Common questions from singer/songwriters
Every semester in which I teach Business of Music, I have singer/songwriters approaching me about:
1. What exactly is it that a manager does?
2. Whether I think they should be looking for a manager yet?
3. Whether or not they should be managing themselves,
or all of the above.
In this article, I shall attempt to answer all of these points, one by one. Keep in mind, that if you decide to manage yourself, all of the following points will be part of your agenda.
Finding a good manager
A good manager can be very hard to find. That is because managing a person is a risky business. It means that this person is willing to put their own reputation on the line, because they believe so much in the artist they are representing. Think about this! It’s almost like agreeing to co-sign a mortgage on a house for a friend! They are betting that you have enough talent that you can make it all the way to the top; taking in at least enough money to provide a good living for both you and them!
A manager will first take a good hard look at you before beginning to market you to a record company (A & R people) or publishing houses. They will help you define your look, your stage style, and even refine the direction your music is taking. They will make phone calls, if necessary to producers, record execs, promoters, and even club managers (a good manager knows lawyers, recording execs, publishers, and the lot). Sometimes, they can be there for you just to offer an opinion.
For instance. if a band member leaves, they might give you advice on which person should be taking their place. They can tell you which clubs will help your career; which ones will do nothing for you. Often, they will organize tours for you (like an agent). They can act like a diplomat on your behalf. They lend credibility to you.
But, when to start looking for a manager; that’s the question! You have to ask yourself some very hard questions: “Am I marketable? Would I buy my CDs, if I were a club patron? What makes me great? What makes my music different from what everyone else out there is doing?” To find a great manager, you will need to have reached a certain “level of greatness”. Believe me, good managers will track YOU down. They will approach you at gigs, or call you on the phone. Good managers are only interested in people who the word is already out about! So, is the word out about you, and your songs?
Pros and cons of Self-Management
Don’t feel like a failure if you haven’t reached that level, yet. It just means that you will get a chance to develop some business skills, and be your own manager, for a while. Many great artists, like Roberta Flack, have managed themselves, quite successfully; thank you. Managing yourself means that you keep the power! You make all the important decisions; you get to keep those big fat juicy checks, when they come in, too!
However, on the flip side, managing yourself means being on the phone a minimum of 2 hours a day; ditto for phone calls; always having your cell phone with you, and having a legitimate office, with all the trimmings (fax machine; copy machine; printer, computer, filing cabinet – all of which a percentage may be applied to write-offs at tax time). It means knowing how to have a calm, yet refreshing demeanor on the phone, and in person. It means being somewhat aggressive, without being, in any way, abrasive. You’ll have your own list of great agents, lawyers, accountants, club managers, producers and recording industry folks. You’ll need to do some shameless self-promoting, for quite a number of years, until your name starts to drop off everyone’s lips.
Can self-management Work?
If you’re wondering whether this process works, here is the kicker; I manage myself, and have for many years. It took me a bit longer, but I am finally at the place where I am booking the same venues that I would have had to hire some high profile manager to do for me, all those years ago (www business.songstuff.com).
Music Industry pros and cons
By Heather McDonald
If you love music and know you want a job in the music industry, the hardest part might not be committing to going for it but choosing your perfect music career. There are tons of different ways you can get involved in music and lots of different music jobs you can do. This guide should help you narrow down your list a little and figure out which part of the music business suits you best. Below you’ll find some common music careers and pros and cons for each that you should consider before making the leap. You’ll also find links to more information about each career.
Music Industry Job: Record Labels – Running a Label
You never have to work with music you don’t love or a band that drives you crazy.You can get a hand in every step of the process, from choosing the releases, picking a release date, planning the promotion, working on tours, and so on.
Requires an upfron investment. Someone has to pay for that first release.It can be a very long time before you make any money – just as you get to have a hand in every part of a release, you often have to pay for most of those part, so juggling cashflow is a challenge.Requires good organizational skill, and you must be able to self motivate.
Music Industry Job: Record Labels – Working for a Label
Learning the ropes of record labels without taking any of the financial risk yourself.A chance to sample different aspects of the music industry, to help you figure out where your strengths are.The pay may not always be great, depending on the size of the label, but it’s still better than footing the bill yourself.
You don’t get to pick the music, so you may not love every album you’re working on.At larger record labels, you could essentially end up doing office work instead of working closely with music.
Get to have involvement in every aspect of a band’s career, and thus, you get a hand in many different parts of the music business.You get to work with music you love.
If you work independently for up and coming bands, pay day can be a long way off – and you may have to spend some money up front.Band/manager relationships can get dicey.Can be very stressful – managers shoulder a lot of responsibility, and when things go wrong (and they will), you’re in the cross hairs.Requires organization, self motivation, and you have to be willing to speak up and ask for the things you want.
Perfect job if you love live musicPulling off a great show is thrillingYou get to work with bands you love.Can be pay well, depending on what kinds of shows you’re doing.
If you work independently, in small venues and with smaller bands, can cost you a fortune – breaking even can be a good night.Tons of responsibility – show day can be very stressful.Can be one of the most thankless jobs in music. To some bands – if the show is good: yay us! If the show is bad: boo you!Promo is hard work, and it could all be for nowt – you can’t MAKE anyone write about the show or come to the gig.
Another good job for people who love live music.Gives you the chance to work with managers, bands, promoters, and labels.Let’s you have a hand in putting shows together without being on the “front lines” like promoters.
Can be hard to break into – it can take a long time to get established as an agent.Unless you get lucky and get a job at an agency right off the bat, you may have to work for little to no money while you’re building a name for yourself.Requires good organizational skills – there are lots of moving parts when you’re booking a tour.When a band is on tour, you’re on call.
Get to hear all of the new releases before anyone else and are always the first to know when new albums are coming out.Get to work closely with record labels and record stores.Can be a reliable paycheck.
Often have to sell releases that you don’t likeSome jobs at distribution companies can far from the music – packing up boxes, dealing with freight companies, etc.Unless you have deep pockets, not a job for someone who wants to run their own music related business.Can be stressful – labels miss release dates, stores don’t pay on time, and so on.
Get to take part in the excitement of live showsMay get to go on tour with bandsGreat for people who like the technical side of music
Pay can vary greatly, depending on what kind of shows you are doingYou’ll need to roll with the punches of working on the best sound desks to the worst and still make it sound goodLike promotion, can be a bit thankless. If the band sounds great, they’ll congratulate themselves. If the band sounds bad, they like to blame the sound engineer. Well, not EVERY band, of course, but it happens often. (www.musicians.about.com)