Last updated on May 18th, 2023
Artist managers wear many hats. However, at the core of their job is the responsibility of ensuring that artists move steadfast toward their long-term creative and professional visions. For certain, a manager is one of “The 10 People Musicians Need on Their Side.”
What, exactly, are a manager’s responsibilities, both in a long-term sense and a day-to-day sense? Can — or should — one manager take on all of those responsibilities single-handedly? How do managers help artists build a strong team culture around their craft?
We asked two artist managers – Nathan Dohse, co-founder of AGD Entertainment and the author of the Zero to 60 by AGD artist development program, and Lexee Shapiro, co-founder & artist manager, 9802 Management – to share their experience, and their insight proves tremendously valuable for any artist looking to secure management. Simply put, this is a must-read!
P.S.: Some of your fellow artists might have artist management connections, too. Sign up for Muze and meet more of your peers!
First, tell us a bit about roles and responsibilities. What kinds of hats do artist managers wear?
I first think it’s important to point out the two roles of the artist management team, and identify that there might be an artist manager and a day-to-day manager. Often in the early stages, the manager will fill both of these roles. As an artist manager, you’re responsible for the big picture, long-term planning, and team building. Usually, you’ll bring some sort of high-level experience to the job that could come from any number of places. Many managers were formerly lawyers, A&R, or producers, and bring their knowledge and relationships from those jobs to the role of manager. In these cases, they may or may not even know what the day-to-day responsibilities are for managing an artist’s career, so they bring someone on for those tasks. In other cases, the day-to-day manager might elevate to being an artist manager after learning from a mentor.
In either case, it’s important that the artist knows how both roles are being fulfilled by their management team and recognizing that, if they have brought on an artist manager who doesn’t intend to fulfill the day-to-day responsibilities, that those might still fall on the artist themselves until that role is filled.
Some day-to-day responsibilities include: asset management, schedule management, team communications, and often content and marketing support or execution. These roles can be fulfilled by other team members, like a label, publicist, or marketing team, if it is established that way from the start.
One of my favorite things about artist management is how it involves many different tasks and sectors of the music industry. Every single day looks different. I scout for songwriters and producers for collaborations, create social media marketing strategy plans, sometimes co-write with my clients, and help facilitate their goals and dreams. I am a friend, a confidant, a collaborator, and a defender. Artist management is so much more than a business relationship – when done right, an artist and manager become family.
What types of artists do you work with (think genre, as well as career level)?
I am as passionate about manager development as artist development, so I spend a lot of time helping our day-to-day manager team identify their goals and potential clientele from a variety of artists and genres. I personally manage one client named Manny Blu, who is pioneering the new style of Country Punk.
I currently work with clients in pop, rock, and singer-songwriter genres, but am also interested in Latin and R&B. I work with clients who may have a single out – or a few singles – with growing fan bases, as well as with artists who are developing their sound with no original music released. I only work with artists who want to make music for the rest of their lives. It’s not just about talent. It’s about drive.
How do you find their clients – or, do they find you? Is there a vetting process they must go through?
I found my client, Manny Blu, through our artist development program, Zero To 60 By AGD. Participation in a development program gives an artist the added benefit of working with a team. It helps a team find out what they hope to gain from the experience, and gives the team the ability to see work ethic and growth prior to a contract agreement.
As of now, I found my entire roster through TikTok scouting. I do a one-month trial period, in which I get to know a potential client, before I sign them to an official management contract. This trial period is a test on both sides to make sure that both parties believe in the mission and the way we go about it. It’s like dating – I really make sure I get to know the potential client as best as I can before signing the official contract. If the personalities aren’t compatible, it won’t work. I need to wake up excited to build my roster’s careers, and I take that very seriously. Since managers work on commission, when we build artists or help develop them, it can take a while for the money to start coming in. Artists need to realize that, and remember that we put in the grunt work like they do, because we believe in them.
What makes an artist “ready” for management?
Traditional artist management is paid through a commission of gross earnings. So, an artist is ready for management when their earnings can at least sustain the financial needs of the management team they’re bringing on. It’s that simple. In some cases, a manager will take an artist on based on projected financial growth, due to insights to their creative trajectory that others may not have. But, this is few and far between.
I don’t even take a consultation call if an artist isn’t on TikTok. While I fully understand that it is unnatural for musicians to constantly make videos like they are a musical vlogger, I also know that a potential client needs to take advantage of every platform they can to grow their following. If they aren’t doing that, then they aren’t trying their hardest, which means I can’t try my hardest. An artist is ready for management when they are taking advantage of everything at their disposal to grow their career, and they are looking for a partner to help them take the next step.
How important is it for artists to build relationships within the industry, and how can a manager help facilitate those relationships?
More often than not, I think artists try to build the wrong relationships, meaning that they try to connect with high-up industry professionals who are far and away unable to impact their careers, outside of some slight mentorship and, if they are truly blown away by the talent, an introduction that leads to an opportunity now and then.
So, my suggestion is always to network and connect with people at the same level of career development as you are. If you’re early in your career, this means to network with assistants and interns at the agencies, labels, and management firms you’d like to work with in the future. As your talent and audience grow, these connections will value the shared experience that you’ve had, and will want to carry you into the places and opportunities they eventually grow into themselves.
A manager may be able to help with industry connections, but they are often far removed from the audience. So, even if they are able to submit you for an opening slot on a tour or create meetings with labels, it’s vital that the decision makers are having a multiple touch experience, meaning that they have heard about this artist from an additional source. Or, when they ask about the artist, someone – like an intern or assistant – can verify their credibility or talent in discussion.
It is absolutely essential. Many people are afraid of networking, because of the pressure to make an impression on someone in a short period of time. It becomes less frightening when you view networking as a way to mutually benefit and really get to know someone. I find that I make the most meaningful business connections when I am authentically myself. A manager can help facilitate these relationships by connecting clients with their existing network of friends and industry contacts. I find that my clients are more likely to be at ease when I connect them with someone that I know and trust.
With that in mind, what part of the relationship building responsibility falls to the artist?
All artists should routinely be building their community through purposeful and targeted networking, as well as collaboration. Targeted networking means doing some research on people with whom you’d like to connect, and seeking opportunities to create that connection. This might be a cold call for a lunch meeting, or making sure to attend a panel discussion where they might be able to ask a question or shake a hand.
Additionally, artists should be building strong relationships with other artists on their same talent level, who often will have a meaningful breakthrough before or at the same time as they do. Through collaboration with these artists, you will naturally form working relationships with their teams, which could lead to your own projects with that team. This can happen naturally when the collaboration is prompted by two artists, rather than team members.
We’ve talked about the “dos,” but what about the “don’ts?” What should artists not do if they’d like to secure and retain management?
Well, if I can break the rules and just provide another “do,” it would be to stay humble. In our work at Zero To 60 By AGD, we’ve helped many managers select the first clients to add to their rostesr. 90 percent of the time, they are choosing between two clients who both show promise in their growth and audience engagement. My question is always, “who’s the better person?”.
Entitlement is the killer of art. Everyone is on their own journey, and you’re going to have to watch other artists succeed in ways that you failed, and get opportunities you feel like you were perfect for. They will receive those things for many different reasons, none of which have anything to do with you. Your opportunities will come with time, as long as you stay committed and do the work.
I can guarantee you that, even when you’ve grown to the point where a manager would be ready to take you on, they will pass if they even smell a hint of a difficult personality or entitlement. Root it out early, and find gratitude and humility for the opportunities you’ve been given every day.
Attitude needs to be checked at the door. I once worked with a young artist who told me that me telling them my opinion was unprofessional. How was I supposed to have done my job? I definitely did not keep that client, and I am so relieved that I didn’t. Management is a partnership: a manager supports an artist through the lowest of lows and the highest of highs. Respect is required on both ends. Artists should always be open and honest with their managers. It is important to remember that managers have reputations, too. So, if we share a connection with an artist, and the artist is not respectful to that connection, it reflects very poorly on the manager. I have found that a lot of people forget that. Open communication is extremely important. Asking your manager for their opinion shows that you value it. At the end of the day, managers just want to see their clients fulfill their dreams.
Anything else you’d like to add?
Quickly circling back to a manager’s tasks or day-to-day responsibilities: it is not to book you shows, manage your social channels, or make you more money. The responsibility is to manage. Management means to keep things on target to you goals and objectives, and to communicate those goals and objectives to anyone participating in the process. If a manager takes on tasks, like booking or social support, it’s because they believe that them doing so will be the best way to achieve the goals set. This shows dedication and support, but if they don’t do these types of things, it doesn’t mean they aren’t a good manager. It’s just time to chat about how the manager plans to execute getting those needs fulfilled.
I am always looking for female producers and engineers with whom my clients can collaborate. Fighting for equality in the music industry is a true passion of mine. Also, don’t look down on young people in the industry. Everyone starts at the beginning. This industry is so competitive, but there are also some really great people in it. Find your tribe and help educate the younger people in the industry. Also, poaching clients is extremely disrespectful and shows a lack of originality. The last thing we need in this business is more dishonesty. Find your own clients without stabbing fellow managers in the back.
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