Lately, I've been caught up in an online music industry group regarding when the best time is for an act to join forces with a manager to further their career opportunities. There were a multitude of opinions about this topic from a variety of industry managers and marketing people. It's a great topic, worthy of discussion.
Something to think about when you read further, is the level and type of management. Management companies have exploded onto the scene in the last 10 years, but not all are the same. Just like music artists, there are both indie and major league managers. Some manage everything, others focus on specific career objectives.
The music industry continues to change rapidly. These changes are beginning to usher in a new dynamic involving manager/artist relationships and the services they offer.
So, let's get started. The two primary schools of thought on the right time for a manager.
1) In The Beginning There were a few who took that stance that an act needs a manager immediately. Their rationale was that a band or vocalist just starting out typically doesn't have the contacts or knowledge to impact their advancement. They need all the help they can get to stand out. Tough for me to argue with that one. As an advocate for musicians, I know first hand how tough it is.
This presents an interesting scenario for both the artist and the manager - a Catch 22 of sorts. The budding artist could use the valuable direction and contacts from an established manager, however they are not making enough income for a manager to take notice.
A manager may very well acknowledge the raw talent of a new artist (I know you're thinking "well - just wait until they hear me!") but would be taking a huge investment of time to see anything come to fruition within 6 months to a year. Simply put, an artist or act needs to have something happening (a fan base is a given) to be enticing for a manager to give a nod. They need something to market!
So, to anyone one of you who are starting out and seeking a manager to get to the next level; here is the typical scenario. A manager has little to no income coming in when trying to establish a new act. Managers work on commission. Unless they have major contacts and the band has tremendous appeal and promise, they will be spending countless hours trying to find and create opportunities to expand.
For a band, it's great to find someone who would advocate for their success, but reality sets in, and the manager is putting in their hard earned time with no guarantee of getting paid - at least over a period of time. Historically, managers didn't touch artists at this level, but that is beginning to change.
2) When Your Focus Becomes more about the "Business" of Music When an act is at this stage, it can be a good thing, or a bad thing. Good if you are playing 100 dates a year, have a CD released and a rabid fan base who loves your music. Bad if you are in a great band with an under-developed fan base and spinning your wheels playing in wrong markets and missing out on opportunities that could save you a year of headaches. Either way, your focus is not where it really should be - your craft!
The good news is that at this point, managers are typically more accessible. They can be a tremendous help on the promotional front and create more performance opportunities. They can help you outline your objectives and goals into a doable plan.
The thing here, is that artists at this level need to be able to step back and realize that they have to relinquish some control to move ahead. If you are an artist who is focusing far too much on business and not enough on music, it's time to let go of the reigns and search for a good manager to help you out. It's essential if you want to get ahead.
My Thoughts and Recommendations For those of you just starting out: If you are serious, I recommend artist development. In the beginning, artists are forced into DIY because of the Catch 22 scenario I spoke of earlier. DIY is fine to a point, but most artists starting out are misinformed and lack experience to get their careers moving in the right direction. Some artists take 5 years of learning the hard way, when they could have cut that time in half if they had someone working with them.
Artist development includes a menu of options depending upon the needs of the artist. It could mean helping the artist create a marketing plan, finding the right songs, advising in recruitment of band members, promotional strategy, you name it (I've often wondered who coaches some of these Idol contestants in regard to the songs they perform. Some of the choices are just terrible). Some specialize and others are limited in their scope. I've been on both of sides (musician and business) and that often seems to help.
Artist consultants such as myself, are typically fee-based; meaning they require payment for their services, rather than commission. Some people in artist development (especially producers) may require commission on future potential earnings related to compositions if something hits. It all varies dependent upon the services provided and what is negotiated.
Something I'm starting to see are artist managers charging a monthly rate to manage an act starting out until they can make something happen, and then get commission on the activities that produce revenue. By charging a small monthly rate, the manager can then afford to take on, say a smaller scale act to cover expenses. The music business is changing!
For those established acts: Doing it yourself will only take you so far, and ultimately, you will suffer at this stage if you don't find a reputable manager to handle your business. I know of many acts who have done a phenomenal job on their own, but could be advancing faster if they focused on a creating a team to move to that next level.
Of course, you want to be particular about who you choose to be your manager. And trust me, a reputable manager will be particular as well. What bands in your area or region have managers? Out of those bands, which bands are really making headway with their careers and fan base? Connect with these bands (MySpace, Facebook and other social media) and inquire about their management and what they have been doing to impact their careers.
The thing I'm getting at here is to not just do the "open up the yellow pages and point" approach. Research who you feel would fit your band the best in terms of management and go after them. This will work better for you than a random approach. Trust me when I say, that reputable managers want artists who know how to communicate their vision and goals concisely.
Please note that managers with major league rosters (major label recording acts) are not usually accessible through the unsolicited approach. Typically, the only way to get on the inside is to know someone who has relationships with those managers. Managers of this caliber usually only manage "signed" acts but can definitely be influential in getting an act signed.
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Hugh Hession - the creator of makingitinmusic.net - has been a part of the music industry for more than 20 years as a performer, session player, producer, keyboardist, vocalist, composer and artist manager. His songs have been published and recorded by a variety of recording artists, in addition to composing for television and corporate projects.
In 1996, Hugh started Rubicon Entertainment; a regional publicity and management company where he successfully promoted the careers of many bands and recording artists. He is currently an entertainment expert on Justanswer.com, specializing in the music business and writes for examiner.com.
Hugh still actively performs and is currently working on a new original project at Shadow Sound Studio in Macon, Georgia. He has a bachelor's in Marketing. While he's not doing music, he is working out (a big fan of P90X), playing soccer or hanging out with the family.