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Why Music Managers Just Don’t Cut It

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Back in the day artists created and managers managed. The end.

When I hear artists today say “I just want to make music, I don’t want to do any of the business stuff.” I want to scream “YEAH, ME TOO!”

But that’s not today’s reality.

Artists who are lucky enough to have a manager who is passionate, dedicated, loyal and connected will be able to hand off some of the things necessary to advance their career, but definitely not all of the things that need to get done.

Artists who have managers (especially early on in their career) tend to relinquish all decision making and necessary business duties to their managers. This used to work when a successful artist had a full team around them: Manager, Label, Agent, Lawyer, Publicist.

Some successful artists still surround themselves with this team and think that’s enough.

But it’s not.

Your well-connected manager only knows how to handle a small amount of what is necessary to launch (and maintain) a music career in today’s rapidly shifting industry.

The Well-Connected Manager
Everyone understands the concept of a well-connected manager. She has multiple clients, usually works at a management company, and one of her phone calls is more effective than 30 emails and calls from a ‘best-friend’ manager. Many times, it is in the contract that this manager gets the band a record deal (or they part ways).

But what this well-connected manager doesn’t do is live and breathe the band she’s working for (she just has too many clients). She’s stuck in the system that had been set in place when she entered the field. She may have had some success, but to truly manage the career of a band today, it takes much more than just a vision and some connections. Trial and error is necessary. A passion is necessary. A well-rounded knowledge of how everything works, top to bottom, (not just top) is necessary.

The Best-Friend Manager
The ‘best friend’ manager starts with 0 connections and has to make them all. BUT he lives and breathes the band. He and the band work together on a vision and lofty goals. He screams at the top of every rooftop about how his band is going to take over the world.

Some best friend managers see their band to the top. Some get fired and replaced by a well-connected manager when they start to see some success.

But what BOTH types of managers are missing is the stuff that ACTUALLY needs to get done, day to day, to build a connection between band and fan.

THE NEW MANAGEMENT TEAM

Whether you have a label or not, there are crucial duties that are necessary in every band’s career. If you do have a label, many times the label will handle some of this for you. But with a 98% major label failure rate (that’s of the bands that are actually signed) you better understand what needs to get done on your own.

Well-Connected Manager

It’s important to have someone on the management team who can get the band opening tour slots. Get in-studio performances at radio and TV stations. Get the band signed (if that’s part of their plan). Get a publishing deal (or a licensing company). Get songs placed on TV and in movies.  Who can get album reviews at major blogs and newspapers (if a publicist isn’t involved).

These people have the clout to make this happen. But their job description typically ends there.

You’d be hard-pressed to find a well-connected manager that handles the important minutia of the day to day.

Personal Manager

This person picks up the slack.

He’s the tour manager when the band is on the road (or hires the tour manager). He imports mailing list names after a show; creates Facebook events; uploads tour photos to Facebook and the website; runs the merch table (or finds people to do it); manages the website and works with the graphic designer and web developer to keep the site up to date and truly representative of the band; writes the press release and bio (or finds a writer to do it); finds the best distribution company (if a label isn’t involved) and distributes the music appropriately;  uploads songs to SoundCloud; NETWORKS on SoundCloud; creates the YouTube channel and understands the internal intricacies of the community and how to grow a YouTube subscriber base (hint: it’s not by getting a viral video (or 5); becomes a master at all necessary social media sites (and apps) and trains the band; manages all the finances (before an accountant is involved); contacts the street team in every city and arranges flyering, postering and Facebooking in advance of the band’s show; hires interns to handle all of the above duties that he doesn’t have time for; is the band’s therapist.

Well-connected managers don’t do this.

But this stuff not only needs to get done, it all needs to be up to professional standards. Everything needs to be representative of the band. If the band is unstoppable on stage or has an album that defines a new genre, but the website is a WordPress template from 2002 and the Facebook page has discombobulated information, 3 different tour calendars, 2 separate music players, and a tab that’s completely non-functional altogether, then you’re band’s fan retention is suffering.

Graphic Design Artist

This is one of the most overlooked (but necessary) elements of every band. Ideally, a band member is a pro on Photoshop.

BACK THEN, the label would hire a photographer and a graphic design artist and create an entire visual album campaign that would last for the album cycle of about two years. NOW, fans crave content regularly. New photos. New video. New songs. Every show (or tour) should have a unique poster. At least a new Facebook header. Not some MS Paint looking banner.

Every break the band gets there should be an image designed that can be posted everywhere. Have a song on a TV show next week? Don’t just tweet it, create an image and spread it. Images are 100 times more effective at spreading your message than just words.

Showcasing your tiny breaks reinforce to your existing fans that you are a band on the rise, worth supporting.

If everyone in your band refuses to learn (and master) Photoshop and Illustrator, then you need to have someone on hand who will do this for you at the drop of a hat. But, this will get expensive and the designer will not be on your time-frame. So, bands, learn this shit!

Web Developer

One of the most frustrating breed of people on earth. My brother is a web developer and I love him dearly, but like every one else in his field, he is overworked and stretched too thin.

Across the board, there is way more demand than supply for web developers. Looking for a career change?

The team at BandZoogle has done an amazing job at creating professional looking band templates that anyone can use. But this is only the beginning.

You should learn basic code. Know how to add links and change the pixel dimensions of your photos. Understand why all text is bold and italicized even though you clicked the b and i buttons off.

If you don’t learn this, then you better have a brother or lover who will put in hundreds of hours to create your professional looking website and work out all the bugs that inevitably arise (or have $10,000 to hire a developer on retainer). </rant>

Videographer

If you haven’t noticed, YouTube is kind of a big deal. Aside from it being the #1 streaming website, it is a community. People use YouTube not just to listen to music, but to get to KNOW their favorite artists. YouTubers have it down. They know they need to put out constant content (their preferred medium is video) and they know they need to showcase their humanity.

Fans don’t subscribe to YouTube channels because they love the music; they subscribe to channels because they love the creators.

Regardless if you want to become a YouTuber or not (it’s a full-time job), you need to take video seriously. Singing to your Macbook camera and using the built in mic doesn’t cut it anymore. This isn’t 2007.

You need high quality video. Lots of it. You should film rehearsals, shows, hangouts, skits, music videos, and put up any other (high quality) video content that showcases what makes you unique.

You may get more views on your music video, but don’t discredit the importance of behind the scenes clips that showcase your personality. That’s what turns a passive fan into a die hard, lifelong fan.

Similar to the graphic design artist, hopefully someone in your band knows Final Cut and has a good SLR camera. If not, the newest smart phone cameras are good enough (for now) and iMovie can work wonders. But get started! And when you have the funds, upgrade.

Having to depend on others for video creation will slow your process down tremendously (and cut into your budget).

Recording Engineer

Similar to video, you should be putting out constant music. Music YouTubers put out a new, fully produced song and video EVERY WEEK. They don’t jump into top studios every week for the recordings. They work with their close friends’ (or at their own) home studios.

So build up your home recording studio (or make friends).

The above jobs are typically not handled by 6 separate people, but they cannot be overlooked.

The most successful bands are able to manage all of these duties on their own and only outsource the jobs they don’t have the time, money or ability (currently) to do.

Back in the day when labels handled everything, managers didn’t need to do much other than craft a vision, hire a team, and delegate. Artists didn’t need to worry about anything other than writing, performing, interviewing and love making.

We’re in a new age. And managers (and bands) need to step up!

Above image is a stock photo

 

Ari Herstand is a Los Angeles based musician and the creator of Ari’s Take. He’s hosting a free music business meetup in Hollywood on March 29th. Read about it (and signup) here. Listen to his new single here. Follow him on Twitter: @aristake

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Comments (28)
  1. Randall

    “Why is DMN on a roll of putting out silly “Why XXX is XXX” articles? Is this Buzzfeed?

    This outlet is becoming tired and irrelevant.


    Reply
    1. James

      Randall, the content of this article is solid, even if the headline/structure is clearly meant to be “upbuzzworthy”. As long as writers have something important to say, why not give in a little to the marketing psychology that shows how to get clicks? It can only help spread the message further.


      Reply
    2. Bruce Burbank

      At least it’s not another listicle.


      Reply
    3. Lisa Sefine Tagaloa

      I wouldn’t say this article is tired and irrelevant. There are plenty of us in the newbie stage of making a life in music and this is a great outline. I remember wondering about all those distinctions about a year ago and it was so frustrating. If you’re at a stage where you don’t need this info, more power to you ❤


      Reply
    4. lroosemusic

      I thought this article was well-written and contained actual substance from someone who is actually involved in the industry.

      To each their own I suppose.


      Reply
  2. DJ

    Well put and thought out Ari! It’s a new world.


    Reply
  3. David

    “Similar to video, you should be putting out constant music. Music YouTubers put out a new, fully produced song and video EVERY WEEK”

    That’s nothing. I take a dump every day, sometimes twice.


    Reply
  4. Stevie Cliff

    Similar to video, you should be putting out constant music. Music YouTubers put out a new, fully produced song and video EVERY WEEK”

    Thats great if each song is a hit but if in todays age artists need to design their own business models then there is definitely the argument of creating demand for your work. By flooding social media with music there is a risk of over-saturation. I would be an advocate of creating a strong image designed to pique the curiosity of the listener. With so many acts sharing music ask yourself why should someone listen to your track over any others.

    BEAUTIFUL THUMBNAILS FRIENDS!


    Reply
  5. Lisa Sefine Tagaloa

    Holy crap – It’s like you’re talking directly to my band :)

    After TONNES of trials & tribulations and learning from our mistakes, we slowly cottoned on to these things and we’re starting to make some progress. And yup, we’re proponents of Bandzoogle – ease of use, looks great and the team is hardout helpful if you ask :)

    Awesome article Ari!

    Lis


    Reply
  6. Guile

    Nailed it Ari.

    Thanks for this!


    Reply
  7. Keeping It Real

    Yet another article written by an ill-informed music business newbie. The blind leading the blind.

    What’s wrong? FINANCIAL INVESTMENT

    A manager invested HIS money in an artist, ie. put his money up-front, believing an artist if promoted and managed well would make money for him. For the artist, it could be a deal with the devil, but for most artist without that financial investment their career would be a complete non-starter. Example: David Bowie/Tony Defries. That investment allows the artist to focus on creating the music.

    Believe me, an artist can easily find a management, a management team, numerous people, who will take the artists money.

    The issue today is lack of FINANCIAL INVESTMENT, because the returns are often so minimal. The result is mediocre music, at best, with a plethora of “artists” who act more like music business execs trying to produce music to focus groups, spending 95% time managing their career and 5% creating music.


    Reply
    1. Amazing

      Must be getting very frustrating over in the tar pits….


      Reply
      1. Keeping It Real

        Nope, getting ahead in the real music business…Only someone adrift in cloud cuckoo land would think its the tar pits….


        Reply
      2. hippydog

        Quote “Must be getting very frustrating over in the tar pits”

        I dont think he(she?) is that far off the mark..
        I might quibble on it being “THE ISSUE today”, but what was stated is essentially correct.. (in my opinion)

        what I would say is that is not necessarily a horrible thing.
        Having to act like a small business (which is essentially what Ari is talking about) on TOP of being an artist (and all that entails) is a HUGE pain in the butt.
        but, :-)
        that’s whats required in this day and age..

        What Ari didnt mention
        and maybe should have?..

        is do as much as the business side as you can, (eg: if your an amateur graphic artists, do your own posters and graphics.)
        but DONT let your ego tell you that you can do everything! Sometimes the smartest business decision you can do is HIRE SOMEONE SMARTER THEN YOU! You can not be an expert on everything, so dont try to be..

        my 3 cents


        Reply
  8. River Waters

    Well, the idea of putting out music every week debases the quality of the music and even of the performance. And you can see the low quality — barely viewable and listenable — of many videos done at home.

    Some music takes months or years to compose, rehearse and finally record, if it has any complexity. The rush to satisfy the algorithms has led to an overwhelming majority of repetitive, shallow, inhumane and machine-influenced music with lyrics that are confessional, dull, unintelligent and really uninteresting.

    That is the state of most singer-songwriter and indie music. You may love it and many others may as well, but people go to MacDonalds and Dunkin every day for the poor quality cheap flash they sell. But it ain’t fine cuisine. American music is in a bad way — mass quality — just like WalMart.


    Reply
    1. Geewhizpat

      Weekly music uploads are for the kid genres….pop, rock, edm etc…in the niche genres….monthly is working….that way I am able to focus on quality vs quantity….still the big money remains with being signed by the major labels and spewing out the formula pablum….the music biz right now…outside of the majors…is still a poor man’s game….professional management or not…


      Reply
  9. Willis

    Managing an artist is a thankless job for those people who wanted to be artists, but either didn’t have the talent or the guts. Proceed with caution. Meh!


    Reply
    1. GGG

      Or we do it because we fell into it out of helping friends we respect as musicians, got decent at it, made money doing it, and continued instead of getting some shitty desk job.


      Reply
    2. hippydog

      Quote “for those people who wanted to be artists, but either didn’t have the talent or the guts.”

      /\ That statement must have been written by an artist ;-)

      I find it funny that some people actually believe that a person might choose a career path ONLY because they “failed” as artist..

      So far (via the comments on DMN) it seems Managers, Sound guys, DJs, music teachers, & pretty much everyone at a label, all choose those careers because they “failed” at being an artist..
      ;-)

      if you ACTUALLY believe that, be prepared to BE a failed artist, as I betcha that kind of douchbaggery can be smelled miles away..


      Reply
      1. GGG

        Also funny because 99.9% of the “artists” that comment on this site are failed themselves. And/or really shitty and don’t even deserve to be called artists.


        Reply
  10. DrDrses

    I’ve been a Professional Engineer for over 30 plus years and have had the chance to see it all in and around the music industry since 1980. Ari Herstand, Ari’s Take is an in depth look at thing from the Musician side of things. Though the thoughts may be intensely over dramatized at times, the truth of the matter still remains no matter how you scream at or hit the rock to make it break! (Sorry, I like the movie Dune.) You must learn to do a lot of things on your own at first these days. Good music or bad, I have had the chance to hear it all. The phrase “You Can’t Polish A Turd” seem to be a by gone era, as so called “Recording Engineers” try to make them sound better anyway. Ari Herstand! Knock them dead! Go for it! I understand your point of view. DRSES


    Reply
  11. Juan

    I get this info is needed for entry level players. I wish DMN would say in the the title “for newbies” or something on these articles. That way I don’t get half way through them, roll my eyes and move on. Waste of my time.


    Reply
  12. Jean

    More nonsense.

    If this article was about the changing roles of musicians in their own career I would have no problem with it.

    This is sadly another in a line of “missing the point” articles I am finding here. Good Upworthy type of headlines with factoids that are true but sadly leading to a mistaken conclusion.

    Managers are, and should always be seen as strategic, marketing and branding executives. The skill set to be a manager today has grown even as the money has diminished.

    If your goal is to educate musicians about managers, then you may want to know a tad more about them. David Geffen, Bill Graham, Richard Branson and guys like Chris Blackwell were the “old days” and they were nothing to dismiss so easily.

    To say that the managers back then “did nothing” and labels did everything is flat out wrong ask the Beatles or the Stones, Elton John, Queen or ask Led Zepplin about Peter Grant.

    Today ANY good manager has to deal with equally daunting issues plus unfair legislation to boot. The TAA backed legislation has crippled what managers can do, it started with the landmark Jefferson Airplane case through to the Deftones. Managers are robbed of hundreds of millions in commissions by a technicality. The comment “It’s important to have someone on the management team who can get the band opening tour slots.” would have managers violate the law in most states. Only agents are allowed to book bands.

    But I digress, today’s managers are now licensing experts, must be branding experts, know about all of the things mentioned in the article with an important point that needs to be stated: They make money only when the band does and that money is farther away than ever.

    The kind of dismissive attitude the article has towards managers, would not serve a band well in a management meeting. Any good manager will want an understanding client who gets the fact that someone is willing to work really hard, and for free, to help you make it, knowing full well that you might not. See if you get that kind of help in any other industry.


    Reply
    1. River Waters

      I think you are speaking of the people who are really quite competent at management in what is usually a chaotic and often unprofitable business. These people are well worth their hire.

      The fly-by-night guys seem to predominate though, finding easy marks in young people who don’t have the experience of knowing how savvy operators work.


      Reply
      1. jean

        The headline of this “article” made no such distinction and this is supposedly an industry platform.
        If anyone can save the industry today it will be a combination of manager and artist creating new paradigms.


        Reply
        1. River Waters

          Yes, you are quite right. No distinction was made. It’s like saying all birds are crows.


          Reply
  13. FarePlay

    One of the best practioners of ari’s approach? Joe Bonamassa and J&R Adventures. If you want see how it’s done, spend some time there. I do.


    Reply
  14. Heiko Schmidt

    The problem is that good managers are top talent. And top talent has a price which an artist/band in a seed stage can’t afford. Good managers can work everywhere, also in other industries. So if you are an artist and found one, treat him with respect and try to motivate and keep him. Because the world is ugly out there:
    900 million people are making music pressuring the market and competing for the same exploitation and monetization opportunities.
    A real good manager can’t change this but he can help you to find your best personal strategy.
    In my opinion it comes down to the question, what is the best strategy for music creatives in a digital age, where the most of the income is distributed to the 1% in the top ?
    Here is my recommendation: I don’t see a realistic chance, even for the best manager, compete with 900 million others and with the multimillion Dollar marketing budgets of the superstars. Therefore, getting to the top via increasing your public profile with whatever artist/promotion tool ever will not work anymore (maybe with a super rich sponsor who can just trash a few million $ in marketing for you and write it off against his other profits).
    But – like always was and always will be – I believe the song indeed makes the difference and will shape your artist career. And having the right manager on your side when this special song is finally written and recorded will multiply your chances and future income.

    No matter how impressive competition is and how high any market entry looks like, our business, and especially the US music market, is driven by incredible good songs. And when you have the outstanding song, you will know it.
    How ? Because then everyone who never answered your call or email before will try to become your best friend.
    And this is what I love in our business. The song really makes the difference – and only the song.


    Reply

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