When it comes to forging a music career, few factors will propel an artist forward quite as effectively as a good manager. In an era when major record labels no longer have the money or incentive to invest in unproven acts, the management role has diversified and managers have evolved into one of the best routes for gifted, hardworking artists who are serious about their careers.
The right manager should have a wealth of attributes such as vision, passion, integrity, skills, contacts and tenacity. Finding such a person can be a huge challenge. But by following a few key steps, it is possible to optimise your chances of finding an individual who could help take you and your music to a whole new level.
The first task for any band or singer-songwriter who is looking for a manager is to ask themselves why they think they need one. Many artists by necessity already successfully manage themselves, incorporating their creative role alongside general admin duties such as booking tours, running social media platforms, writing press releases, negotiating syncing opportunities and inputting metadata for tracks. This 360-degree model is integral for any artist without major label support. But as work opportunities develop, artists may find that they are spending so much time on the admin that they don’t have enough time to actually create the music. At this point, it’s probably worth thinking about getting some management support.
“The more you can do yourself and, more importantly, the better you understand all aspects of the business, the more likely you are to successfully get to a place where you can partner with others and build a team,” says Roxanne de Bastion, a London-based singer-songwriter who recently released her second album You & Me, We Are The Same.
As her workload increased, so too did the realisation that she would benefit from some kind of management support. The person she chose was someone she had already known for years. “In my case, it was a natural and very slow process. The person I work with now was actually at one of my very first gigs in London, ten years ago. We kept in touch and would always meet regularly for a catch-up over breakfast of coffee. They’d give me advice and help as and when they could. When I had this new album ready that I recorded together with Bernard Butler, it sort of reached a point where it made sense to work together officially.”
De Bastion is a textbook example of how to build up your profile before getting a manager on board. By contrast, one of the biggest mistakes some artists make is trying to find a manager before they have even developed their fanbase or their business.
“The manager is there to help you when you have reached the limit of what you can do yourself, from all aspects, whether it is time, knowledge or contacts,” says Lovisa Attebrant, a manager and consultant whose clients include experimental pop artist Sur Back. “The reality is that many artists think they need a manager well before they actually do. But without a fanbase there is nothing to manage.”
What you can offer a manager
Before you start planning what a manager could do for you, focus on what you can offer them. The first thing to establish is whether you are generating enough revenue, or potential revenue, to pay a professional manager. While some managers may initially work for free, others understandably will not. Most managers will want to see that your business is up and running and that you have a decent fanbase. By observing what you have achieved under your own steam, a prospective manager will be able to gauge how dedicated and hard-working you really are.
There is a saying in the music industry that ‘You don’t find a manager, a good manager will find you’. There is some truth to this. If you are doing all the right things, then you will inevitably come into the orbit of music industry professionals who will spot your potential. This is precisely what happened to Laura Bettison, a singer-songwriter, producer and DJ who performs under the name lau.ra. At a BBC Music Introducing Live event in 2018, former music promoter Dan Garber explained how lau.ra was the reason he went into management after he caught her playing a support slot at an event.
“She started playing and I was just taken aback. I literally stood in amazement for the half an hour she was just playing and went straight up to her afterwards and I was like ‘we’ve got to work together’. The way I work is I want to be the No. 1 fan of the artist.”
Such passion and enthusiasm is an essential attribute for any potential manager, says Loretta Andrews, founder of Safe Music Management, whose clients include Guvna B, Jake Isaac, Bianca Rose and Joshua Luke Smith. “Many artists think they should go for the most ’well-connected’ manager with an impressive roster of many successful artists, “when in truth the most important requirements are someone who believes in you as an artist and is going to work extremely hard because of that.”
Of course, many artists for one reason or another will not have such positive chance encounters. In such cases, it makes sense to start proactively contacting managers yourself.
The Music Managers Forum (MMF) has hundreds of professional managers listed and The Unsigned Guide lists the genres that managers specialise in. Other useful resources include the Music Week Directory and the MMF’s Music Management Bible, both of which are often available from local libraries.
Focus on your niche
Avoid a blanket email approach. Instead, find managers who operate in the same niche area or genre as you. The ‘Contact’ page of artists’ websites will often have the contact details of their management. Directories such as the The Unsigned Guide list the genres that managers specialise in. By narrowing it down, you stand a better chance of finding a manager with the specialist label and live agency contacts.
Recommendations can be invaluable, so talk to other artists and bands to see if they have had positive experiences of working with particular managers. Conferences and industry showcases can also be a useful way to meet managers.
Experience is also an essential factor. Find out how much experience a manager has and who they currently represent. If they manage a number of artists, will they be able to devote enough time to you?
Funding will be vital to moving your career forward so ask any prospective manager if they will be able to invest in you. Any manager who is interested in you and your music should also have a clear vision of how they see your career progressing, so ask them what plans they have for you. Trust is paramount, so do your research on any manager you are considering and try and get in touch with artists they are managing to get their feedback.
Take your time
Choosing the right manager is not a process that should be rushed into. If you do find someone who seems promising, take your time to discuss the way forward. These conversations generally take months. The areas you focus on are: what the manager’s role and responsibilities should be; the overall strategy for your career; and the terms of your working relationship.
All artists are advised to have a trial period with any prospective manager before moving forward with the relationship. “I’d urge every artist to run a mile if they’re asked to sign a management deal without any sort of trial period of getting to know one another,” says Roxanne de Bastion.
Remember, NEVER sign any contract until you have had it checked by a legal expert. The MU’s Contract Advisory Service offers free legal advice for members, via the MU’s Regional Offices. The Musicians’ Union (MU), the Music Managers Forum (MMF) and the Featured Artists Coalition (FAC) have created an example management contract that can be downloaded for free.
Of course, there is no guarantee that having the right manager on board will transform your fortunes. Getting an artist to the level they want to be at is a time-consuming process, says Lovisa Attebrant.
“Remember, having a manager onboard doesn’t automatically open doors, and a manager is not there to do the job for you but to do the job with you,” says Lovisa Attebrant. “There are so many different kinds of management relationships but a manager cannot magically make people care about your music.”
Benefits of management
Roxanne de Bastion says the most important benefit of management is not being completely on your own, having someone who believes in you and is willing to put their time and effort into growing your business. “They helped me get a distribution deal for the album, which means that my record is now in actual shops across Europe. As it happens, I’ve just seen it in HMV for the very first time, which was just such a thrill.”
She urges up-and-coming-artists not to look for a traditional manager at all or be enticed by “that swanky management firm with a huge roster of artists”. She advises looking towards a friend or relative with whom you already have a trusting relationship. But whoever you choose, she says, remember that you as the artist will always be the one who will drive your career the hardest.
“Concentrate on building your own thing and push that as far as you can,” she says. “Because no one will ever work as hard for you as you will.”
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