One of the questions that we get asked the most at The Unsigned Guide is, In an age where the chances of signing to a record label off the back of an early demo are increasingly remote, a manager is seen by many as the golden ticket into the industry. Of course, a well connected manager can be crucial in taking your career to the next level—but before spending precious time on blanket emailing every management company that you can find, you should be asking yourself another important question, "Do I need representation?"
If your music is starting to turn some heads, there will probably come a time when you'll need a bit of help to keep that momentum going. However, it isn't always easy to gauge the tipping point. So, with the kind help of Nicky Carder, we've collated a bit of advice below that we hope will help:
Are you making enough money?
Let's start with an obvious one. As much as the best managers are also music fans, they also need to see some return on their time. Some managers will work for free in the short-term if they really believe in an artist's long-term prospects, but you are much more likely to attract a manager if you are already bringing in some dosh. Nicky says:
"I don’t think that an artist necessarily needs to be making a profit to consider representation. If an artist can prove their dedication to the project by generating income through playing his/her own shows, by recording and releasing music independently and by proactively trying to build an audience – this could be just as appealing to a prospective manager. That being said, if an artist is making money and has good online stats and streaming numbers, it should attract interest from a more experienced and diverse group of managers."
So, if your income is steadily increasing through ticket sales, merch and streaming platforms—then it might be the time to start thinking about bringing somebody on board. If you're not yet seeing any growth, it is better to focus your energy on building some revenue rather than seeking immediate representation (boring, I know).
Are you happy to share your income?
Whilst we're on the subject of money, bear in mind that a manager will take a cut of any income earned. Obviously, this may be a non-issue if their representation gains you extra funds and exposure. However, if you take on management too early—or it turns out that the relationship isn't a good fit—you could pay out more in management fees than what you gain.
How much time are you spending on admin?
For many musicians, the realisation that they need some support comes when they start to feel that they are spending more time sat in front of their laptop tending to every day admin than working on their music. Over to Nicky again:
"Do as much as you can on your own. Once an artist thinks they have done everything they can themselves, it might be a good time to consider management. The runs seminars, webinars and workshops, which are invaluable for artists throughout their development. The better an artist’s songs are, the tighter the live show is and the more fans an artist has, the more appealing the artist is to prospective managers. It is advisable not to rush into signing a management deal right away, but to take the time to ensure that you and your manager work well together and the manager is a good fit for you and your music."
When your timetable is increasingly filled by emailing, accounting and social media tinkering—it could be time to share some of the load.
Is there a friend or family member that can help?
You may get to the stage where you realise that the things that are eating up most of your time are the sort of things that you don't need a specialist music manager to assist. Many successful artist-manager relationships can stem from a friend or family member offering an initial helping hand. Could tasks be shared out more evenly between other band members? Are there tasks that you can hand out to a willing assistant? Or is there somebody that you know is interested in the music business? They might be grateful for the experience. Working with somebody outside of the band could also be good practice for if you eventually do take on full-time management.
Are you comfortable with signing a management contract?
Even when you're sure that you are ready for representation, there are still hurdles to overcome. Rushing straight into a management deal is never a good idea and there is a lot to consider before taking the leap. Nicky warns:
"Always seek legal advice from a music industry lawyer when negotiating a management agreement. It is important that you understand what it is that you are signing so read up as much as you can on the various terms in the deal. The MMF Bible can help with this, and MMF members have access to sample management agreements which are designed for new artists and managers to use."
Management contracts can be filled with jargon and implicit clauses, so it is important to approach opportunities carefully and seek specialised advice:
"The two most contentious areas of a management agreement are live commission and sunset commission (the post-term money you will pay the manager for the work they did during the term). Watch out specifically for any assignment of rights or upfront fees. While managers working on retainers are more common these days, please ensure there are clearly defined tasks and deliverables set. It is vital that you know exactly what you are paying for and have researched the manager before signing anything. If you are concerned or unsure about a management deal, always check with either the MMF, an artist organisation such as FAC, or, again, an industry lawyer."
Have you received any management offers?
As much as you feel that you may benefit from a manager, it can sometimes be best to focus on creating and let the opportunities find you. There is no harm in reaching out to artist managers, but if you can get to the stage where you are getting offers on the table, then you are in a much more advantageous position—as well as being more likely to enter an agreement that is beneficial for both parties. According to Nicky, this mutual interest is one of the most important parts of the artist-manager relationship:
"It is vital that managers are aware of an artist to consider them for representation. However, it is the strength of the music that will initially pique the interest of the prospective manager. Once you are on a manager’s radar - whether another band has recommended you, whether that manager has heard your music on a new music radio show, or whether you were introduced at a gig - it is important that you focus on making the best music you can. Managers are keen A&R people, so it is likely that the manager will approach you once he/she is interested in investing in what you do."
Whilst it is tempting to see gaining representation as the be all and end all of breaking into the music industry, keeping a strong creative focus and making your own opportunities can be just as (if not more) important. Getting yourself known by industry figures is important, and a well timed approach to the right music managers can be part of this process. However, you can be sure that if you are making all the right noises independently, this will eventually carry to the ears of the right people.
Find out more about here.