Berklee Today

Management Options

One of the most far-reaching decisions a new musical act must make is when to hire and whom to hire as a personal manager.

  Bobby Borg
  Bobby Borg is the author of The Musician's Handbook, published by Billboard Books. This article was excerpted and edited from Borg's book.

A percussionist, Borg has worked extensively as a touring and recording artist and has served as a music business educator, consultant, and magazine columnist. Visit his website at www.bobbyborg.com.

After your group or solo act has gotten to the point where you are getting positive feedback from audiences, more opportunities to play gigs, and a growing body of fans asking when you will release your debut recording, it is probably time to begin thinking about hiring a personal manager to help you bump your career to the next level. The artist fully entrusts the manager to envision his or her goals and help put a strategic plan into effect to reach those goals. The manager becomes the artist's motivator, counselor, confidant, diplomat, and day-to-day business adviser. Having the right personal manager can bring success beyond your wildest dreams. Needless to say, having the wrong manager can be devastating to your career. Choosing a personal manager may be one of the most important career decisions you make.

Before seeking out and signing with a personal manager though, it's important to understand the various types of management options that are available to you. Depending on where you are in your career, the most common options are self-management, start-up management by an individual attempting to break into the music business, and established professional management.

Self-Management

In the early stages of your career, unless one of your relatives happens to be the president of Warner Bros. Records, no one is going to help you out until you first help yourself. Remember that good management must always begin with the artist. Too often, musicians believe that the solution to their problems is finding some third party to magically whisk them from the rehearsal room to super stardom. It's true that an experienced manager can make good things happen fast, but as the artist, don't be lazy. First, seriously ask yourself if there's anything more you could be doing to help your career.

You must acquire a basic knowledge of the music business and devote some good old-fashioned hard work on your own before ever thinking about a getting a personal manager. Even the members of Mötley Crüe, whose chaotic demeanor made them appear completely incapable of functioning at a professional business level, worked their butts off early on and generated career momentum - long before ever getting involved with their first manager. Some artists have it so together that the first time a personal manager comes into play is after they've signed an agreement with a record company. A band may then be better positioned to pick a more powerful manager of their choice. But still, band members must continue to monitor their business and work together with their personal manager to build a successful career. After all, a personal manager ultimately works for you.

Start-up Management

Perhaps you've reached a point in your career where the time spent running your business is inhibiting your creative development - or maybe you've done everything in your power to advance your career and can't go further without a helping hand. If so, perhaps finding a personal manager is the right solution. But the reality is that until you're signed or close to being signed, most managers with any clout or power won't usually be interested in working with you. These managers are simply too busy handling artists that bring them an immediate return on their investment of time. Surely there are always exceptions to this rule, but generally your first manager will most likely be one of the following.

A close friend who's willing to make phone calls and help promote shows without getting paid for the first few months or years. In fact, he may not even be called a "manager" at all, working with the understanding that as soon your career progresses, he will be offered another position in the band when an established professional manager comes onboard.

An experienced musician who wants to "right all the wrongs" she's encountered in her professional career and has got all the passion and drive needed to set you on course. Or a businessperson who has always dreamed of being in a band and has the desire to live those dreams through you.

You're ready for management when . . .

  • You have written a large number of songs and developed them to the best of your ability.
  • You have made demos of your songs and are selling your own CDs at live performances and from your website.
  • You are booking your own shows and doing all that you can to promote them.
  • You are building a strong fan base and getting fans excited about your music.
  • You are stimulating interest in the press and over the Internet.
  • You have given serious thought to your career, vision, and goals and know exactly what you want to accomplish.
  • All members of your band are united and committed to a common goal.
 

A club owner in your hometown who sees hundreds of bands perform each year. This individual has a good idea of what works and what doesn't and is willing to offer you an objective point of view and career guidance.

An intern or junior assistant of a professional manager by day who is looking to cut his teeth on managing his own band on his downtime by night. He's got the advantage of having his boss's ear for guidance and sees how a professional office is run at his job.

Regardless of the possibilities here, these people all share one thing in common; they are relative newcomers to the management business, or, as I once heard someone devotedly refer to them, they are known as "start-up managers." Start-up managers are usually young, aggressive, and ambitious individuals who are willing to work their tails off for you. They'll devote every minute of their day to helping you reach your goals. They're business savvy, good talkers, and eager to learn. These traits are exactly what's needed in a manager in the early developmental stages of your career.

Take note that in the early stages of your career you'll have to be the most careful about picking a manager. A lot of wannabes will feel that they can adequately manage your career. Despite their good intentions, they may end up costing you time and money due to their inexperience and lack of connections. They may promise you everything and deliver nothing. Keep in mind, there are no licenses, or state certifications required to become a personal manager - anyone from a used car dealer to a snake oil salesman can be one - so proceed with caution when making your choice! In this business, there are managers and there are damagers. Watch for the damagers.

Established Professional Management

If you're ambitious and able to develop your career on your own to the point where you're creating a buzz in your hometown clubs, in the press, and on college radio; and perhaps record companies are beginning to ask about you or you've gone as far as signing a record deal, then your management options are going to open up considerably. At this point in your career, things are going to begin moving fast for you and you'll need an experienced pro to take the reins. Keep in mind that managers are in business to make money just like anyone else, and now that you have the potential to make them money, there's more reason for them to work with you. You've come a long way on your own, and unless your ego inflates drastically or you decide to start doing drugs (hey, it's been known to happen), you've already proven that you have what it takes to go the distance. The term "established professional management" covers a broad spectrum, but for the sake of clarity here let's divide it into two distinct categories: mid-level managers and big-league managers.

Mid-level Players

The mid-level managers are those who have a great deal of experience in the industry but have not quite broken a band into superstardom. They may have one client on their roster who was able to sell a couple hundred thousand records, but they still don't have a gold or platinum record hanging on the wall, and that's what they're shooting for. These are people who are typically well liked in the industry for their enthusiasm and they are well connected enough to open some doors for you. They may be exactly what you need to get record companies from just being interested in you to actually closing a deal. Mid-level managers usually have a great understanding of the business and perhaps were even A&R representatives or marketing managers at a label before getting involved in the management business. They enjoy the entrepreneurial spirit and freedom provided by managing bands. The downside here is that they are not as powerful as a big-league manager, and therefore it may take them longer to get things done.

Major Leaguers

Big-league managers are, needless to say, very well connected in the industry. The relationships they've formed, the respect they've earned, and the favors they can trade, give them the power to make things happen for you with just a few phone calls. These people have been around for years and have lots of gold and platinum records hanging on their walls. They may even run a large firm and have a number of managers working under them. The clients these managers represent provide a number of touring opportunities for your band. In addition, these managers have established strong relationships with record companies over the years representing other clients, and the labels are happy to have them representing you.

The important thing is to pick the manager who really wants to take you on as a client, not the one with the biggest star on his or her roster.  

There are a dozen or so experienced, established, professional managers out there who are capable of doing the job for you. The important thing is to pick the manager who really wants to take you on as a client, not the one with the biggest star on his or her roster. Your manager must possess a genuine enthusiasm for your music and be committed to going the long haul with you through thick and thin. If a big-league manager is truly dedicated to making you a huge success, then it's a pretty good bet that things will start moving fast for you.

The problem with signing with a major-league manager is that you may not always get the attention you deserve. Maybe you were taken on just so someone else wouldn't sign you first. Perhaps you were taken on as a favor to someone else in the industry. Maybe the plan is to turn you over to a less experienced manager in the firm. Regardless, when push comes to shove, you can bet that your manager is going to prioritize his or her more successful clients ahead you. After all, this is how the mortgage on that second home in Hawaii is paid. The members of one group who were signed to Atlantic Records and managed by one of the most successful rock management firms in the world, were actually told that they should not even think about going on the road until they had three singles released to radio and three videos in rotation at MTV. (Most bands are lucky to have one single in rotation!) Needless to say, the band did not break through. Was management unhappy with the record the band delivered and wanting to see if the album had legs on its own with minimal effort? Or was it just not worth the time to send the band out in a passenger van to slowly build a buzz over the following two years? It's anyone's guess.

One thing is for sure: a manager who's been involved with a band from the very beginning is much more emotionally invested than someone who comes aboard later. These are typically the guys that will go down with the sinking ship before giving up. In the long run, this may be exactly what you need. For a new act, the best choice for a manager may well be someone you already know.