By Bobby Borg
A manager can help an artist formulate goals and create a strategic plan. An artist looks to a manager to be a motivator, counselor, confidant, diplomat, and day-to-day business person. The right personal manager can mean success beyond ones wildest imagination but with the wrong personal manager, the results can be devastating.
Before seeking out and hiring a manager, it’s important to understand the various types of management options available to you. We’ll address three of the most common scenarios: self-management, start-up management, and established professional management.
When your act is at the point where you are getting positive press, opportunities to play bigger and better live gigs, and a body of fans asking when you’re releasing your next recording, it might be time to look for a personal manager to help bump your career to the next level.
A manager can help an artist formulate goals and create a strategic plan. An artist looks to a manager to be a motivator, counselor, confidant, diplomat, and day-to-day business person. The right personal manager can mean success beyond one’s wildest imagination — but with the wrong personal manager, the results can be devastating. Needless to say, choosing a personal manager may be one of the most important career decisions that you can make.
Before seeking out and hiring a manager, it’s important to understand the various types of management options available to you. We’ll address three of the most common scenarios: self-management, start-up management by an individual attempting to break into the music business, and established professional management.
Good management begins with the artist. Too often musicians believe the solution to their problems is finding some third-party person to magically whisk them up from rehearsal room to super-stardom. It’s true that an experienced manager can make good things happen, and sometimes quickly, but a manager cannot be an excuse for laziness.
First you must seriously ask yourself if there’s anything you can be doing yourself, like:
- Have you written a large repertoire of songs and developed them to the best of your ability?
- Have you recorded your songs? Are you selling your own CDs at live performances and over the Internet? Are you tracking your sales?
- Are you booking your own shows and doing everything you can to promote them?
- Are you building a strong fan base and getting fans excited about your music?
- Are you stimulating interest in the press and over the Internet?
- Have you given serious thought to your career vision or goals and do you know exactly what you want to accomplish?
- Are all members of your band united in a common goal?
You must acquire a basic knowledge of the music business and devote some good old-fashioned hard work on your own before ever thinking about a getting a personal manager. Some artists have it so together that the first time a personal manager comes into play is after they’ve signed an agreement with a record company. But even then, an artist must continue to monitor his business and work together with their personal manager to build a successful career.
Perhaps you’ve reached a point in your career where the time spent running your business is inhibiting your creative development. Or maybe you’ve done everything you can to advance your career and can’t go any further without a helping hand. Perhaps finding a personal manager is the right solution. But the reality is most managers with any clout or won’t be interested in working with you until you’re a signed act or are close to being signed. These managers are simply too busy handling artists that bring them an immediate return on their investment of time.
There are always exceptions, but generally your first manager will likely be:
- A close friend who's willing to make phone calls and help promote shows without getting paid for the first few months or years. In fact, he may not even be called a "manager" at all, working with the understanding that as soon your career progresses, he will be replaced by an established professional and offered some other position in the band.
- A business person who's always dreamed of being in a band and has the desire to live those dreams through you, or an experienced musician who has got all the passion and drive needed to set you on course.
- A club owner who sees hundred of bands perform each year. This individual has a good idea of what works and what doesn't and is willing to offer you an objective point of view and career guidance.
- An intern or junior assistant of a professional manager by day who's looking to cut his teeth on managing his own band. He's got the advantage of having his boss for guidance and sees how a professional office is run.
These people all share one thing in common: they are relative newcomers to the management business. Start-up managers are usually young, aggressive, ambitious individuals who are willing to work their tails off for you. They’ll devote every minute of their day towards helping you reach your goals. They have business savvy, are good talkers, and are eager to learn. These traits are exactly what’s needed from a manager in the developmental stages of your career.
Take notice: the early stages of your career are when you have to be the most careful with picking a manager. A lot of wanna-bes will feel they can adequately manage your career, but despite their good intentions, they may end up costing you time and money due to their inexperience and lack of connections. There are managers in this business, and there are damagers. Watch out for the damagers.
Established Professional Management
Let’s say you have developed your career to the point where you’re creating a buzz in your hometown — you’re getting some press and college radio airplay, and perhaps record companies are beginning to ask about you. If this describes your act, your management options are going to be pretty wide open. Things are going to begin moving fast for you, and you’ll need an experienced pro to take the reins.
Managers are in business to make money just like anyone else. If you are in a position to make them money, there’s more reason to work with you. You’ve come a long way on your own, and unless your ego starts to expand drastically or you decide to start shooting drugs, you’ve already proved you have what it takes. The term “established professional management” covers a broad spectrum, but for the sake clarity here we’ll divide it into two distinct categories: “mid-level managers” and “big league managers.”
Mid-level managers may have a great deal of experience in the industry but have not quite broken a band to stardom. Maybe they have one client on their roster who sold 200,000 records, but they still don’t have a gold record hanging on the wall. These are the guys who are typically well-liked in the industry and are well-connected enough to open doors. They may be exactly what you need to get the record companies from just being interested in you to actually closing a deal.
Mid-level managers usually have a great understanding of the business and perhaps were even A&R representatives or marketing managers at a label before getting involved in the management business. They enjoy the entrepreneurial spirit and freedom provided by managing bands. The problem is they are not as powerful as someone like a big league manager and therefore it may take them longer to get things done.
Big league managers.
Big league managers are very well-connected in the industry. The relationships they’ve formed, the respect they’ve earned, and the favors they can trade give them the power to make things happen for you with just a few phone calls. These guys have been around for years and have lots of gold and platinum records hanging on their walls. They may even run a large firm and have a number of managers working under them. The clients these managers represent provide a number of touring opportunities for your band. In addition, these managers have established strong relationships with record companies over the years, and the labels are happy to have them representing you. If a big league manager is truly dedicated to making you a huge success, then it’s a pretty good bet that things are going to start moving fast for you.
Take note: you may not always get the attention you deserve from a big league manager. A manager who has been involved with a band from the very beginning has much more invested emotionally than someone who comes aboard later. These are typically the guys that will go down with the sinking ship before giving up. In the long run, this may be exactly what you may need.
Bobby Borg has over 25 years of experience in music. He is a graduate of Berklee College of Music in Boston with a BA in Professional Music, and the University of California in Los Angeles (UCLA) with a certificate in music business. Borg is the author of The Musician’s Handbook: A Practical Guide to Understanding the Music Business, published by Billboard books. He is also a staff writer for Music Biz magazine and a host of other online educational resources. Borg is the author of six self-published instructional method books for musicians, and has written educational articles for Modern Drummer.