As an artist, there is so much that needs to be done to have a successful career. It all starts with the music, but you need to have great marketing, great strategy and great branding to go along with the music to make sure you are getting as many people hearing your music and the best shows as possible. Doing all of this on your own can be an incredibly daunting task. That is why you build a team around you. We are here to provide some guidance on how to help build that team.
In the first part of our series, we will look at the core part of your team. These will be the people that you will likely first try and bring on. You will go from doing everything yourself, answering every email and making every phone call, to having people around you who will take most of that load off of your shoulders. You are the musician. Make music.
Having a good manager is possibly the most important part of the equation. When you are first starting out, they will do everything in business you don’t do. They will likely do PR (until you can afford a publicist), get you get collaborations, help you A&R your own songs and keep your career going in positive manner. This is not someone you can just pick up because they are your friend or relative. This needs to be someone you can trust and someone you know you can work with.
Getting the right manager is not easy. It is unlikely that you will go through your entire career with just one. You may start out with one manager; it doesn’t work out and then move onto another.
Watch out for initial red flags. If they try and sign you on for a predatory rate – above 20% of your earnings, walk away. The industry norm is anywhere between 10-20%, usually coming in right around 15%. The term limits of these agreements can be flexible, but they range from one year to three years.
If they want you to sign an agreement right away before you can read it, walk away. If you are just starting out and want to take a trial period of a few months where you want to have a gentleman’s agreement to honor a verbal agreement -- that is fine and normal. I always say that it isn’t real until it is in writing, but if both of you don’t have much experience; this could be a way to test the waters first. It also protects you in case it isn’t the right fit and you don’t have to unwind out of a written contract, which could be time consuming and potentially costly.
Your manager could be a well-established manager, or someone just starting out like you. If you are a new band looking for a manager, getting a well-established manager is probably a long shot.
There are no foolproof, one-size fits all approaches to getting your manager. That person should have a few skills though. They should have some connections in the music industry to start. They should be as driven and passionate about your music as you. If they have any doubts about you and your work, don’t bother. You will want someone you can trust and get honest feedback from. You won’t always make amazing music, and a good manager won’t be a yes-man. They want you to succeed in the long run, not just get a quick hit and then cash out. Don’t sit back and just coast as they do everything. Be involved and be active in your work. They are the connective tissue with your entire team and your closest ally. Pay attention and communicate with them often.
2. Booking Agent:
The person who will probably make you the most money in the long run, because who makes money selling records anymore? At first you will need to do the legwork to book your own shows, which will be critical to getting your own agent. So don’t think that getting a booking agent will solve all of your problems. They will still need to see something to sell in terms of a track record with some gigs, no matter how small, your social media following and streaming / sales numbers.
When looking for an agent, get to know agencies within your genre. If one of the bigger ones comes knocking (WME, CAA, Paradigm in the US), then definitely take that call. Having a more high-powered agent with bigger clients will give you more opportunities to open on big tours, they will be able to navigate the politics of festivals, radius clauses and push you to better venues earlier.
However, not everyone gets this opportunity. Look for smaller agencies that you can grow with and potentially outgrow. They may not have the clout of the bigger ones, but some accept submissions and if your music is strong, getting signed would be easier. Your agent and your manager should be talking quite a bit as they look to plan out tours or one-off shows. Your agent will generally take between 10-15% of your show earnings depending on how much they do.
As your career grows and you start to gain fans around the world, you will likely need more agents in different markets. You may have one main agent and then sub-agents that handle the bookings for Europe, South America, Africa, Asia & Australia. It can get even more granular than that, but be prepared to coordinate with multiple agents if you are being booked for festivals around the world or are coordinating a world tour.
Publicity is the cornerstone of how people find out about you. Their job is to get eyeballs and ears on your music. At the beginning, you will probably be hustling to make relationships with bloggers, editors and streaming services, but a publicist’s job will be to take that tedious job off of your hands so you can focus on making the music for them.
Publicists can vary wildly in price. Remember, generally you get what you pay for. If you are a small band, you may not be able to afford a major publicist who has connections with TV late shows and the top radio shows. Grow with smaller PR firms and that relationship can be mutually beneficial to both sides. If someone makes wild guarantees about a campaign, that should be a red flag, because sometimes promo doesn’t work out. Publicists can bust their ass for you and it still doesn’t work. The landscape is always changing and both of you have to be adaptable. At first you may ask your publicist to be your radio plugger and streaming service plugger, but these have become their own divisions within publicity. Obviously this is more expensive, but this can be useful now the line and we will discuss this later on.
If you sign to a label, your label may handle your entire PR or some of it. This is all part of your deal and doesn’t come free, so the more you give to the label, the more promo they will invest. They will have better connections, as outlets want to remain in good graces for the big acts on the label.
4. Label Rep:
Now you may never sign to a label (an increasingly popular route, but still not even close to the majority of what artists are doing), but if you do stick with a label, you will likely have one person who will be your main point of contact. They will help work with your A&R to get you sessions with writers, producers, engineers and all other parts of the music machine that will give you the most polished product you can give to the world. They will help set up meetings with executives, give you updates on marketing and be your hands on guide to what is going on with your music. Also they will badger you about deadlines.
There is so much that can go right or wrong with a label relationship. You want one where you feel supported and have the freedom to be creative, not one where you feel stifled and blocked at every turn. Signing as flexible a deal as you can and creating great music will help you stay on the right side of that relationship, but still things can go wrong. Always make sure this relationship is being fostered correctly because you don’t want to fall out of favor with your label and find your music being shelved indefinitely.
If you don’t have a label rep, then your main concern will be on promoting music yourself and have your publishing and distribution right, which we will focus on in the next segment.