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The Manager Myth

 One of the biggest myths that hang about in the minds of musicians is the need of a manager, while completely misunderstanding what a manager does, how they get paid and when to employ their services. If only I had a manager, I'd get a record deal, I'd bypass American Idol and rise straight to the next big Grammy-winning slot. Yeah, that's the ticket. Not having a manager is holding me back, keeping me from hitting the big time and opening all of these doors for my surely-deserving talents!

Well, this is reality, and it just doesn't work like that. People seem to think it does, as hardly a week goes by where I don't see some silly ad posted by a completely clueless person on Craigslist in the Musicians section where they are begging for a hook-up with a manager. 

Managers are for working musicians who passed a certain level of income whereby they can actually afford to pay a manager. I'll paraphrase an explanation from one of the first things I ever published back in the early 90's, the Entertainment Source Library, which was a collection of legal documents on disk for self-use by musicians. In the accompanying booklet explaining the manager contracts on the disk, the author, Greg Forest, explains why you don't need a manager, not yet anyway.

First of all for you to pay a manager ever the kind of annual salary a burger-joint manager makes, you need to be pulling in some serious income from all possible sources as a musician, be they gigs, merchandise sales, recording income, songwriter royalties, etc. You have to be able to pay somebody to manage all of these things for you and help you grow and protect them.

If you're playing six nights a week in a local pub and barely eeking out a living yourself, you're not exactly in a position to hire somebody who will take 20% or more of all of your earnings, and that person won't exactly have an impetus to work hard for you for what that 20% means from your pub-playing income. Maybe a wife, or a girlfriend, or husband or boy friend has some other motive to help guide your career on a local street-level, but as for a professional manager, you're not there yet. And most of the time if you're a local or regional pub or lounge act, having somebody speak as your "manager" is only going to evoke a series of snidely chuckles from whomever is on the other end of the conversation. A club owner booking your act for a percentage of the door against a small guarantee knows he's not the kind of venue that deals with managers or booking agents for that matter. 

A manager does exactly what it sounds like they do, they manage your business. You're going to want a certain amount of a managers time and efforts devoted to running your career and protecting, even growing your income. For that to happen, you have to pay for their time.

Let's do the math. If a decent mid-level business manager commands an annual salary of $80,000.00, plus another 15% or so for his taxes, benefits, etc., we're talking $92,000.00 a year. If you are one of five acts that they manage, we're talking $18,400.00 a year you'll need to be able to pay them for their time one day a week. That doesn't even include any expenses related to working for you for which you might have to pony-up a 20% share of, such as them flying out and schmoozing at SXSW or some other event where they are supposed to be networking on your behalf.

So let's just round this up for the sake of discussion, you're going to have to be grossing $100,000.00 a year as a performer before you can even pretend to afford to pay 20% of that income to a manager. Now, unless you're living in a small apartment somewhere in Alabama, driving an old car and have very conservative spending habits, $100,000.00 gross doesn't go nearly as far as you might think, especially when that $100k gross is before you cover your travel, equipment, insurance, taxes and more. And you know what? There are actually plenty of working musicians grossing close to that all on their own who simply will never need a manager. At that level of work, they might have the services of a booking agent, but a book agent is not typically a manager.

You as the product of the business, and simultaneously also the CEO, are the one who has to grow the business so that a manager has something to manage. So many times its a spouse who plays the role of manager in the earliest and often later stages of an acts career, and for good reason. That reason is a matter of practical finances. A spouse benefits directly from the income on a different level than a third party manager who needs you to be already generating a significant amount of income before they can help you manage who you've created and take it to another level.

Rarely, and I mean very rarely, does a real management company take on a relatively complete unknown and invest their own time and money into trying to get that act signed to a label or otherwise help them get something going. Its just almost never, ever happens. My best advice, get it out of your head and instead concentrate on keeping your calendar filled, keeping your gig commitments and honing your craft.

So, my advice, do yourself a favor and stop with the "I need a manager" myth. You don't need a manager. Not until you have reached such a significant amount of self-created income that you can afford to pay somebody for doing work you can't do yourself. You might need a booking agent, if you're ready. You might need a lawyer more than anything, but you don't need a manager. Not yet. 

Posted: 12/29/2008 10:00:05 AM with Comments | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink
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