"Managers should never cost you money" Johnny Mackay, Children Collide
When do I need a manager?
It depends how much work every member wants to/can do but the general logic is – when you’re spending more time managing your music (calling venues, chasing gigs, organising interviews) than actually making it, it’s time to get a manager.
“It lets you concentrate on the music more and it's also good having an extra someone in the team who just concentrates on the business side of being in the band,” says Art vs Science’s Dan Mac. Likewise, Hilltop Hoods have had a manager since they started, because “artists/creative people don’t usually have the best minds for admin and business.”
The industry standard for a manager’s commission is 20% of gross earnings (minus deductions). You might baulk at giving that away, but Children Collide’s Johnny Mackay points out that managers “should never cost you money” because their job is ultimately to create and manage more income opportunities. He adds: “If you are worrying about the 20% you are losing from a $200 support gig, then your short-sightedness is far more of a worry than your management.”
So what should you look for in a manager? Will Larnach-Jones says a solid knowledge of the music industry and media, good communication, organisation and negotiation skills, honesty, drive and passion as essential starting points. Mackay adds: “Complete transparency on the financial front is very important. I’d insist on regular reports or meetings from the start.”
If you choose a friend, make sure you can separate friendship from business, otherwise it could get messy. And as with everything, make sure you research it and get advice before signing.
And a publicist?
Publicists usually work on individual campaigns, which could centre around an EP/album or a tour or a combination of both. They can be expensive (charging approx. $500- $5000 per month) depending on the level of the campaign so you really need to have a plan before approaching them.
Whether you need a publicist really depends on where you’re at in your music career. If you’re spending all your time organising interviews, writing press releases or chasing editors/journos at the expense of focusing on your music, it’s time to consider employing a publicist. Before you do, ask around for recommendations and research your options, who they already represent and ask for samples of their work.
What about getting a booking agent?
Having a booking agent has huge advantages including industry/tour expertise, a network of contacts and resources and a higher profile for your music by association. However, most of the time, they’ll approach you after you’ve reached a certain level of success, rather than the other way around.
If approaching or being approached by an agent, research them, check out what other bands they represent and make sure they’re a good fit for your music.
And what about seeking a record deal?
With the music industry changing so rapidly, this is a more complicated question than ever before and can’t really be answered fully right here. But with the advent of digital distribution and promotion, artists are more empowered than ever before so getting a record deal isn’t the Holy Grail it used to be. That said, if you choose the right deal with the right label, it can be hugely beneficial.
“The most important thing you need as a young band is great promotion,” says Josh Pyke, who’s signed to Ivy League Records. “A label can often provide that, but if you have the money, you could hire an excellent publicist and remain independent. A label can provide guidance and producer recommendations, but so can a great manager. A label provides distribution, and a sales team that that will sell your record into stores, but you can do a distro deal with labels like MGM or Inertia, and keep the ownership of your music.”
Keep in mind too that record deals differ drastically these days from a so-called ‘360’ deal (music, merch, touring etc) to a more basic deal to a licensing agreement to a publishing and distribution deal. It's also possible to sell your music through digi-stores like Bandcamp and Reverbnation without a label.
Will Larnach-Jones recommends doing your homework, identifying a label’s strengths and weaknesses and whether they ultimately suit your music before giving them your signature. “Too many people take the first deal they're offered without thinking it through - it's important to make responsible and informed decisions as artists.”
And a digital distributor?
There are several digital distribution companies that look after selling your music online. For a fee or a small cut they will take care of the leg work involved with selling and promoting your music on iTunes, Amazon and other online music stores.
Sometime this is a good option for independent artists as there are minimum overheads and you can release tracks one at a time helping to fund and overall release. Some of the more established companies are Reverbnation and Tunecore, but as this is an emerging field with many different types of business models it pays to do your research online and find the company that suits your situation best.
And a publishing deal?
Again, it’s a huge question and really requires hefty research (and a good copyright lawyer!). Publishing deals are separate to record deals and usually offer cash advances, royalty collection services and creative assistance in exchange for the publishing rights of your songs. Like record deals, publishing deals’ terms vary greatly these days and need to be studied at length.
Usually publishers will come to you once you’ve hit a certain level of success, based on your live following, airplay, management and label interest. Before that point, it’s probably not worth worrying about. Focus on making the most of your music. That’ll give you more bargaining power down the track should they come a-knocking.
Remember that while a manager, booking agent, publicist, publisher and/or record label can be vital for your success, it’s your work ethic that will always be the most important.
As Josh Pyke points out, “You really need to have done most of the initial work before you get a manager/label/publisher. Bands that develop a great work ethic will carry that through when they eventually do have a manger etc. Because even when you have the infrastructure in place, you have to know that no one will ever care as much about your music as you, so you always need to stay on top of things.”
And on that note, enjoy making music and getting it out there. Good luck!
Further reading and links:
Musicians About: Band Managers
Ultimate Guitar article on band managers
We All Make Music article on publicists
Ariel Hyatt article on publicists
Musicians About article on record deals
Music Think Tank article on 360 deals
Music Biz Academy article on record deals