Who is an Artist Manager?
Personal managers play a vital role for their clients. They have tremendous responsibility, and their decisions can make or break a career.
To fully understand a manager’s impact, it’s helpful to view their client as the owner of a business centered on themselves and the manager as the chief operating officer. The artist may own the business, but the manager makes it run.
The relationship is symbiotic: the artist contributes a vision and the creative products; the manager contributes the planning necessary to exploit them.
A manager’s duties are wide and varied, with responsibility for the big picture; content management; marketing, promotion, and sales; operations; and communication. But because managers are like chameleons, constantly changing according to their client’s needs, no list of duties will be the same for each client.
The Big Picture
When an artist and manager decide to work together, it’s not because the artist has too much work but because they recognize the need to do the right work.
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Managers are hired primarily for their ability to focus on the big picture and develop a strategy that, when executed properly, should result in career success. Doing so means being involved in these items:
- Coaching / Decision-making
- Identifying goals and vision
- Developing and implementing strategy
- Owning the schedule
- Assembling and leading a team
- Setting and executing brand strategy
- Business development and partnership building
- Encouraging health and well-being
Managers are not personal assistants, and while hiring one may be a relief for the artist, adding a manager to their team may not immediately lighten the load. In fact, many artists search for management before they are ready, without realizing that a good manager will find them once they are.
Managers work with their clients to identify what is truly important and then help them make smart decisions and keep them focused. None of this is easy, either—for the manager or their client. It’s important to understand that the manager-client relationship is like a marriage, with both partners responsible for success, each contributing to it, and each a party to its intimate details.
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Whether the medium is songs, recordings, performances, videos, artwork, merch, or even endorsements, it can be difficult for a creator to have perspective on the value of their work. An outside opinion is necessary, as a client’s life and business may be so intertwined that they find it difficult to separate the two. Doing so involves:
- Taking inventory of the client’s creative abilities
- Developing marketable products
- Archiving and inventory management
Managers must recognize an artist’s creative abilities, mold those abilities into marketable products, and then present them in ways that capture the revenue generated. While capitalizing on current opportunities is important, a manager never loses sight of the future.
To ensure a long-lasting career, protecting the artist’s assets—whether their creative abilities or their results—is essential. Managing the creation, marketing, and release of these products is important, but their ultimate success is tied to how they are exploited over time. Ensuring that products are released at precisely the right moment is just as important as keeping them safe for use (or re-use) in the future.
Marketing / Promotion / Sales
Managers advocate for their clients, but not only in contractual or business terms. A manager must always represent their artist in the best light. They are marketer-in-chief, responsible for constantly promoting their client. When it comes to that promotion, managers are responsible for:
- Marketing planning
- Developing tools
- Social media management
- Campaign management
- Revenue development and growth
- Finding alternative revenue sources
Managers are marketers. They develop products, assess the marketplace, target the audience, identify the goals, build the tools, and then run each campaign.
Managers are storytellers, using marketing, promotion, and sales to showcase their client.
Managers are planners, as revenue development and growth requires a thoughtful, long-term approach, especially when fundraising, sponsorships, and grants can play an important role in helping an artist achieve financial stability.
Record companies and music publishers once handled much of the work of distribution and publishing administration. But the availability of new and different solutions means that these tasks are increasingly taken on by the artists themselves.
Finding those solutions remains a management responsibility, but even after these items are handled, an artist manager still has other operational tasks to accomplish:
- Distribution and fulfillment
- Publishing administration
- Structure and organization
- Budgeting and financial oversight
- Bookkeeping and accounting
- Legal & business affairs
Tour management / Production management / Logistics
There may be a business entity to set up, an organization to build out, people to hire, a budget to balance, finances to track, payroll to make, payments to collect, and taxes to pay. Virtually every deal requires a contract, so an attorney needs to be available to handle licensing, clearance, and business affairs. And once a show is developed, getting their client on the road means overseeing tour management, production management, and logistics meant to capitalize on the artist’s personal appearances.
Not all of these tasks are urgent priorities, but a successful career will still require many of them. And even if they aren’t on today’s checklist, a manager needs to consider if they should be on tomorrow’s.
The music business is a relationship business. To be successful, creators must navigate collaborators, team members, rightsholders (like music publishers and record labels), intermediaries such as distribution and retail, licensing partners, writers and critics, promoters and venues, and ultimately, consumers—whether they are brands or fans.
The importance and value of art can be challenging to convey. Good communication is essential. Managers take part in:
- Public relations and messaging
- Relationship building
- Setting and managing expectations
- Protecting the client
Savvy creators know that they are the product, and to stand out in a crowded marketplace means developing a strong personal brand. Managers know this too and work to create consistent messaging that makes every interaction special.
Being in the public eye can be difficult, and a manager must also protect their client, whether by blocking out the noise, shielding them from threats, or negotiating with their partners. Sometimes this means being the bad guy; sometimes, it means doing the dirty work. It can even mean taking the fall. A manager will understand each and work to keep all relationships healthy and productive.
To be effective, a manager must:
- understand business in general and entertainment in particular
- be entrepreneurial yet able to navigate rigid systems
- be organized and creative
- be sensitive to personal and professional relationships
- be well-connected but able to network
- be able to communicate clearly
Ultimately, a manager must remain a student of the business. The list of responsibilities and requirements may be long, but everything in a manager-client relationship comes down to trust. If the parties truly trust in one another, then the only list that really matters is what to do next.