Why, when, and how to build a team for your music career

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Illustration: Lan Truong

Not everyone will tell you this, but many of the greatest long-term success stories you hear about in the music industry took a village.

You can define success on your own terms and by your own standards. It most certainly doesn’t (and perhaps shouldn’t) be defined entirely by financial goals, as we’ve discussed before. There’s money to be made in music, but the hustle will run you ragged if you’re not also pursuing it for something of more value than money. To what end are you hustling for? If you’re not being creatively satisfied, having fun, or working with people you enjoy, there are easier ways to earn a living.

No matter how you define success, you can only do so much in a day, week, month, or year. We all have limits on our time and energy, and then there are the mental, emotional, and physical effects of stress when we take on too much. Ultimately, it often takes delegating to grow a sustainable and healthy career. Below, we walk through the benefits of working with a team as an artist, when and who to hire, and how to spot red flags or fruitful opportunities along the way.

Why and when to hire your business team as a musician

As a talent manager, I prefer to work with artists who feel like they’ve pushed their careers as far as they can on their own, and ones who want to grow financially. I personally only get paid if the artist gets paid a minimum amount that we agree on together, making it a mutual investment. This isn’t true for all managers; the terms of your deal are something to consider.

I invest my time, brain space, and energy because I believe in the artists, their music, and their drive. I know that together, we can reach a certain level of growth. But a woman’s gotta pay rent—I need to make a financial profit at some point. Unless it’s a side or pro bono project for me, I need to know that they’re willing to put in the work. I also need to believe in their music and them as an artist. Only then will I put in the work required.

Here are some signs that it’s time for you to hire some help, whether it’s a general role like an assistant or manager, or a specific role like a press agent or sync rep:

  1. You’re so busy with emails and admin that you don’t have enough time for your music.
  2. You want to book a tour and don’t know where to start.
  3. You have a record ready but don’t know how or where to release it.
  4. You’re in negotiation with a label or publisher and are unsure about the contract.
  5. You know there are opportunities to license your music to TV, film, games, but don’t know how to reach music supervisors and other decision-makers.
  6. You know there are sponsorship opportunities available as well, and don’t know what they are or where to begin.

There are many more reasons to start building a team. In general, working with other people offers:

  • expertise in a specific field.
  • connections and relationships that take years to develop—this is the biggie.
  • time to work on your art—the other biggie.
  • time for your ‘day job’ that might pay you far more than you’re paying these folks.
  • an outsider’s perspective—someone to dream and brainstorm with.
  • someone to put action to your goals and dreams.
  • organization via streamlined systems and processes.

TL;DR

Why should you start hiring team members? Because you’re serious about playing more shows, growing and engaging your fans, releasing more music, making more music, or finding new ways to monetize existing music.

When should you hire them? When the above is true, and when you find that people are buying your music or tickets to see you perform—when there’s clear and definite interest in your music and you’re motivated to keep going.

Who to hire first when building your team

As with many things, who you should hire first will depend on your goals, priorities, and specific situation.

General management and a partner in the big picture

My artists have worked with other people in the past for their various projects. They hired a manager because they needed someone to work on the bigger picture with them and help them assemble the rest of their team. They wanted a fresh start.

It gets overwhelming thinking about all the different pieces that need to come together to produce a record, prepare a release, tour, play festivals, pursue sync opportunities, and all of those combined (and not to mention, making the music). A manager will project-manage those pieces, hire the right people, and guide you through decisions big and small. Other team members they might hire are producers, PR agents, booking agents, sync reps, music video teams, and recording engineers.

In my experience, it has also been helpful for my clients to have someone to navigate the COVID world with them. Together, we’ve decided when to cancel shows or tours, as well as when not to. My job is mostly to support them in their decisions and to encourage putting the health and safety of themselves and others first. Fortunately for me, we’re aligned on that. We brainstorm ways they can fill that time and lost income, whether it’s writing music, working on their website, press materials, bios, collaborating, practicing, recording, organizing past material for an archival or demo release, etc.

My other responsibilities include pitching their music to record labels, negotiating deals and contract terms, submitting artists to music festivals, pitching them as supporting acts on bigger tours, and planning special events. This will look different for every manager. In terms of a manager’s duties, I think most of us are making it up as we go—I know I am. I’m there as a support in my clients’ growth and dreams, and that looks different every day.

For more on hiring a manager, check out our previous article here.

Admin assistant and marketing coordinator

Some artists need administrative and / or marketing assistance more than anything—someone to field correspondence, manage their budget and accounting, pay royalties to collaborators, mail and manage merch, digitally distribute music, advance shows (negotiate and receive payment), and so forth. Other activities that overlap with marketing are newsletter and social media management, updating your website / e-commerce store, etc.

A bigger artist may have a right-hand person who does it all for them. On a more emerging or developing level, a manager might take this on, or you might hire a paid intern or part-time assistant. That is when it gets to be too much to do yourself.

This position is a real chicken-or-egg scenario. Maybe you need to delegate to grow your music career. Or, perhaps you’ve grown to the point that you don’t have time to do everything yourself, and you have enough music-related income to pay someone to help.

Be wary of going into debt for this type of thing. It’s one thing to put a modest order of LPs or CDs on a credit card with faith that you’ll make that money back. It’s another to spend money you don’t have (plus interest) without knowing if and when you’ll pay it back.

Generating awareness

If you have the admin / organizational side of your business under control, feel good about managing your own projects, and have seen growing interest in your music, it could be time to hire someone to create buzz and grow your fan base further. As with everything in music, there are several approaches to this, and they all kind of work together.

You can hire a public relations person to get your story and music talked about in publications, podcasts, or TV. Or, perhaps you can work alongside a radio promoter to get your music placed on the radio. You can hire a social media manager to post to your channels, respond to people, and grow your following, or a marketing generalist who’ll manage your website, newsletter, social media, and any paid advertising, if that’s something worth pursuing.

Talk to other artists in your area about what’s worked for them. Think about where you’ve seen the most engagement thus far and where you imagine your fans being. How are people buying your music? Where are they learning about your shows? Invest your money in those places to start, and then you can branch out to other areas using what you’ve learned.

Pursuing new opportunities

Seeking new and interesting business opportunities beyond standard marketing, PR, radio promotion, and licensing will typically fall under a manager’s umbrella. If you have all of that covered on your own, maybe it’s time to work with someone who’ll focus on areas you wouldn’t have thought of or don’t know how to approach.

One area is sponsorships. Gear companies sometimes provide free equipment to artists and producers to use on stage or in videos. You can also get paid as a content contributor appearing in these brands’ YouTube tutorials or commercials. There are other TV / streaming appearances that are paid as well.

There are also sponsored take-away sessions that are income and promo opportunities like Vans Sidestripe Sessions, YETI Presents, Jim Beam Welcome Sessions via La Blogotheque, and independent ones such as Jam in the Van.

Other out-of-the-box opportunities an expert can help with include building brand partnerships, partnering with organizations like Redbull Music Academy, and seeking funding opportunities such as grants.

Indie record labels

If you sign to a label, especially at the indie level, they’ll likely handle a lot of the management functions for you, such as building the rest of your team. They’ll often hire a PR rep to do press for the release they’ve licensed and manage the marketing campaign. More and more labels are working with a third-party sync rep for licensing opportunities.

It’s important to remember that they’ll take a percentage of licensing deals and that internal marketing efforts as well as any third parties they work with are recouped costs. Meaning, they’ll pay themselves and third parties back from the sales / royalties of your masters before they split net profits with you.

The benefit is that you don’t have to spend time hiring and managing people. However, it’s worth doing some math before signing a contract to determine if there’s a profit to be made. Contracts are a huge topic worthy of their own article, but for starters, consider adding that you get final approval of expected expenses before they’re incurred, even if it’s just an outline.

How and where to recruit your team members

Not everyone would suggest working with friends, but I personally think that’s a great place to start when building your music business team if they have the skills and drive to make things happen.

No matter who you work with, I suggest starting out with a pilot project—a short-term endeavor with measurable results. Even if you don’t “succeed” in the end, you’ll get an idea of how you work together and if your styles and visions are aligned. You can either grow slowly after that or dive into the deep end.

If friends aren’t an option, ask your network of fellow artists and producers who they’ve worked with. Get on the phone with these people, or better yet, meet them for a walk or coffee. When it comes to a manager, I suggest spending some time with them before agreeing to work together.

Other roles like PR or radio promotion are a bit more cut-and-dry and are less likely to need an in-person meeting. You can look at their portfolios and placed work to see what they’ve accomplished for whom. Does it seem like they have contacts at the media outlets your potential fans visit? If you know someone who has worked with them, ask about their experience.

Spending your hard-earned cash on services can feel like an emotional commitment, and separating emotions from finance, although advisable, is easier said than done. Tread lightly and ensure you feel good about working with someone before committing to a long-term exclusive relationship.

Parting thoughts on hiring your music biz team

The music industry is not an easy place to work. I’d be wary of anyone promising you the moon and more. It’s great to work with people who are enthusiastic and confident, but do a reality check by asking seasoned professionals what feels feasible and see if expectations align.

I think finding people who are at a similar level as you can make the experience more fun. My artists and I know that we’re growing together in tandem, and it’s exciting for us; we are each other’s cheerleaders.

When I’m hiring agencies for them, such as booking agents, the size of the company does matter. I don’t want them to get lost among a huge roster of big artists. I also don’t want them to work with a small company that will treat them like workhorses because they’re relying on that income. I’m looking at mid-sized boutique agencies with a roster of 10 – 20 artists because I feel they’ll get the right amount of attention.

All that to say, there are a lot of things to consider. Talk to your music friends, read articles, listen to podcasts, and most importantly, listen to your gut feeling. You’ll know who and what feels right.


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January 18, 2022

Shannon Byrne Shannon Lee Byrne is a freelance writer focused on the music industry, creativity, entrepreneurship, culture, and mental health. She's also a copywriter, marketing strategist, and podcaster.