What you need to know
Without the vision and business acumen of a good manager, some of the brightest musical stars could arguably have failed to succeed.
Great managers are hard to find and many are average, or at worst, even incompetent.
For artists, the key objective is to avoid the latter and find a reputable manager who they can work with successfully.
First things first
Finding the names and contact details of respected and experienced managers is relatively easy. The Music Week Directory and the MMF’s (Music Managers Forum) The Music Management Bible, which features both the details of managers and their artists, can be obtained by request from public libraries. The former also includes music lawyers, who could be approached for a list of recommended managers. However, the artist must first ask themselves why they want a manager.
When you actually ask people that question there’s often a short pause and the first answer is “to get more gigs", which is the last thing a manager will actually do. A manager is there to delegate and to try and get the artists to the next level.
Paul Gray, MU Regional Officer
Quick guide to managers and contracts
How to find a manager — Good places to start looking for someone to guide your career are the Music Week Directory and the MMF’s The Music Management Bible, available from your local library.
Make the right impression — Think about your profile and how best to present yourself. Do you have Musicians’ Union Song Share and Partnership Agreements, for example? And a well-written biog?
Manage yourself — Many artists are now managing themselves. Find out more about how you can take control at The Music Managers Forum.
Check your contract — There’s no such thing as a standard contract, so don’t be afraid of disputing any points.
Commission — How much is your manager getting? 20% gross is more common than 15% these days.
Manage your expenses — Pay particular attention to clauses dealing with how your manager will get paid and how your manager’s expenses will be handled.
Contract Advisory Service — You can get details of our specialist advice service from your MU Regional Office.
A lot of artists don’t realise that they’ve got to make themselves an attractive, marketable proposition if they wish to get a manager interested in them. Because labels no longer invest in developing artists, you’ve got to do it yourself.
Paul Gray, MU Regional Officer
Profile and professionalism
While raising their profile online, artists should never ignore the personal touch. This involves simply talking to fans, DJs, promoters and press person, treating them all with respect and building real working relationships.
Artists who are seeking management should ensure that they have a solid, professional business infrastructure in place. For example, artists who already have Musicians’ Union Song Share and Partnership Agreements (which are available from your Regional Office), high quality photos, biographies and press releases will give a heightened perception of professionalism.
Artist, handle thyself?
The alternative to seeking a manager is to do it yourself. If an artist or band member has the necessary drive, temperament and willingness to learn the role there are numerous resources available.
For example, the Music Managers Forum offers information and skill courses for self-managed artists, and your MU Regional Office will be of great help at any stage of your career.
1. The agreement
There is no such thing as a ‘standard’ management contract. Do not be afraid to dispute clauses in a draft agreement. If the manager has a management company, ensure that their name is specifically mentioned, as ‘key man’, in the agreement and not just the company name.
A commission rate of 20% of gross income seems to be more common than 15% nowadays, but this can be negotiable. The manager should not take commission on money advanced towards recording, promotional video costs or tour support (money advanced by the record company towards the cost of touring). Live performances should be commissioned on net income, for instance gross income less the costs of sound, lighting, crew, booking agent and so on.
3. Length of contract
A one-year contract with two options to extend the deal for a further year (three years in total) would seem fair, but some managers try to obtain a five-year term. However, if the manager is reputable and successful, the MU would be less dogmatic on contract length.
Nevertheless, the Union does recommend the inclusion of a performance clause, stating that if the manager has not secured a record or publishing deal to the artist’s satisfaction within one year, or achieved a specified level of artist income, then the artist will be entitled to terminate the contract.
Artists or bands in a very strong position can sometimes limit a manager to specific territories, allowing another to represent them in other markets — for example, North America. New bands will likely settle for worldwide representation by the same manager, unless he or she is willing to share their commission with a US co-manager.
5. How comprehensive is the agreement?
Usually, more than you would think! Your bargaining power is important here. If you are an in demand session player or jingle writer, you may want to try to exclude these activities from the management contract. Only allow the manager to sign individual live appearance contracts on your behalf. Recording, publishing and merchandising contracts should be signed by you. Always take legal advice if asked to sign a record, publishing or other agreement with your manager or his/her company. ‘Artists who have already built up a healthy fanbase are in a strong position.’ Recording, publishing and merchandising contracts should be signed by you. Always take legal advice if asked to sign a record, publishing or other agreement with your manager or his/her company.
Attention to detail is very important. The manager has to be allowed to spend small amounts of money on behalf of the artist, but a ceiling figure should be agreed. Only travelling and accommodation costs incurred by the manager while working for you should come out of your pocket. They should pay their own office expenses.
Try to ensure that any sums due to your manager when the contract ends are only recoverable from commissionable income, not as a debt that is due immediately. It is relatively common for managers to pay for their artist to make some recordings, whether demos or more polished productions.
The arrangements that cover these recordings should, the MU believes, form the basis of a wholly separate agreement and not be included as general expenses. The MU recommends that, under the terms of this separate deal, the artist is the sole owner of the copyright in such recordings, although clearly the manager should be entitled to benefit financially, should the relevant tracks be commercially exploited.
Ideally, the MU would like to see all monies paid directly to your own accountant, who would then pay the manager their commission and expenses. If the manager will not agree to this and insists on collecting your income, then they should account to you at least four times per year (monthly would be even better), and all large sums of money — such as advances from the record company — should be paid to you within seven days of him or her receiving them.
8. Right of audit clause
This is an essential clause allowing you to look at the manager’s books if you feel the need. It should be in any music business contract.
9. After the agreement is over
Management agreements generally provide for the manager to continue to be paid commission on records released or copyrights published during their term of office, but not on future records or songs, even if they fall under a record or publishing agreement they helped to negotiate. Such ‘after the term’ commission should decrease over a period of time and, eventually, end completely. This would then leave you free to do an uncomplicated deal with a new manager, if you should so wish.
MU Contract Advisory Service
If you are presented with a management, recording, publishing or other music agreement, contact your Regional Office and take advantage of the MU Contract Advisory Service. An experienced music business solicitor will then look over the agreement on behalf the MU and offer the appropriate advice. MU members can also view our Specimen Management Agreement below.
A number of companies are making approaches to MU members (in some cases claiming, incorrectly, that they have been given the member’s details by the Union) to sign them up for one of their so-called artist promotion services and usually demanding an upfront fee. Members are advised to view any such company that requires an upfront payment with caution, and to consult their Regional Office before signing any agreement with them or parting with any money.