How to Choose a Manager

Musicians’ Assistance Program

Volume CIV, No. 5May, 2004

Mitch Weiss

Most music managers I’ve met have little or no training. There are no standards for managers in the music industry and they often make it up as they go along. While much of management is really crisis control — preventing and putting out fires — longevity in this business (the carrot on the stick) requires that the manager, the artist, or both have knowledge of more than 20 topics.

These topics include union solidarity, money management and investment strategies, medical plans, pension plans, insurance, taxes, contract law, publishing, recording contract pitfalls, royalties, translating legalese into English, basic accounting, copyrights, trademarks, booking agreements, recording studios, the Internet, publicity, marketing, press and promotion, merchandising, musical personnel, music and songwriting, image, stage presence and more.

Together, artist and manager should complement each other and know something about all of them.

When asked, artists say they want someone personable but aggressive, honest but with great selling abilities. What they ought to be looking for is a manager who is well trained and knowledgeable in business, finances and artistic arenas.

Everyone in life is going to be ripped off sometime. Having a knowledgeable partner on your side will help decrease the number and severity of the ripoffs. If both manager and artist are strong in one area, then that reinforces that particular area against ripoffs. If either one is weak in an area where the other is strong, then the one should be able to compensate for and strengthen the other’s area of weakness.

If you’re both weak in an area, read a book, seek out an advisor, enroll in a class, or ask somebody who might know. Ignorance is expensive. Find someone you will listen to, at least in those areas that you are not strong. Be willing to accept the blame if things go wrong and you didn’t listen. The manager must be willing to listen to you too. Managers are not always as wise as they want to believe they are.

It’s not absolutely necessary, but there are definitely advantages to finding a manager who likes your music. Your manager’s passion for your talents can work wonders.

A note to artists just starting out. Your nephew who loves your band may want to help you carry your luggage and get you water, but he’s essentially worthless when it comes to tasks beyond those befitting a “go-fer.” Your uncle may have run his own business for 20 years and be a hard negotiator on the phone, but will let you down when a club owner is robbing you blind and the press is misspelling your name.

Let your friends and relatives be helpful and love them dearly, but don’t sign with them as your manager. When the time comes to replace them, they will be insulted and they will hate you and spread nasty gossip around the neighborhood (or around the world if your career really blows up!)

The most successful marriage of artist and manager occurs when they each add pieces to the career pie.

Mitch Weiss has been a manager for musical and theatrical artists for more than 25 years and a certified ATPAM manager since 1975. He is the author (along with Perri Gaffney) of “Managing Artists in Pop Music: What Every Artist Must Know to Succeed” on Allworth Press. (Some of this article came from excerpts of his book.)