Who to trust and who to blame
So you’re an artist, you’ve recorded an album, played a bunch of live shows and things are really looking up for you. Perhaps there are some record labels coyly sniffing around and showing interest. But who should you gather around you to make sure everything goes your way? Of course you can try to do everything yourself, but let’s face it: sometimes you can’t do everything yourself, it’s simply too much. This is why it’s important to gather a team around you. Let’s take a look at the most common roles found in an artist’s team, but first let’s take a look at how to choose someone for your team.
How to choose who should join the party
Organizing a team around you as an artist is quite like choosing who you want on your soccer team. Remember when you were a kid? Just like back then, simply because someone is really good that doesn’t mean you should have them on your team. Not only are skill levels important for each player, but the chemistry between all the players is very important as well.
Of course, the goalie won’t have much to do with the leading attacker, but the players who often and closely interact on the field should have good chemistry between them. And just like a soccer team, the players in your team who interact often and closely should have good energy together. The further apart they are within the organization the less important this energy is.
This will be the core of your team handling all of the business and financial aspects of your career. They also think along strategically and help you plan your career. You could see this team as the office jockeys, so to say.
Ah yes, the manager. In recent years, it has become difficult to pin down exactly what a manager does. Back in the ’60s and ’70s people like Peter Grant swaggered around the industry with their (proverbial) baseball bats ensuring their artists got good deals, made enough money and that the right people were hired. Nowaways, there’s so little money in the industry often managers have to take on tasks that would have required several people in the past. We’ll delve into what managers do a little more in a separate blog post, but the main task is the strategic and operational planning, creating and protecting a vision for an artist and conducting negotiations.
This role differs a little depending on where you are in the world. In the UK and the US, lawyers negotiate deals and advises an artist on quite a lot of business matters. In Europe (or the Netherlands for that matter) lawyers are mainly used to advise on contracts and double-check them. Of course, when you’re playing in the bigger leagues lawyers will start to fulfill a bigger role but there definitely is a degree of cultural difference.
I was always told that a good accountant makes you money, and boy, is that true. Not only can they help you with all your paperwork, they can also advise you on how to spend, save and increase your money. It might be one of the most boring business aspects, but it can be enormously beneficial if done the right way.
So of course it’s great to have some office folk working for you from 9 to 5 on weekdays, but for all your live shows and tours you are going to need some different partners: a little less 9 to 5 and a little less suit-and-tie. This is all about your live crew.
Your tour manager is going to be one of the most important people on the road with you. They will schedule the tour, make sure everyone’s in the right place, at the right time. They also want and need to make sure everyone is having fun and that morale stays high. Collecting money from promoters is also necessary and they need to take care of every single problem that arises on tour. Touring is a tough life, which is why all tour managers are cut from the same kind of wood: flexible, fast thinkers and practically minded.
The person responsible for your live sound, easily as important as one of the musicians on stage. They have the power to make or break a show. Treat your sound technician respectfully and not only will they make sure you sound even more amazing, night after night, they also might actually teach you some things regarding sound. Like what microphone to use or not, how to position certain instruments, and so on.
Light engineers are often present on a little more higher profile tours. They are, sadly enough, often not considered necessary for the lower-tier tours. Which is a shame because a good light tech can make you look amazing after you already sound amazing. Imagine how much better all those Instagram stories would be if you were well lit.
Often a friend of the band, this person is responsible for slinging merch at the shows. Especially in the beginning, this is often done by the artists themselves. But as you get higher up it’s important to get someone good. If they perform well they can make you a lot of extra money and they will have earned their keep on the tour. Merch people often work for a flat rate per day plus an additional percentage of the sales each night after a threshold has been reached. So you can bet on it they’ll work hard every night.
Alright alright, so you have your business affairs in order, the shows are sounding and looking great on the road, but you still need a team for inside the studio. You know, to actually write and record the music that everything is built around.
One of the pivotal figures in a studio session – I could probably dedicate a whole blog post to producers as well. The main takeaway is that producers are responsible for getting the maximum creative output from an artist. Sometimes this means improving their sound, sometimes it means changing the song structure a bit, and sometimes it means setting the right mood so the artists are as free as possible to lay down their magic.
The job of the mixer is to actually make sense of the 137 tracks you recorded and morphing this into one coherent track. A good mix can elevate your album or song from good to godly.
The finishing touch, so to say. A mixer makes the song sound good and the master makes sure the song sounds good everywhere.
Often you won’t be able to play all the instruments that you want or need yourself (unless you’re Kevin Parker). Therefore it’s good to have a regular network of hired guns. These are musicians who come in to record for a flat payment.
If you can’t write your own songs, you will definitely need some help from songwriters. And even if you can write your own songs, it doesn’t always hurt to go over a song with someone fresh to spice things up a little. Of course, don’t forget to share the appropriate credits and take care of your splits.
So you’ve got your core business team, a wonderful squad for on the road, and an amazing gang producing hits in the studio. But of course you also need partners within the industry. A little disclaimer, as with the team members before, it is possible to do everything yourself and independently. It just takes a lot more time and energy.
Simply put, this is the person responsible for getting you shows. Of course they also take care of pre-production, advancing, financial settlements and the general routing of your tours. A good booking agent will also think strategically about what places you should and shouldn’t play in different stages of your career. A good agent can change the entire course of your career since getting key slots on festivals and support tours can change everything for you.
Publishers work with copyrights. So if you’re a songwriter you can sign to a publisher. They are responsible for maximizing the revenue generated from your copyrights. This could be through double checking PROs, syncing your music in a commercial, or pitching a song you wrote to a big recording artist. Here you can read more about the kinds of deals available and what they do exactly.
And then of course there are the record labels. Traditionally, they would pay for the recording of your record, manufacture and distribute it, and of course promote it. Nowadays, they mainly focus on promoting new and established artists, and in my opinion this is – and should be – a giant marketing machine. It can be very useful if you are having succes and you want to elevate it to the next level. But beware: signing early to a label can also flatline your career.
Next to all these established roles, there are some more roles that don’t specifically fit into one category or are simply not that common. Nevertheless, they can of course always add value so be sure to check them out and decide if you want or need the following roles in your team.
Sync agents overlap with publishers, but only slightly. Unlike publishers, who also focus on other areas, sync agents only try to get syncs. Their catalogue is often much smaller because of this and also very specific. It’s filled with songs they think they can place. There are loads of different deals to close with sync agents. Some work on a contingency fee basis, for others you need to sign away the publishing rights of the track they are interested in. In the end they make the most money if they place your song, so if they are enthusiastic about your song you can bet they are hustling for you.
This role is very late 2010s. Basically it boils down to someone who has extensive and specific knowledge about running online advertisements, how to create the most engagement, and how to leverage all of that into measurable profits. I can highly recommend working with someone like this if your music lends itself for online advertising. (Although there’s a niche and a scene for every kind of music!)
Similar to the digital marketeer, as they operate within the digital realm, data analysts take all of your data, analyze it and… And then what? Well, a good analyst can turn that analysis into a profitable plan. This may include which cities to tour, what kind of merch to produce, how to promote your next single, or even simply what kind of content to post. If you work with a data analyst all your decisions can be made based on data instead of guesswork.
Hopefully this list has given you an idea of who you may want on your team and what they should do. Every artist’s career needs a custom team, so it’s impossible to give a general template, but at least with all these roles you can start exploring.
Did I miss anyone? Let me know in the comments or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and correct me all you want.