5 Tips to Finding a Music Manager

December 30, 2011{ 33 Comments }

Photo of a busy musicianThis post was written by guest contributor Shaun Letang of IMA Music Business Academy. 

Why It’s No Longer Possible To Simply Be A Musician

Make a demo; send it to record labels; if you’re talented enough– get signed. Do you think this sounds like a good music business plan?

To younger folks just entering the music industry, that may seem like the biggest load of rubbish you’ve ever heard. Previously, however, this was the only business plan most musicians had.

Before the whole peer-to-peer sharing thing, musicians didn’t have to worry much about the business side of things. They only had one job: to be the best musician they could possibly be. They would spend all their time creating tunes, writing lyrics, and practicing live performances. They would record demos and send them to multiple record labels hoping they would get signed and be the next big thing. In terms of promoting themselves, that’s as far as it would go.

As I’m sure you’re aware, these days are long gone!

Being More Than A Musician

It’s no longer possible to simply be a musician. You now have to be a proven artist before a record label will even consider signing your act.

So what is the solution for the modern day musician? Simple: learn how to handle the music business yourself. Did I say simple? Please, ignore that part…

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While it may not be ideal for everyone, if you want to get your music career moving as fast as possible, you will need to do more than just make music. Among other things, you will need to learn how to create products that people want to buy, how to promote your music to the right audience, how to get your own live gigs, how to make money from these gigs, how to get radio play, and how to collect royalties from any gigs and radio plays. This may sound like a lot of work to you, but it doesn’t have to be a chore. Learning all these things will mean you don’t have to rely on other people as much to get your music career moving.

Getting Help With The Business Side Of The Music Industry

Although record labels are unlikely to help you during the early stages of your career, that doesn’t mean that you can’t enlist the help of others. If you want some extra input or assistance, there are two paths you can take:

  1. Seek out a manager, or
  2. Take a music business course (or hire a consultant).

If you’ve got your act together creatively and professionally, I’d recommend getting a manager on board. The exact role of the manager will depend on your agreement with them and how much you want them to get involved in your music career. You may only want them to help get you shows and decide which promotional opportunities you should take part. Or you can have them read over contracts, run errands for you during tour, or anything else that will help your music career.

Whatever role your manager takes on, it’s best to agree to the terms prior to them working for you. Not making things crystal clear can cause a conflicts of interest, bad feelings, and lead to legal problems down the line.

If you’re still finding your feet in terms of you music, it may be better to enroll in a music business course or hire a consultant. These instructional opportunities will teach you the business side of things and allow you to take your career in your own hands while still honing your talents. By the time you’re ready to really push your music, you will have the knowledge to do so.

5 Tips On Finding A Manager

If you decide to go down the manager route, the next step is actually FINDING this person. Don’t just hire the first person who says they’re a manager, though. You need to make sure that person is right for you. Here are some things you need to think about when searching for a manager:

1. Make Sure They Are Enthusiastic About Your Music.

When hiring a manager, you want them to really believe in what you do. There’s nothing worse that having a manager that’s just doing it for the money, it’ll only make you feel like they don’t really want to be there. And what will happen if they start working with another act they DO really like? All their focus and attention will go to them, that’s what. Don’t hire anyone that’s not also a fan of your music, it won’t work out well.

2. You Can Find Managers On Online Forums.

One way you can go about finding a manager is by advertising yourself on music forums or in relevant magazines. Forums are often filled with music fanatics and people who already work within the industry. If you have the talent and can give people a reason to want to work with you, you are sure to get some interest.

3. What About Your Friends?

If you don’t want to work with someone completely new, why not get one of your friends to become your manager? You may have a friend that’s just as excited by your music and the music industry as you, but has no musical talent of their own. This may be how they break into the music industry.

While they may need to learn the business side of things themselves (And maybe even take a few courses on their own to speed up this process), it can work out well in the long run.

4. Make Sure You Keep Things Official.

If you decide to hire a friend as your manager, you need to remember that this is now a business arrangement. There should be no more verbal contracts; you need to get every business-related decision down in writing. Keep paperwork, have deadlines, and set goals. If they aren’t pulling their weight and are taking advantage of your friendship, find a new manager.

5. Measure The Success Of Your Manager.

The role of the manager at this stage should be to help move your music forward faster than you could by yourself. Because of this, it’s a good idea to keep track of how much impact they are making on your career. Are they getting you more shows? Are they helping out with promotion? Are they chipping in?

You really do want a go-getter as a manager. You shouldn’t always have to tell them what you want doing. They should go out there and help push you forward without being told to do so. After all, the more money you make, the more money they make.

If you don’t see any real results or benefits after a few months of hiring them, you may want to consider getting a new manager. Also, set the the terms for a “trial period,” after which either party can back out with no hard feelings.


If it was your plan just to make good music and let the promotion take care of itself, it’s time to rethink things. To make it in the current music industry, you need to be more than a good singer or a pretty face. You need to have business know-how, and you need to take action. Getting a manager or taking a music business course will make things a lot easier for you, but essentially you will still have a lot of work to do. But guess what? That work can be fun! This is the industry you want to be in, so you should be willing to do whatever it takes. If you want to make it as a musician, you’ll need to accept that, at least for now, you have to do more than just perform your music.

This article was written by Shaun Letang of the IMA Music Business Academy, a music business course for serious musicians. Shaun also runs Independent Music Advice, a music business website aimed at helping independent musicians.

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  • Dreameffects

    Although some of the ideas here are good there are a couple of flaws in this. I would never suggest anyone search for a manager on a forum or bulletin board. All that does is open yourself up to be taken advantage of. Especially for those that have no experience in the music business. Secondly, never ask a friend of family member to manage you. Business and personal relationships should never be mixed. It is very rare for this type of situation to ever benefit an artist.

    • DD

      To say that it NEVER works to have a friend manage is not always true. In fact, some very successful groups take their friends along for the ride in key roles-particularly in the 1980s. Depeche Mode didn't have a manager at all for about the first 10 years of their career. They were pretty successful.

  • There are occasional success stories of people who "just" make the music, and don't engage in any business stuff, but they're getting more and more rare, for sure. My honest advice would be that if you don't have the aptitude or tolerance for any networking, business, or PR stuff then you should: 1) enlist someone's help (if you are intent on making a career of this), or 2) just be content making music for the joy of it, and any professional success that comes your way is bonus. Or, try to push yourself out of your comfort zone and take on some of those business responsibilities. It might be a good experience in the end.

    • I think this advice is directly counterintuitive to CD Baby's philosophy that musicians should focus on making music and leave the tasks that are NOT the musician's/band's strength to others who are better at it. Of course, the problem with this is that it costs money to outsource music business related work…. and any income potential we had as musicians is being completely snuffed out as the mentality has changed to believe that music should be free… even though it's anything BUT free to those who make it.

  • A few important tips: One, A manager is not a booking agent, while the manager may help with bookings, unless you have his duties as getting you shows, typically he is not responsible for that.
    Two: Its important to listen to your manager when you get one (if hes worth having hes worth listening to). Many times i come across artists who want a manager, but have it in their heads that they know everything.
    Three: You should never be paying a contracted manager upfront. Consultants you can pay sometimes out of pocket depending on agreements. But Managers should be making a % of money off of your career.
    There are some programs to help you get your career ready for a manager, like artist development programs, that help you get to where you need to be musically for a manager to find it worth while to invest time in helping you move further.

    My company, Exel Management is one that offers all types. We've worked with Mr. International, Ambition (4play from Pretty Ricky), Choze, and many others. http://www.exelmanagementonline.com

  • Pennsylvania is another one…. and I remember a couple of bands having legal issues with a specific manager over this issue in the 90s.

  • Personally…. I think the first paragraph of this article states everything that is wrong with the music of this generation. Just my opinion…. I feel the quality of music being made has dropped to disgusting levels, and musicians and bands with 3 less-than-mediocre songs thinking it's time to get into the business side of things is a huge part of the problem. Hence, they abandon – or greatly reduce – the amount of time they spend becoming a GOOD, worthwhile band that people want in the interest of getting "their stuff out there" which nobody wants…. because it simply lacks the talent required to dazzle anyone.

  • DD

    Well, there is a problem with managers. Some of them make promises but don't deliver. I've seen people hot to get a manager, trust the manager with their lives, and they're still playing the same size clubs as 2 years ago. A manager is not a magic bullet.

    Also, music does not have the same lines between manager and agent as in the acting business. Agents in the acting business submit you for auditions. A manager runs your personal stuff. Since there are no auditions to be submitted for there really aren't agents in the music biz that I'm aware of.

  • Solarsister

    The premise of the article is kind of false. It is possible to be simply a musician. I know this article is trying to be helpful and give tips on finding a manager. But it ought to be able to do that without negating the value of simply being an artist. And it ought to allow for people to work to define their own goals for success, rather than force-feeding everyone the same template. This is where I am right now, so take my comments with a grain a salt, if that makes it go down easier.

  • Gerrymusic

    Those days that youre talking about never existed. I am 58 years old, and have been through many days. Being the best musician you can be never got you anywhere. People dont care what you can do. They only care about what it does for them. This is the self centered society we live in. Thinkng any other way like you song is the best, or you got something unique, is a bunch of baloney. Thrill you listener with volume, emotion, and bass, and you might get their attention. Take them to the edge of a precipice and lift them up and make them fly over it, and you could make a buck. if you offer it to them in a way that they cant get for free by cheating their way to the thrill. I am grossly dissapointed with students, music, and the whole ball of wax after being a dedicated teacher, and musician and honing my skills to a high level, I am just as broke, and destitute as I was when I started. I play 7 instruments, have multiple talents, singing, as well as writing. It is dissapointing to find that one cannot go anywhere but here. So if you think you re different, give it a try.

    • I never said that's how easy it was or that's how it used to happen, I said that was people's plan. And it was for a lot of musicians.

      In all fairness, there are different levels you can reach as a musician. It's not impossible to make it to a high level, if it was there would be no people on our TV screens. There would be no people performing at the big venues. There would be no big orchestras.

      But there are.

      I'm not saying everyone will make it, in all honesty the majority won't. But if you have talent, something different, and a lot of luck, you could make it to the big time. There are plenty of examples of that everywhere you look, so saying otherwise isn't technically true. No one said it was going to be easy or that it will work out for everyone. But to say it doesn't work? I would strongly disagree.

  • Sun & Stars Mana

    These days getting the right manager is more important than a label – as more musicians go down the DIY route – with the manager enabling this to happen, marketing the band and taking care of the admin side of business

    This is a real issue for many bands – as there are so many who rip bands off these days and want more than their fair share – many managers operate a trial period – where you work for a number of weeks to see if you get on and like each other's style – this is great as Managers & bands need a strong bond and if you don't get on it will never work in your favour – so opt for this and then you can soon decide if the manager is right for you

  • Haha.

  • Shaney McCoy

    Wow, I think all the comments here bear testimony to the frustration of musicians trying to make their way in the industry. Yes, it can be very complicated and time-consuming to try and handle the business side as well as the creative side. It's also true that focusing strictly on honing your craft and being the best musician you can be doesn't necessarily result in financial reward. It seems like the changes in the industry are a double-edged sword – musicians can reach people like never before, but there are a million more musicians out there doing the same thing and it takes a ton of time. I released my first full-length CD last year and was happy to get some national and international radio play and some really nice reviews, but I think I could've gotten a lot more notice if I had someone with connections behind me. I'm planning to get an airplay promoter or some other form of support before I release my next CD later this year. I think it comes down to eventually figuring out what you have the time, talent and inclination to do yourself; what tasks could be better performed by someone else; and how do you come up with the money to get the help you need. It's a tough balancing act and although I continually struggle with it I do believe it's possible.

    • Great comment Shaney, I don't think I have much more to add then "Good luck with your next release" 😉

  • Theparanoids

    That's an important point that I'm sure many musicians don't understand. Can you explain why? And is this kind of thing even enforced at a local level?

  • Michael Devine

    I'm a 59 year old singer song writer with the good fortune to be signed by an English music publisher last year after 4 years of sending them demos. I got nowhere sending demos before that and got frustrated with no replys and put downs. When that publisher rejected my first demo they didn't put me down, they encouraged me to send more. I decided to send demos to them only and it's paid of. The added bonus is were like a team and get on great having been to England to meet them. They released my debut Christmas EP on digital stores with more releases in 2012. I nearly packed in song writing twice in frustration, because I tried to promote me as well as write. I'm no business head I just got lucky.

  • ed Begley

    The one thing is push yourself…make a good single or album…take you're time make it perfect…then set up a gig at a bar say you're going to play a couple hours for free…then contact you're papers entertainment reporter..telling him you are having album release party…his job is writing news he needs the story u need exposure ….my band tattoo billy get played all over the world on independent radio…if you look hard enough you will find them….one is Fran's Maritza wild horse radio…south Africa. This is how I got started….work work work….eventually you will be approached and if they want money avoid them…managers I had…reputable mind you never got anything until we made something…a publicist is another matter…back in the early 90's a very big stars manager was like give me 5,000 dollars I will make your song a hit…I said take your money make it hit then you can get your money back. if he thought it was a hit…he would without delay done it….Now I have had songs in movies like kiss of the vampire M.T.I. home video…I did not make anything but it did not cost me…plus I was interviewed in 20 different news papers….don't let money get in the way …you might have to give alittle to get there…we now play bigger gigs the last show the band made $1600 dollars …today we don't have a manager or booking agent…I still work a day job tour on vacations and play all over….my point count on yourself and never quit everytime a stranger buys a download or album you have made it…

  • Agreed, thanks a lot Dacey.

  • But musicians are the people who need it to change the most, so any change should begin with them. If they refuse to make music until things sort out, there would be a big change in how thing operate. This of course won't happen, but no one else is going to change it. 'Fans' may know things are messed up, but the majority won't stop the free downloading. Legally the authorities have been letting it slide for years.

  • Hi Gidget. I agree with you to an extent, you shouldn't be offering your services free of charge. But gigging even when you don't get paid upfront has a few benefits:

    1. You get to practice. Not everyone is a great performer / comfortable in front of crowds, so these free / smaller shows gives people a chance to perfect their art before they're shoved in front of bigger audiences.

    2. You can still make money. Even if you don't get paid up front, you can often make some money by selling your CDs at these shows. This especially works well at showcase events, where people are expecting to find new cool acts and keep money in their pocket for exactly this.

    3. You build up your CV. Other venues are much more likely to hire you if they see you have a list of previous performances. It gives the impression that you are serious, and that you must have demand for your music.

    Paid shows are of course all good as well though. 😉

  • Some good points. Remember though that I wrote this article from the point of an independent musician, and from what I've seen many managers are willing to help their artist in getting shows. This may not be the case for the top level managers, but the ones working with smaller acts will often get involved like that.

    Very true about listening to your manager, his job is to advise you on which paths to take. Also agreed about the percentage share, managers should be paid based on how much work they help you get. Thanks for the comment.

  • Just so you know, I'd never say that a musician should spend all their time learning the business side and not actually practising their art. In all honesty, you need a healthy mix of both. One without the other won't work.

    I actually say in my course that if your music isn't at a good level, cancel this course and come back when you have the ability to make a good product. Test it out on people, and ensure you get honest feedback. Only then will you be ready to progress with the marketing side of things.

    I see what you're saying about the decreasing quality of music, it's also due to it becoming easier to record your music by buying cheap low quality recording equipment. Yes you may get more music recorded for cheaper, but it isn't music people will want to hear so it won't help you.

    Overall, while I stand by what I say in the article, I completely agree with a lot of your points.

  • A manager is not a magic bullet, but they can help. If your manager isn't helping you in any real way, get rid of them and find a new one. Don't rush in with your choice, get one you feel will really benefit your career.

  • Very true, there is no one set path for everyone. That said, it is a lot harder to succeed in the music industry today without at least having some working business knowledge. In order to get heard and gain fans, you need to be marketed. No one else is going to do it for you, so if you want to get known, you have to market yourself.

    Even approaching labels is marketing, so it's technically impossible to get anyone knowing about you without some form of marketing…

  • Wow, I didn't actually know that. Thanks for the info Griffin and Ty.

  • Agreed. I suppose it's just down the personal preference, and making sure you thoroughly test out the person before you fully take them on board.

  • I wrote this article from the point of an independent musician, and from what I've seen many managers are willing to help their artist in getting shows. This may not be the case for the top level managers, but the ones working with smaller acts will often get involved like that.

    There may be some managers that wouldn't work strictly for a % rate, but I know a lot of independent musicians wouldn't pay managers a flat fee unless they had proven their work in terms of getting shows and making back that money in some way.

  • j69

    a lot of friends and family members manage huge acts. Off the top of my head, Ozzy Osbourne's wife manages him.

  • Wow. You work for free? If they get big money opportunities, I hope you have an agreement to get paid at that point! Sounds like you're doing good work for them. Exciting.

  • sheri

    im a little kid that can sing, dance, act and song write and this will help me bad.

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  • Thanks for sharing. And yes, always best to share those expectations/obligations/payment agreements up front!