard working, and knowledgeable about all aspects of the music business. This manager will probably have some first-hand experience in the business, and much of their knowledge will be gathered from previous management deals, reading most (or all) of the music business books and resources, getting information online, asking questions on forums, talking to industry personnel, attended seminars and conferences, etc. They will probably not have extensive high-level contacts in the business or a major label-related track record to speak of, but they should have the drive and determination needed to expand their network of contacts quickly. They will (or at least should) have a steady source of income (either from other acts or another job) and be willing to work with you for quite some time without the expectation of a commission (even though one is provided for in the Artist – Manager Contract). Your understanding should be reduced to a short contract spelling out the details of the relationship. Keep in mind that in the early stages of your career, most ‘A-level’ managers will not be interested in an artist who isn’t signed (or about to be signed) to a major record label or publishing company.
Management - Later on in an artist’s career, at the point when the artist cannot get any further by themselves, or when the workload is too great and additional help is needed.
If you are highly organized, business oriented, find it easy to focus on long term goals, love to read music business books, have some financial resources, have had some musical success on your own, and know a lot about the music business, you should probably self-manage to begin with and seek management later on in your career when the workload becomes too great and you have gone as far as you can go alone, or when a major record label deal is pending.
Many A-level managers prefer that artists wait until later on in their careers before signing with a management company (preferably theirs and usually when a major record deal is pending). They believe that many artists sign management contracts too early in their careers with incompetent managers that don’t know the business; and therefore end up ruining their careers in the long run. Naturally, they would prefer that you don’t sign with any management companies until they are interested in signing you. It is important to remember; however, that most of these A-level managers won’t want to sign you unless a major label deal is pending or already under way. Besides that, there aren’t enough of these managers available to sign every single one of the thousands of artists that deserve to be signed at that level. Waiting to sign with a manager later on in your career can present some other problems. One problem is that, unless you are extremely organized, committed, and well-read, you are likely to make many mistakes on your own since there is nobody around to play ‘devil’s advocate’ with you on ideas and strategies. Yet another problem is that, down the road, you will tie the hands of the manager with any bad decisions that you have already made, including image development and your ‘sound’ as an artist, as well as all deals that you have already signed (recording, publishing, licensing, merchandising, etc.). A manager may be unable to get you out of any bad long-term deals you may have signed without their counsel (read ‘career’, not ‘legal’).
Never. An artist can do without a manager.
Some artists (especially those that have either had a bad management experience themselves, or have heard of someone else who has) believe that an artist can do without a manager. It is possible (and doable), up to a certain point, to conduct your own affairs without employing the help of a manager.
It is important, however, to recognize that many industry professionals prefer to speak to a manager instead of directly to the artist. Part of the reason for this is that artists are likely to take things very personally in one-on-one discussions with industry people. Many artists see things from an emotional point of view when the discussion is being framed in business terms, and can’t separate themselves as human beings from their music as product. In addition, some record label A&R reps prefer to see a committed team of professionals (e.g. manager, attorney, promoter, publicist, and booking agent) surrounding the artist, since this indicates the presence of a well-organized team that makes an investment of millions of dollars seem less risky. It is much easier for a manager to play ‘bad cop’ in situations where a deal has to be re-negotiated or turned down. The manager can act as a buffer in many instances and force people to go through them in order to reach you. That way, scam artists are less likely to present managers with shady proposals. There is also not enough time in a day for an artist to do everything by themselves. All-in-all, a well-connected, knowledgeable, and honest manager can be an indispensable asset to an artist under the right circumstances.
Finding a manager
Once you’ve decided that you are ready for management, there are several ways you can find a manager. You should first take stock of what you have to offer (besides your talent). It helps to have a good idea about yourself and your style. Don’t expect a manager to be able to perform an assortment of miracles all by themselves. You have to come to the table with some elements in place and be willing to work hard to formulate the rest. The manager can help you to articulate your vision, find others that believe in you, and get you into the hands of interested and successful music industry professionals.
Once you are sure you have something to offer, you can ask club owners, attorneys, publicists, recording studio engineers, record producers, independent record label owners, and other artists that are signed, if they have any management company recommendations. You can also find a list of managers from music industry print directories (e.g. the Musicians Atlas, Music Yellow Pages, the Recording Industry Sourcebook, etc.) or online directories like the one here at the Indie Managers Association and others. Pay close attention to the submission policies of the management company before mailing anything out. Some managers will only accept solicited material (material submitted to them from known sources). Others are willing to accept unsolicited materials, while others prefer you to call or email first. Do not violate these policies. It is almost always a good idea to call or email first before you send anything (unless they tell you not to call or email first). Contacting them before you send materials gives you a chance to talk to somebody and find out what they are looking for and what materials will be most appropriate to send.
Working with a manager
It is important that you speak with artists who are already signed to the management company (if the manager has an artist roster) before approaching a manager. If the artists have stayed with the manager for a long time and have a good relationship, you can take that as a sign of a commitment for the long-term; which is a good thing. Be wary of managers that don’t ask a lot of questions about you, your goals, and your achievements. Don’t be offended by these questions, since they only serve to identify areas of opportunity or career challenges that the manager should know about. Even though there is no standard commission that a manager should take, be cautious of a manager who talks about commissioning 25% or more of your earnings. 10% - 15% (or in some instances 20%, depending upon the circumstances), is more in line with what’s fair. Whatever you do, don’t sign a contract on the spot without taking time to have it reviewed by an entertainment attorney. Few things are so urgent that both parties can’t take a few days (or weeks) of their time to negotiate a contract that will bind them together for several years and involve potentially several hundreds of thousands of dollars.
The manager-artist relationship is a very important one, and you must be sure that the manager is a right fit for you (and vice-versa). Many times, a manager will approach you before you get a chance to approach them. This is not necessarily a bad thing since it makes sense that you came to their attention by creating a buzz in your area, selling a lot of CD’s, receiving radio airplay or great reviews, or putting on a great live show. If this is the case, you should expect them to know a lot about you and ask a lot of questions. A sign of a good manager is that plenty of dialogue will take place before the contract is offered and signed. You should spend a lot of time discussing your short and long-term career goals and seeing how they can help you achieve what you want. You should ask them what ideas they have to get you where you are trying to go. You should also check to make sure that the potential manager doesn’t have too many artists on their roster, and that they will have enough time to devote to your career. A potential manager should like your type of music and be familiar with how an artist like you should be promoted and marketed. It is extremely important to find a manager that is the right fit, and if you can’t find one, you are much better off managing yourself until the right one comes along. If you find a manager that sounds interesting, try and set up a six-month trial period o see if you are compatible with each other before signing a long-term management agreement. Only accept friends, friends-of-friends, family members, etc., as potential managers if they have some experience in managing artists in your genre, have some industry contacts, and know how the music business works. These people are often well-intentioned but can cause more harm than good with what they don’t know.
The management contract
Discussing the details of an artist-manager contract is beyond the scope of this article; so when it comes to signing, it is important that you have the contract drafted and/or negotiated by an experienced entertainment attorney who is well-versed in similar entertainment / management contracts. The important thing about a contract is that it should define in no uncertain terms the nature of the relationship between the parties. It should also spell out how, if at all, you can get out of the deal if the manager is not performing as promised, and what the penalties for non-performance should be. You should also understand how and for what duration commissions are to be paid after the management contract has been terminated. As long as everybody understands their roles, works hard, and follows through with their commitments, everything should be fine; even if you don’t sell a million records or sell out Madison Square Garden.
Hopefully this article has helped shed some light on the question of finding managers. Obviously, these are mainly my opinions and others are free to disagree in whole or in part with what I have said here. Get legal advice, consult your gut feeling, do plenty of reading, use some common sense, and ask a lot of questions before signing with a management contract with a manager.
Best of luck in your musical career.
Indie Managers Association
© Copyright 2005 Jeremy Rwakaara