The role of a manager varies widely within the music industry. From pitching music to labels to handling your music publishing, the goal of a music manager is to support you and your career, and 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 at the start of their career. When you’re putting together a team, it’s important to recognize the responsibilities a manager has — what they do and don’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 one, 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?
In broadcast terms, a manager’s role is to represent 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:
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 with industry professionals, bloggers, and fans to get their artists’ music out there. A manager can be an extremely valuable asset 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. This is because people often associate having managers with instant success. This isn’t always the case, however. 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, maybe it’s not time to add a manager to the team yet. You may want to work towards establishing yourself more and wait until you feel that you actually 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 a long period of time potentially. 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 who lean more towards becoming a manager than needing one, you have the unique advantage of supporting local creators in your community while also building 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:
Distribution - Make sure your clients have finished their songs, had any relevant split discussions, and chosen a distributor to release their songs.
Society Affiliation - Make sure your clients are affiliated with their local collection society, such as ASCAP or BMI in the U.S., and that you’ve recorded all their information in a secure place.
Music Publishing - Distribution is key and the royalties you earn from the recording will be seen much faster than those earned off the composition, but they are important nonetheless. 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 earning long-term income.
Additional Revenue - Make sure your client is set up for royalty collection with all the appropriate organizations for digital performance royalties, such as SoundExchange. If they have lyrics, make sure they are available on such platforms 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.
Common Manager Deals
As with any other deal, we encourage you to have a lawyer when considering a deal with a manager — one who’s well-versed with the music industry. Since you’ll be working 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:
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.
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.
Make sure to pay attention to how long the duration of your agreement is, as well as the details for contract renewal.
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 allow each party to see what it’s like to work with one 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 and add a music manager shouldn’t be taken lightly. Whether you’re thinking about working with a close friend or considering an offer from an outside manager, it’s important to ensure there’s a clear understanding of 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.