A very close friend of mine asked me to be his agent earlier today and I kind of freaked out. Not because I didn’t think I could do it, but more because said friend has been around a whole lot longer than I have, and has been able to do a whole lot of cool stuff in the music industry over the years. This got me thinking about the role of agents and managers in the music industry, and why and when you should seriously consider getting one. The thing is – even though it might benefit me financially I don’t believe everyone should be getting representation. You need to do a lot of stuff on your own to get someone who is more than just a friend to generate interest in having someone represent you.
Of course – there is no shame in getting a friend to be your agent or manager. (And for the curious, in the modern context there isn’t really a difference) If they seem smart and have their shit together then it might make sense to get them on board, especially if they might be willing to do it for cheaper than their peers. You need to realize though that strong representation will want to reach out to you when you are worthy. If you find your way there and have a lower level manager working with you, then you are going to need to be able to back off of that contract if you need to and to have some sort of agreement with your manager providing you an out. You want your contracts to be pushing your career forward, not holding it back.
So when do you know you’re ready for representation? Generally I think it should come at a time when you see that you are pulling 50 people at your bigger local shows. At that point, shows are paying for themselves (At least if you have a traditional four or five piece band) and people are starting to pay attention on a national spectrum as well as a regional one. Once you’re one of the biggest bands on your local scene and have done a handful of regional dates it might make sense to start going out and about in search of a manager. It might not be easy, but it’s definitely a crucial first step. A manager is going to be able to hook you up with a booking agent (Which actually might be MORE important than a manager in many cases) and give you a national presence. If you’re sweeping up at home, this is where you are going to want to move next.
People ask me all the time what do I do as a manager – since it can mean so many things to so many different folks. For the main groups I handle, the role of a manager is primarily that of a team organizer. I work with the PR and booking agents to help ensure the optimal forward motion. I also strategize what the bands next steps will be and discuss with the label when they would like to orchestrate releases. I am something of a hub for the artist, slowly planning out their future and figuring out what the next moves are going to need to be if they want to get bigger than ever. If you’re at a point where you have a ton of different people to handle and are not sure how to move forward then that is going to be when you are going to want to pick up a manager.
Not all management solutions are right for everybody. Some people don’t need a full time manager, some people just need consultation, which is a service I much more willingly provide if only because I’ve been through the whole rigmarole so many times at this point that it comes as second nature to me. If you think you can impress your consultant and use their advice to talk your music to the next level, then watching them turn into your manager should be a fairly straightforward process. Everything about the music industry is evolving one step at a time such that people will only gradually take notice. If you rocket to fame, you might make money initially, but it probably is going to be very difficult for you to maintain any level of long term success.
A good manager can make your career, a bad one can permanently screw you over. This is one of those things where you need to go with your gut if you want to advance properly. Sometimes a contract doesn’t mean as much as you hoped it would. The odds are that you’re going to end up okay – managers with bad reputations tend not to last that long anyway, and you can usually sniff them out pretty easily. Marching forward in the music industry as one is destined to do requires a lot of foresight and determining the significance of having a manager can be a real struggle. So ask your friends, ask managers you know who are too busy to take you on, ask more experienced musicians and slowly piece together what kind of manager you need and what you want from said manager. You won’t regret it.