Many artists reach a point where hiring a music manager makes sense.
For some, that happens in high school, when the m-word is interchangeable with ‘friend.’ For others, the team expands because business requires it. An artist might stick with the same business partner their entire career or move from one to the next. Like most things in entertainment, there’s no singular path.
As such, music managers sport a dozen hats. Show settler, label hound, one-person marketing agency, confidante—the list warrants a manuscript. At their core, the best of them simply exist to help their artists thrive, but it’s not all rosy. Talent caretakers commit wrongful behavior every day. It’s a wild world out there and preparation benefits those who embrace it.
To offer guidance to new artists in search of their first (or 17th, we don’t judge) right hand, Stem spoke with a handful of talent(ed) managers—both new and seasoned—about what creatives should consider when speaking with a potential partner.
Ask for a test period.
It doesn’t take a long time to learn a lot about someone. For most artists, a manager will function at the center of the business operation, provide input on creative and offer general counsel. In short, a lot of important stuff is touched by one individual. It takes time to observe how someone moves, and you have every right to ask for that time before agreeing to anything official.
“You shouldn’t feel pressure to pick a manager or rush to enter into a formal agreement with one,” says Dharmic X, who works with Kemba and Anik Khan. “If things are moving into paperwork stage at a rate you’re not comfortable with, the manager might not be the right fit for you.”
“If a manager wants to work with an artist or vice versa, it can help to say ‘Hey, I have this one single, you want to work with me, let’s try this release out and see how we feel,’” says Amir Abbassy (Blame The Label), manager to Sylvan LaCue.
“Do a trial run before locking in that person,” says Jon Pierre-Louis of Noble Savage Management. “Set a list of goals and see how hard they try to accomplish them. It’s a process, don’t jump into partnership right away.”
Know what you want and need for yourself, first.
Artists should protect their ambitions. Those hopes fuel the desire for greatness and enable endurance where others might quit. Just as important, though, is an understanding of the small steps needed to set dreams in motion. You’ll know if a manager can help you if you know what foundational processes or objectives require extra attention. Sometimes, you might not need one at all.
“Do you want the creative person?” asks Jon Tanners, manager and label exec. “Do you want someone who makes sure the money is paid on time? Managers have become an amalgam of talent agent, A&R, marketing, PR. The artist should try to ask themselves, ‘Do I need song feedback? Or just someone to get show money?’ Of course, making sure money as paid in full and on-time is extremely important, but different managers have different strengths.”
“An artist should say, ‘Hey, this is what I’m looking for’ and see if the manager can help. If the manager can’t do exactly what you’re looking for, ask if they can dedicate their time and energy to show and prove.” Abbassy says.
Have 100% certainty your visions align.
Nothing good comes of an airborne plane manned by a group of disagreeing pilots. Vision, lofty as it sounds, is everything. Frustration and wasted resources are sure to follow managers and artists who are on different pages.
“What is your goal for us as a team?” Jay Campbell, manager to Kelechi and Keyon Christ, suggests artists ask. “It’s important for a new artist and their manager to share the same vision or one that’s similarly aligned, that way they know both of them are working in unison to reach the same finish line.”
“Managers have many opinions,” says Tanners. “I have many opinions, strong ones. But it’s not about the manager, and managers need to know when to step in with them. A manager should fight for their artist’s vision, not impose their own, unless the artist wants that guidance”
Understand what they’re good at (and who they are).
A manager is the COO or Chief of Staff to an artist’s CEO. It’s important to think of a manager as a hire that can shape how the rest of your company is built. Attaining a sense of where their talents lie will make your decision that much easier. Actively looking to detect their values and quirks will let you know whether it’s a compatible fit.
“Know your manager’s area of expertise,” Tanners emphasizes. “The writing world? The label world? You want to ask yourself how you can utilize someone’s skills best.”
“An artist needs to grasp what a potential manager can bring to the table for business, but also them as a human,” says Tim Larew, manager to Cousin Stizz. “A manager is your professional representation—an extension of you,” he continues. “They’ll be doing lots of business and having lots of conversations on your behalf without you directly involved. Ask them why they want the job and what makes them think they’d do it well.”
“If an artist needs organization, ask for that—if not, don’t,” Abbassy says. “Know what you don’t have or know what you need more of to make your ship run more smoothly.”
“Just as you wouldn’t start a business with a complete stranger, working with a manager is the same idea,”Janamanchi tells Stem. “You don’t need to be best friends with your manager, but building a relationship outside of just music is crucial.”
Recognize connections aren’t everything.
A person with connections to every celebrity on the planet is irrelevant if they don’t care about you. Many great managers never went to school or had no prior experience working with artists. In short, don’t underestimate the power of people with special minds, special hearts and passion for what you bring to the world.
“Every artist’s career—and it doesn’t matter if you’re a megastar or a rookie—is going to be a never-ending series of ups and downs, high highs and low lows,” Larew tells Stem. “If you don’t have a manager prepared and excited to navigate the lows just as much as they are to celebrate the highs, that’s not a good manager,”
“A manager can always start to build relationships,” Abbassy says. “Artists should look for guidance, a second opinion, a gut check, a barometer read they can trust. There are times where an an artist has their friend manage, with no experience, and they work so hard on the music, the roll out, and do it well enough that the music has legs and you don’t need to worry about a million connections. They have more inbound than outbound.”
“Usually when starting out, your first manager is right in front of you,” Galvan says. “It’s that friend that’s willing to drive to the show that’s five hours away that you’re barely getting paid for, the person that will use their last breath of air to help you inflate 1000 balloons for a video shoot just to watch them fly away on the first scene or the person that says scrap that song because it ain’t the one and you could do better.”
The right artist-manager team can take the world by storm. We hope these tips help creators find the perfect fit, but don’t stop here. Ask other artists, mentors and family for their advice and input, and consult yourself, too! Whether a music manager stays in your life forever or for one lunch, lessons will present themselves. Growth will follow. Stick around for other fun music business reads from Stem, including steps to prioritize fans first in the streaming economy and tools you can use to run your team like a startup.