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How to Choose a Manager

In the last decade the role of the manager has become increasingly crucial to the career development of musicians. Here’s what to look for when seeking the right manager for you and your music.  

Last updated: 08 October 2020

Few factors can propel a musician’s career forward quite like a good manager. In an era when record labels no longer have the money to invest in unproven acts, managers have emerged as one of the best routes into the music industry. The right manager should have the vision, skills and conviction to take you and your music to a whole new level.  But for artists keen to secure the services of a good manager, finding and choosing one can be challenging.  

Do you really need a manager? 

The first task for any band or singer-songwriter is to ask themselves why they think they need a manager. Many musicians already successfully manage themselves, incorporating their creative role alongside general admin such as phone calls, emailing, running social media platforms, writing press releases, negotiating syncing opportunities and inputting metadata for tracks.  

But if you find yourself spending so much time on the admin that you don’t have any time to actually create any music, that is probably the time to start thinking about getting support. "Do as much as you can on your own,” says Nicky Carder of the Music Managers Forum, a professional community of music managers. “Once an artist thinks they have done everything they can themselves, it might be a good time to consider management.” 

The role of a manager 

From the outset, it’s worth establishing what you want a manager to do. If it’s simply general admin to free you up to focus on your creative work then it’s worth assessing whether there is a trusted friend, relative or someone within your local music scene who might be able and willing to help out.   

If, however, you are looking for someone with specialist industry knowledge to represent you, negotiate on your behalf and seek out bigger and better opportunities, then you will need to start looking for a professional manager. 

What can you offer a manager? 

Before you start planning what a manager can offer you, ask yourself what you can offer them. Most managers will want to see that your business is up and running and that you have a decent fanbase. By observing what you have achieved under your own steam, a prospective manager will be able to gauge how dedicated and hard working you really are.  

How to find managers 

When it comes to finding contact details of managers, there are numerous useful resources. The MMF has hundreds of professional managers listed. Other useful resources include the //Music Week Directory// and the MMF’s //The Music Management Bible//, both of which are often available from local libraries.  

Focus on your niche  

Avoid a blanket email approach. Instead, find managers who operate in the same niche area or genre as you. Directories such as the //Unsigned Guide// list the genres that managers specialise in. By narrowing it down, you stand a better chance of finding a manager with the specialist label and live agency contacts.  

Recommendations can be invaluable, so talk to other artists and bands to see if they have had positive experiences of working with particular managers. Conferences and industry showcases can also be a useful way to meet managers. The Unsigned Guide has a comprehensive list of industry seminars at conventions at  https://www.theunsignedguide.com/directory/music-training-and-careers/industry-seminars-conventions 

What to look for in a manager 

There is a saying in the music industry that ‘You don’t find a manager, a good manager will find you’. There is some truth to this. If you are doing all the right things, then you will inevitably come into the orbit of music industry professionals who will spot your potential. But whether you find them or vice versa, the first thing you must look for in a manager is a real passion and enthusiasm for your music. 

“Many artists think they should go for the most ’well-connected’ manager with an impressive roster of many successful artists,” says Loretta Andrews, founder of Safe Music Management, whose clients include Guvna B and Joshua Luke Smith, “when in truth the most important requirements are someone who believes in you as an artist and is going to work extremely hard because of that.”   

Key skills a manager will need 

Experience is also an essential factor. Find out how much experience a manager has and who they currently represent. If they manage a number of artists, their time will be limited. So ask how busy they are. Will they be able to devote time to you, or will their time be dominated by another artist they represent?  

Funding will be vital to moving your career forward so ask any prospective manager if they will be able to invest in you. Any manager who is interested in you and your music should  also have a clear vision of how they see your career progressing, so ask them what plans they have for you. Like all good relationships, trust is paramount, so do your research on any manager you are considering. It’s well worth getting in touch with artists they are managing to get their feedback.  

Take your time 

Choosing the right manager is not a process that should be rushed into. If you do find someone who who seems promising, take your time to discuss the way forward. These conversations generally take months. The areas you focus on are: what the manager’s role and responsibilities should be; the overall strategy for your career; and the terms of your working relationship. 

Remember, NEVER sign any contract until you have had it checked by a legal expert. The MU, the MMF and the Featured Artists Coalition (FAC) have created an example management contract //insert hyperlink: https://www.theunsignedguide.com/blog/696 // and the MU’s Contract Advisory Service // insert hyperlink: https://www.musiciansunion.org.uk/Home/Advice/Your-Career/Legal/Contracts // offers free legal advice for members, via the MU Regional Offices.  

Strong bargaining position   

Of course, there is no guarantee that having the right manager on board will transform your fortunes. Getting an artist to the level they want to be at is a time consuming process, says Lovisa Attebrant, music manager and MMF member secretary. A manager may invest time, passion, energy and sometimes money, knowing full well that it could take years, if ever, to get a return on that investment. “Having a manager onboard doesn't automatically open doors,” she says, “a manager cannot magically make people care about your music.”  

But if you have a strong work ethic, have built up your own business and fanbase and reached the limit of what you can do yourself,  then you are in a strong position to secure the services of a manager who really believes in you and to move on to the next level.  

“At that point you’ve got a huge amount of bargaining clout,’ says Paul Gray, bassist with The Damned, and former manager and MU Regional Officer.  “And you can then ask the labels that lovely question: ‘What can you offer me?’ And that does happen.” 

 

To learn more about the changing role and value of the music manager download the MMF’s recently published Managing Expectations Report.