by: Joe Taylor Jr.
As a professional writer and occasional music manager, I often encounter bands and solo musicians that work very hard to attract attention from music management agencies. Unfortunately, a legion of grifters uses the raw desire for success against many smart, talented music professionals. If a representative from a music management agency contacts you, use these three guidelines to determine whether they’re on the level:
1. Real music management agencies will never, ever ask you for money up front. Managers make commission on their clients’ earnings, and experienced managers understand that an unknown artist doesn’t have much money. By taking on “developmental clients,” music management agencies cultivate both business and goodwill that they hope will pay off when an artist enjoys a modest breakthrough.
On the other hand, fly-by-night music management agencies run by rip-off artists know that there are plenty of talented people who are willing to believe that a fee of a few hundred dollars will get them attention from record labels and from radio stations. While it’s legitimate for a very small music management agency to ask for a small retainer to cover overhead expenses, this fee should be negotiated in advance and should be billed after the agency has done some work on a client’s behalf.
2. Real music management agencies can point you in the direction of successful clients, or can admit that they’re still so new that they haven’t had any breakout stars on their roster. Believe it or not, some of the most influential music managers of the last five decades had little or no experience in the music business. They just had the drive and the stamina to do great work for equally talented clients.
Meanwhile, you can tell most rip-off music management agencies by looking at their web sites or at their offices. If your potential managers seem to have collected hundreds of “grip and grin” photographs of themselves with some major stars, ask whether the manager did any actual work with that artist, or whether the just love to snap photos at industry “meet and greet” events. Many Nashville con artists stuff their offices full of artist photos to deliberately overwhelm the senses – and the judgment – of potential victims.
3. Real music management agencies handle business at the office, not at the gig. Professional music managers understand that live shows are the best possible marketing opportunities for bands to grow their audience and sell their merchandise. After all, the more money a band makes, the more money a music manager makes. Professional managers will, most often, grab some contact information from a band member or from the merchandise table, so they can make contact during business hours.
Unfortunately, many bands get taken in by the rip-off music manager that trades on the adrenaline rush after a live set. These scam artists often slide up to the stage right after a set, buying drinks (or even supplying drugs) to their targets. They play off the notion that many musicians love to party, and that signing with their (bogus) music management agency can lead to plenty more party nights. Before long, the so-called manager has snagged a hefty retainer, which they usually use to fund parties with their new marks.
Remember, professional music management agencies recruit new clients based on measurable results, not just based on a band’s performance at one club night or at one music conference. Just as sporting talent scouts keep an eye on potential pro athletes throughout their high school and college careers, real music management agencies may be watching your band grow from a distance. In the meantime, rely on your friends, your family, and your street team to provide the foundation you need to attract the right professional manager for your career.