A Manager Can Make, Or Break, Your Career

Posted on October 4, 2013 by


By, Wendy Day from Rap Coalition

Whether you need a manager to help you with your career or whether you want to be one, you need to read this. A good manager can enhance and help the career of an artist or a producer. But an ineffective manager can ruin an artist’s career. People don’t go out of their way to hire someone to destroy them, but they do inadvertently choose folks who are inexperienced, not properly connected, and who possess no experience in management. I see this everyday. If we had better managers in urban music, there would be no need for Rap Coalition, and we’d have rappers with longevity like Bruce Springsteen, Aerosmith, and Madonna.

When artists call me and ask me to refer managers, I cringe. I can think of only a few people that I would personally hire if I wanted to be a successful artist in this business, and they are too busy right now to be effective for anyone other than the artists they already manage. How can I refer artists to someone that I’d never hire in a million years (I don’t), or how can I refer a few folks worthy of referrals, but whom I know are too busy to even find the time to return phone calls (again, I wouldn’t). So I never refer managers. This is a problem.

The main value of a manager is to help you plan your career. It’s important to figure out where you want to go with your career and then implement the plan. Ideally you will choose a manager who has the experience to help you succeed. While a manager is not a bank and not expected to spend money on you or your career, a manager is expected to make decisions based on what’s best for you. They should be able to plug you into their network and secure opportunities that achieve your goals and help move your plan forward in a timely manner.

A manager is supposed to be the liaison between the artist and the record label. They are the person responsible for relaying the artists’ concerns and fears to the label. They are also responsible for offering constructive ways to fix problems. On the flip side, they are also the ones responsible for getting the artist to do what he or she needs to do, often a difficult task. Good communication skills, relationships, experience, and being organized are key for the person entrusted with this life-changing position. An artist who hires a friend is an idiot. An artist who hires a relative to manage his or her career is an idiot. While they may be trustworthy (we hope) and hungry (ambitious), they are not experienced or connected enough most of the time to do an even basic job of managing a career.

A manager is also responsible for obtaining opportunities for the artist to make money outside of the record deal (endorsements, touring, acting, etc). So few managers in urban music are good at this, therefore we now have a spate of companies setting up solely to do deals between urban artists and corporate America (myself included). If we had better and more skilled managers out here, these cottage industries would not be popping up all over to accomplish what an experienced manager should be able to do on their own (by the way, the manager usually still gets a percentage of that income even if someone else brings it to the table).

I recently looked in depth at the careers of three multi-platinum artists in rap (we only have a few of these each year anyway) and see mismanagement, friends and family running wanna-be empires, and a lack of business skills as basic as returning phone calls. I see this industry in very basic terms: there are mis-managers who sit back and answer the phone (sometimes) and choose opportunities to bring to the artist from what is offered, and then there are effective managers who not only choose from the offers that come in everyday, but are also visionary enough to figure out what the artist wants to be doing, and goes and gets it for them. The three superstars whose careers I am currently analyzing have hired their friends (in one case, cousin) who “came up” with them to manage them. All three of them are terribly mis-managed.

One artist tried to do something about it, hired a second inept manager to come on board to help the first idiot, and now has a power struggle going on within his camp for control of his career. It doesn’t matter who wins the power struggle, the artist loses either way–they BOTH suck! His career as a star will be fading VERY soon because the artist never learned the importance of hiring a good, efficient, connected manager. The resulting power struggle (predictable) is now forcing away many of the good people within the camp who could have been helpful in the artist’s career. He has changed managers three times in the past 6 months, a bad sign for anyone trying to do business. I imagine he’ll be a “Behind The Scenes” story of a faded star in a minute, or a made-for-TV movie of the week of what could have been…

I, personally, think managing artists sucks. It’s a thankless babysitting job for the most part, and unless you happen to get to work with a Platinum superstar, there is not enough money involved in management for most folks to eat well. So many managers who could have been great, leave to start their own labels (where the REAL money is) or leave the music industry to get better paying jobs elsewhere. Some who work under the bigger management companies leave to start their own management companies long before they have the proper connections and experience in place to do so, because they grow weary of working hard for little pay under others. They don’t realize the financial realities of the music business, and often jump into a worse situation.

My biggest concern, and the reason I am even writing this, is that management consists of shaping, developing, and controlling artist’s careers–their LIVES. If a manager fucks that up, they are fucking up another human being’s life. Most don’t look at that, they look at their own thirst for money. A manager, by contract, is supposed to have the artists’ best interests at heart. How many do you suppose can forego a benefit for themselves to benefit their client? Precious few.

I did a deal for an incredible artist at a major label. I kept telling him he needed a good manager to help shape his career. Six months into his first release, he STILL didn’t have one. He was afraid of choosing the “wrong” one (he got burned 5 years ago by a real scumbag touting lies of managing superstars–I would have had his ass thrown in jail for fraud, personally) so he chose none. After his third release, he still had no real representation. His career suffered for it and is pretty much over.

No artist should self manage. Often a manager needs to have an adversarial role at the label. The artist should NEVER be the bad guy at the label, it alienates the label staff–but the manager can be. They may hate the manager, but if they love the artist they will still work just as hard for him or her. If they hate the artist, his or her career is over. Politics reign supreme at record labels, and the staff works projects that are slam dunks, or projects they like…regardless of who the priority is at the label.

A management agreement should be in writing, and each side should have legal representation in negotiating the contract. A contract is nothing but an agreement that states what each person will do, and what happens if one doesn’t do what they agreed to do. I believe each agreement should have an “out” for both sides in case someone flakes. For example, the artist can put a clause in the contract that states a minimum amount of income they expect to make in a year. If they don’t make that level of income, they have the choice to walk away from the manager. That doesn’t mean they have to leave, it just gives them an out if they want to leave.

A manager can do the same: perhaps a clause stating that a major label needs to sign the artist within a year or they can part ways. Again, a contract is just what two entities agree upon, in writing. You don’t get what’s fair, you get what you negotiate. You need to have some sort of out just in case the manager or artist doesn’t do anything after signing the agreement. Bad managers are everywhere in this industry. I’ve seen managers sign artists for 7 years, do absolutely nothing, and reappear 5 years down the road suing the artist for 20% of whatever the artist built for themselves over the years. So choose wisely!

How does an artist choose a good manager in this day and age where there are so many snakes, and so many inept managers with promising business cards? The best suggestion I can make is to look at the careers of other artists you admire–whose careers you admire, not music, and seek out that person. Is that artist getting opportunities that are usually afforded only to superstars, but isn’t selling as many units to do so? Is the artist getting a lot of awareness outside of what the label does for him or her? Do they seem to have a stream of income to fall back on besides being beholden to the label. Research, research, and then more research. Make certain that if you meet with a manager that they really did everything they say they have. Look for a manager who has great relationships with booking agents, entertainment attorneys, corporate America (for sponsorship of tours and endorsement opportunities), access to label presidents and A&R staff but who does not have a deal at any given label unless you don’t mind being put through their deal, and even film agents if you want to go that direction with your career. Follow up, ask questions, get references… after all, you only have one career, and a bad manager can end it prematurely for you.

Things to watch out for:
-a manager with a loyalty to any one label
-a manager who collects your money (they should NEVER touch your money, a business manager or accountant does that job)
-a manager who works at a label especially if it is your label, or a manager who owns a label and wants to manage you AND sign you to his label (this is called double dipping and is a breach of fiduciary duty).
-artists he or she has managed before but no longer does (ask the artists why they left) -managers who promise to book you shows (that is NOT their job) -managers who ask for more than 15% or 20% (max) of your entertainment income
-managers who want to sign you to 7+ year deals (watch out for those contract terms called “options” that extend the life of the contract automatically) -a manager who wants to take or buy your publishing from you

If you want to become a manager, or be a better manager, the best thing you can do is work under a fully experienced manager to learn as much as you can. This will also give you access to their connections and relationships so you can begin to cultivate your own. This is a “who you know” business. You probably won’t make much money at first, but the long term benefits are outstanding. On average, managers get between 15% and 20% of the artist’s entertainment income. How amazing would it be to sit back in ten years and contemplate not only the millions of dollars you made in the music industry, but also the careers you built and the lives you’ve impacted along the way. Isn’t that what it’s all about anyway?

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