3 things to look for in a music manager (and how to sign to an agent and become a successful artist)

3 things to look for in a music manager (and how to sign to an agent and become a successful artist)

A music manager and music booking agency are two of the most important relationships an artist will have in their career. While a record label is vital in providing the resources needed to gain exposure and sell music, a manager and agent will be your partners – fighting for your interests at all times.

I’ve been both a manager and agent at the highest levels in my career. Here I reference my experience to help artists find the best manager and agency.

Securing the right representatives is crucial to the success of an artist.

Today’s managers and agencies have taken on many additional roles such as brand partnership, film/tv licensing, marketing, and business development. This is a result of record label budget cuts and a changing music landscape focused more on live performance, merchandising and ancillary revenue streams as music sales have declined.

Managers

When describing what a music manger does, I like to use a corporate analogy. Imagine that the band or artist is the board of directors. They have ultimate deciding power and represent the interests of shareholders (we’ll call fans shareholders in this example).

The manager is the CEO of the company. He or she is responsible for running the business, but forever accountable to the board of directors (the artist). As CEO, the manager oversees all business units. For an artist, that includes touring, recordings, merchandise, marketing, legal, accounting, and publicity.

Agents

Music agents are generally licensed to “procure employment for artists.” In contrast, managers can be anyone with knowledge and connections (or neither) in the industry. At the core, music agents book concerts and tours for artists. These days, the top agencies provide many more services.

What to look for in a manager

  1. Established Relationships. A manager can be crucial in developing an artist in the early stages and often the one who makes the initial introductions to record labels. There are some managers who focus on discovering and developing new talent, and others who are focused on career development for established artists. For a new artist, picking the right representative is VERY important and often it is better to have no representation than the wrong representation.
    A good manger for new artists is someone with current, relevant and working relationships in the music industry. Because of the rapidly changing environment, someone who worked with a hit artist 15 years ago might have great stories, but if they haven’t done anything recently it’s likely their relationships are far out of date.
  2. Vision. Developing trust in a new relationship takes time. It’s often like dating. You will feel each other out for a period before committing to a long-term relationship. A good manager will be confident in his/her abilities to provide value to an artist that they will likely start working before ever bringing up a contract.
  3. Great Communication. It’s important that artists view their relationship with managers and agents as a PARTNERSHIP. It is extremely difficult to break a new artist. It takes time, experimentation and luck. A good artist/representative relationship will always be an open and transparent two-way street. Communicate everything. Your representative is not in place just to go out and find opportunities. They are also in place to provide an expert opinion and handle incoming opportunities.

How to find a music manager

How does an artist find the right manager and agency? Similar to securing a record deal, finding a manager and agency comes down to creating amazing music and building a fanbase. If you haven’t noticed yet, I will continue to come back to the importance of making the best music possible.

There are artists with large online followings who can’t get noticed because they have average or bad music. A great team and label will give an artist the right opportunities to build a fanbase. The artist needs to have the goods though.

How music managers discover new talent

Managers, similar to label A&R reps, scout for the next hot artists. If they are good, and the artist is great….they will find you before you find them. I’ll use the dating analogy again. Managers like to pursue an artist, they will value the relationship more than if an artist is banging down their door. As an artist, if you have some relationships in the industry, ask for guidance and opinions, not help. If you demonstrate a willingness to accept feedback and work with others, people will be more open to helping you.

How to get agency representation

Agencies are a bit different. The most powerful agencies in the business focus on overall brand building and not just booking concerts. The top agencies are staffed to find opportunities for their clients in many diverse business categories.

Signing to a major agency usually happens after signing with a manager and label. An artist needs to have at least a modest fanbase and some released music for an agency to truly add fuel to the fire. A top agency will build a team of professionals around an artist. Some smaller agencies still use the “one agent” model where one agent is responsible for everything.

This is how a music agency works

The initial focus of an agency is to build a live touring strategy for the artist. It’s crucial to have the right team in place. Country music artists require a very different strategy than a deep house DJ. After developing the strategy in conjunction with the artist and manager, an agency will utilize territory and specialty agents to execute the plan across the globe. Securing opening slots on larger tours can be pivotal opportunities to the development of a new artist. Generally, the larger the agency the more access a new artist will have to these opportunities.

Agencies also work with artists on a territory basis. It is not uncommon for an artist to have one agency for North America and a different one for the rest of the world. It comes down to the comfort level of an artist and manager in the strengths of a given agency in certain territories. Another factor to consider is that if one agency works with an artist around the entire globe, that agency will often dedicate the highest level of resources to those clients.

This is what you should remember…

A great artist/manager/agency relationship is one of mutual trust, passion and communication. The more open and consistent the flow of information the better the results will be. It’s as simple as that.

In the early stages artists will need to hustle themselves. Even when first signing with a manager the artist will need to continue to work hard. Don’t expect a new manager to make magic happen overnight.

A successful manager and agency relationship will last for many years, sometimes decades.

Life is short. Work with people you like and have fun throughout the process!

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