Finding the right management for your music is no easy task. Talk to anyone that has dealt with managers and you’ll soon find out that it’s like finding a new member for your band –and we all know how difficult that can be. So here are some pointers that will point you in the right direction.
Are You Ready For A Manager?
It’s a strange question to ask since it’s fair to say that almost any musician is ready to have a helping hand, but are you really ready to bring a manager on board? There is no single correct answer to this since every case is drastically different. Here are some questions you should be asking yourself to determine if you are ready:
- Are you ready to start splitting your money?
- Do you just need a helping hand?
- Are you open to hearing and actually listening to someone else’s opinion?
For a lot of indie musicians, money is already rare enough, so the thought of divvying it up any more is just absurd. You have to remember that this is the manager’s job, so they have to make money as well. You should be expecting to see them asking for 10-20% commission. We’ll get into this more later though.
If you just need a helping hand doing the boring and mundane, and don’t really need anyone who is extremely knowledgeable about music business, you may want to consider alternatives. If you just need someone to go to shows and pass out flyers for you, then you might be better off hiring a friend or someone on Craigslist. However, if you need someone to help with the business aspect, then a manager is definitely the direction you’ll be heading in.
Musicians are notorious for being very stubborn and not wanting to listen to anyone. For a lot of us, it’s hard enough to just deal with the band member egos. Not everyone is ready to listen to someone who is all business. A good manager doesn’t just tell you what you want to hear. You need to be ready and willing to listen to someone who will give you the harsh truth about everything you do. If you can’t put your ego aside, then you’re not going to accomplish much with a manager.
Depending on where you are at in your career, your manager will have a very different job. You’ll want to make sure that whoever you pick is ready to handle your career where it is at and help push you even further. To do that, you will need to be honest with where you are at in your career. Lying to yourself won’t do anything but hurt you.
If you find that you are fairly early in your career, then there’s a good chance you don’t have much money or reputation. In this case, you would be hard pressed to find a famous manager who would want to work with you. That doesn’t mean that finding a manager is going to be impossible though. There are A LOT of managers out there that like to get in on the ground floor.
At this point in your career, a manager can do a lot to really shape who you will become. There’s also a good chance that they will know the ins and outs of the music business better than you. That means that you need to really get to know the person before you start signing anything. Make sure they have the same goals as you. If you are a metal band and all they are talking about is making sure you write pop songs, then they probably aren’t the right person for the job. They need to understand who you are, and who you want to become. You should always be honest and clear about your goals and intentions. If you ever feel that you can’t be honest with the person, then they won’t work as your manager.
Another option is to bring a friend on board. Just keep in mind that you want to choose the right friend. They need to LOVE your music. They need to work hard. They need to be able to communicate well. They need to be professional and treat it as a job, not a fun side-gig. If you do go this route, there’s a good chance that they’ll be learning the ropes right along with you. You’ll have to be patient and really work together. At the same time, you need to make sure not to take advantage of them. If they are actually going to work hard, then you need to make sure you are compensating them. Have some contracts written that really define what everyone’s job is. That way you can prevent any friendship-destroying arguments from happening.
If you have already built yourself a bit of a name, then you really need someone to help push your career forward. At this point, your potential manager needs to be able to offer you proof that they can do the job. Here are some questions you’ll want ask them:
- Who else have they managed?
- Where are those artists now?
- What do they expect in compensation?
- What is their game plan?
- Are they currently managing anyone else? If so, would there be any possible conflict of interests between you and any of the other acts?
The correct answer to each question is purely dependent on you. No two musicians are going to require the same thing from their manager. Just like in the beginning stages, you need to be honest with yourself, and each other. Make sure your goals align with one another. And again, don’t rush signing any contract. You need to have a lawyer pick the contract apart for you. You also need to make sure that the contract clearly states what is required on both your parts. If the contract doesn’t cover something, then they probably aren’t planning on doing it.
At this point you can also begin to judge them based on how well connected they are. The better connected they are, the more options and opportunities they are going to be able to provide you. It won’t be easy to assess a quality like this, but the easiest way is just to follow up with people where you can. If they said that they use to manage a fairly well known band, see if you can find anything online that connects their names. Or if you can, try to get in touch with some of the members of the bands they have dealt with before. Their experience will be priceless.
Sometimes you’ll run into someone who is very pushy about having you sign the contract. If they aren’t willing to let you really look it over and take the contract to a lawyer, then RUN! You’ll be happy you did. You should ALWAYS make sure to have a lawyer look over the contract before you sign. Some management contracts are very sneaky. A lawyer is good at being able to break it down for you and helping you understand what is really being said.
You are going to want to be as specific with the contract as possible. Both parties want to ensure that they have documentation of what is expected from either side. Some topics you will want to cover are:
- How long the management agreement is for.
- How much the manager is to be paid and from what sources. Do they get a percent or a flat fee?
- The duties each party is responsible for. Don’t just assume that either side understands what they are supposed to be doing.
- How to terminate the contract.
- What constitutes a breach of contract
- Meeting times. You want to make sure that you set a mandatory meeting on a regular basis.
Managers generally get paid in one of two ways. They either take a cut of the money just like a band member, or they work on a flat fee. Both have their good and bad.
Taking A Cut
Most managers will be looking to take a cut. It can definitely work in your favor, though. If they aren’t doing their job and helping you earn money, they don’t get paid either. It’s common to see their percent in the range of 10-20%. The big question you need to be asking is whether they are getting a percent of gross or net income.
It’s fairly common to see the manager taking a percent of the gross income, but that doesn’t mean it stings any less. Let’s say you make an agreement that the manager gets 15% of the gross income. Now let’s say you play a gig that pays $1,000. That means your manager will get $150 and you get $850. Not bad, right? Wrong! You have to pay any and all expenses incurred by playing that gig. Let’s say that between printing flyers, gas, and gear rental you spend $500. That means that you now have only $350. If you have 5 members, that means $70/person. And if costs somehow exceed your budget and you spend $900, then you are in the hole $50 while your manager still makes $150.
If your manager takes a percent of the net income on the other hand, then the numbers work better in your favor. Again, let’s say you got paid $1,000 and had to spend $500 on expenses. That nets you $500. Your manager will receive $75, and each of the 5 members will receive $85. And if you had the extra expenses that total to $900, then the numbers would break down to $15 for your manager and $17 for each member. Obviously this encourages your manager to make sure to keep costs down and keep the profits high.
Do keep in mind that the likelihood of you convincing the manager to switch from a percent of the gross to the net without giving them a higher percent is going to be very low. But think about it, even if you were to bump them up to 20% of the net from 15% of the gross, you would still be saving money. On $500 net, the manager would be making $100, and each member will make $80. In the case of the $900 expenses, your manager would make $20, and each member would make $16. Either way, you are still making more than if they take 15% of the gross income.
Paying a flat fee to your manager can make for a prickly situation. If you aren’t making any money, the concept of paying someone a set amount regardless of if they make you more money or not is just awful. On the other hand, if their work does indeed start making you more money, there is no incentive for them to work extra hard to make you more.
As you can see, the big issue with paying a flat fee is making sure the manager is earning their keep. You’ll want to make sure that the manager is the kind of person that you really trust to constantly work their hardest. That’s not always an easy task when there is no extra incentive for them!
A manager should be the primary contact for all business related matters. They should also be someone who can act in your place and on your behalf. Essentially they will be taking on matters that you would otherwise have to deal with yourself. You’ll always want them to work WITH you, but they should be able to work without you breathing down their neck in order to get things done. As time goes on, you’ll start to find out exactly how the work is delegated, but to get you started, the manager should be responsible for:
- Booking and organizing all performances
- Helping coordinate any recording sessions. This includes finding a producer, the engineer, the right studio, any hired guns, album artwork, recording budget, travel, etc.
- Assist with any recording, publishing, touring, and merchandising agreements
- Build and maintain a marketing campaign and budget
- Be willing and ready to advise you on any and all career decisions and matters
- Help establish an image and name
- Keep everything organized and on track
Again, you may need all, some, or none of those qualities in a manager. Always make sure that you pick the person that will do what you are looking for. These are just common responsibilities for a manager.
It’s hard to do, but if I had to sum up how to best choose a manager, I would suggest finding a person who is passionate about your music and believes that there is a future for you. But be cautious! Don’t buy into anyone who is just trying to feed your ego. They need to be brutally honest when it’s important and help you to constantly improve your craft. Finding someone who can do this and stay organized and professional can be quite a feat. Take your time. Give it the same consideration you would if you were looking for a new band mate.