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Hiring a Manager as a Musician: Everything You Need to Know

Hiring a good manager is one of the biggest decisions that an artist can make. The right manager can take your career to the next level and give you more time to focus on your music. Unfortunately, there are thousands of managers who will happily rob you blind and drive your career straight into the ground. 

 

Before you hire, it’s extremely important that you know what to look for in a manager. Here are some tips to help you find the manager that will be most beneficial to your career.

The Role of a Manager

In the past, the job of a musician’s manager was simply to connect the artist with a record label and manage all of the artist’s dealings with said label.

Sadly, times have changed, and music is much less profitable than it used to be. As such, managers today have to take on a whole new slew of responsibilities.

A modern manager will handle your social media presence and networking, seek out placements for your music in media (such as film, movies, commercials), and secure sponsorships for you. 

Managers are still responsible for potential connections with record labels; however, in this day and age, securing a record deal is extremely difficult, and securing a fair deal is even harder. As such, your manager may very well take on the role of your record label. In this case, they will secure funding for all of your projects, either through investors or crowdfunding.

They will also be responsible for distribution, marketing, and all of the other roles traditionally taken on by labels.

Am I Ready for a Manager?

Hiring a manager is a huge investment. Rushing into a deal with a manager can be fatal to an artist’s career. Before you proceed, you have to be absolutely certain that you are ready to work with a manager. But how do you know you’re ready?

  • You’re Dedicated to Music

There’s nothing wrong with playing music for fun, or even to make a little bit of money on the side. However, when you hire a manager, you’re taking your career to the next level. You have to be ready for grueling tours, repetitive interviews, business negotiations, and more. You can’t expect instant superstardom. You’re going to have a long, tough grind ahead of you. If you are not prepared to deal with all of the struggles of being a professional musician, then a manager won’t do you any good. 

  • You’ve Established a Sound

Your manager will need to know exactly what your sound is in order to find your audience and successfully market you to them. If you are still experimenting and finding yourself musically, you are not ready to hire a manager just yet. 

  • You’ve Built a Following

Before your manager markets you on a national or international scale, you need to build a strong local following. This shows that your music is marketable and it gives your manager a strong starting point for building your career. If you don’t have a decent local following, perform at some local events to gain interest. 

  • You’re Making a Profit

Nowadays, it’s increasingly hard to make money off of music. As such, potential managers aren’t going to expect you to be bringing in big bucks right away. However, if you are spending more than you are making, no manager will touch you with a ten foot pole. Before you look for a manager, make sure that you can at least make a profit off of your music, even if it is only marginal. 

Necessity of a Manager

Just a couple of decades ago, management was an essential part of every artist’s career. However, with the advent of the internet, anyone can distribute and market their own music with relative ease. Therefore, managers are no longer mandatory for launching a successful career as a musician. 

As such, modern musicians are asking themselves a new question: Do I even need a manager? Managers are expensive, and a bad deal can ruin an artist’s career. Management deals can also limit the artist’s creative control.

Managers are still extremely valuable for boosting an artist’s career. Managers often provide valuable connections that most artists do not have. They also take a massive workload off of the artist and give them more time to focus on the creative side of their music. 

Ultimately, the decision of whether or not to hire a manager comes down to personal choice. The majority of artists will greatly benefit from a management deal. However, if you have the connections, the time, and the patience, it is absolutely possible to be your own manager and launch a highly successful career.

Conduct a Job Interview

Your music is a business, and you are the boss. Your potential manager is applying for a job that you are offering, and therefore they should be interviewed and vetted just like they would at any other job. Schedule a call or a meeting and get to know your potential hire, and don’t be afraid to really grill them. Some important questions to ask include:

  • What connections can you offer us?

Make sure your candidate is well connected. A good manager should have a long list of contacts from various media outlets and venues. Make sure that their contacts are valuable to you specifically and that they frequently work with well established artists within your genre. No matter how popular they are within the music industry, if they aren’t connected to your genre, they are useless to you.

  • What other artists have you worked with before?

Your manager should be able to provide a list of the other artists on their roster. Don’t be afraid to contact these artists and use them as references. Again, make sure their genre is similar to your own and look at what connections your candidate has made for them. If they have less presence or a smaller following than your own, this manager is not right for you. 

  • Why do you want to work with us?

Your hire should be a genuine fan of your music. If they only see you as a potential cash cow, they’re going to focus on money over your career and your well-being every time, and your relationship will not be mutually beneficial. Find out why your candidate is drawn to your music specifically and what makes them think they can take you all the way.

  • How much do you want to be paid?

Perhaps the most important question is pricing. Most managers will ask for a percentage of your earnings. That way, if they do their job right, their earnings will increase with your own. Some managers may ask for a minimum salary but be wary of managers who ask for an advance fee. 

Your manager should never be earning more than you or any of your bandmates. A manager’s average rate is anywhere between 10-25% of what you make, but if you’re just getting started you can expect it to fall on the higher end of that range. 

  • What is your plan for the next 6 months?

When you hire a manager, they should already have an immediate plan for you. They should be able to tell you exactly what their vision is for you, where they’re going to market you, what audience they will target, and what connections they will make for you. Don’t accept any vague promises of fortune and fame; know exactly what you are paying for before you consider hiring. 

It Goes Both Ways

While your manager is your employee, you still have to present yourself professionally and convince your potential manager that you are a well-organized business that they want to work for. Be friendly with your candidate but maintain a professional tone and be prepared for them to ask you just as many questions as you ask them.

Managers will often want information about your previous sales and the current size of your following, so make sure you have all of the relevant data prepared. Your manager will also want to know about any upcoming releases, concerts, merch lines, etc. that you have scheduled, as well as your overall vision for the future of your music and your personal goals.

Signing a Contract

You always want to see a manager's contract the first time you meet them. However, you never want to sign the contract on your first meeting. Take your time to read the contract carefully. If there is a single line that you don’t understand, ask a lawyer to review the contract and advise you. Even if you think you understand everything, seeking legal counsel is never a bad idea. 

Every contract is going to have its own unique quirks, but you should at least know what to expect from the most important clauses:

  • Time Frame

Manager’s contracts can last anywhere between 2-5 years. However, for an initial contract, you can request a “trial period” with a contract that only lasts for 3-6 months. This is fairly common, and you should be wary of any manager who pressures you to start with a long term contract.

Once this trial period is up, you can decide if you are satisfied with the results that they have produced. If you are, you can consider a longer contract. 

Not every contract has a single set time period. Some contracts will be automatically extended if the manager reaches a certain milestone: for example, a 2 year contract may state that if you earn $75,000 while working with the manager, your contract will be extended for another year.

Other contracts may be based on the number of album cycles completed. Never commit to one manager for more than 2 album cycles or 5 years, no matter how much you trust them. You never know what can change over that time period. 

  • Pricing

As mentioned previously, your manager will want anywhere between 10-25% of your earnings. However, you have to make sure your manager is only collecting funds that they had a direct hand in earning. For example, if your manager books a tour, they should get part of the profits from ticket sales and merch sales on that tour. However, they should never be collecting money directly out of your songwriting proceeds. 

  • Spending Limits

Aside from your manager’s salary, they will also accrue a certain amount of expenses from things like travel fees and phone bills. Your contract should put a reasonable limit on the amount of money that can go towards these extraneous fees. You should also require your manager to obtain written consent from you on any purchases over a certain value. 

 

Most importantly, these extraneous fees should come out of the total earnings, not just yours. This means that a manager who is earning 15% of your profits has to pay for 15% percent of their extraneous fees. 

  • Creative Control

When you sign on a manager, they will gain control of your creative decisions. No one wants to give up control of their work, but your manager needs to have this control to make sure that you don't publish anything that is too obscene or off-brand so that you remain marketable.

While you can’t stop a manager from taking final creative control, you can ensure that your manager doesn’t abuse their power to publish something without your approval by requiring your written consent before anything is released in your name. If you have the right manager, their vision should be in line with yours, so giving up creative control shouldn’t lead to too much conflict. If it does, you need a new manager.

  • Dedication

As a smaller artist, your manager will probably not be exclusive. This means they’re dividing their time between several artists, and chances are that at least some of them pay better than you. As such, your contract needs to provide assurance that your manager will not ignore you in favor of his higher paying clients. 

The contract should guarantee that certain duties will be fulfilled, such as booking tours of reasonable size and obtaining a certain number of features in the press. 

  • Localization

In most cases, the majority of your managers contacts will be within your own country. Your manager will probably not be able to help as much with tours or promotions that take place overseas. As such, you should make sure your contract only applies to deals within your own country.

If your manager does want to include other countries, be sure to discuss exactly what opportunities they can offer in those specific territories before you sign. Worldwide contracts can be practical once you’re at a much higher level, but if you’re a smaller artist it will probably only hinder your growth in the long run.

  • Termination

Both the artist and the manager should have the ability to terminate the contract should either party not fulfill their end of the deal. Make sure that the terms for termination are clearly defined and that you can avoid circumstances that would result in your manager filing for early termination. 

At the same time, you need to make sure that you can also terminate if the manager doesn’t uphold their end. Most contracts will require a certain fee for early termination. Make sure that this fee is within reason. Each party should be contributing equally, and you don’t want to get stuck in a long contract with a lazy manager and no way out. 

  • Sunset Clause

A sunset clause allows a manager to continue to collect profits off of their work, even after their contract has come to a close. For example, if your manager helped you promote your last two records, they will continue to collect profits off of these records even if you choose to hire a different manager for your next album cycle. Most sunset clauses expire after 5 years or so, but the exact duration is up to you and your manager.

When reviewing the sunset clause, make sure that your manager is requesting a reasonable amount of commission and that it only lasts for a limited period of time. 

Take Your Time

Never, ever let a manager pressure you into signing a deal on the spot. Any professional manager will expect you to take time to examine the contract and think it over. If your candidate is trying to pressure you into signing off right away, this is a major red flag. 

 

Management contracts are a really big deal, so do not rush through the hiring process. Read your contract over as many times as you need. Compare the deal you are offered to other deals that the manager has taken, or if possible, to other deals that are offered to you. Don’t be afraid to shop around, consider your options, and take your time before you make a decision.

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