In order to find an experienced, well-connected manager, you will need to stand out from all of the other rappers, singers, producers, and songwriters. You will need to have a buzz and a movement that someone who does this for a living can help monetize. Managers earn 20% of your income, and 20% of nothing is nothing– so when you have no income or no potential income, the quality of manger you will attract is severely reduced. A manager is NOT someone with money, connections, and opportunities that plugs an artist into their network and, *POOF!*, out comes money for the artist with a successful career. It’s a partnership where a career and income are built together by working hard and following a plan.
Extreme talent may attract a good manager, but not in a frequency that should have you comfortable with the fact that you will attract a top manager just with your incredible talent alone. To build an artist’s career from the ground up takes time and money. Most managers see these two things as only coming into play for a close family member or that once-in-a-lifetime artist that one feels in one’s bones is going to be a superstar. Before you start shouting “That’s me! That’s me!” in your head, just know that you’re more likely to get struck by lightning or win the lottery than you are to become a superstar and all legitimate manager’s know this. It takes sooooooo much more than talent. Remember, a good manager knows more about this than you do and if they are worth considering for your career, they’ve also done this before.
Logically, if you are in the marketplace and online spreading your music, performing every chance you get, interacting with other rappers and singers, befriending known DJs, and building an on-line presence with videos and social media, you will attract people (managers) who can use their connections and knowledge to get you to the next level. A manager truly wants a client who has gotten himself or herself as far as possible so that the manager can then step in and accentuate the grind with a proven plan. No manager wants to do it alone and drag you to success– if a manager gets paid 20% of your income, why would they want to do 100% of the work? Just as no manager wants a client who is completely clueless about the industry, or has a bad attitude, or doesn’t listen to sound advice and do what’s required to succeed.
Most artists have no concept of the importance of a manager, they just know they need one and before learning the true importance of one, they appoint their boy, cousin, neighbor, fast talking friend, or the first person who steps to them as their “manager.” The problem with this is the same problem you’d experience with hiring them to fix your plumbing or re-wire your house (if they weren’t a plumber or an electrician). The upside is that you know and trust them to be in your house, but the the downside is they aren’t qualified for the job. They may get lucky and fix the problem, but more often than not, they’re going to make it worse.
Assembling a team is one of the most important career decisions an artist can make. Choosing a manager must be a well thought out decision based on many factors, and meant to last. A manager is the person who captains your ship… coaches your career… orchestrates your symphony. A manager creates the plan and trajectory of your career along with your input, and then he or she goes out and implements the plan and brings on the other team members who can help you excel. I have seen more careers falter and stall because the artist chose a bad or improper manager. In fact, I’ll even go as far as to say that I have seen bad management kill more careers than anything else.
Some artists get lucky and find a great manager right away. Some even choose an inexperienced person who grows along with the artist’s career to become successful. If these examples were the norm for achieving success, there wouldn’t be experienced managers in the music industry–after all, everyone has a family member or friend who came up with them, but very few are still there at the top levels of success in the music industry.
Many folks in the industry believe that you find the best manager you can at your level and then you move on when you find a better choice. The only way I see this working is if the manager understands from inception that he or she will be replaced when they’ve reached their peak of helpfulness and agrees to that plan. I’ve been replaced as a manager and I’ve been the replacement–both positions suck. Changing management is not easy. In some cases it disrupts the team and makes recovery difficult. It’s important to find a great manager, let him or her do their job, and grow as successful as possible in your career as an artist. In those situations where a manager is no longer producing, you do have to fire the manager and move on, however.
A great manager will take you as far as you can go. Remember, your manager works for you. Have realistic goals, set minimum standards and audacious goals for yourself and your career, and assemble the best team you can. A manager who’s good for one artist might be terrible for another, but the traits to look for include: integrity, honesty, good reputation, great communication skills, experience with an artist in your genre (or similar genre), good relationships, knowledge of the business from experience, connections, and a network of people to call for help and answers. I’d also look for someone organized with strong time management skills, excellent follow through, and a strong sense of self–meaning he or she has no problem reaching out to new folks and pitching you for shows, tours, endorsements, and opportunities. Being able to handle rejection is necessary for a manager since most artists hate to feel rejection. Additionally, strong people skills and an understanding of psychology would not hurt.
A few years ago, I randomly asked TI what helped him achieve his success and he said he hired the best team he could and he let them do their jobs. He also said he outworked every other artist. As an artist, he stayed in his lane and let the professionals do their jobs. Does that mean if you hire TI’s team you’d experience the same success? Probably not. Charles Chavez managed Pitbull and Chamillionaire, two very different artists and two different levels of success. You need to hire a team for yourself, at the right point in your career, and you all need to work hard together by outworking every other team and every other artist.
It’s impossible for me to tell you the best time to hire a manager, but I will tell you that most artists look for managers too soon. And this isn’t because they don’t necessarily know any better, it’s mostly because they feel their career isn’t advancing fast enough and want someone else to step in and move it along faster for them. This is inevitably the wrong time (and reason) to hire a manager. You hire a manager when you have something to manage, and when you get to a point in building your buzz and your hype where you can no longer do it by yourself anymore because there’s too much to do. This isn’t a one-sided relationship. While you need a manager to help you progress and take some of the weight off your shoulders, a manger needs a client who’s ready to listen, brings in income (or is about to), and one who isn’t a drain on resources, finances, or time. It’s a partnership, not a free “put me on” opportunity for the artist. The truth is, no one can put you on. You have to do the work, learn the business, listen to those who know and understand how to build your successful career, and break bread with them when the money finally comes. Being a manager is a job, a career, a business. Managers get paid 15%-20% of the artist’s income. The best way to attract a legitimate manager is to have something happening, or about to happen, where the manager can earn income. Nothing says “I’m a good risk” better than that risk paying off.
For those of you reading this who want to be managers, I applaud you. This is the first step to being a good manager–you’re obviously reading everything you can find about management. But it’s only a first step. Managing talent isn’t really something you can learn from reading or studying–it’s a hands on experience. I suggest you keep reading everything you can, but find legitimate experienced managers. Ask if you can work with them for free for a few months, or have them mentor you. The music industry is a who you know business and you need them, their connections and relationships, and their guidance at first. More importantly, you need someone experienced that you can call for advice as you move forward. After 24 years, I still call others for advice, introductions, opinions, and help–and I’m not even a manager. If I was still managing careers, I’d be calling others for support even more!
You will learn that talent alone isn’t enough for your artists (clients) to succeed. It also takes opportunity, timing, preparation, image, attitude, funding, strong work ethic, and a bit of luck. Ok, a lot of luck. The path needs to be opening just as you step onto it and then you must bat all obstacles out of the way–in your career and theirs. You need to put enough time and work into the plan to move forward, but also have the wisdom to know when it’s time to alter the plan. It’s all about the fans, and if you can ignore the industry while pleasing the fans, you’ll succeed.
Decisions and choices can’t be made emotionally, but through fact, data, and experience. Build your network, help other managers without poaching their clients, and always be loyal to your artists. Aspire to be great at what you do instead of well-liked. Success breeds haters, so develop a thick skin. Give back to the community and help new managers coming up underneath you. Always make decisions based on what’s best for your client, not what’s best for you. And lastly, approach your job with honesty and integrity and you will stand out in this industry. The money will come with the success. Focus on doing what’s best for your client, not what makes the quick cash. Longevity is king!
Former manager, Troy Carter (now at Spotify). Troy managed Lady Gaga at her height, and John Legend before leaving his firm, Atom Factory, for Spotify.