Building the Team: The Role of Music Managers

The role of a music manager can vary widely in the industry. From pitching music to labels or even handling your music publishing, the goal of a music manager is that they support you and your career, and are willing to go to bat for you whenever possible. That being said, hiring a music manager isn’t always the right choice for an artist or band when first starting out in their career. 

When you’re putting together a team, it’s important to know the responsibilities they each entail, such as basics like knowing what a manager does and doesn’t do, before you consider working with one. In this article, we’ll break down the role of a manager, when it’s right to work with a manager, and some common contracts and deals you might see when signing with one.

What is an Artist or Music Manager and what do they do? 

A manager’s role, in the broadest terms, is to excel the career of the artist or band on the business side of the music industry. A good manager will handle tasks such as, but certainly not limited to:

  • Financials
  • Making and maintaining important connections
  • Securing signings and placements
  • Acting as touring agents 
  • Advising on all music business matters

Dan Rutman, who works as a music manager as well as the label head for Solitaire Recordings, says that being a music manager is really about filling in the gaps. It’s pivotal to understand the strengths and weaknesses of the artist, and it’s also important to be ready to do other roles. Dan goes on to say “If your artist doesn’t have a publisher or a booking agent, you need to become that person”. 

On a day-to-day basis, a manager can be planning marketing strategies, acting as the point-of-contact for all inquiries about their clients, and actively engaging others such as industry professionals, bloggers, or fans, to get their artists’ music out there. A manager can be an extremely valuable asset to any artist, as long as they’re willing to work hard and maintain important industry connections.

When should I get a manager? 

A lot of artists and bands tend to want managers early in their career, and this is because people often associate having managers with instant success. However, this isn’t always the case. A manager’s role is to help artists or bands reach their creative goals, allowing them to focus on what they do best, while ensuring the logistical and business goals are well cared for. If you can’t focus directly on your creative aspirations, it might be time to look into getting a manager.

Fabbiene Leys, a manager at the Atom Factory, says “Your manager is essentially the CEO of your business. Therefore it only makes sense to have a manager when there is business to be managed.” If you’re just starting your career out, maybe it’s not time for you to add a manager to the team yet. You may want to work towards establishing yourself more and wait until you feel that you need one. Dan Rutman recommends trying to manage yourself first to get a better understanding of the role. That way, you’ll be able to get a good idea of what you can do and what you’ll be expecting from a manager, when you’re ready.

You should also feel a strong connection with your manager. This is someone you’ll be working closely with for, potentially, a long period of time. Don’t sign up to work with someone who’s going to handle such an important aspect of your life if you don’t feel like you’ll get along with them.

I am a new Music Manager, where should I start? 

For those of you that lean more towards becoming a music manager, rather than needing one, you have the unique advantage of supporting local creators in your community while also building out your own personal network of connections. This won’t be an easy job, but the rewards can be fulfilling if you’re willing to put in the work.

Kenny Hamilton and Malita the Mogul, two music managers that joined Songtrust for a discussion about music manager roles, had a lot of recommendations on where to get started. One first-step suggestion was that a manager should form a business entity for each of their clients to assist with financial organization and taxes. The next general steps that every music manager should ensure their clients are on top of include:

  1. Distribution - Make sure your clients have finished their songs, had any relevant split discussions, and chosen a distributor to release their songs.
  2. Society Affiliation - Make sure your clients are affiliated with their local collection society, such as ASCAP or BMI in the US, and that you’ve recorded all their information in a secure place.
  3. Music Publishing - Distribution is key and the royalties you earn from the master recording will be seen much faster than those earned off the composition, but they are nevertheless important. Make sure that you and your client have discussed the publishing options available to them and that they’re properly registering their songs for composition royalty collection. This is key for long-term income.
  4. Additional Revenue - Make sure that your client is set up for royalty collection with all the appropriate organizations, such as SoundExchange for digital performance royalties. If they have lyrics, make sure their lyrics are released on platforms such as LyricFind. 

Another great place to start is by working your connections and talking with other managers. Learn from their experiences -- the good and the bad -- to determine your own process. If you need additional guidance, download our Managers Checklist.

Common Manager Deals 

When considering a deal with a manager, as with any deal, we encourage you to have a lawyer, one who’s well-versed with the music industry, to take a look at it before signing. Because you’ll be working so closely with this person for the foreseeable future, it’s important to make sure the contract is fair and each side is happy with the agreement. Here are some common parts of a contract that you might see:

Sunset Agreements

This is common in management deals. It outlines that a manager will receive income from the artist for deals that were made during the time the manager and artist worked together.

Standard Cuts

A typical deal can be between 15-20% of income going to the manager. This encompasses any income generated by the artist through their music, including brand sponsorships related to music, publishing income, and touring revenue.

Duration

Make sure to pay attention to how long the duration of your agreement is, as well as the details for contract renewal. 

Pro-bono Work

Sometimes agreements between artists and managers will have something like a ‘trial phase’ where a manager works for an artist without income for a short period of time. This will basically allow each party to see what it’s like to work with each other, without any strings attached. These pro-bono arrangements usually last about three months.

Building Out Your Team 

If you take away anything from this article, let it be that the decision to build out your team, for example by adding a music manager, is an important decision that shouldn’t be taken lightly. 

Whether you’re thinking about working with a close friend as a manager or if you’re approached by a manager, it’s important to ensure there’s a clear understanding about responsibilities, profit splits, and most importantly—career goals. A manager can make or break a career, and it’s vital that you have a solid working relationship with them. Ultimately, this is your career and you have to do what’s best for your future.

If you're new to music publishing or are a manager looking for a publishing option for your clients, reach out to our team at contact@songtrust.com.

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