Do Artists Need Managers?

by Koka Tarini Siddhartha

Do artists need managers?

There’s no dearth of online articles and interviews with artists and managers concerning artist management, ways to set up artist management companies, and the ‘values’ a manager should embody. In this post, we briefly discuss artist management, and also take a look at the differences between artist managers and booking agents, and more specifically, at whether artists really need managers.

Artist manager vs. booking agent

An artist manager is someone who takes care of an artist’s business affairs and personal life, connects the artist to the relevant or ‘right’ people, formulates strategies, makes important decisions keeping the artist’s overall growth in mind, negotiates contracts, and acts as a sounding board.

Booking agents, on the other hand, are more region/territory specific. They help the artist to land a live show in a city, plan tours, promote the artist, and take care of logistical affairs like hospitality, tech setup, and so on.

Many people use the terms ‘artist manager’ and ‘booking agent’ interchangeably, just as they might mistakenly use ‘empathize’ instead of ‘sympathize’. One of the main reasons for this is that, more often than not (especially in India), managers tend to double as booking agents (more here).

Do new and upcoming artists need managers too?

A musician’s profession can be a volatile one. Some professional musicians have alternate jobs for financial stability and security; others are part of multiple bands. With musicians already facing the challenging tasks of constantly developing their art, as well as composing and recording new music, the additional and ever-present tasks of self-promotion, marketing, tour planning, and contract management become a hassle, and may quite often lie outside the musician’s skill set.

Most new artists, and even artists who have been on the scene for a few years, are apprehensive about the extra money they must shell out to engage a manager. However, as we learnt at Artists’ Corner, Delhi, apart from concerns regarding delayed payments and last-minute cancellations of gigs, artists simply wanted to know where the managers were and how they could get one.

What’s preventing these artists from finding managers?

Artists have clearly become more cautious with their music and the industry as a whole. There have been several instances of artists having had terrible experiences with their managers. Despite this, they also know that in order to focus on the quality of their music, they need a buffer in the form of a manager between them and booking agents, music publishers, record labels, promoters, and their fans.

Existing artist management companies in India include OML, MGMH, Mixtape, Submerge, and KRUNK, and newer ones such as Third Culture. These companies are very selective about artists they represent. Most managers are paid by commission (say, 15–25% of the artist’s earnings) and to ensure they make money, they tend to lean towards artists who are already quite successful.

So, what do new artists do?

At this point, we must point out that we do think artists need managers. However, there is the mistaken notion that these people must already either be managers or sub-managers at an artist management company to be considered worthy of the task.

Newer artists or unrepresented artists can always find someone whom they can train. For example, take Chris Hufford and Bryce Edge, managers of Radiohead—they had never managed a band before, and yet continue to be Radiohead’s managers even today (more here).

The best qualities in a manager include trustworthiness, entrepreneurship, and a passion for the artist’s music, in addition to at least a basic understanding of the music scene and how it functions. Of course, there’s a big advantage if the manager has great organizational skills, is a business whiz, or perhaps even a lawyer.

If you’re an artist reading this, it’s useful to remember the following three tips, irrespective of what stage you’re at in your career.

  1. The relationship between you and your manager must be a partnership or collaboration, and not a one-sided, dictatorial arrangement.
  2. Irrespective of how much you want your manager to take care of ‘all the business stuff’, you will always have to oversee your business, keep track of your money, and make sure your manager isn’t doing anything that might be a conflict of interest.
  3. Always get things in writing. Even if your manager is your best friend, remember to separate personal from professional and sign a contract. Fix a time period, include a sunset clause, and consult a lawyer.

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