This is an excerpt from Ari Herstand’s book How to Make It in the New Music Business (second edition).
The manager is the most important person in your operation. Your manager is your teammate. Your partner. Your friend. The two of you (or six, depending on how many are in your band) are in it together. Us versus the world.
The manager is the liaison between the artist and everybody else. The manager oversees everything from the recording process to the album release campaign to the tour routing, booking and performing to the social media management to the lead singer’s divorce.
The manager handles the business, first and foremost. The best managers handle the business with creative finesse. To navigate the constantly evolving musical landscape, managers need truly creative minds. You don’t want a manager who is operating the same way this year as she was last year. Every day is new. Every day is different.
Finding a manager is about timing, being in the right place at the right time and, really, making it seem like you don’t need a manager. No one wants to work with a band that seems to be struggling, but everyone wants to hop on a speeding train.
That being said, music is magic. Managers believe this. It’s why they chose such an unstable career path. If a manager happens to hear something so special that it moves them on a deep, spiritual level, they may decide to take you on no matter what the stage of your career.
But this is rare. Most managers want to see you kicking butt on your own before they will even give you a second glance. They want to know that if they decide to work with you that you will put in the effort needed to maintain a modern music career. Managers know that it’s not just about the music. They want bands who will work hard, just like them.
And remember, this is a business. Most managers take 15-20% of your career. If your career is not bringing enough money where 20% of that could sustain another person’s salary (or ⅕ of their salary - if they have 4 other clients), they may just not have the bandwidth to take you on - even if they love you. They have to eat too ya know!
If you think you're ready for a manager, and your business merits it ($$), there are a few concrete steps you can take, when you’re ready to get your music in front of managers.
But just remember, you don’t need a manager to succeed. Vulfpeck just sold out Madison Square Garden without a manager. Linking up with a manager should always be looked at as a partnership - not a crutch.
1. Get Included on Spotify Playlists
Spotify has become the new discovery mechanism for music industry professionals. Five years ago it was Hype Machine and blogs. There are many playlist plugging services out there you can hire to pitch you to popular, user-generated playlists, and your distributor may be able to help you get into official Spotify playlists.
You should also submit all of your new releases directly to Spotify via the submission portal in Spotify for Artists. The more playlists you get added to, the better chance your music will show up on managers’ Discover Weekly.
In addition to the blogs on Hype Machine, there are still a few publications that will review songs and albums. The biggest are obviously Billboard, Pitchfork and Rolling Stone, but industry publications like Music Connection magazine regularly review new and unsigned artists and many in the industry subscribe to these magazines. Most sites have specific instructions and guidelines on how to submit.
3. A Lawyer
A more traditional way to get in with Well-Connected Managers (WCMs) is from referrals from respected entertainment attorneys.
4. Direct Submission
If you’ve done your homework, you can email a manager directly with links to your material. Begin the email to a WCM with compliments about them and express why you think you would be a good fit together; there’s a chance the manager may dig in.
Remember, you are bringing value to them. Respect their expertise and experience, but understand that you have something they don’t—amazing music.
Many public radio stations, blogs, magazines and music conferences will hold showcases where they will invite managers out. Be careful, though; there are shady promoters and “talent buyers” who will try to get you to pay to play their “showcases,” which are nothing more than regular club shows where you have to buy advance tickets to sell to your friends and fans. Do not take the bait.
With legitimate showcases, you have to be invited to play. Many will have a submission process. Most won’t pay, but they won’t make you pay either. If you have to pay, make absolutely certain you know the names of the people who will be there. “A&R” and “music managers” is not good enough.
6. Public Radio
It’s nearly impossible to get played on Top 40 radio or other Clear Channel–owned stations without a big-time radio promoter. But NPR affiliate stations will regularly play local, indie and unsigned artists.
Start with the stations in your town or the closest city to where you live that has a public radio station that plays music. Managers definitely tune in to discover new talent. One of the biggest music-based public radio stations is Los Angeles’s KCRW, which gets over 550,000 listeners each week. They play pretty much every kind of music except mainstream pop. Study the music played by each DJ. DJs at KCRW (and most other public radio stations) have the autonomy to play whatever they want.
So instead of submitting through the front door, go directly to the DJs who are playing music like yours. Be smart about this and do your research. Some DJs only play 1970s funk/soul, so don’t submit your metal band’s latest song to them.
7. Business Schools
If you’re near a business school, target your promotional efforts to these students. Promote your shows on campus and in the business school building. The business students who are interested in music management may come out to your show and offer to manage you.
Ari Herstand is the author of How To Make it in the New Music Business (second edition), a Los Angeles based musician and the founder of the music business education company and blog Ari’s Take. Follow him on Instagram @ariherstand.
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