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How to find a music manager

Brian Epstein

by Chris Singleton

One of the many questions we get asked at Prescription PR is this: how do I find a music manager? Well, it’s not easy, but here are a few tips on finding a good music manager, and just as importantly, establishing whether a particular candidate is the right fit for your band.

Where to look for a music 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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How to make (and nurture) music industry contacts

Networks - important in the music industry

By Chris Singleton

Looking back over various Prescription articles recently, it occurred to me that a lot of them are focused on the ‘DIY’ aspect of music promotion. Which is fine, as all music promotion essentially starts with and by the artist – even the biggest acts on the planet had to start their career somewhere, and ‘somewhere’ usually means with a dose of self-promotion.

But it is worth remembering however that as worthwhile as DIY promo is, there is a lot to be said for not doing it yourself: if you can convince a powerful Svengali, live agent or established label to take responsibility for your career and spend a lot of money promoting it, then let’s say that the letting-somebody-else-do-it school of music promotion has its up sides too. The question is how you find these sorts of contacts, and how you nurture them. Here are some tips.

Start with people you know

The best connections are often personal connections, because – assuming you are a relatively nice person – people you know are the people most likely to go the extra mile for you. Look through your address book and see if you can find anyone with any links to the entertainment business. Drop them a line, explain that you are trying to locate contacts who might be interested in furthering your career, and see if they can help. You may find yourself pleasantly surprised: in my own case, chatting to a friend led to an introduction to his friend, who got me in the door of quite a few major labels, one of which turned out to be very helpful in distributing my records. Working your personal network can prove to be a quite fruitful six degrees of Kevin Bacon style thing.

It is vital however that you do not foist yourself upon your personal contacts. Remember that you are talking to friends – and friends don’t like taken being advantage of, or given the hard sell.

Do your research

It’s surprising how many music professionals are kind enough to leave their contact details lying about online. Thanks to sites like Hitquarters and the Unsigned Guide, you can access thousands of potentially useful contacts (including their name, address and phone numbers) and find out what projects they’ve previously been involved with. (It’s like the NSA, only more rock and roll). You can also make use of LinkedIn and other social networks to establish connections with potentially useful people (but be careful whom you send contact requests to: the potential to annoy is quite high here).

Make a database

As you do your research, you should add new contacts to database of people that you want to approach with your music. This database should include not only contact details of these poor unsuspecting souls, but notes on what they’ve worked on in the past.

By database I mean something as simple as an Excel spreadsheet – but if you want to go the extra mile and be a little bit more sophisticated about it, you could try using what’s known as a ‘CRM tool’ like Nimble or Capsule. These allow you to do funkier things with your data than Excel – like keep a history of communications between you and your contacts, do sophisticated queries, connect with them on social media and more. CRM tools are also useful for keeping tabs on your fans and staying in touch with them.

Contact the RIGHT people

It’s really important to take a very targeted approach when it comes to contacting people in the music business. Only contact RELEVANT people – contacts who work with acts that make a similar noise to yours – or you’ll just waste their time and your own. Remember that everybody in showbiz knows everybody else, so you don’t want to get a reputation for being a spammer; nobody will take you seriously after that.

Approach when the time is right

Just because you now have a great list of contacts and know exactly which artists they’ve made the tea for, it does not mean that you should necessarily contact them all immediately. Only start your approaches when you are 100% ready: i.e., very confident in yourself and your music.

Nail your pitch

Remember that when you finally DO approach your contacts about your music, it’s vital that you are fully prepared: you should be presenting them with the best music, the best videos, the best photos and the best story that you can muster. It’s all very well having sophisticated data capture techniques and a huge database of music industry big wigs to hand, but if you and your ‘product’ (sorry for calling it that) aren’t looking and sounding as good as you can, you will simply waste opportunities. To help you avoid this shocking waste, we have a separate article about pitching your songs to the music industry which you might find relevant to the whole process of making and keeping friends in the music biz.

Good luck…and remember your manners.

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