Have you ever caught yourself thinking: “Oh I’d love to have an artist manager who takes care of all the bullshit so I can only focus on the music”? Well, you’re not alone. Having a music management firm sounds like the solution to all of your problems.
In this episode, I’m going to show you why that’s one of the biggest misconceptions in our industry and what you should focus on instead. After analyzing the problematic mindset behind this, I will present you with a healthier way to think about this. At the end of the episode, you will get specific action steps that you can implement right away.
Why having a music manager will hurt your career at this stage
“[…] Someone who handles the day to day business dealings on behalf of an artist or band. The artist is in charge of creating the art and usually has an overall vision for the project, but it’s the managers’ job to take that vision, map out a viable plan, and execute it.”
Doesn’t sound too bad, does it? Now let’s look at this a bit closer. Usually, an artist manager takes a 15-25% cut on all of your profits. So how many “day to day business dealings” do you have to justify hiring a manager? To be more precise: Would any manager even care about the amount of revenue you’re creating right now?
A manager usually comes into play when an artist is gaining so much momentum that he or she can’t keep up with the pace. At this point, hiring an artist management firm makes a lot of sense. “Managing” means problem-solving first of all. The next step is building trust and creating a strategy that takes the artist to the next level.
The real problem isn’t the money, but the skills and experiences you’re missing out on
There’s a very steep learning curve involved in building an artist career. Some of the most valuable skills are:
- Developing a vision and clear, measurable goals that take you there
- Building trust and real relationships with key figures in the scene
- Understanding contracts and negotiations
These are obviously things that you would expect an artist manager to take care of for you (or better: with you). But how can you judge the quality of their work without having experienced these types of issues first hand?
Telling the sheep from the wolves
Artists have a long legacy of blindly trusting the advice of music managers. Many got burned (you might know a few horror stories yourself). This is sad because it harms the credibility of all the good management companies out there. Actually, most artist managers are doing incredible work. But how can an upcoming artist tell the sheep from the wolves in sheep’s clothing?
If you’re not already gaining serious traction with your music career, there’s very little chance of working with a great manager. Yes, there are probably people who want to work with you, but it’s quite likely that you’re dealing with impostors here. Pseudo-managers who do this besides their day job but without an impressive artist roster to back up their big mouth.
But what to do when you actually need management advice?
Let’s imagine you’re getting offered a record deal by a well-known underground label. You’ve been educating yourself quite a lot about contracts and negotiations, but you really don’t want to screw this up. Wouldn’t it be great to have a manager in this situation?
Yes, it would. But you’re most likely still not in need of one.
This brings me to a route that I’m suggesting to 95% of my clients. I think it bridges the gap between committing to a manager and managing yourself.
The solution: DIY-management with professional support
In some situations (like the example above), the do-it-yourself approach might hurt your career big time. When it comes to long-term artist development contracts and negotiations, you will not be at eye level with the other side (being the label A&R).
Here it makes sense to involve professional help, i.e. involving a music lawyer.
Specialized music lawyers are a blessing in these situations. In other cases (e.g. vision development or branding), you might involve other specialists like music PR consultants, designers, etc. The combination of DIY flexibility and professional support in critical phases of your career is the way to go, in my opinion.
This way, you’re learning the critical skills while not sacrificing professionalism when it comes to important milestones in your career. When you’re truly gaining momentum, you can still decide whether you want to work with an artist manager or if you simply keep expanding your professional support network.
Here are some examples of what you can outsource to specialists (all of the following should have a strong portfolio of working in your genre!):
- Contracts & deal negotiation: Lawyer
- Branding & image development: PR agent/ brand consultant
- Touring: Tour manager
- Booking: Booking agent
- Money-related issues and taxes: Accountant
- Website & social content support: Music journalist or copywriter
The advantage of outsourcing responsibilities of an artist manager
One of the major advantages here is that you’re not bound to a long-term contract. Instead, you’re paying a specific fee for a specific set of skills and expertise (just like outsourcing mixing and mastering work). It might still hurt your wallet, but hey, making the dumbest mistake in an artist contract with a label might hurt way more in the end.
It’s also easier to switch service providers. If your booking agent starts to bring in fewer shows in worse venues every year, you might want to rethink your working relationship. Since these types of contracts are usually more short-term based, you can pretty easily decide to work with someone else. With a traditional artist management company, you’re usually bound for several years and with significant restrictions.
How do you know when you actually need an artist manager?
Especially within your first three to five years, it’s good to experiment on your own, find your artist identity, and create a vision. If you’ve reached a certain level of success and gained some experience, you can probably benefit from an artist manager being your sparring partner. If there’s a great fit between you, this can level-up your artist profile big time.
Here are some clear signs that you’re ready for an artist manager:
- Touring and releasing music already covers all of your professional expenses plus more than 50% of your personal ones
- You’re regularly dealing with music lawyers, booking agents, and label A&Rs on your own
- You have a clear vision and you can tell me your 1-year, 3-year, and 5-year goals if I wake you up at 3 a.m. in the morning
- You notice that you spend too much time linking the dots between your outsourced services
- You feel that you’ve hit a glass ceiling that you can’t break through on your own
Does that sound like you? Congratulations. Hit me up for a coffee and I might be able to put you in touch with some people.
Dispelling the myth of “building artists from the ground up”
This is one of my favorite myth bust moves. Inexperienced artists keep telling me that they’re looking for an artist manager that “builds them from the ground up”, meaning: Investing years of time and money in order to hopefully build a career.
Yes, this has happened. In the absolute mainstream pop territory in an age where CDs (remember what that is?) were selling like hot waffles. But if I ask you to name one artist in YOUR niche where this has happened (and you have proof that it went this way), do you have an answer for me?
Any successful music manager would watch an artist’s path closely and get a feel for you before investing in anything. They want to know how you’re dealing with failure, if you manage to build a fan base on your own, and if you have your shit together when things start to get real busy.
Putting it into action: How to be your own artist manager without getting overwhelmed
Now let’s come to the implementation part. You’ve probably accepted by now that you’re not yet ready for professional music management support. Still, you feel that you need some external help to reach your goals more quickly.
Here are some concrete action steps for you:
1. Make a list of all the tasks (besides creating music and playing shows) that affect your music career. For example:
- Negotiating with show promoters in cities you’re playing in
- Creating posters for a self-organized local showcase
- Writing invoices and organizing taxes
2. Identify the 20% of critical tasks that are causing you 80% of the frustration currently. Write them down and check if you can
- Eliminate them (“is it really that important?”)
- Automate them (“is there some cheap or free software that can take this off my shoulders?”)
- Outsource them (“is it something worth handing over to a specialist?”)
3. Identify the 20% of critical tasks that determine 80% of your future success. Write them down and check if you can
- Outsource them to a specialist that helps you multiply your results (especially PR, booking, and legal support come to mind)
- Find out how you can give that 20 % a more prominent role in your workweek (“what can I sacrifice to make this a priority?”)
If you need help finding out what that is, I’m offering limited seats on a 1 on 1 coaching program. Book your slot here and I’ll help you take the next step.
So what are you going to outsource and what is going to be a priority in your career from now on? Let me know in the comments! I read everything.