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Heather McDonald

How to Find a Manager

By November 23, 2009

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As promised, we have a guest blogger on deck today talking about the all important task of putting together your team. This blog is part two of a three part series by Rick Goetz on finding strategic partners for your music career. The first part, which focuses on hiring an entertainment lawyer, is on MusicianWages.com.  The third part about finding a booking agent will appear on Rick's blog MusicianCoaching.com in the next few weeks.  This article is about how to attract an accomplished music manager. 

In part one of this series I described my background as an A&R executive for major record labels like Atlantic and Elektra.  What I didn't mention was, my initial start in the music business was playing bass and managing a band I was in during the early 1990s.   Back then I would often attend the exact types of conferences and panels as an aspiring musician on which I would later be asked to speak on as an industry expert.  Ironically I learned more about how to build a following for a band because of my experiences playing in, managing and booking my own projects than I ever did in the role of a so-called expert.  No matter where the conference was or what they called the panel it was always focused on some aspect of how to make it in the music industry.

I never wanted to manage bands, but when the first "real" band I was a part of was just starting out, no one wanted the job.  I wound up taking over the management responsibilities for this project (adding insult to injury, it was an eight piece group) because I became frustrated when numerous missed opportunities fell through because we didn't have a clear-cut understanding of who was responsible for what in our business.  It was that frustration and the feeling that I was less talented than many of the other band members that led me to compensate and take up the role of band manager.   It's funny when I think about it now, because it was that split-second decision to manage that project at age nineteen that would completely change the course of my life; and this decision was also what would later lead me to work in the industry. But I digress... 

When I ask someone - "How is your music going?" I am dismayed by the pure volume of people who say something to the effect of "It's good... I am really just waiting to get a good manager." I think the majority of people who say they need management have a misconception of what an artist manager can really do and in most cases have not even come close to exhausting all of the possibilities for marketing and promoting themselves.  The questions I think that all artists have to ask themselves today are "Do I have a project that needs management?" and "If I were a music manager,  why would I want to manage me?"

 Let's say you're in a very familiar situation to many musicians you know.  You are in a band playing locally, your friends and family are sick of coming out to hear you play, and you can't seem to get "good" shows. You also have no idea how to go about booking a tour, it's too expensive to rehearse more than twice a week, or your bass player (it's always the bass player) can't get off of work any night but Tuesday to play gigs.  You really aren't happy with the demos you just made, but if or when the "right" person sees you all of that is going to change.  Now before I start sounding jaded and insensitive, the description of that band scenario has the characteristics of a combination of the projects I have been in personally over the years.  Thankfully I've never had a project with all of those problems all at once.

 It is highly unlikely a band like this could get a manager; but could even the best manager fix this?  The band described above doesn't even have a product let alone a business so, the answer is no.  No one can fix this but the band, and no one would want to manage this project; it's a disaster.  There is a saying in music that "Great bands make great managers" and it's true.  On a side note, if you have to beg people to come back to your shows after they have already seen you, you might want to spend less time and energy marketing your music and more time making sure you are creating music - and a performance - worth marketing.

 It seems that it was much more common ten years ago for established managers to pick up developing artists and leverage their relationships to get those artists deals with labels and other strategic partners:  publishers; publicists; agents; etc).  While this still happens from time to time there are less labels to call and those that remain have less money to spend on artists who have yet to prove that they have a product that anybody wants.  Established managers now have to be much more sparing about who they sign since there really isn't a regular source of funding for new artist projects anymore.  I say "regular source" only because established managers who already managed a superstar and signed a new artist had a good shot of getting a deal for that new artist ten years ago based on the strength of their relationships with labels.  Managers like this still have an advantage but seemingly less so in recent times.

Where does this leave aspiring artists today?  More or less in the same place they ever were, figuring out how to build a following on their own.  Finding a great artist manager is a lot like getting funding for a start up company.  It is much easier to do if you already have something going on or you are already making some money.

 When you are thinking about music management keep in mind ...

  •  No one will ever care more about your music than you do.

  • Attracting a music manager involves building something that gets too big for you to handle on your own because a manager's compensation is 10-20% of your revenue; and 10-20% of nothing is still nothing.

  • Finding a worthy music manager is about taking your successes - no matter how humble - and parlaying them into another baby step in the right direction, because people flock to the momentum of success.

  • A good music manager for your particular project should be one that compliments your weaknesses in business, which means you have to be self managed long enough to determine what your strengths and weaknesses are.

  • Good music managers are worth their weight in gold, but in the age of virtual assistants, college credit given for band interns and online tools, a manager has to make a good case for what he/she can do for you that you can't do yourself.

I will be getting into more detail about partnering booking agents in the next week or two both on my blog - http://musiciancoaching.com

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