Music Managers 101: How to Choose, When NOT to, and More

In 1962, when successful record store owner Brian Epstein heard a local Liverpool band called The Beatles perform in a local pub, he decided that they had talent and charisma worth promoting. Though locally popular, the band had failed to find favor with record companies anywhere.

Within six months, Epstein had secured the band a recording contract with major UK music publisher EMI, and had successfully and tactfully handled the dismissal of the band’s earlier drummer, Pete Best, at the other members’ request—and all this before becoming their official manager! (Epstein hired Ringo Starr as the fourth official Beatle later that year.)

A good music manager plays a pivotal role in an artist’s (or band’s) career, by securing performance and recording contracts, helping the artist build their image and industry network and advising them on advantageous career moves, all while prioritizing the artist’s best interests. 

But does every musician need a manager? And what makes for a ‘good’ music manager, anyway? How do you go about finding a good manager if you’re an indie artist? As an up and coming musician, you have probably been pondering these questions. If so, you’re in the right place – this article answers all your questions, and more. So dive in!  

When Does an Artist Need a Music Manager?

If you’re working on your very first album release, the chances are slim that your career can really benefit from having a music manager. However, artists whose careers are beginning to take off usually enjoy significant advantages through having  a good manager.

A good music manager can typically strategically boost the career growth of an artist who has already built up a significant listenership and fan base, for example, someone with over 10,000 regular listeners on DSPs who routinely plays to a full audience at venues with over 1,000 capacity.

A manager can then help such an artist (or band) to scale up their music business, by ensuring wider outreach through live and virtual performances as well as recording and/or music distribution contracts. Additionally, a good manager works to protect the artist’s interests during negotiations, be it with potential collaborators, music publishers, social media outlets or even businesses who seek promotional tie-ups with the artist.   

What Makes for a Good Music Manager?

In the course of working with hundreds of artists, one of our most frequently encountered questions is, “Can my friend be my music manager?” And our answer is invariably, “It depends”.

Many if not most early-career artists fail to grasp the crucial role played by a manager in shaping their musical careers. A common and understandable concern among musicians at this stage centers around the financial ramifications of hiring a manager.

For an artist, saving money should never be the main reason for hiring a friend (or any other individual) as a music manager. A good music manager may be entitled to 20% or even more of an artist’s total musical income, but can play a key role in multiplying that income by as much as 10,000x.  

Responsibilities of a music manager

A music manager typically wears many hats in managing an artist’s career. The key responsibilities of a music manager include:

Facilitating the production of the artist’s music

From song-writing, to recording and production aspects such as mixing and mastering, a good manager should be on top of where and how you produce, and help you manage deals and costs. For this, the manager may need to network with other industry professionals to secure the most optimal arrangements and collaborations for the artist.

Procuring and managing the artist’s engagements

Live venue performances, promotional appearances and so on, all have to be booked months or sometimes more than a year in advance. To ensure this, a music manager needs to interact with venue promoters and managers, event managers, tour managers and other professionals in the music industry. 

Interfacing between the artist and the music publishing company / record label

A music manager typically plays a crucial role in initially securing the most profitable contract for the artist. Subsequently, the manager ensures that the artist’s viewpoint and interests are represented and protected in any decisions made by the record label.

Building the artist’s visibility

This includes fostering the growth of the artist’s fan-base and social media presence. To this end, a music manager often works with music marketing and PR professionals, publicists and publicity firms as well as networking with social influencers and other experts to ensure optimal artist representation during social events such as media meet-and-greets, product and brand promotions, red carpet events, live shows and performances and so on.

Taking charge of the artist’s financial and legal affairs

While a music manager might not be either a financial or a legal expert, they typically oversee the management of the artist’s music business, working in association with a CPA, tax consultant, lawyer or other professional wherever required.

What a good music manager is NOT

From the previous section, it is clear that music managers must possess many traits and abilities. Before delving deeper into those, it is helpful to list some qualities that a good music manager must not have

If you have been considering an individual with these qualities as a potential manager, it would be best to reconsider: 

1. Socially awkward or avoidant

Given that social networking plays a big role in being an effective music manager, someone who hates mingling, considers a gathering of more than five people “a crowd” and does not do well at initiating interactions and relationships is a poor choice for a music manager’s position.

2. Emotionally high-strung or sensitive

Garnering publicity for an artist, maximizing their visibility and securing event bookings and contracts, as well as protecting the artist’s interests means that a music manager must regularly deal with rejection and, at times, friction. As with social awkwardness, emotionality and sensitivity are likely to be handicaps in achieving these goals.

3. Bad at budgeting, finances and overall money management

While a music manager may hire a professional CPA or tax consultant to ensure that an artist’s financial affairs are kept in order, it is essential for the manager themselves to have a sound grasp of money management. A history of credit card debt, defaulting on loans, income tax penalties and/or other signs of financial mismanagement are red flags in considering an individual for a music manager’s job.

4. Attention-seeking, enjoys being spot-lit

Much unlike an artist’s profile, that of a music manager typically requires working quietly in the background to ensure that the artist’s musical career enjoys the greatest benefit. This is at cross purposes with behavior that draws attention to oneself or basks in the limelight; this means that an attention-hungry individual is unlikely to succeed as a music manager.

Necessary skills for music management

1. Honesty 

Brian Epstein counseled The Beatles to change their appearance and on-stage conduct. From a scruffy-looking band who wore unkempt clothes, smoked and ate on stage, Epstein transformed them into debonair performers with impeccable stage manners, which not only helped the band secure show bookings but helped enormously in creating a favorable impression among UK and American media outlets.

2. Drive and determination

René Angelil was so determined to see Celine Dion succeed that he mortgaged his own house to raise funds for her first studio album! Needless to say, he had to have had immense faith in her talent and star potential to go to such lengths.

3. Familiarity with music

Musician-turned-music critic Jon Landau first watched Bruce Springsteen perform to a packed audience in a bar in Cambridge, Massachussetts, in 1974. By this time, Landau had not only formed and dissolved his own rock ’n roll band, he had become a widely read music journalist who wrote for acclaimed publications like The Real Paper, Crawdaddy and The Rolling Stone. Landau channeled his considerable musical expertise in helping Springsteen build his own career, from choosing the ideal recording studio to clinching contracts with record labels.

5. Experience in the music industry

Troy Carter is a legendary modern-day music manager who has helped many music personalities scale great heights, including rapper Eve, alt rock diva Lady Gaga and RnB star John Legend. Before turning manager, Carter was an aspiring rapper and later worked as a studio executive, working with artists such as The Notorious B.I.G. and Sean ‘Puffy’ Combs.

6. Business savvy

Starting out as a high school dropout, Scooter Braun has grown into one of the most successful and sought-after music managers today. His client list includes the likes of Justin Bieber, Carly Rae Jepsen and UK band The Wanted.

7. Networking and connections within the music industry

From Brian Epstein, who used his influence as a record store owner to persuade music publishers to give The Beatles a chance to music critic Jon Landau whose inspired writing skyrocketed Bruce Springsteen’s career, music managers typically put their insider knowledge and connections to work in furthering an artist’s career. Current-day music managers like KWL founder Kevin Liles (formerly head of Def Jam) and Troy Carter (founder of Atom Factory) further exemplify how a manager’s influence goes far in transforming an artist into a commercial success.

How (and How Much) are Music Managers Paid?

Clearly, it is hard to put a price-tag on the invaluable assistance and advice of a good music manager who helps an artist climb to far greater heights in the industry than they would otherwise have done. However, as employees, managers must be paid and there are different models used for remunerating a music manager.  

Salaried music managers

As in the case of other professionals earning a salary, music manager salaries vary widely. A 2023 estimate provided by the online employment portal indeed.com pegs the average annual salary of a music manager in the United States at $44,635. However, the portal acknowledges that managers working in cities known as music hubs, such as New York ($66,908) and Los Angeles ($68,583) typically earn far more. One estimate provided by the Walt Disney Company in 2022 puts the average annual salary of a music manager at a high $93,316.

Managers on commissions

One widely used model for remunerating music managers is to offer them a fixed percent commission on an artist’s revenues. This percentage may vary from 10% to 30% or even more, although on average, commission percentages are in the 10% to 20% range.

Note that a music manager’s commission differs from a booking agent or event promoter’s commission. In the latter cases, the individuals earn a commission only on the earnings from a specific event or event type; for example, an agent may earn a fixed percentage of revenues from all live performances booked for an artist.

Contrasting with promoter and agent commissions that are based on an artist’s income from specific events or event categories (like live show bookings), a music manager’s commission is based on an artist’s global earnings, including performances, streaming, licensing, royalties and promotional fees.

An important distinction to remember when negotiating a music manager’s commission is the difference between gross and net income. Typically, gross income is the revenue before all other payments and dues have been settled, while net income (obviously a smaller amount) is that left over after other bills have been paid. Thus, committing to pay 10% of gross income could still end up costing more than committing to pay 20% of net income!

How do I Find a Good Music Manager?

The case examples above illustrate the importance of live performances as an opportunity for being spotted by a talented music manager. Many of the biggest past as well as present stars in the music industry met their music managers after being identified as exceptionally talented and promising during a concert or show.

However, it is possible to hire a music manager without waiting to be approached by one at the end of a performance. Today, online talent platforms like indeed.com and upwork.com, as well as professional networks such as LinkedIn are valuable resources for identifying experienced professionals who have a solid reputation and desirable industry experience.

Tip: Keep in mind that a competent music manager is likely to want to be convinced of the artist’s mettle before signing on. So, when interacting with a potential managerial candidate, for instance, by sending them samples of your work and setting up a personal meeting, be sure to put your best foot forward.

Next Steps

If you're taking steps to work ON your music business rather than IN your music business, you're already ahead of most other independent artists. Boost your odds of success even further by getting these secrets on optimizing your marketing budget as an artist.


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