The following guest post comes from Sahpreem A. King, a multi-platinum music producer, DJ, and author of industry books Gotta Get Signed: How To Become A Hip Hop Producer and Surviving the Game How To Succeed In the Music Business.
“Allow me to begin by saying that as an independent artist, you should never feel as if you weren’t good enough to be signed by a label. Instead, you were smart enough not to be raped and robbed by one!
In my 20 plus year relationship with the music business, I have seen a lot of artists damage their careers by staying ignorant to how the music business operates. In my expert opinion, what you don’t know (or refuse to learn) can make the difference between success and failure, and ultimately wealth and poverty.
As a music producer and former artist, I can honestly attest to the fact that having a bad manager or major funding problem can sink your dreamboat faster than a torpedo.
By the way, this commentary stems from my personal experiences.
Having the right manager or management team is critical to the success of every artist. No single person, outside of the artist of course, is responsible for making dreams of success turn into reality, building a brand, and business around the artist than a manager. What’s more, a manager should be the most trusted person or persons within your camp, and in some way, they are the CEO of the brand, which is YOU! Everybody, regardless of who they are in the music business, needs proper representation as most artists are too engulfed in the creative aspects of their careers to mind the store.
Furthermore, I think it is foolish to represent yourself regardless of your experience or education level. The reason is simple: when it comes to themselves, most people are unable to be objective.
Even if you have a puppet manager and your hand up someone’s a$$ making their lips say your words, the illusion of having external business leadership is essential to your music career and far better than representing yourself.
For the new artist, it’s difficult to know if you are in a bad management situation until its too late. If all you know is abuse and shady dealings, how will you know good business when you see it? More often than not, new artists fall victim to the appearance of success, which is a crafty illusion propagated by con artists, thieves, swindlers, and the like. If you have bankable talent, then there are 101 of these types waiting in the alleys to sign you to some of the most horrific management contracts the music industry has ever known.
Nevertheless, if you don’t know, you don’t know. Gaining music industry experience without going to school, picking up a music business book, or being mentored by a music industry professional, leaves you with one option for learning; trial and error. Unfortunately, you don’t have valuable time to waste on experimentation, now do you? In hindsight, I wished I had read a book that told the unadulterated truth about bad management, but there were none available at the time… so I wrote my own.
Hopefully, at this point in your music career you understand what a manager does, and his or her roll within your organization, but if not, here is a refresher.
The Duties of an Artist Manager
The official definition of a manager is someone who handles the business aspect of your musical career, whether you are a solo artist, DJ, band, or producer. Artist managers serve as intermediaries between the artist and the music industry. In many cases, managers are responsible for procuring artist’s record and publishing deals, songs to record, shows, producers to work with, and other career advancing opportunities.
Furthermore, managers are supposed to guide your music career based on their vast expertise in their field; however, if you have an inexperienced manager who is too lazy to learn the music business, don’t expect much.
On the flipside, not all managers are bad, although acts like TLC would beg to differ; there are a few managers out there like Jennifer Lopez’s (and others) manager, Benny Medina, who really know what they’re doing.
Getting a top-shelf manager isn’t easy, but in order to get the best you have to do your due diligence. Finding a good manager is difficult because there are far too many bad managers that will steal, lie, and cheat you out of your hard earned royalties, publishing, and music career.
Despite the fact that some managers are bloodsucking leeches with no morals, ethics, or scruples, managers are unavoidable and certainly a necessary evil; like I said before, you cannot represent yourself. When seeking a manager to guide your music career, you must do your homework. Think of yourself as part of a CSI unit investigating a murder and leave no stone unturned! Dare to do the opposite and the murder investigation will be the murdering of your music career.
How to Spot Bad Managers A Mile Away
If your potential manager wears a doo-rag and has one gold tooth with a Playboy bunny cut out, claims to be a legitimate business man, but can only meet you late nights at Denny’s, then this is probably not the manager for you.
If your potential manager has a Red Bull and coffee addiction, doesn’t understand Facebook, drives a soccer mom van, and is an ex-high school cheerleader whose dreams of becoming the next Madonna were crushed by an unwanted teen pregnancy, then she’s not the one you want managing your music career either.
If your potential manager is a 75-year-old disbarred lawyer, who claims to have worked with all of the greats, yet has never earned one red cent in the music industry, then maybe it’s time to look elsewhere for a manager.
Choosing an Artist Manager
No matter what genre of music or career path chosen by an artist, bad management can really do irreparable damage to one’s career. To be blunt, bad management can really F’up your chances of ever succeeding in the music industry.
Forget everything you think you know about artist management. Contrary to the popular myth, you don’t work for your manager. Unlike the working relationship between the second shift manager at Taco Bell and the person working the drink dispenser, in the relationship between an artist and manager, the manager is actually in the subordinate role.
Let’s be clear, your manager works for you… you don’t work for them!
In the music or entertainment industries, the term manager refers to a person or entity that assists artists in all matters of their music careers. Therefore, as a manager’s employer you are entitled to all of the rights, benefits, and privileges associated with the employer-employee relationship.
More specifically, an artist manager’s job is to guide and counsel an artist’s music or entertainment career for the benefit of building their brand. In addition, an artist manager assists artists in the administrative tasks associated with the business of music, and advises them on important business decisions.
How Much is Their Contribution Worth?
On average, artist management compensation is about 20%, of the net revenue of income derived from all aspects of an artist’s music career. However, compensation can range from as low as 5% (sweet deal) up to as high as 30% (you’re getting screwed).
Power of Attorney
When an artist transfers total legal control of his or her music career or personal affairs over to a manager or management group, this is known as giving someone the power of attorney. The bottom line is that the person who has power of attorney can sign contracts in your name, contracts that carry the full weight of law. This is no joke.
Granting power of attorney allows your management to make financial and career-altering decisions that may or may not screw your life up beyond restoration. When you sign away your decision-making rights, business transactions can be conducted on your behalf without your consent or knowledge. In addition, an artist manager who has power of attorney over you can sign you to a record deal that makes you a virtual slave, and you are legally obligated to honor it or get your a$$ sued.
Granting power of attorney to a bad manager is like being blindfolded in a dark room while being poked by sharp sticks until you bleed to death. In the dark, there is a looming threat from every direction, but you can’t see it coming and you are unable to defend yourself. It’s not a matter of whether you will be stuck or not, it’s a matter of when you will be stuck and roasted like a pig. Some wounds can be lethal, and the emotional scars of bad management can cripple music careers.
Beware, there are a-million-and-one horror stories about bad management, don’t let your story be the one millionth and second.
Signs of a Good Artist Manager
Here is what you should be looking for:
Your potential manager should have a degree in music business, an MBA, or years of experience as a former music executive or successful artist.
Your potential manager’s office wall should be lined with platinum awards of the current or recent artists he or she has represented.
Your potential manager should have an intricate understanding of the music industry especially contract and intellectual property law, deal making, publishing, royalties, booking, touring, accounting, and marketing and business planning.
Your potential manager should have at least a business card (I kid you not) a legal business address, a client list (verifiable of course), and a detailed plan as to how they are going to take you from zero to “Guitar Hero” in a reasonable amount of time.
When You Can’t Find a Good Manager, Hire a Family Member
It may not be completely necessary to have someone outside of your circle manage your music career. In fact, plenty of famous artists have found great managers right within their own gene pools. Artists such as Usher, Ashanti, and Jessica and Ashley Simpson, are all managed by their parents (or were at some point in their careers). Nevertheless, having a family member manage you depends on the type of relationship you have with your family. Bad family relationships lead to even worst business arrangements; dysfunction breeds dysfunction.
Consider that Joe Jackson is said to be responsible for making Michael Jackson a star. I’m not qualified to confirm or deny the child abuse associated with MJ’s early life, but if a good a$$ whopping can make you a mega star, then leave no a$$ un-whopped. No, seriously, it is important to exhaust your nearest resources before you go out in the world in search of a good manager. What you’ve been in search of might have been looking at you from across the dinner table all of your life. Some families are really that tight knit and not as dysfunctional as they appear.
Ozzy Osbourne is (or was) managed by his wife Sharon Osbourne, and Ray J and Brandy are (or were) managed by their mom Sonia Norwood. In addition, Jay-Z manages his wife Beyonce’s career, and I’m sure Diggy Simmons gets a little help from his dad Joseph “Run” Simmons and his uncle Russell Simmons. Every now and then it’s best to keep it all in the family.
Opposingly, if you look at the relationship Lindsay Lohan has with her father, you might want to go out and find the first manager who will work with you.
Dude, it’s up to you to make the decision of what artist manager type you want on your team. We all know that your family can get to you just as fast and dirty as anyone in the streets. If you are the outcast or black sheep of your family, it may be better to utilize someone from your inner circle who knows you well, loves your music, and understands where you want to take your career.
Whether friend, family, or stranger, someone needs to be your guide and mouthpiece. In the music industry, you need someone to take the lead and serve as your appointed representative.
Be mindful that the agreement with your manager is a binding contractual document that obligates both parties to a standard of performance. For instance, if in your agreement the manager promises to get you an audience with a major recording company within an appointed amount of time, an then fails to deliver on his/her commitment, he is in violation of the agreement. When this happens, an artist may move to either terminate or extend the contract or both parties may mutually agree to terminate or extend the contract, if no agreement can be made, both parties can agree to mediation by an uninterested third party.
Yet, there are two sides to this equation. Say the manager does in fact fail to get you and your band an audition with a major recording company, but by no fault of his own. Let’s say the reason why the manager failed at his mission was that you and your band have failed to complete your demo on time, resulting in the manager not being able to shop your material.
Whose fault is that? It’s your fault.
How to Fix the Problem of Bad Management (the recap)
To reiterate, you need an artist manager to help guide your music career. Think of him as the captain of your ship navigating you through the treacherous pirate-invested seas. In fact, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to hire someone with some of the qualities of Captain Jack Sparrow, because sometimes you need a pirate to help you deal with pirates.
Don’t fool yourself, this is more literal than you can imagine.
Furthermore, the responsibilities of an artist manager vary from deal to deal, but when it comes to contract negotiation, promotion, coordinating performance dates, promotional appearances, booking recording studio time, publishing deals, and most importantly looking out for the thieves and liars that reside in the offices and cubicles at the record company, you need someone who can walk the walk.
Please heed this warning. Finding the right manager is like finding a lawyer who tells the truth: it’s nearly impossible, but it can be done.
First thing you should keep in mind is that there are no regulatory commissions, legislation, or licensing boards that make sure artist managers are operating legitimately or ethically.
In other words, anybody, and I do mean anybody, can go to FedEx Kinko’s and print up a business card with the word MANAGER printed on it. I’ve seen it so many times that I can smell it in the air within a ten-mile radius. Keep an eye out for a fast-talking, Red-Bull-drinking, over-enthusiastic name-dropper who is still bitter that he let the great one (insert artist name here) slip away. These are the worst people imaginable to deal with.
Remember, to always stay focused on the business, for heaven’s sake, this is your life (music career) we are talking about!
Take-a-ways from this article that you should engrave into your brain.
Investigate, follow up, verify, ask for client references
Don’t sign anything without having an attorney review it, even if it’s an agreement between you and your Momma!
Not all that glitters is gold, the appearance of success and actual success differ greatly once you scratch the surface.
The key points of a management agreement are: exclusivity, length of contract, territory, and most importantly compensation. Also, it is paramount that you spell out the duties, responsibilities, obligations, and milestones within the management agreement so everyone is on the same page. The last thing you want to do is assume!
Never agree verbally or in writing to something that doesn’t feel right, even if a deal is on the table. Your integrity, peace of mind, and ultimately your artistic freedom can be taken with a swipe of a pen.
The contract between you and your manager should be a win-win. And remember, your manager works for you, not the other way around.
In conclusion, I strongly advise artists whether newbies or veterans, become educated about the music business. If you were a plumber and didn’t know how to use an adjustable pipe wrench, you wouldn’t be much of a plumber would you? Not!
Devote the same level of passion and determination you had when you learned how to play guitar, rap, sing, DJ, or produce, to learning the music business. Add your newfound knowledge and skillset to your repertoire of talents. Now go out there and make great music without being ripped off.
If you want to read more on this topic and more on the music industry, check out my book, Dude, I Can Help You! 18 Mistakes Artists Make and How To Fix Them.”
About the Author
Sahpreem A. King is a multi-platinum music producer, DJ, and author of Gotta Get Signed How To Become A Hip Hop Producer and Surviving the Game: How To Succeed In the Music Business. He also heads Sewer Ratz Digital Music and Music Business Guru Academy. He has earned a Master of Education Media and Design, and a Master of Entertainment Business from Full Sail University and is currently developing a music business course that focuses on the realities of being an independent artist in the music industry.
Contact him at email@example.com
Follow him on Twitter @sahpreemking
Images: (1) ‘Road’ by Nico Kaiser, CC by 2.0.