The “Big 4″ of Professional Representation

by | Oct 9, 2012 | Music Contracts & Law, Music Promotion

Know Who’ll Do What For Your Career

EVERY MUSICIAN WHO MAKES THE TRANSITION FROM hobbyist to career performer will gradually assemble a team of professionals to take care of their business affairs, manage the mundane, and assist with all other duties which would otherwise take the artist away from what matters most:  the music.  In the music business, there are an assortment of professionals that will play an intricate role in your career.  Here are the essential people that will help guide the way: 

PERSONAL MANAGERS: If your career were a movie, the personal manager would be the director, overseeing each and every aspect of your career from label contracts to personal appearances.  Two of the practical considerations are (1) finding a manager and (2) finding the right manager.  Regarding the former, large management companies actively pursue artists for their roster and rarely take unsolicited material.  However, young bands can find management from a variety of other sources.  While many managers have tested track records, many transition into the field from other avenues (former music transactions attorneys, trusted venue booking agents, indie label owners, etc).

Why hire one? A personal manager only makes money when you make money.  That being said, having an experienced industry veteran to guide you can be necessary to finding success (i.e. income) in the industry.  While most professional managers prefer to represent talent that are already generating income (so that they can earn commissions right away), many up-and-coming managers are willing to take on and develop new talent.

Cost to you: Personal managers work off of commission [editor’s note – do not trust a manager who charges upfront fees]. The industry standard for music managers is usually 15 percent.  This number reflects the gross (not net) of proceeds, which means your manager can take home a hefty paycheck, especially in comparison to any individual band member.   A manager’s reputation and past successes can reflect his or her take.  In essence, a great manager is worth a higher percentage, at least initially, based upon the power of his/her phonebook and clout within the market.

AGENTS: In the music industry, an agent’s primary responsibility is to arrange live performances.  In some cases, there can be cross over to TV, radio spots, etc., although that is often the responsibility of a personal manager.  A booking agent also negotiates performance rates with promoters on behalf of the band, often booking gigs several months to a year ahead of time. In many cases, the agent is trying to assemble a variety of regional, national or international tours for its acts. Booking agents can either be independent or work for a larger talent agency.  There are certainly benefits for newer bands to get on board with an agency, as this brings with it more possibilities for opening acts, touring, etc.  If you go with a solo, keep in mind that in many states agents are required to be licensed and bonded – make sure yours is.

Why hire one? At a certain point, your career focus should be on creating, recording, and performing music.  Every outside task you need to perform (i.e. booking tours) takes you away from your music.

Cost to you: Booking agents normally charge from 10-15% of each show that they book.

LAWYERS: Lawyers who represent musicians will perform a vast variety of services from reviewing contracts to negotiating deals to pursuing matters in court.  The first lawyer you’ll want to hire is one with connections in the industry who understands the intricacies of record contracts and intellectual property.  The majority of your lawyer’s time is spent in the office, on the phone and meeting with clients, labels, and other attorneys. Their job is more transactional in nature, with a focus on drafting and negotiating deals.  These deals include management contracts, record deals, publishing arrangements, deals with booking agents, concert promoters, etc.  In a way, your attorney’s job is similar to that of an artist manager, but with a much narrower focus on the legal terms and ramifications of any particular deal.

Why hire one? A good lawyer will know the finer deal points in contracts and know where to give way and when to stand their ground.  Contracts will go through multiple revisions and as you’d expect, these contracts strongly favor the label – you hire a lawyer to sift through the fine print.  Another job of a transactional lawyer is to help you understand the business, the benefits and the downsides to entering into certain agreements.  A lawyer can oftentimes be a one-stop for other people you might need along the way – business managers, accountants, agents, etc.

Cost to you: There are typically two methods for payment: hourly billing or a flat fee.  Hourly rates differ widely based on geographic location and experience (ranging anywhere from $100 to $1,000 dollars an hour).  Usually, you’ll be required to provide a retainer up front, which your lawyer will debit as time accrues.  Flat fee structures are becoming more routine in today’s field and are transaction-based (a lawyer will charge X amount for copyright registration, contract negotiations, etc.).  Avoid any payment method in which your lawyer takes a percentage of your deal. Your best bet is to arrange a consultation with a lawyer (these are usually free of charge) and ask as many questions as possible.

BUSINESS MANAGERS: A business manager’s role is to take care of your finances.  Their role can be that of bookkeeper, investor, CPA and tax specialist, among other responsibilities.  The business manager differs drastically from your personal manager because their focus is solely based upon money.  Income, expenses, and investments are the world in which a business manager deals, with little else influencing their responsibilities.

Why hire one? Simply put, a business manager can handle your money better than you can.  It’s important to find a business manager who regularly deals with clients in the music business, as he/she will better understand the streams of income and how to best invest and budget your funds.  And finally, the most important role of the business manager is that of a trusted professional.  Many artists, both big and small have been burned by unscrupulous moneymen.

Cost to you: Most business managers will work on a percentage of income (usually around 5%) or a monthly fee, depending on the volume of work and expertise required.

Adam Barnosky is a Boston-based attorney and writer. For music industry news, entertainment law updates, or to suggest an upcoming Legal Pad topic, find him on Twitter  @adambarnosky.

Disclaimer: The information contained in this column is general legal information only. Consult your attorney for all specific considerations.

*photo courtesy of Warner Brothers Home Entertainment. Rock of Ages is now available on DVD and Blu-ray.