How do you get a good manager?

David Mellor

David Mellor is CEO and Course Director of Audio Masterclass. David has designed courses in audio education and training since 1986 and is the publisher and principal writer of Record-Producer.com.

Friday March 19, 2010
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A simple question arrived in our e-mail the other day... "How can you get a good manager?"

Well first of all, why would anyone want a manager? In the normal course of work, a manager tells you what to do. And how to do it and when to do it. And if you don't do it right, you'll be fired.

Actually, it's not that much different in the music business. Except that the manager won't fire you. You'll fire them, if and when it proves necessary.

Everyone with an ambition in music starts off thinking that they don't need a manager. The sooner you realize that you do, the sooner your career can start.

There are basically three ways to get into the music business...

One is to play live and attract a following. If you have a following, then you can't be ignored. An online following can work too.

Another is to write and record great songs. So great that the lyrics might as well be "Hit record, hit record, hit record..." We're not talking about album tracks here. Your songs have to be as good as Diane Warren's to make it into the business this way.

The third way is to get known for something else. You could be an actor for instance. If people know who you are, they will buy your records.

In each of these scenarios you are going to have to put your full heart and soul into being exceptionally good at what you do. Or if you're an actor, you might just have got lucky and landed a role in a soap straight out of stage school.

Let's take the scenario where you play live. You'll spend a lot of time on the phone trying to get bookings. You'll send out demo CDs, photos and promo materials.

Occasionally you will get a gig in the back room of a crappy bar.

And then afterwards you'll argue for hours about how many people came through the door before you get your money.

Tough work. Tougher than making the music.

OK, let's say you write good songs. At this phase of your career, it's unlikely they are actually great songs. But you show promise.

So you send your songs to a record label.

If it is a US label, then they'll send your package straight back. They won't listen to it. You have to contact them first and get an invite.

Anywhere else in the world your package will go into the label's demo review system, which is actually a large cardboard box in a dark corner of the office. It's full of other demo packages.

Eventually an intern will be told to go through all the demos and clear the box out.

The intern will soon learn that you can just look at a demo and know whether it's worth listening to. Yes really. If you don't believe this then the universe you live in clearly is different to this one.

So they will make a stack of demos that are judged not to be worth listening to, for an even more junior intern to mail back to the senders. Then they will listen to the rest.

After a few CDs they will probably find one that stands out. The next major act perhaps, discovered by a mere intern!

Er.. no. What sounds good to an intern doesn't necessarily sound good to the public. And if the label already has acts with a similar style, which it almost certainly has, then there is simply no point in taking on another.

What I'm saying here is that it is incredibly difficult to get into the music business as a performer or writer.

Firstly you have to be a musical genius. Then you have to be a genius at attracting the attention of the record labels.

That's why you need a manager. So that you can get on with the job of creating music, while the manager can find opportunities for you.

So how do you get a manager?

Simple - you get yourself out there. As a band, you need to get a following. People who turn up at gig after gig.

As a recording artist, you need to get your work on a small label and sell a few thousand copies.

Online, you need tens of thousands of page views, preferably hundreds of thousands.

Once you have a proven track record of success, you can start looking for management.

So how do you find a good manager?

Well you could start by approaching existing managers or management companies. You can find them listed in the credits on CDs.

As a new act however, it is likely that they won't be interested. They would rather poach currently successful acts from other managers. There's less risk that way.

The alternative is to find a manager who isn't actually a manager yet, but aspires to be.

Managers generally come from the music industry. They have worked for a record label for a few years. Not necessarily in A&R, but possibly in the legal department, or marketing.

They have seen other managers come and go and they have realized that it is possible to make a very good living as a successful manager.

So they need an act to manage, but established acts want established managers.

That's where you come in!

The way to meet these people is simply by having as much contact you can with music industry people. Once you are 'in the know', then you will find opportunities coming your way.

But how do you know if someone is going to be a good manager if they don't have a track record?

Simple, you get them to prove themselves. If they have any management ability, they will be able to get you gigs at venues you thought were unapproachable (there are certain rules about this in the US, but a good manager will get around them!). They will be able to get you inside the hallowed walls of A&R offices.

When you have found someone who seems will manage you effectively, you can sign an agreement that is contingent on them achieving a certain level of success for you in a certain time frame. Getting signed by a major label within two years for instance.

In conclusion... yes you do need a manager, and you need a good one. The time to start looking is now!

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