Written by Chris Castle
New artists often think that the first person they need on their team is a “manager”. They’ve all heard the stories of the “big” managers who can snap their fingers and make something happen for their clients.
The reality is that when an artist is just starting out, those first 1,000 to 10,000 units are just as hard to sell for the new artist using Internet based tools as it is for the big manager with the major label backing. When I say “sell”, I mean that literally—get someone who you don’t know to pay money for your record. I don’t mean some promotional gimmick or getting a retailer to take some units they can later return for full refund. That’s not a “sale.” Real sales have always been hard, and they are just as hard in the current environment as ever, and actually given the levels of theft, much harder.
So getting a manager may not be your first move in assembling your team. Let’s talk about what a manager does and what a manager does not do.
Not A Manager
Not a Personal Assistant: A manager does not walk your dog, pick up your laundry, pay your bills or tie your shoes. A manager also does not remind you to do any of the foregoing, nag you to wash your dishes, or loan you money. This person is usually called a personal assistant, kind of a cross between a gofer and a parent. Good managers will not do any of that stuff.
Not a Booking Agent: Strictly speaking, a manager does not get you work (a/k/a “procure employment”), particularly not in California. However, most new bands have the expectation that if they do not have a booking agent, a manager will get them shows. This is a problem for the manager, because anyone other than a licensed booking agent (which usually means licensed by the State where they reside) is not supposed to book shows. There are a lot of reasons for this, but think “casting couch” and some will become clear. It is also true that a booking agent is a specialized employment agency, and employment agencies are highly regulated. Even so, it is not unusual to hear that managers are booking “pump priming” shows, usually at clubs or festivals for low or no performance fees, in order to showcase their band for agents. This can go on for a while, including after the band is signed to a major label.
Another reason a manager is not a booking agent is that most booking agents are “franchised”, meaning that they have signed an agreement with the American Federation of Musicians or possibly other unions. That franchise status is very important because without it, the agent will not be able to book union members—which is essentially all touring artists. The franchise agreement has limitations on how much commission the agent can charge, usually 10%. Managers charge more.
Not a tour manager or roadie: Most managers will do not go on tour with their bands, at least not for all of the shows. They do not hump gear, they do not settle or argue about the value of towels (usually), they do not drive the truck, van or bus. They may have done all those things in other lives, but they do not do those things now.
Personal managers typically will say that they give career advice. Of course, they do much more than that, but given the things they don’t do, you can see that if you think of “career advice” in the very broad sense and then you add in shopping a record deal, booking agent, publishing deal, setting up co-writes, finding a producer and negotiating the deals for all of these people in concert with your booking agent or lawyer, you begin to get the idea.
The personal manager often—and usually—comes up with most of the marketing plan for your band, then runs interference to make sure that all the people involved can actually execute that plan on time and in concert as a team. You could call this an “uber product manager”—a manager of managers. The better the artist’s personal manager is at that, the better off the artist should be.