What to know before hiring a manager for your music

There are very few things in the music industry that remain standard from artist to artist, including when and how to hire representation or management.

Most people working in the industry will say that you know when it’s time. But if you feel like you could use some guidance on this journey, we created a roadmap to help you decide whether or not you need a manager and what type of management is right for you and your career.

Why hire a manager?

A manager helps you navigate the industry and grow your business. That’s right, if you’re creating music for commercial use (i.e. trying to sell it in some capacity — album sales, tickets, syncs, scores, etc.), you and your music are a business. And like any other business, to grow, you’ll eventually need to delegate the things you’re not efficient or effective at (or don’t have time for) in order to focus on the core of your business: your art.

We detail the different types of managers and what they do below, but in a nutshell, they run your business (or an aspect of your business) so you can continue to experiment, create, and build other relationships.

People hire managers because they’re experienced and great at what they do, and because they can (ideally) accomplish a lot in a short amount of time. There may be things you can do (like booking shows or sending emails, for example), but a good manager will be efficient at these activities and likely not dread the process. They might even enjoy it.

Finally, managers will typically have existing relationships with record labels, publishers, booking agents, promoters, music supervisors, sync agents, PR people, engineers, producers, session musicians, etc. They can help connect you to the people who’ll help grow your career and business.

What a manager does

A manager’s job today is to look for, secure, and manage business, promotion, and press opportunities for you. As your business and career evolve, their role grows into hiring and managing the right people for those responsibilities — i.e. building your dream team.

A general artist’s manager can take on many different roles depending on your needs and at what point both you and them are at in your respective careers. Here’s an example catchall laundry list of what a manager can do:

  • Manage your business budget
  • Book tours or hire and manage booking agents
  • Manage logistics and receive payment for shows
  • Help find record labels and/or publishers and negotiate and manage the contracts
  • Pitch your music for sync opportunities or find a sync agent
  • Manage the logistics of recording projects (scheduling studio time, hiring session musicians, managing contracts, etc.)
  • Manage all media outlets including social media, newsletters, and public relations (or hire people to do so, then manage them)
  • If you don’t have a record label, manage music distribution including streaming and performing rights organizations
  • Manage all internal communications including delivering good or bad news for or to the artist
  • Hire attorneys if needed
  • Assist with career decisions such as what producer or engineer to work with, what songs to cut on an album, who to collaborate with, etc.

Depending on your relationship with your manager, they may even manage your calendar and help streamline your personal life, too.

There are different types of managers who specialize in specific areas as well. For example, a tour manager leads tour logistics including working with the venues on soundcheck times and ensuring the backline is set up, hospitality riders are fulfilled, and payment is received. They also often manage travel arrangements (like flights or train tickets) and/or driving the vehicle. It’s common for the tour manager to also own miscellaneous tasks like selling merch or taking show and road photos to later be used for promotions or even album art.

If you secure a record deal yourself, a label will often act as management by default, especially around promotional and press duties.

When to hire a manager

There’s no right way or order to finding help with your music business. Traditionally, managers came first. Today, some folks hire a PR agent first, others start with a sync agent, and many start with a record label if they can get a deal without the help of a manager.

If they didn’t hire someone at the get-go, an artist will typically hire a manager when they’re at a major growth moment in their career. In this scenario, they either have so much going on that they can’t manage it all themselves anymore, or are simply overwhelmed by all the moving parts.

Other times, an artist may not know where to start in building a business and need to hire help right out of the gate. Many experienced artists and managers say that it all comes down to intuition — that you’ll just know when it’s time.

If your goal is to continue to grow your career as an artist and seek out as many opportunities as possible — from album sales to touring to licensing/sync opportunities or original scores and beyond, consider hiring someone sooner than later to help get you organized and set up for success.

That said, many artists suggest doing as much as possible yourself, at least for a short while. That way, you can learn how it all works and have a better idea of what to look for in a manager. You’ll develop your own ethos around how things like promotions and tours should be managed. You’ll also build your own relationships and have authentic conversations with folks in the industry, which can be invaluable when developing a career. You may even meet your future manager by doing it yourself for a bit.

Where to find managers and what to look for

If you’re looking to hire an experienced music manager, the most effective way of finding one is to ask your friends and fellow artists who they’ve had positive experiences with. If you’re already on a label, the team there will likely have recommendations.

If none of those is an option for you, look up some of the artists who are a bit further in their career and research who their early managers were (or ask them directly). People are typically willing to share that type of information.

A common way of finding a manager for new artists is to hire a friend or someone they know. This person may not have a ton of experience in music management, but ideally they exhibit the skills needed to get the job done. Arguably, just as important is someone who shows excitement about your music and growing your career.

Regardless of experience level, this person should be well-organized, an amazing and timely communicator, direct, efficient, confident, strategic, able to think on their feet, and proficient at budgeting and negotiation. It’s a bonus if they’re also strong marketers and well connected in the industry, and an extra bonus if they’re likable and easy to be around.

In an article on Heroic Academy, Budi Voogt said, “In the higher tiers, managers work for agencies and sometimes for record labels. They tend to have bigger networks and more resources, but are more selective about the artists they work with. As a rule of thumb, you should assume that the higher up the chain you go, the more people will preselect for artists that are already making waves independently. Also, managers at big agencies tend to have more artists on their roster, resulting in less time spent on each individual act.”

Consider that food for thought as you’re looking for your first manager. Someone who’ll grow and learn with you — someone who truly believes in your art — may be the way to go when first starting out.

How much to pay your manager

A music manager typically earns 10%-20% of artist royalties. According to Andrew Stocker, who runs Ruination Record Co. and has managed and played in several bands, there are several options for management pay structure, but two common models are 10% gross vs. 15% net.

He explained, “For example, if a band were paid $5,000 for an appearance and netted $3,500 after paying out their agent and other team members, the payment for the former be $500 vs. $525 for the latter.” Some would say that a manager should only be paid when an artist is. In that case, a percentage of net revenues would be the way to go.

Many indie artists end up working with a manager without a contract because it’s usually a casual agreement between friends. However, we recommend always having a contract, even when the deal is with someone you know and trust.

Contracts can be defined by years or by album releases, as they would with a record label. A typical contract with a manager is about three years. However, we suggest including a clause that allows you to evaluate progress and how the relationship is going after six months or a year, giving both parties the option to cut ties without legal consequences.

Building a foundation for a successful relationship

It should go without saying that maintaining a healthy and honest relationship with your manager is crucial to running a growing, sustainable business. Open and clear communication is key. When looking for a manager, take your time. Really get to know anyone you’re considering working with before signing any contracts. If you know the person well personally, try working together on a small project like a single release to ensure you work well together.

If you don’t know the person well, prepare lots of thoughtful questions when you meet with them and consider asking them if you can talk with past clients. Or reach out to them anyway. Do your research, ask round and follow your intuition. If something doesn’t feel right, don’t do it.

Do you have questions about finding a manager? Leave them in the comments below.

November 25, 2019

Shannon Byrne Shannon Byrne is the founder and host of The Process podcast, an interview series exploring the process of survival as a creative. She's also the brand writer at Splice.