One of the many questions we get asked at Prescription PR is this: how do I find a good music manager? Well, it’s not easy, but here are a few tips on finding a good manager, and just as importantly, establishing whether a particular candidate is the right fit for your band.
Where to look for a manager
Finding a professional working in your musical niche
The best manager for your band is arguably an experienced person managing a successful act that makes the same sort of noise as yours; an act that is operating squarely within your ‘niche’ and selling way more music than you. This kind of manager is most likely to have the right sort of label and live agency contacts that a band like yours needs to get things off the ground. With this in mind, it’s vital to get a good sense of what ‘niche’ you belong to, and to draw up a list of managers who operate within that niche. You can often find their details on the liner notes of their artists’ releases, or on the contact page of band websites; and resources like the Unsigned Guide, the Music Managers Forum, Music Week and Hitquarters can furnish you with further information about them (such as an all important email address).
By focusing on the key players within your genre instead of casting the net really wide, you can find the most effective candidates for the job of Svengali extraordinaire; not to mention minimise the time spent on pitches and the upset caused by hearing the word ‘no’ an awful lot.
Sod the professionals: ask a mate or family member to do it…
This sounds like daft advice – on first hearing. Who’d want an inexperienced drinking buddy or a pushy mother to be in charge of their career?
However, most of the difficulties new artists have with successful, experienced managers boil down to this: your manager is too busy catering for his/her successful acts to devote enough time to your project, and doesn't care about you as much as them either (as you bring in less dough).
A friend or family member, however, has the potential to care about you to the point where they'll prioritise your career over everything else. And a bit of family pushiness can go a long way, as artists like Beyonce, Ozzy Osbourne or the Jackson Five – all of whom were managed by family members – can tell you (well, maybe Ozzy doesn’t quite remember). A huge part of successful management involves banging on doors, and you may find that somebody close to you is much better at banging on doors than a professional manager with only a passing interest in your career.
What to look for in a manager
So you've found somebody who wants to manage you! Great. But finding a potential manager is usually only half the problem: working out whether that person is the right sort of ‘fit’ for your act is another difficult challenge. It’s quite nice, you see, when somebody offers to manage you – particularly if they have successful acts on their books. In fact, it can go to your head a bit and lead to you rushing into a silly agreement with them. Don’t let it – because at best this can be a waste of time; and at worst, it can damage your career.
Here are some key questions you need to ask yourself about a manager before committing to work with them:
1. Are they good at their job?
The first question you should ask yourself when evaluating a potential manager is this: is the person who wants to manage you good at what they do? Just as you wouldn’t hire somebody with an interest in pipes over a qualified plumber to fix a leak, you should be cautious about working with a music manager who has never signed a band to a major label, landed a big sync for an artist or got an act on a seriously good tour. As mentioned above, passion and pushiness can compensate for a lack of experience, so don’t rule people out exclusively based on lack of a track record – The Beatles manager, Brian Epstein (pictured above), was not the most experienced manager ever, for example – but do bear it in mind. And avoid the worst of all worlds: where you choose to work with somebody who does not have a track record AND is not particularly fussed about working hard for you.
2. Are they TOO good at their job to give you the attention you deserve?
Having a manager with an impressive roster is a double-edged sword. It can open doors, but it can also leave you without a manager at all, if he/she is too busy looking after a bunch of successful prima donnas to devote any time to your career. As such, try to get a clear commitment from this sort of manager that they will actually give you a look-in.
3. Are they a fundamentally decent person?
Having a psychopath, megalomaniac or general shark type as your manager may in some ways be good for your career. But not if they are out to rip YOU off, or screw YOU over. Try to make sure that the person you choose to represent your interests does precisely that; this will involve picking somebody who you know will behave in a decent manner, at least where your career is involved.
4. Are they reliable?
There are a lot of nice, well-intentioned people out there who like the idea of managing bands without necessarily loving the legwork involved in doing so. Unsurprisingly, these types can also be spectacularly flakey – particularly if they have other stuff, or day jobs, on the go. If you’re dealing with a prospective manager who is really keen on your demo but never shows up at your gigs and takes ages to return phone calls, then alarm bells should be ringing - and loudly.
5. Are they going to spend any money on you?
Given how hard it is in this Spotify and Apple Music era to make any money at all out of music, it is understandable if managers are unable or unwilling to invest large sums money in bands, and reasonable to expect the band to make a contribution to the costs involved with getting a music project off the ground. That said, if your manager expects you to pay for absolutely everything (every CD, every video and every Facebook advert) and will rarely if ever put their hand in their own pocket to support you, then proceed cautiously. At the end of the day managers need to put at least some of their money where their mouths are, if only to show you that they are serious about your music and give you confidence in the relationship.
6. What’s the plan?
Your manager should have a clear idea of which of your tracks he or she is going to pitch, to whom, and when; which gigs you should play; and how your new hairdo should look. All this needs to be communicated with you very clearly. If you don’t know what your prospective manager plans to do with your career, or hair, avoid.
Suck it and see
If, having got satisfactory answers to the above questions, you’re happy to hire a particular individual as your manager, the most sensible approach for embarking on a relationship with them is ‘suck it and see’. Define a period of time that you’re happy to work with each other – say 6 months – and the goals that you want to achieve in that timeframe (both in terms of your manager delivering opportunities to you and you delivering good music and assets to them). Be clear too on the commission rates your manager can expect (usually 15% to 20%).
If, after a trial period you and your manager are both delivering the goods to each other – and remember, you have responsibility as an artist to put in the required musical effort too – then happy days; if not, get your pushy mother on the case!
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