What Does a Music Manager Actually Do?

Author: Tomas Morton | Updated: | This post may contain affiliate links.

The role of a music manager can often seem more glamorous than it really is, yet it’s not always fully appreciated. They can be the most vital part of an artist’s team, but if you ask most people what an artist manager does, you’re likely to be met with a puzzled look.

Many artists don’t fully grasp what a manager does until they snag a record deal or start gaining traction online, and suddenly they’re not sure of the next steps. Plus, you’ve got those old stereotypes of managers as fast-talking, wining and dining, slightly shady characters who only want to work with the big names.

Much like the HBO show Entourage poked fun at the world of A-list actors and their agents, there are plenty of misconceptions about what a real music manager does and what they’re like.

In reality, many managers are quite reserved. I’ve been in recording sessions with high-profile singers where, until the manager introduced themselves at the end, I’d assumed they were an assistant.

They’d spent the whole time quietly tucked away in a corner of the studio.

Having had the experience of working with a manager and dealing with many others in my time making records, I’ve come to understand the crucial roles a manager has to cover.

Let’s dive into those.

The Main Tasks of the Music Manager

Negotiator for the Recording Process

Record Deals

As a music manager, one of your key roles is to secure a record deal for the artist. Even though the dynamics of record deals have changed somewhat with streaming and the reshaping of the recording industry, the art of successfully negotiating a contract is still as vital as ever.

This aspect has a significant impact on an artist’s career, potentially shaping the next 5 to 10 years of their journey. You might think, isn’t reviewing contracts a job for lawyers?

Sure, it technically is, but you need a contract to review first! Getting a record label to notice you is no easy task, and it’s one of the main responsibilities of a manager.

Their goal is not just to secure a record deal, but to ensure it’s a golden opportunity for the artist’s future.

While a lawyer will scrutinize the fine print and verify the numbers, the manager’s initial task is to check if the record label is on the same page when it comes to the artist’s success. They need to understand the artist’s dreams, their genre, the type of songs and record production they’re aiming for, and so on.

The manager should also investigate whether the label has other artists who play similar music. How have they helped those artists’ careers soar?

As a manager, you’re a brainstormer, strategic thinker, and creative partner for the artist. You should understand that there’s always a balance between the money you get from a record label and how much control they want in return.

This is a tricky balance that artists often find hard to maintain on their own.

Many artists see record labels as their ticket out of tough times. After years of striving for success, they can finally see a big payday.

So, if they see a large number, they often overlook any warning signs. That’s when a manager needs to step in and clarify things like artist royalty, producer royalty, advance recoupment, and cross-collateralization.

Communicating these points to creative artists can be quite a challenge, but it’s all part of the job!

Publishing Deals

Imagine publishing deals as record deals’ siblings. They’re all about the songs you’ve penned or are planning to pen for your new record.

Some artists might decide to skip the record deal but still want their managers to nab a stellar publishing deal, particularly if they’ve whipped up loads of potential chart toppers.

You see, artists often create a bunch of songs – so many, in fact, that they let other artists record them. This is where a publisher becomes your best friend.

Publishers don’t just promote your songs to major label artists, they also chase down worldwide royalties when your songs hit the big time.

And guess what? Publishers can also pitch to film and TV. Sure, the artist’s manager usually handles this, but on a different scale. We’ll chat more about this in the income stream section.

Just like their record deal cousins, publishing deals need to be haggled over. Why? Because you’re getting an advance from a publishing company that counts against royalties.

Basically, any initial cash from a publisher will be taken out of your song’s earnings before you see any more dough rolling in.

Here’s a heads-up: most big publishers are going to want a slice of your songwriting royalties. Let’s say you signed with Universal Music Publishing for $100,000. They might ask for 30% of your royalties for life as part of the deal. Sounds like a lot, right? That’s where your manager steps in, working to shrink their share while keeping yours intact.

Sure, a significantly smaller percentage might be a bit of a stretch, but you could start at 30% and maybe whittle it down to 25%. This is a standard, fair setup, and a savvy manager will know this.

If you end up hitting the big leagues, they could potentially save you millions.

Production Deals

These types of arrangements, where you sign with a big producer before a major label, aren’t as common as you might think. Big-name producers like Dr. Luke often run publishing companies too, thanks to the sheer number of songs they churn out.

Often, a fresh new artist might sign up with Dr. Luke’s Kemosabe label through Sony, and also with his publishing company, RX Songs or Prescription Songs.

You might be scratching your head, wondering why anyone would go down this road. But here’s the thing – hit producers like Dr. Luke and Max Martin could potentially be your golden ticket to success, even more than any major label.

That’s because they’re heavily invested in you and want to see you thrive, so they won’t waste their valuable time.

Now, it falls on a manager’s shoulders to weigh the pros and cons in a production deal. Sometimes, a simple deal where the producer commits to crafting hit songs for you and with you, and then records top-notch demos to pitch to a major label without any upfront payment could be a smart move.

In this scenario, the producer would get their share and compensation from the record label, not directly from you, our superstar artist.

A savvy manager would know the ropes and be able to navigate this type of deal like a pro.

Overwatch for the Production Phase

Once you’ve wrapped up all the stressful stuff – like landing a record deal, picking out a publisher to look after your royalties and copyright protection, and handpicking your dream producer – it’s time to move onto the fun part! This is when you actually get to make your record, in what we affectionately call the production phase.

Your manager is like your guardian angel in this process. They’re there to make sure everything’s running smoothly, attending sessions to check the producer is doing a top-notch job.

They’ll also be there during playback sessions, helping to choose potential songs for production and giving their thoughts.

Their main job is to keep an eye on quality and keep your schedule under control. Making a major label record can take a few months, so a great manager will help you make the most of your time.

They’ll make sure you’re promoting your career and making some money while you’re recording.

One of the big tasks is hyping up and promoting a recording artist’s debut single. A good manager can juggle songwriting, keeping the energy high in the studio for top-quality vocals, and building your fan base all at the same time.

Even though we’ve mostly been talking about the major label system, the role of a manager is pretty much the same for independent artists. The only differences are in the size of the deals and the amount of money involved.

All of this applies whether you’re a superstar or just starting out. If a manager decides to work with you, they’ll make sure all these tasks get done over time.

Part of their job is to connect you with the right publisher, record label, and producer.

Day to Day Promotion

Promotions can seem like a tricky maze these days, right? With so many platforms like TikTok, Instagram, Snapchat, YouTube, and more, it can feel overwhelming.

But don’t worry, there isn’t just one path to success – there are hundreds!

As a manager, you’ve got the tools you need from your past experiences. Remember what worked for previous clients or artists?

You can use that knowledge and adapt it to new scenarios. Of course, the promotional strategies can vary. For example, promoting a hip-hop artist is going to look different than promoting a country artist, thanks to their unique audiences.

But here’s the fun part – everyone loves a good promotion! The more people hear about an artist, the better.

It’s just about finding the right balance. We wouldn’t want our artist spending five hours on a TikTok video, an hour on a YouTube or Reddit Q&A, and then heading straight to the studio.

That’s a surefire recipe for burnout.

And that’s where a manager’s skills come in! Balancing these activities is key.

Remember, for a music career to really take off, we need consistent and strategic promotion. Let’s get out there and make some noise!

Scheduling Guru

In this busy world, with so much to do and so little time, it’s crucial for your manager to focus on those key goals that will provide the most value.

Many people in the industry are encouraging artists to shift from creating full albums to regularly releasing singles. I understand this might be difficult for those of you who enjoy assembling a well-rounded album, but it’s a sensible strategy in today’s fast-paced music world.

There are numerous benefits to releasing singles. You can prepare them in advance and then gradually release them to your fans.

This not only keeps your fans engaged, but also keeps you in the headlines and helps shape your narrative as an artist.

And let’s not forget your manager! This approach simplifies their job when it comes to planning promotional activities.

It’s much more manageable to focus on promoting one single for a month, and then when the time is right, shift the attention to the next one, instead of trying to promote an entire album at once.

Securing Income Streams

Being an artist releasing singles, you might find that simply counting on streaming royalties might not cover all your costs, from living expenses to rent, or even that much-deserved occasional vacation. That’s where your manager comes in, making sure there’s a steady flow of income, so you won’t have to worry about running out of record advances.

Good news! There are plenty of ways to earn a little extra on the side these days. For example, getting your music featured in films, TV shows, and on YouTube can be a great way to boost your income.

These sync licenses can give you and your manager a significant financial lift. The best part? Your song is already created and you’re essentially renting it out to a TV show or movie for a nice fee and some tidy backend royalties.

It’s a win-win situation with virtually no downside. Sure, the publisher is the one who sends your song to a music supervisor for consideration, but your manager plays an important role too.

They need to follow up and convince the music supervisor or director to use your song. A good manager usually has strong connections in this industry, which can really help speed up the process.

There are even more ways to earn extra income like performing at festivals while recording your album, guest featuring on other albums for a fee, and some artists even dabble in acting during the production phase.

The sky’s the limit, and a manager should always be on the lookout for as many opportunities as possible for you.

Touring Logistics

Once the record is completed, the exciting part of promoting it begins, which includes going on tours and performances.

Just a heads-up, many tours and venues are booked in advance. For instance, some people plan ahead, booking for November shows as early as January.

That’s why your manager needs to estimate if the record will be ready by summer to schedule a tour in the fall.

Sure, there’s a chance that the record might not be finished in time while a tour is already scheduled. This could create a dilemma, and might even lead to legal issues.

But as an excellent manager, they’ll have the ability to manage all this since they’re also overseeing the production process.

Mental Health Advocate

Given the amount of stress that artists often face, it’s no surprise that many end up on the brink of burnout, depression, and even substance abuse. This has tragically led to the premature deaths of immensely talented artists like Mac Miller and Amy Winehouse, who were unable to cope with the pressures of the industry.

A good manager plays a crucial role in an artist’s life, acting as a supportive ally, akin to a family member, and even a psychologist. A manager should not add to an artist’s stress but instead, shield them from it.

Indeed, the music industry is challenging and inevitably stressful. However, a manager should act as a trusted advisor, a confidant, and a sounding board for ideas. They should also recognize when the artist needs a break.

Regrettably, some managers prioritize monetary gain above all else, relentlessly pushing their artists to the breaking point. However, a good manager genuinely cares about the mental health of their artist.

When Does An Artist Need A Manager?

Figuring out the right time to get a manager can be quite the puzzle for artists. And believe it or not, timing really does matter.

You might think this is a no-brainer, right? Who wouldn’t want a manager?

But despite it seeming like a pretty straightforward answer, there are some sneaky speed bumps that come with jumping the gun and getting a manager too early in your career.

It’s a bit of a catch-22: you need a manager to taste success, but you also need a sprinkle of success to find the right manager.

One of the trickiest situations, which I’ve had the misfortune of experiencing firsthand, is having a manager who’s just in it for the commission.

Here’s the scoop: managers make their money from the artist’s income, usually pocketing a 15 to 20% slice of the pie. There are a few exceptions, like not all publishers dip into publishing and songwriting, but for the most part, these areas are fair game for a manager’s paycheck.

When you’re first stepping onto the scene, be on your guard. Watch out for a manager who promises you the world.

The reality is, after they’ve got you on board, they might not give you the time of day. They could pass you off to an assistant or intern at the management company, or sit back and see if you strike gold before they get their hands dirty.

If you’re not raking in the big bucks within a few years, they might decide to part ways and drop you as a client. It’s an unfortunate scenario that happens more often than you’d think.

Being in such a position really stings. Usually, the manager holds all the aces because they know you need them more than they need you.

I’ve seen deals go up in smoke and artists get dropped from labels due to major disagreements with their managers during the production process.

So, be mindful of what you’re wishing for. You might be dreaming of a manager who has all the answers and can unlock all the doors in the industry, but sometimes, the reality can be quite the opposite.

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About Tomas Morton

Tomas is a record producer, engineer, and synthesizer enthusiast based in Pasadena, CA. He received training at Berklee College of Music in Boston and the Musicians Institute in Hollywood, CA. When not in his studio, he can often be found scouring garage sales or Craigslist ads for vintage gear treasures.

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