Do you know what a music manager does? A
surprising number of musicians don’t really
understand what the job entails – and that’s a
problem. Remember what I said in the introduction.
You need to manage your own career effectively
before you can expect a manager to do it. When you
do get a manager, you’re going to paying that person
a significant percentage of your earnings, usually
between 15% and 20%. You wouldn’t pay an
employee that much without first making sure that
everyone involved had a clear understanding of what
they would do in return for that money. You must
apply that same skepticism to music management
and take the time to educate yourself about what to
I don’t want you to get the idea that music managers
are the bad guy in this scenario. The thing about being a music manager is that they do the work on
spec. They don’t get paid unless you get paid.
Managing a huge artist like Adele would certainly earn
any manager a nice income. Managing a struggling
band is a different story entirely. Whoever signs on as
your manager is going to be taking at least a bit of a
chance on you – and that means you have to be
willing to reciprocate.
What Is A Music Manager?
Let’s start by talking about what a music manager is.
A music manager (more broadly known as a talent
manager) is a business person who handles some or
all of the business aspects of a musician’s career. It
might be helpful to think of them as an administrative
manager in an office. A manager is the person who
takes care of the things that need to happen behind
the scenes so that you can write songs, record your
music, and go on the road. In other words, they take
certain tasks off your hands so that you can put your
full creative energy into doing what you love to do. The scope of a music manager’s job can vary greatly
depending on the stage of a client’s career. An
established musician who already has a record deal
will probably want a manager who helps them work
toward their goals, both in terms of sales (to keep the
record label happy) and musical development. They
can help musicians navigate the tricky waters of fame,
and assist them in getting over bumps in their careers.
When a manager signs a band that does not have a
record deal yet, their role tends to expand quite a bit.
In some cases, a music manager may have to wear
some or all of the following hats as they try to help
their clients get a deal and earn a living:
Promoter – getting the word out about the band,
and arranging for public appearances such as
talk shows and events Press agent – arranging for interviews, giving
quotes to the press, and handling press
Tour manager – arranging for transportation and
lodging, and making sure everything runs
smoothly when their client is on the road
Booking agent – booking gigs, tours, and even
private parties and events (note: in some states,
managers may need a license to book gigs)
Business manager – handling things like
accounting, taxes, and other financial and
Personal assistant – at times, a manager may
even have to do things like book haircuts and
pick up dry cleaning for their clients
As you can see, that’s actually quite a lot of
responsibility. The manager of an up-and-coming
band has a good incentive to push hard and wear all those hats. It’s what is required if they want their client
to sign a record deal and be successful. However, it’s
also a lot of work. You need to make a good match
with a manager for the relationship to function in a
healthy way. You’ll be spending a lot of time together.
Let’s go into a bit more detail about some of the things
that a manager might do to earn their commission.
Keep in mind that these are the things that you will
have to do as you self-manage your career. I know it
probably seems like a lot, but later I’ll give you some pointers on how to keep everything going without
dropping the ball on anything important.
For musicians, especially those who don’t have a big
record deal, the primary source of income is playing
gigs. Most journeyman musicians are on the road for
the majority of the year. They play small gigs, big gigs
– often any kind of gig they can get, even if it’s at a
Bar Mitzvah or wedding. They might not be making a
ton of money per gig, but they make up for it with
Booking gigs can entail everything from schmoozing
with club owners, to making cold calls, and even to
advertising to help book private gigs. A manager
might book a gig at a club, and then attend the gig so
they can arrange for the next one at the same venue.
Booking gigs is essential – and something you’re
going to have to do if you want to manage your own
career. As I noted above, in some states there may be licensing requirements, but if you’re booking your own
gigs you should be fine.
A related job is managing tours. Booking a gig is only
the first step in arranging a tour. When a band is on
the road, they need to deal with a ton of logistical
things that have to be arranged in advance. For
example, they need transportation, which may include
renting a bus or truck, booking plane tickets, and even
hiring a driver. They will need accommodations, which
means making hotel reservations. Depending on the
band and the size of the venue they are playing – and
how many people are on tour – they may also need
craft services and other on-site services.
Even a small tour – or a long tour played at small
venues – requires a ton of planning. If you don’t have
the wherewithal to hire a separate tour manager, the
chances are good that your regular manager will handle these things for you. Until you get one, you’ll
have to take care of it yourself.
It’s not enough just to book a gig – you have to put
butts in the seats if you want to make money. A
promoter is responsible for getting the word out about
your upcoming gigs. That might mean getting
someone to hand out flyers or hang posters, or talking
to local radio stations to get them to play your music
and promote the gig on the air.
Manage Your Online Presence
It would be very hard for any musician to make it
these days without a dedicated online presence. That
means that you need a great website with an online
store, an active and engaging social media presence,
a mailing list, and more. Your manager can play a big
part in helping you to build your fan base online. Your social media pages are important – and they
have to be fresh. That means posting new content
every day. You might be wrapped up in your music,
but a good manager can make sure that your fans
always have something new to check out on your
The traditional role of a manager might have changed,
but that doesn’t mean that the core of it isn’t still there.
When you have a manager, they can serve as a go-
between, helping to get record labels to consider
signing you and then negotiating deals as they are
offered. They can also do things like help you get your
music onto subscription services like Rhapsody and
Spotify, and listed for sale on iTunes. They can help
you get your CDs up for sale on Amazon’s site – and
your digital music too. It is in a manager’s best interest to help you earn as
much money as possible. Negotiating is a big part of
what they do. If you become very successful, you may
be able to afford hiring a separate promoter and tour
manager, and so on. In that case negotiating deals
may end up being one of the most significant parts of
your manager’s job.
Overall Career Management
Do you know where you want to go with your career?
Has it changed? Sometimes, musicians need a bit of
guidance when it comes to determining the best possible career path. Does it make sense to do an
entire CD of cover songs? Will you lose your fan base
if you suddenly make a country album?
When an artist decides to change course – even if it’s
just a small change – it can sometimes cause friction
with record labels and even fans. A good manager
can help you navigate those waters with the least
amount of hassle possible. If you pay any attention at
all, you known that disputes with record labels are far
from uncommon. Kelly Clarkson famously feuded with
her record label after they rejected her CD My
December as being too dark. Sometimes, a manager
can help artists walk the line between exploring and
growing musically and keeping a record label
satisfied. It’s a tricky thing to do, and having an
experienced manager in your corner could mean the
difference between success and failure.
As you can see, a manager’s job is an expansive one,
and at times difficult to define. If you’re feeling a bit
intimidated by trying to take all of these things on yourself, don’t worry. I’ll give you some tips to help
you do it in a way that won’t drive you crazy.
First, though, I want to take this opportunity to talk
about how to match up with a manager – and that’s
what we’ll cover in the next chapter.