Musician, author, educator, and music industry consultant Bobby Borg gives advice about personal music managers and reviews what managers do, when to look for one, and where to look.
Adapted from the video, “Music Managers What When Where.”
Bobby Borg: I sat down with personal music manager (and long-time Account Executive at Disc Makers!) Sydney Alston to talk about the what, when, and where of working with personal music managers.
First, the what. In the beginning stage of a career, personal managers will generally help with brand development, particularly in regard to your songs. Once your songs are together, then they’ll strategize a game plan.
Sydney Alston: I think the first thing that you have to do is get the music right, so I’m literally acting as an A&R person, trying to connect that artist with the right producers and the right songwriters to get the music right. That’s like the first step.
Once you have the music together, what are we going to do with this music? Are we going to go and try and play shows? Are we going to shop it to record labels? Are we going to try and get you a publishing deal based on whatever that artist is actually good at?
Bobby Borg: Number two is when to look for a personal manager, and personally, I would flip that to address what personal music managers are looking for: talent and social proof. Let’s hear it in the words of Sydney.
Sydney Alston: I look for artists who have something going on, and it may not be that they’re making a ton of money. Maybe they just are so talented and can write such great songs or maybe it’s the tone of their voice. I’ve literally signed people because their tone is unique and so is the way they use it. If I can hear that voice on the radio and no one else is doing it — there’s a slot for you. You’ve got to have something going on. Maybe you just have a huge fan base, you know, or 300,000 Instagram subscribers.
Bobby Borg: I know what you guys are thinking: you say, “Well, I’ve got talent and a presence on social media,” right? Well, to put things into perspective, here’s a real life example of an artist that Sydney was attracted to and signed.
Sydney Alston: When I met Major, he was 14 years old. He was playing a talent show, just playing guitar and singing — it was pretty rough, the song. But now, Major has written songs for Chris Brown and Usher, he got his first Grammy nomination, he’s signed two major record label publishing deals. I mean, that was early on, just hearing this kid sing, knowing that I had never heard anything like it. I don’t even quite know what category he’s in, but we could mold this into something and figure out where to take it from there.
Bobby Borg: So again, it starts with talent and going out there and doing something with it. Now let’s look at number three: where to look for a personal manager. Most personal music managers will tell you, “Don’t look for me, I’ll find you.”
Sydney Alston: I almost don’t think you should look for a manager unless you’re in a position where you’re about to sign a record deal or something like that. And in those cases, you should go for the gusto and try to get the best manager you can. Go for Scooter Braun — start at that level, because while you’re looking for that type of manager, you’ll probably find someone in the middle that can help you get there. Managers can come from from anywhere, and I know a lot of people feel like you need a guy who’s doing it and is in the business — but a lot of times, you just need someone who can interface with the industry and not ruin it for you.
Bobby Borg: So do it yourself first, and then when you’re really ready for a manager, shoot for the top, keeping in mind that it’s not always the biggest manager that is the best for you. Someone who is smart, has a good network, and is very sensible can work just as well. I know from first-hand experience. I had one of the biggest rock managers in the world and, unfortunately, they were busy handling their biggest clients instead of me.
Want more music career advice? Don’t just read it… watch the videos on Bobby Borg’s YouTube channel.
Bobby Borg is the author of Music Marketing For The DIY Musician (Second Edition), Business Basics For Musicians (Second Edition), and The Five Star Music Makeover (published by Hal Leonard Books). Get these books at any fine online store in both physical or digital format. Learn more at www.bobbyborg.com.
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4 thoughts on “Are you ready to hire a music manager?”
I am a songwriter for many years. Have collaborated with a few folks. But need representation to try & get some of my music to the Big Boys like “Disney” I understand how hard it is & that’s why I think a manager who may or may not have connections can help me get there? I know it’s a long shot, but have really nothing to lose at this time in my life. I still perform @ certain clubs but do not do any of my originals because I live in Hawaii (Maui) & the tourist always want to hear cover tunes & so I’m stuck in this if I want to make a buck at music @ all. Jose L. Ortiz Sr.
First thing to realize is no one said the music industry was fair. Cream normally rises but not always. It’s ALL about money. Nobody gets anywhere without somebody putting a sizeable chunk of it behind you. The internet has released music and artists of widely varying standards and those with no talent at all are taking up the space the great artists should be. They are hidden. I sympathize with Mark Minges. My story is similar. Over 40 years I have a catalogue of over 500 songs. I was in groups that wrote their own (very good) songs and only started writing when I stopped live shows. Sydney Alston knows the scene and mentions ‘Major’. A 14 year old. Young people that can be moulded are always going to be favoured. In the last year alone I’ve had 6 songs on hold for artists. Then you get the “sorry we can’t take outsider songs” from some management company that wants to press their own inferior songs on the artist. Many artists don’t actually hear the songs that would give them a hit because they are not signed to that label or publisher. But we keep trying. We become obsessive. We start our own labels and publishing and try to find the artists for our songs. And we finance recordings. THIS is getting expensive and can’t last long unless we get very, very lucky. Then you realize if you can’t grease the palms of the people in radio and TV and pay for major publicity it will all come to nothing. My advice? Enjoy what you create–expect nothing, Know that you have contributed and you’ve achieved far more than you ever thought you could and you are ready should that knock come to your door.
How to get this manager?
I am half of the songwriting duo of Marlo and Mark. We are looking to get our songs to other artists for them to record. We have over 50 songs completed, 23 on two albums we have recorded with another 12 we are recording for the 3rd album. What is the best route for us. We are not looking for a record deal and don’t want to tour. We just really love writing songs and we’re damn good at it.