Personal Managers: Roles and Options

The Role of a Personal Manager in Your Career

By strict definition, a personal manager advises and counsels artists in all aspects of the music business. This may include artist development, project management, touring, contracts and income streams, and so much more.

Artist Development

The manager may assist with the development of an artist’s career via the following activities:

Encouraging You to Get Your Brand Together: Inspiring you to polish up your brand—from your artist name and logo, to what you wear and say in public, to the charities and other organizations and brands with whom you associate.

Assisting with Your Sound and Songs: Inspiring you to polish up your compositions and musical sound. If needed, the manager may even help set you up with songwriting consultants and co-writers, and help you find complete songs to record and perform.

Helping You Improve Performances and Merch: Inspiring you to perfect the quality of your live performances (set list flow, presence, etc.) and merchandising designs (T-shirts, hats, stickers, etc.)

Helping You Build Your Fan Base: Encouraging you to strengthen your connections with fans, including building a database, improving upon your Internet presence, and finding ways to get fans’ assistance with promoting your career.

Contracts and Income Streams

Your manager may also help initiate various business deals by doing the following:

Setting Up Meetings: Setting up showcases and meetings with potential record companies, music publishers, merchandisers, sponsors, and more.

Researching the Right Deals: Researching what companies and representatives are best suited to your talents and musical style, based not only on a company’s past signings or successes, but also on its financial stability and understanding of your vision.

Recommending You Find Legal Counsel: Providing recommendations for legal counsel to help shop your music to various companies and review important contract terms. And finally…

Working Collaboratively with Your Attorney: Communicating with your attorney about important contract deal points, but knowing when to step aside and let the attorney work.

Project Management

When, and if, an artist signs a recording agreement, a manager may also assist by doing this:

Getting Everyone at the Label Excited About Your Career: Lighting the fire under the label’s ass and trying to make sure that you will be a top priority.

Monitoring Pre-Release and Post-Release Activities: Providing marketing ideas regarding the branding, price, place, and promotion of your record, and fighting tactfully for what is best for your career. And finally . . .

Meeting with Departments: Meeting with the various departments at the record label, (radio promotion, new media, licensing, press, sales, and marketing) to make sure that everyone is talking and working in concert to further your professional career.

Hybrid Services: Merch, Publishing, and More

As if the above tasks were not enough, some management companies operating under newer business models may even assist your career by doing the following:

Providing Label Services: Handling all matters concerning the funding, recording, manufacturing, distributing, and monitoring of a record, in addition to all other management services. Said another way, the management company is a label, or the label is a management company—however you see it.

Providing Publishing Services: Seeking creative uses of your songs in film, TV and games, issuing licenses to music users for the use of your songs, and collecting all income generated by these uses. And finally . . .

Merchandising: Helping design and manufacture effective merch that sells, helping the group sell merch on the road and via retail outlets, and seeking sublicenses to expand the product line.

Live Engagements and Touring

Moving on to another role, a personal manager may also assist with the following:

Securing a Talent Agent: Helping you to find a licensed talent agent who specifically works on procuring live performances. Your manager will work together with this agent to determine what tours are best for you, to make sure that you’re getting the best offers from concert promoters, and even to help direct your performances from city to city.

Working with Your Business Manager: Helping you find a business manager who specializes in the music business, and working together with him or her to ensure that your tours are properly budgeted. Hotel accommodations, transportation, stage crews, and other expenses will be closely examined in effort to minimize expenses and ensure that you turn a profit (or at least cover expenses). And finally . . .

Hiring a Tour Manager: Hiring a tour manager who is responsible for keeping a watchful eye on all business matters from city to city, night after night. This could mean checking you in to hotels, “advancing” the shows (making sure that each venue has the proper accommodations in place for you), “settling” money with promoters at the end of each night, babysitting, and bailing you out of jail—seriously!

Physical and Mental Health Issues

Finally, once an artist is successful, a great manager can assist the artist in the following ways:

Monitoring Physical and Mental Health: Looking out for the artist’s health and well-being, and knowing when to say no to that extra morning radio show, public appearance, or leg of the tour.

Checking In with the Artist: Checking in with the artist and simply asking him or her, “How are you doing?” Said another way, the manager checks the goose that is hatching the golden eggs, rather than just focusing on the golden eggs. This is important. Artists are known to break down when they’re pushed too hard. Elvis Presley is a classic example of this.

Management Options

Now that you understand what a manager does, we can discuss the various management options available to you. The most common choices, depending on how far along you are in your career, are self-management, start-up management, and established professional management.

Self-Management

In the early stages of your career, good management must always begin with the artist. Unless one of your relatives happens to be a record label or publishing company president, no one is going to help you until you first help yourself!
As your self-manager, consider the self-assessment checklist below to determine whether or not you are doing all the right things.

Have you given serious thought to your long-term career vision?
• Have you written a large repertoire of songs or even cowritten with professionals?
• Have you developed a consistent and unique brand (name, logo, look, attitude)?
• Have you professionally recorded, mastered, mixed, and packaged your music?
• Have you distributed your music on all streaming platforms?
• Are you generating hype on all your socials (Instagram, YouTube, Tik-Tok)?
• Are you getting added to streaming playlists and sharing links with fans?
• Are you generating reviews, stories, and interviews on influencer blogs?
• Are you drawing people to your live shows and selling a lot of merch?
• Are you involving fans in promoting your music and creating street/viral teams?
• Are you making money with your music or will you soon be?

Musicians often believe that the solution to their problems is finding someone to whisk them up from rehearsal room to superstardom. An experienced manager can make good things happen fast, but he or she is not a solution for your laziness. This is the digital age, where doing it yourself is far easier than ever before. Bottom line: you must generate some action yourself in order to give managers (especially those of power and clout) a valid reason to want to work with you.

Start-Up Management

After you’ve reached a point in your career when you’ve done all the things mentioned in the list above, and you just can’t go any further without a helping hand, then perhaps you’re ready for a start-up manager. This might include one of the following:

A Friend: 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 as your career progresses, he will be replaced by an established professional manager and offered some other position with the band.

A Retired Musician: An experienced musician who wants to “right all the wrongs” she encountered in her professional career, and has got all the passion and drive needed to set you on course.

A Businessperson: An educated businessperson who’s always dreamed of being in a band and has the desire to live those dreams through you.

A Club Owner: 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. And finally . . .

An Intern: An intern or junior assistant of a professional manager by day who’s looking to cut their teeth on managing their own band on their downtime at night. They’ve got the advantage of having the boss’ ear for guidance and observing how a professional office is run all day.

While start-up managers may not be the most experienced folks, don’t underestimate their value. They can be some of the most loyal and hardworking people around, and they’ll stick with you through the tough times. And who knows, they may even grow into being legends. Look at Andrew Oldham. He started out with the Rolling Stones when he was just 17, and he became one of the most successful managers of all time. Bravo, Andrew Oldham!

Established Professional Management

If you’re able to create serious momentum in your career (get thousands of streams, start generating some income, and/or attract labels and publishers), then established professional managers will be more interested in working with you. You might be referred to these folks via your record label, or they might seek you out. Let’s look at mid-level and big-league managers.

Mid-Level Managers
Mid-level managers are those who have a great deal of experience in the industry but have not quite broken a band into superstardom. Maybe they have one client on their roster who was able to generate a respectable following, but they still don’t represent a bonified super star—and that’s what they’re shooting for! They are typically well liked in the industry and have a big enough network to open some doors for you. However, the problem with mid-level managers is that they are not as powerful as big-league managers, and therefore it may take them longer to get things done.

Big-League Managers
Big-league managers have been around for years and have several bonified superstars on their rosters. The relationships they’ve formed, the respect they’ve earned, and the favors they can trade give them the power to make things happen with just a few phone calls.
However, the problem is that you could easily get “lost in the sauce.” This means that you get overshadowed by their more profitable clients. I was with a group that had one of the most successful rock management companies in the world (one that handles Metallica), and we never even did one date with the band or really much of anything. We soon left the management.

Qualities to Look for in a Professional Manager

There are dozens of experienced, professional, established managers out there, any one of whom is capable of doing the job. So when that day comes when you are ready for a manager, don’t just think that a bigger manager is always a better manager. More importantly, your manager must possess a genuine enthusiasm for your music and a commitment to going the long haul. Your manager must really want to work with you.
Read up on successful managers like Scooter Braun (Justin Beiber), Troy Carter (Lady Gaga), and Kevin Liles (Trey Songz) and take note of the traits that led to their success.

One classic manager I’d like to recommend is Andrew Loog Oldham (the Rolling Stones). Oldham understood branding and how to create the Stones’ “bad boy” image; he was an innovative thinker and helped the Stones retain ownership in their masters; and he knew how to form the right alliances for the band (he connected them with the Beatles).

So, what manager traits are important to you? Be sure to give this some thought. •

Bobby Borg