“So what do you do? Do you book shows for artists?” That is by far one of the most common things I hear at birthdays and parties when I tell people I’m an artist manager. But what exactly does an artist manager do? In the past I have always just mumbled something along the lines of ‘I work with musicians’ but now I can just refer them to this article. However, while writing this article I found out that all managers are different and not one follows a set template to manage artists.
The always ubiquitous manager. There’s the stereotypical image of the manager lowly skulking in the shadows on the side of the stage (not in least thanks to managers such as imported Dutchie Colonel Tom Parker) simply robbing an artist of all their money, but then there are also managers like Brian Epstein or Peter Grant who did everything and more for their artists, and quite literally lived for their artists. But what exactly does an artist manager do? The examples above are outliers of course, so let’s dive in.
Basically a manager’s activities can be classified into three categories. Strategy, operations and finances. We’ll delve a little more into each category below. It’s important to keep in mind that the bigger the artists’ career and operations become, also the more people are often involved, and the tasks described below will often be handled by a whole team at top tier level.
This may be considered a manager’s biggest job. It doesn’t matter whether a manager is small or big, this will always be the main core of their activities. It is the manager’s job to set out a ‘road map’ for the artist. Where are we now and where are we going, and what do we need to do to get there? Some people set five-year goals or plans, but you definitely need at least a one-year plan, preferably a two-year plan. The most effective managers have also been the managers that have had the most vision. So think of Peter Grant setting up a label for Led Zeppelin, or Ty Stiklorius doing the same with John Legend. Not only did they take care of all the urgent matters, but they also looked ahead. Think of it as a game of chess, a manager needs to know what the desired result is in the long term so they can make the right moves right now. And of course they need to respond and adapt their plan as they go along the way.
Of course one of the main reasons why you would work with a manager is because of their network. They supposedly know everyone and are well-connected within the industry. This means that they can easily reach out to whoever is needed at the moment and they can help the artist collect a team around them. Because of their network, these managers will also be presented with opportunities and chances for their clients that other managers won’t get.
Building a team
It’s up to the manager to scout out the team. First of all, they’ll need to take a look at the plan they’ve made with the artist and based on that they should decide what kind of partners they’ll need. It’s up to the manager to reach out to all relevant parties and set up a collaboration (if both sides agree to work together). Of course, the manager might not know everyone that is needed, so part of their set of skills is acquiring new relevant network. If you want to know more about the team around an artist check out this article. It’s important to note that once the team has been set up, it’s also up to the manager to control this team and make sure everyone is working towards the same goals. And, unfortunately, it’s also up to the manager to correct team members who aren’t performing well or to even terminate collaborations. Not always an easy gig.
In addition, strategy managers should also help with operational tasks. Depending on the manager and the management style, this can differ from an ‘eagle-eyed’ perspective (no-hands) to being involved with day-to-day business (on-hands). It’s important to choose a manager whose management style fits you well and feels comfortable to you. The general rule is that the more experienced (and older) a manager is the less on-hands they are, so choose wisely.
Operational business can be divided into the following categories:
There is a bit of a divide here. In some countries only lawyers read and negotiate contracts (with the artist’s approval, of course) and in some countries it’s a mix between lawyers and artists. And in some instances it’s only the managers who read and negotiate the contracts (in conjunction with the artist). It’s always good to have a lawyer at least do a final check before signing anything. Either way, almost all managers should have a basic understanding of music law and how contracts work. They should be able to negotiate for you, and most importantly they should be able to tell you what a good deal is, how the deal offered is rated, and what it means to an artist in the short and long term.
Some managers help their artists with social media. This can be as little as suggesting a tone of voice to a full fledged team including content calendar and content creators. It really depends on the artist, the manager and what the needs of the artist are. The bigger the management company, the bigger the chances are that they have a social media employee or even a whole team. At the end of the day it’s best if the artist is highly involved with their own social media since it needs to be as sincere and authentic as possible.
And then there are loads of business items that need to be cared for on a daily basis. This may involve simple matters such as emailing files to the appropriate partner or making sure the metadata of the newest release is in order and correct. This is a really supportive role and often younger managers tend to fill this role quite well.
Officially not a manager’s duty, and yet especially with growing artists, it’s a manager’s duty anyway. As artists need someone to look out for them on a business front, they also need someone to look out for them on the road. As soon as it’s feasible it’s important for the manager to delegate this to a dedicated tour manager so the manager can focus on bigger picture matters. A manager who’s on the road is less effective than a manager who’s at the office. Younger managers can often be found on the road nonetheless. Just remember, a manager in his office is busy making you money, while a manager on the road is just road managing you.
A big part of a manager’s role is to manage revenue and discover and exploit new revenue streams. It’s an important aspect, since an artist’s livelihood pretty much depends on it. At the same time, there can be a possible conflict of interest, since the manager is dependent on the artists’ income. Let’s dig into that a little deeper.
So how does a manager actually make money? Let’s take a look at the numbers. Often managers will get a percentage, usually between 10%-20% of all earnings. Some will calculate net earnings, others will calculate this percentage on gross earnings. The rule of thumb is that net earning percentages are higher than gross earning percentages. It’s important to define what ‘net’ is for everyone. After all, the relevant costs are the common agreement, but what can be relevant? Was that bottle of Grey Goose vodka in the studio relevant? Not really, but it did contribute to the creative process in its own way – or not. Therefore, definition is crucial.
The more experienced and higher tier managers will also charge a flat fee besides their percentage. This will still drive them to chase the best deals, but it will also give them the stability so they can pay their overhead costs. In some cases it would make sense to negotiate their percentage down a bit.
Of course, managers take their cut out of all revenue streams (see it as a 360 degree deal). It can be argued that because of the manager’s hard work all revenue streams are increasing, but would be good to discuss this with your manager. Should they get paid for jobs that you arrange yourself? Again, definition is crucial.
And then of course there’s the situation in which a manager becomes an investor/shareholder of the artist’s company, or perhaps they start a label together. Either way, in that case the manager is wholly invested. It would be wise to only enter these agreements if there’s a good and strong relationship already in place. No longer will it be a client-freelancer relationship, but it will become a 50/50 business partner relationship (or a different percentage depending on what you agree to). These collaborations are long-term only.
Hopefully this article has given you a brief overview of what a manager does and what the expectations can be towards both sides. Are you talking to a manager about a possible collaboration? Always ask around the industry to get an idea of who this person is, and if possible, ask any old acts that he has worked with. How did it go, why did the collaboration stop, and was this person worth the money?
Did I miss anything? Let me know in the comments or email me at email@example.com and correct me all you want.