Tips For Bands And Artists Seeking Management (Part 1 of 2)
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:
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, attending 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.