The “who” and “what” of finding a music manager

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Getting a music manager and a team together is important because it allows you to focus 100 percent on your music, but what are the most important things to consider when choosing who you want to take along?

finding a good music manager
In the music business, everything starts with a great song. But the decisions you make after the music is made will have as big – or perhaps even bigger – impact on your success or failure. Picking a great team of professionals is one of the most important and impactful decisions you’re going to make.

Getting that team together is important because it allows you to focus 100 percent on your music. Having a great professional team in place also provides you with valuable knowledge and perspective in important areas of your career like making music, marketing and promoting the music, building a live show and touring business, and building your brand. It’ll also lead you to better decisions and results that can maximize your success and ultimately extend your career.

So what are the most important things to consider when choosing who you want to take along on your musical journey?

Focus on the “what” before you think about “who”

Imagine you’re in a rock band that wants to make records and play live shows. You’ve been doing everything on your own for what seems like forever, but you’re actually making progress. What you need now is an experienced manager, one who gets rock music and has real connections at labels that know how to market rock bands. You need someone who has connections in the live business to help you tour and take things up to that mythical “next level.”

Now, say you have a friend who’s been coming to every one of your shows since you started. She reaches out to you and says she wants to manage the band. She knows your music, knows your fanbase, and has a couple of creative ideas on how to get more fans. She doesn’t have any prior experience or connections in the business, but her passion is evident. What do you do?

Your friend is someone “who” wants to manage your band, but doesn’t have “what” you need. If you let your impatience or frustration with having to deal with the business guide your decision, you might agree and sign a contract. In the short term, you may think you’ve solved your problems, but in fact you have not solved any problems at all. You got caught up in the “who” and not the “what.”

Instead of thinking about who can fix your immediate problem, you need think about what you need to get to the next level. What would that be? You need to sign to a booking agency. You need to get your music in front of A&R people at record companies. You need a publishing or licensing deal. What you need should dictate who you hire. Enthusiasm is great, but experience and contacts are invaluable

Get connected

You hear it all the time that connections are everything in the music business. Let’s look at why. If your songs and performances are where they need to be, what you need is a phone call or two to some people in the music business who can elevate what you’re already doing. So your friend says she’ll pick up the phone and start cold calling agencies and labels. She’s sure you’ll have a deal once they hear the music and see a YouTube video of your band. This sounds reasonable, right? Not so fast.

The thing about the music business is that people like to take calls from people they already know. Agencies like to do business with people they’ve already done business with. Record companies like giving money to people they’ve given money to before. That’s why connections matter, and that’s why experience, relationships, and a track record win over enthusiasm more often than not in the music business.

Think long-term

If you decide to enlist with your friend and fill current needs, you’ll have wasted time at the very least. What’s worse, you’ll have signed a management agreement with somebody who can’t help you. In the worst case scenario, that management agreement you signed might prevent a music manager who could actually help you from coming on board. That’s the biggest impact getting involved with a business partner too quickly can have on your long-term goals.

I have come across countless acts in the music business who have signed with the wrong manager or label because the artist wanted help in the moment. Instead of relieving the burden with what seemed like an easy fix, the artist’s situation became a tangled mess. (If you haven’t already seen this video about the Turtles and their management woes, you should watch it. It’s a sadly comical sketch of what actually happens when things go wrong.)

When you’re thinking for the long-term and picking your business partners, be smart. Do your homework. Don’t be afraid to ask potential business partners about their experience, contacts, and track record for fear of scaring them off. If you don’t get the right answers, you’re not talking to the right prospective partners.

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Steve Rennie (AKA the RENMAN), legendary music industry veteran and manager of Incubus for 17 years, helps aspiring musicians and industry professionals navigate today’s music business. Join him weekly on Renman MB Live, and get “insider access” to the industry. Remember – you don’t ask, you don’t get.

If you’re really serious about a career in the music business, you’ll find a lot more tips on building your team in my new online course, “Renman U Insider’s Guide to Today’s Music Business.” Click here for a free preview.

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3 thoughts on “The “who” and “what” of finding a music manager

  1. I agree. I spend money everyday on my craft and sometimes with no dividends. A Manager might solve that, but would require greater financial burden so it’s a catch 22.

  2. This information is all well and interesting but does anyone have any idea of what it would cost in terms of numbers, to hire a music manager and/or publicist? I’ve run some calculations of my own and figure I would need to take out a small business loan or home equity line of credit at a significant interest rate. I am a part-time musician/hobbyist and have the privilege of doing what I love just because, but out of curiousity, would like to know. Anyone? Thanks! 🙂

    1. Pretty sure most music managers work on comission – maybe 15-20% depending on how much success you already have and how badly the manager wants to manage you.

      On comission though, a manager will obviously want you to have some sort of following and name for yourself already – you’re not going to convince the “right” manager to manage you if you haven’t done much of the dirty work already on your own.

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