How to Build a Team Around Your Music: Managers, Agents, and Publicists Explained
Every single successful musician and artist in history has had one thing in common: a fantastic team. Hand-picked to support their careers, a strong team is the single common thread among all of your favorite artists. Building a fantastic team is crucial in your development as an artist and there are many stories of team members making and breaking an artist’s career.
The core members of your artist team are the Artist Manager, the Booking Agent, the Publicist/Content Team, as well as the Producer, the Tour Manager, and several members that comprise your production team. In this article, we are going to break down the key roles of these team members, as well as identify what you need as an artist to grow your team, even if you are a brand new artist, to elevate your music career to the next level.
Core Team Members:
- Artist Manager
- Booking Agent
Additional Team Members:
- Visual Artist Collaborator
- Merchandise Manager
- Tour Manager
- Production Team
The Artist Manager
The Artist Manager is the backbone of your musical career. Your Manager will have more influence and impact on your success in the business of music than anyone else. Managers will handle all of your business needs, from managing an artist's bank account and tax paperwork to advancing shows and securing deals.
While it is important that your manager be competent in many of the business aspects of the music industry, the most important facet of an artist manager is they must be die-hard obsessed with your music. Managers can learn all of the skills they need to be successful in the business, but passion for the music is not something that can be taught. It will be important that you find a manager who is as willing to make the sacrifices required as you are to take your career to the fullest.
An Artist Manager’s responsibilities include:
- Signing contracts related to the artist, such as performance and publishing contracts
- Managing the artist’s communication with other team members
- Act as the main point of contact for all business matters with the Artist
- Manage the Artist’s finances, such as paying out hired musicians, ordering merch, and filing the artist taxes (when filed as a business)
- Contributing to discussion about the visual identity/branding for the artist
- Advising the artist on all matters, business and otherwise
- Leveraging their own network to create opportunities for the artist to perform, grow, and expand their careers
As you can tell by the list above, it is difficult to summarize the complicated role and responsibilities of an Artist Manager. And just like every musician is different, every artist manager relationship is different, too! An artist manager should be someone who excels in communication, organization, and in people-management. An Artist Manager should be someone who knows how to diffuse tension, someone who is a shoulder to lean on, someone who stands steadfast while the sands shift underneath them. Your Artist Manager should compliment your personality and your workflow, and never take steps to undermine you. An Artist Manager should live, eat, and breathe your music, and they should be highly supportive of your dreams and your goals.
Artist Managers can be a team member for life, and many artists have worked with the same Artist Manager for their entire career. You might be thinking that working with your best friend or a family member would be a good way to start. After all, they already support you and your music! But an Artist Manager relationship needs to be built from the ground up as a working relationship, as in it has to work both ways. The relationship cannot be one-sided. Your Manager needs to be able to challenge you (the artist) and your ideas! They must be able to not only say “no” sometimes, but do it in a way where you can maintain trust and move forward together through conflict. An artist manager must always act in your best interest, but that means there must be a high degree of trust because your idea of what’s best and your manager’s idea will most certainly be different in some situations.
Can I stay Self-Managed?
Many Artists are self-managed, meaning they perform these responsibilities themself. Until you are ready to begin working with an artist manager, it is important that you practice these responsibilities yourself to build a foundation for your career as an artist so that when you find the perfect manager for your music, you will be in the best position to take that next step. Definitely check out the 8020 Music Business Crash Course for help pushing your career to the next level in preparation for working with an artist manager!
When will I be ready to work with an Artist Manager?
You will be ready to work with a full-time artist manager when you have accomplished two things:
1. Generated enough revenue to support bringing on an additional team member and
2. Have created more work to manage than you can handle by yourself.
An artist manager is a support role, but they cannot create work for you out of thin air. A big misconception is that when you bring a manager on, suddenly doors will open up and your manager’s network will rush to support you on the next step. Unfortunately, this just isn’t true. More often, an artist manager will join your team when you have created so much work that you cannot manage it alone. This includes signing contracts for publishing rights, an album release with a reputable label or distributor, or a long tour schedule with complicated logistics. In these scenarios, an artist manager will be more likely to want to work with you because not only is there already work assigned that needs to be completed, but it is work that brings in revenue. Speaking of revenue, let’s talk about…
How much does an Artist Manager get paid?
An Artist Manager is paid off of the gross earnings of the artist, usually in the ballpark of 10-20% depending on how involved the manager is in the artist’s daily lives. It is not uncommon for an Artist Manager to work with several artists at once, sometimes as many as 5 or 6, as the workflow for an artist manager is often condensed into cycles, such as album release or tour cycles. An Artist Manager will take a payment on all activities that earn money - this includes live performances, merch sales, publishing, performance, and streaming royalties, appearance fees, vinyl sales, sync license payouts, and much more. If you generate 100k a year as an artist in Gross Revenue, you can expect to pay an artist manager somewhere between 15k - 20k a year.
To begin working with an Artist Manager you should have a defined and unique brand. Your artistry should be identifiable and high quality. Your online presence should have high engagement and reflect the message of your artwork. You should have professional photos of yourself and your band. You should have released several songs or been a part of several high profile collaborations/touring acts, and those releases should have found medium success that has rippled into organic discovery and exposure. You should feel comfortable creating and releasing content, having identified an authentic voice for engaging with your audience. You should have a reputation as an artist who works hard and follows through on their commitments and promises. And finally, you should make enough money to pay for your own expenses as an artist and run a profitable business through merch, royalties, licenses or live performances.
The Booking Agent
The Booking Agent is responsible for all communications and securing of Live Performances. The Booking Agent will send and receive information about performances, such as sending artist advances, hospitality and tech riders, and signing performance agreements. The Booking Agent will also route and organize an artist’s tour schedule by communicating with Promoters and Venues up to a year in advance of a live show. A booking agent is often the first non-musician team member to join you on your artist journey, especially if you are an artist who is focusing on creating a high-quality live concert experience.
You will begin working with a Booking Agent in one of two scenarios: either by joining a roster of artists already underneath a booking agency, such as Wasserman, CAA, or UTA, or you will hire an independent booking agent to represent you as a contractor. Both scenarios have pros and cons, so let’s break those down:
If you are represented by an Agency, such as Wasserman or CAA, you will join a roster of incredibly talented artists and work underneath some of the best booking agents in the business. However, it will be important to note that your artistry will be one of many and you may not receive as much hands-on attention that you would prefer. You will also be at the mercy of a larger organizational body and may find it difficult to develop a long-term, impactful relationship with your booking Agent.
If you are represented by an Independant Booking Agent, you will be a top priority for that agent, however, their power in landing opportunities may be less than if you were being represented by a larger agency. Additionally, you will have much more of an opportunity to build a long-term personal relationship with your Agent.
How do booking agents secure performance opportunities?
Booking Agents work on a Hold, Challenge and Confirm system. Booking Agents will email venue owners and promoters to ask about available dates, as well as send over a one sheet with information about the artist such as experience playing in that market (city) and other necessary information for the show. Once a couple of available dates are chosen, the booking agent will place a “hold” on those dates to put a placeholder in the booking calendar. The booking Agent will usually try and secure a group of dates at once, called a “run”. Once those dates are confirmed, the venue/promoter will send out a performance contract to lock in the show. If two artists at once have a hold on the same day, a “challenge” will be issued, which gives the other artists with holds an opportunity to confirm the show. Booking Agents will usually communicate with venues and promoters to confirm shows as far as 18 months out, but the typical lead time for booking a concert is closer to 6 months.
What are the benefits of having a booking agent?
Booking Agent networks will have spent years connecting and communicating with venues and promoters in their region. As with most things in the music industry, it's all about who you know and promoters are no different. They will be much more likely to work with an agent they know than to take a risk on an artist they don’t. This can result in much better opportunities, for example playing at your local club on a Friday instead of on a Tuesday, or can get you in the door to a new market entirely.
When it comes to negotiating performance contracts, a booking agent will negotiate on behalf of the artist with the venue about ticket price, expected ticket sales, hospitality and food for the artist, any potential lodging or transportation needs, guest list, and of course the performance fee. Sometimes the venue/promoter will offer a guarantee, which is a flat rate that goes to the artist regardless of the success of the show or not, but more likely if you are booking your own shows you will encounter a variety of “door” deals, where the artist is paid a percentage of the ticket sales.
How expensive is a Booking Agent?
In both of these scenarios, the booking Agent will receive a percentage of your performance fee, usually around 15%. If you were to receive a guarantee of $2,000 for a live performance, your booking agent will receive $300. Booking Agents do not receive a cut of merch sales or other ancillary income earned while touring.
How do I know when I’m ready to begin working with a Booking Agent?
Booking shows is something that anyone can do - all you really need is an email address and a basic understanding of the necessities of a live concert (such as preparing a stage plot and marketing your show properly to sell tickets). Similarly to an artist manager, a Booking Agent should be sought out when you are able to sell enough tickets to justify them.
To begin working with a booking agent, you should have a history of playing live shows in several markets (cities). You should also have a stage plot and a production advance (a list of inputs for the venue production team) ready to go. You should have experience marketing your live shows, such as making show/tour posters and advertising your live concerts online. A booking Agent will need all of the content and marketing materials you can gather to pitch your concert to promoters and venues, so you should have high-quality video and photo evidence of your concerts to showcase your stage presence and song quality. Hiring a 3rd party videographer to film a couple songs will be great for future show promotion as well as additional content for your socials/online presence.
Does a Booking Agent need a license to operate?
In some states, booking agents (also called Talent Agents) must have a state-issued license to legally represent artists and negotiate contracts. An agent will acquire this license from the state government and may require the booking agent to meet certain requirements, such as passing a background check or completing some form of education and training. You should research your state’s specific laws for more information about obtaining a license.
If you would like to know more about how the Booking Process works so that you can begin booking your own shows, check out this article: How to Book a Tour
The Publicist / Content Team
Traditionally, the Publicist is a team member who manages an artist’s relationship with the press - today this role has expanded to include any person who works with you to help your music gain the attention of new fans. A publicist will work with you to secure media publicity, such as radio play on FM and SXM radio, as well as magazine coverage from reputable sources such as Pigeons and Planes, Live for Live Music, and so many more. However, a publicist can help your music land in places you would never expect, and their contacts go beyond traditional media. For example, publicists are also very well connected with influencers, creators who showcase new music or hosts of music-related podcasts. Publicists can help you land your music in non-traditional locations such as Bandcamp weekly, underground radio stations, and help your song become a trending sound for content creators.
Storytelling in music is one of the most underrated tactics for garnering new fans. If you can assign a compelling story along with your music, you will find that your brand and recognition will soar. Take “Car Seat Headrest” for example, an indie artist whose tagline story is that they produced their entire first album in the backseat of a car, and so every day the producer Will would stare at the back of a car seat headrest. Now that little bit of story is traded and talked about by fans discovering his music making him highly memorable and no doubt contributing to their success as an artist.
How do I know when I am ready to work with a Publicist?
Publicists will work with you to create a captivating biography and description of your work and then send those stories out to their connections. However, Publicity is not guaranteed! If anything, your story and angle will depend as much on you as it does on your publicist. Before working with a publicist, you will need to do some soul-searching and find out what really makes you special. “What is your angle?” With so much going on in the world, why should anyone pay attention to you and your music? “What do you have to say to the world and why?” A Publicist can help you get the word out, but why shout if you have nothing to say?
Another important reason to hire a publicist in 2024 is to get the verified checkmark on your social media platforms and SEO ranking. Without getting too in the weeds in this blog, Your SEO rank will improve with each 3rd-party mention from a trusted source. Once you have a certain amount of “trust” (Google uses a trust system for its SEO algorithm) you will earn a knowledge panel! This is a top-ranking location on Google that acts as a quick bio and will display your work and is a crucial step in building an online presence. Additionally, you will need at least 1, but preferably 3 major publications to mention or talk about you at length to be considered for a “verified badge” on social media platforms. A Publicist can help you land those features so that you can get verified!
Publicists are paid per album or release as a flat fee. Publicists can also be paid on retainer if you are a larger entity, like a record label who needs to send press releases often.
To begin working with a Publicist, you should have a legitimate product, album, song release, or tour to promote. You should have spent considerable time identifying what traits and experiences make you unique and how those traits and experiences translate into your music and into the listening experience. Your music should embody those experiences in a way that is authentic and honest to who you are as a creator and an artist. You should have a list of regional and local publications and outlets that you wish to cover your story, such as local content creators, podcasts, and magazines.
Non-Permanent Team Members
If you think of your favorite bands with an iconic sound, you might think of artists like The Flaming Lips, Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Metallica, or Snoop Dogg. What do these artists have in common? Albums created with the help of a fantastic producer. The Flaming Lips have been working with their producer, Dave Friddman, since 1990. Dave has been an integral member of the band in helping them to develop their sound. Working with a lifelong producer will allow you, the artist, to focus on songwriting and sounds while your producer can focus on engineering and progressing in the studio.
A Producer in 2024 can come in many shapes as sizes - If you are a hip hop artist then your producer will be a beatmaker, a sample curator, and crucial step in the song development process. For Singer Songwriters, a producer will be an extremely talented studio engineer who has incredible skill for recording and mixing vocals. If you are in a band, your producer will often rely on a balanced mix of both skills - creative, experimental, and thoughtful decision-making to best suit the music and the performing members. To that producer, recording techniques will be as important as arrangement. Style and substance both combined to create a record greater than the sum of its parts. The Record Producer is a difficult and niche responsibility, so aligning yourself with one creatively and in a way that doesn’t break the bank will take your recorded music to the next level.
Visual Artist Collaborator
When building a music brand you have to take into consideration the visual impact supporting your music. Many visual brands are tied into a genre’s culture: Death Metal and 90’s Hip Hop immediately invoke very different and specific visual brand formats, and that is by design. You will need to develop a visual brand attached to your musical brand that is within the confines of the format for your genre, while also being highly unique and memorable. This will be no easy task!
Up until a few years ago, the album rollout cycle was the basis for everything operating in the industry, which means that for every album a musical artist would work with just one or a team of visual artists to handle everything related to that album cycle. This included Album artwork, vinyl packaging design, merchandise such as t-shirts, hats, sweaters, and other collectibles, as well as tour marketing and branding like tour posters and tour-specific merch.
In the last 15 years, the album cycle format has fallen off in favor of the single release, which allows artists to be more prolific and creative with their visual brand since they have more opportunities to release music and put that visual identity out there. It is very common for musical artists to work with several visual artists for a tour, especially for things like posters and merchandise, that center around a specific theme or emotion. For example, one of the most successful touring bands of all time, Phish, will hire a different artist to create show-specific merchandise for each concert they play, in addition to working with a variety of artists who interpret their logo and philosophy through their visual mediums for additional tour merch. An artist like the hip hop duo Run the Jewels will work with visual artists to create their own spin on the iconic 2 fists-logo, and this progression of their visual identity secures the logo as a central figure in their brand, becoming even more recognizable across its numerous permutations.
If you work with a “Merchandise Manager”, this will sometimes fall under their responsibilities. A Merch manager will help you print, deliver, and ship high-quality merchandise to your audience. Merch Management companies have grown bigger and it could be worth your time to begin communicating with some smaller boutique merchandise agencies, especially as you start to tour heavily and begin to rely on consistent merchandise revenue.
The last team member who may not be a permanent addition is the “Tour Manager”. This person is usually hired for a longer tour and handles the management for all of the tour logistics, including advancing the shows with the venue, distributing per diems, getting everyone in the tour fed, communicating with venues about parking, rider fulfillment, and secure its needs for the artist, and often is the point of contact for settlement at the end of the night.
You may also find yourself wanting to align with a Lighting Designer, Video Producer, Front of House Audio Engineer, and Monitor Engineer to elevate your live show to the next level. In all of these cases, you would hire them for the duration of a tour and pay either a flat rate or a per-show rate with tour per diems. Many times venues will provide their own production, so adding these members to your team is something most artists do not do until much later in their careers.
Lighting/Video Designer: This is the person responsible for controlling video and lighting during the set.
Monitor Engineer: This is the person responsible for mixing the sound that the artist hears on stage.
Front of House Engineer: This is the person responsible for mixing your sound to the audience.
Playback Engineer: This is the person responsible for any playback, or backing tracks, that happen while the artist is on stage. This is usually reserved for Hip Hop, Pop, and larger touring acts.
Singing Contracts with Team Members
For any work that you hire, you should always have a written agreement of the work to be provided and the payment! This can be as simple as an invoice or even an email that details the work to be completed, a timeframe of completion, and a pay period plus the amount to be paid. For extended working relationships, such as with an Artist Manager or Booking Agent, or for any relationship where the payment is a % of the gross or net earnings of an artist, it will be important that both parties sit down together and sign a contract of work. Be sure to consult a lawyer before signing a contract of any nature!
Building and maintaining long-term relationships:
All relationships are based on three things: Communication, Trust, and Mutual Benefit. If you are not someone who is a strong communicator, it will be important that you find an artist manager who can carry that responsibility for you so that you can communicate effectively with every other member of your team. Building trust is also imperative - you need to trust your team members with your career and with your vision and they will in turn trust you with their time and their hard work. Lastly, every relationship, especially working relationships, need mutual benefit. You and your team must work for each other! It cannot be one-sided. While your artist manager, booking agent, or publicist can open doors that you may not have been able to open yourself, they rely on your success and hard work as much as you rely on theirs. Keep this in mind and you will build a heck of a team!
DIY Tips for Artists without a Team
So many situations in the music industry can feel like a catch-22, where the artist is left filling all of these roles at once, overworked and unable to dive deeply into any single one of them. But the unfortunate truth is that to begin building your team, as the artist you need to build the scope of work before you can hire someone to fulfill that work. The single most important factor for finding a booking agent is having shows booked; proving to an agent that you can and will perform live and make money doing so. Therefore, we have curated a few guides that will help you crush these responsibilities without a large team behind you!
How to Release a Song as a Total Beginner: https://www.indiemusicacademy.com/blog/beginner-music-business-plan
A Complete Guide to Booking a Show: https://www.indiemusicacademy.com/blog/how-to-book-a-tour
Cultivating an Authentic Voice: https://www.indiemusicacademy.com/blog/cultivating-an-authentic-voice
We hope that you have found this article helpful! If you are struggling to find success on Streaming services like Spotify, consider joining us for a TikTok, Label Promotion, or Spotify Playlist campaign! If you are a brand new artist, consider joining our Free Workshop at the link below and learn how to earn a music income with our guru instructor, Ryan!
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