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What makes a good "manager" in the DIY world?

The meaning and role(s) of a “manager” have changed dramatically over the last decade, as the traditional CD/Radio/Retail business model has given way to the “new” music business. Traditionally, a manager managed an artist’s efforts to get signed to a label, and once signed, he/she managed the relationship between the artist and the label. The label itself managed marketing, distribution, artist development (ah, the good ol’ days), radio promotion, producer and writer relations, etc.

But given the state of labels today, the unsigned artist must assume that he/she will never be signed - and build a career accordingly. A traditional manager is often unable and ill-equipped to successfully manage and develop an artist’s career in this new “DIY” environment.

The truly modern manager needs to possess: (1) Internet savvy and a deep knowledge of how to use online marketing, promotion and distribution tools/services; (2) the ability to develop and execute strategic partnerships with brands, businesses, and other “blue ocean” partners.; (3) knowledge of independent financing alternatives and an understanding of financial models; (4) the ability to pull together a creative team (e.g., producers, writers, etc.) around the artist; (5) relationships with booking agents and others who can help create live performance revenue; and (6) an entrepreneurial spirit, since every young artist is really just a start-up company.

Even managers of established artists (many of whom I’ve worked with) find themselves in need of re-education in light of the fact that their artists are voluntarily or involuntarily leaving their long-time record labels. For many, this is like trying to teach an old dog new tricks, and many established managers (along with their attorney and label executive counterparts) are unwilling or unable to overhaul their skill sets to really serve their artists.

If these “requirements” for the modern manager seem like too much to ask from one person, perhaps this is correct. Instead of looking for one manager, I often find myself urging artists to identify the specific areas with which they need assistance, and then determine whether one, two or more “managers” would best fit the bill. In fact, I have personally witnessed many artist-manager relationships fail miserably over the past few years as the gulf widens between the artist’s needs and expectations,and the traditional manager’s capabilities.

Because of this reality, co-management deals should become increasingly popular as artists realize that they are best served by BOTH the established manager with valuable connections and an understanding of the live business, as well as the young manager (with fewer connections and less experience in the traditional music business) who is more capable of creating and managing the artist’s online social media presence, digital distribution and other facets of the “new” music business.

A good manager in the new music business therefore understands his/her own assets and limitations, and is willing to collaborate with others whose skill sets compliment his/her own for the benefit of the artist. For the artist, identifying ideal “management” requires parsing out the necessary skill sets and finding one or more people who can most effectively build a business around the artist. Using the start-up analogy, an entrepreneur would never look for just one person to serve as CEO, COO, VP Marketing, General Counsel, etc. - rather, the entrepreneur looks for the right TEAM of people to build a successful business.

In this DIY world, the very notion of a single “manager” is arguably be out-of-date, and may need to be replaced by a subset of more specialized professionals who, together, can create and manage success for the artist. Artists will continue to be disappointed by their traditional managers until they grasp the consequences of this necessary evolution in artist management.

Eric Galen is a seasoned music attorney and Internet entrepreneur in Los Angeles, California. Over the past decade, Eric has worked with both new and established artists, producers, writers and labels. Eric’s focus is now on new music business models and assisting his clients successfully navigate the waters of the new music industry.


Reader Comments (21)

A great article. Short, to the point and pretty much spot on.

Finding a good manager has always been very difficult - one of the questions frequently asked of the Music Managers Forum (MMF) is "where can I get a manager?"
Most managers appear to be either a friend of the band, or the sacked bass player or the sacked bass players girlfriend. They pretty much only book gigs and think this is enough to make something happen.
The old traditional music industry is collapsing and managers need to look beyond this 'one track' approach and learn new skills. Don't be a tour manager, be a real manager and if you get bored at the back of the room, you can play spot the A&R scout.
There are plenty of available articles about how to promote artists and with a bit of 'googling' effort you'll find them. Learn about and understand the tools that are available to you - find out who your fans are and what they want - communicate with them in the right way and treat them well because record companies never did and look where it got them.


Definitely hit the nail on the head! I for one have been busier than I ever thought possible. I'm still looking for a good, relatively inexpensive digital marketing company. One who actually does followup and not simple a 'big hit' on the blogs. Getting your head around the financials nowadays seems to be the toughy. Case in point, sponsors. Not like they used to be at all.

Thanks for the article.


May 10 | Unregistered CommenterCat Ward


I'm going to somewhat disagree with you on this one. Although understanding how internet marketing can boost your career, I believe the first job and most important job of a great manager is to fine tune and develop an artist's brand. That adage about "seeing the forest through the trees" is exactly what a good manager MUST bring, knowledge of the internet and a mind for marketing is an added bonus. Adam's comment "if you build it, they will come" is exactly right, but to build it right, there often needs to be guidance from a good manager in the development process.

Dave Booda

May 10 | Unregistered CommenterDave Booda

Dave, thanks for your comment. I agree that a good manager must be able to help develop the Artist's brand - I should have said that explicitly, but I assumed it as a given. I'm trying to emphasize the non-traditional traits modern management teams must possess to succeed in the new music business. I think managers who are really brand developers must team with others with complimentary skill sets to truly "manage" the independent artist's career.

Unfortunately, many developing artists team with managers who can only help develop their brand, and are frustrated/disappointed when the manager can't develop a business plan, a social media strategy, etc. It's hard to find all the traits an artist needs in one manager...

May 10 | Unregistered CommenterEric Galen

Hmmmmm, I'd like to hear more about how sponsors "aren't like they used to be..". I know a lot of artists depend on them more these days, but what's changed about the sponsors themselves?

May 11 | Unregistered CommenterMojo Bone

While I think the DIY artist would be wise to heed this advice in general, I'm not sure that finding several people to take on specific tasks qualifies any of them to be "Manager" and take a Manager's cut, whatever that might be these days.

You could, of course, be extremely lucky and the people working would just somehow intuitively "know" every answer to how you want things done, and what you like/dislike, but that seems rather far-fetched :-)

You, the artist, will probably still end up making judgement calls on who does what, and you'll end up co-ordinating their efforts -- which puts you back in the DIY self-managed seat, imho.

eric. i totally agree with your assessment. bands/artists need to view themselves as business owners and their music/brand is what they're selling. they'll need capital, a fully committed and motivated staff (band) and the ability to effectively promote themselves. in this model the manager becomes more of a consultant... helping you to strategize and implement your business plan.

this is an exciting time for the new artist. the playing field has been leveled in many ways. there's so much opportunity to be unique, stand out and have a career. success will have more to do with which band is working the hardest rather than who is the luckiest.

Great post, dead on! In this "new" music business, I see the manager's position becoming even more pivotal than before. His/her role as a proverbial nucleus for the artist will become even more defined as he oversees the decentralization of the artist's career.

As it's well-documented, bands are finding alternatives to the traditional labels. This will create a greater need for coordination, and the manager is the person who will make sure everything lines up. Communication skills are crucial, as well as a broad yet deep understanding of how his artist shall be promoted and served by the various service-providers.

May 11 | Unregistered CommenterFrank Gatto

I'd love to see some good articles on the operational details and actual day-to-day workloads and skill sets involved here.

Great post. This really speaks to a critical decision when selecting any "service" business to work with, whether in the music management business or anything else. There is a wide range of management talent and firm types in the marketplace, and not all of them are one-man shops as the model discussed in this post sometimes suggests.

A legit artist management firm will either employee specialized staff to handle these areas, or they will outsource these tasks. The business plan that guides the artist's (and the manager's) activities should be clear about these issues. The firms that do these things effectively, you might not be surprised to see them managing a pretty legit roster.

Without a doubt though. Make sure your management has all the bases covered. If they don't, cut the fee accordingly.

Josh Turner
Vindico Music Group

May 12 | Unregistered CommenterJosh Turner

I see myself as another artist in the current river of DIY artists. I've been doing all the research, keeping up to date with various social media and internet marketing strategies (that's why I am here reading this post). I write a blog, I tweet, I interact in forums/myspace etc. with a reasonable online presence and have created my own "brand". I've been doing remixes for various artists around the world and have had tracks released/distributed/sold.

Now I've come to the point where I can wholly believe Adam's post above "If you build it, they will come". I have now had an expression of interest from someone offering "management". I am yet to determine what services they will be providing exactly so I am quite hesitant at this stage. They run quite a good house music label in the UK and I am currently living in Australia. I wonder what someone, half way around the world would be able to offer me as an artist? What is it that they will then be expecting from such a relationship? Exclusivity?

So, I sit here with the above comments in mind and wait as I discover for myself what makes a good "manager" in the DIY world. We'll see how it all goes.

Hey Mark Maxwell! I feel like we're on the same boat. Good words!

Greetings from Brazil

May 14 | Unregistered CommenterSergio Buss

No question about it. this article is spot on. Like everything else in the music industry, things are changing as we speak. We are creative. We can figure out how to adapt.

Divide and conquer. Take the management tasks and split them up between 2-3 different people. It is up to us as artists to lead and organize.

May 14 | Unregistered CommenterDan G

I can truly appreciate this post. As an Artist Manager in today's New Music Industry this article could not have been written better. It fully encompasses where as "Artist Managers" we need to be to successfully navigate our Artists careers in this new Music Industry Business Climate.

And Mr. Eirc Galen your response to Mr. Dave Booda comment was excellent. You are absolutely right. I hope to have the opportunity to work with you in the future.

Rich&Fifth Management LLC.

January 17 | Unregistered CommenterDurian Dunbar

great article.
the comments that folks have posted here are good too. glad to see so many people pushing forward.

i agree with the writer of this blog.

also consider this, how many of the millions of artists swimming in the DIY world actually have a formal business plan?

in a big money game that revolves around the amount of eyeballs that get attracted to your brand, which effects your sales, a significant amount of investment money is needed. i hear it takes 1 million dollars to break an artist on a major label and it takes 2 million to break an new artist.

you've got to be honest and ask yourself, who are the potential customers?
where does the core target market live?
have they proven demand for a product similar to yours?
what are their spending patterns?
are you on the cutting edge of a new opportunity?
are you too far ahead of the curve or are you clenching onto the past, living in a distorted reality, while wearing a rock 'n' roll t-shirt, sporting a mullet and thinking about all the girls that you could get after a show?

the music business is exactly that. a business.
like other creative industries, it's driven and inspired by the blood sweat and tears that everyone goes through on their life's journey. some people only ever see the dream side and overlook the business reality of the making money through music.

the question is: how can you turn the lessons that you've learned into songs,
cater the songs to a narrowed down and identified market,
make sure the product is capable of competing with brands that are currently successful,
gear the image of the brand around the target market,
get on a stage and record via video that you can entertain and inspire a crowd of people,
get the necessary websites up and viewable,
write a formal business plan,
then find some rich people who have $500,000 - $2,000,000, or make friends with people who can introduce to those people...

at that point you'll be able to prove without question that you have a familiar, yet unique product, that offers significant potential for an investor to make money.

once you receive a large sum of money... maybe you get it from the bank... then you call qualified managers who have a proven track record, AND ARE CURRENTLY REALIZING SUCCESS, (the guy might have done some stuff for elvis... but can he compete in today's music business?).... and tell them that you can put up $500,000 to launch your brand.

once you reach that point, you'll be forced to come to terms with, why you're actually in the music business. if you "just wanna make music" or if you're doing it for ego reasons, or if you're doing it to attain financial freedom.

like the guy who posted this blog said, the ball is in your court.

welcome to the information age.


i got a bit passionate while writing this. hope it's an inspiring eye opener. and... it's not the only way to do it, it's just one way.

March 8 | Unregistered CommenterJas

After agreeing to "manage" a rap artist I have been DJing for I decided to do a little homework and came across this article. This is exactly what I was looking for as it gave me some excellent clarity & vision moving forward. I am fortunate that I have been signed as an artist myself in the mid 90's and I am currently DJing playing clubs etc. in NYC and the boroughs. Even then in the mid 90's I thought the music business and it's process was old, stale, and in need of a new way of thinking and lo and behold napster, limewire, itunes, myspace, twitter, and facebook have officially changed the game!
The idea of having a "team" management system is something I was thinking I would do and this article definitely reassured me I am happy going that route. Thanks.

DJ Shuttle

April 4 | Unregistered CommenterDJ Shuttle

Seems to me that everyone here assumes that the artist has what it takes to become a brand. Also it seems like everyone expects the manager to take the place of a label and all its staff. Seems to me that its a lot of work and effort for no pay to build someone elses brand. Maybe managers should be 50/5o partners with bands who expect to write minimal material and get major results.

No ever discusses the need for bands to work hard at making music people find irresistable, only at pushing a bunch of crap down the throat of people who just don't like their music enough to buy it.

September 28 | Unregistered CommenterRob Karras



December 4 | Unregistered CommenterVON HUBBARD

Very informative and well-reasoned article. As artists are increasingly taking to the "DIY" approach, it has become extremely clear that the traditional role of a "manager" is in peril. Many DIY artists do not have a need for a full-time manager, nor do they have the ability to give away any of their hard-earned income as a percentage to such a manager.

With that in mind, I, along with a small team of music industry professionals, have built a company to help DIY artists in all of the areas that a traditional manager would work, only without the contract. We work on an "a la carte" basis, where the artist chooses what services they need help with while still maintaining full control over their careers.

DIY Artist Management Made Simple
Elevation Music Consultants

Dan Gustad

March 30 | Unregistered CommenterDan GUstad

Awesome site. I have been managing bands for the last 10 years and definitely agree with most everything you stated. Thanks!

October 15 | Unregistered CommenterMark Lafay

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