In this series, we’ll unpack the most interesting jobs in the music industry, helping you understand what it entails, what skills it requires, how to get such a role, average compensation and featuring interviews with industry professions in such roles.
What is an Artist Manager?
The role of artist manager is, like the A&R manager, highly coveted, likely because it’s close to the artist and creative process.
I (Budi) have been an artist manager until 2021, spending a decade representing artists like San Holo, DROELOE, Taska Black, Stephen, rei brown and others. I had the opportunity to guide many from bedroom producers with strictly SoundCloud output, to performing at renowned festivals like Coachella and Tomorrowland and generating millions of streams on Spotify.
The artist manager is best described as the CEO of the artist’s business. A manager’s objective will typically be to grow the artist’s brand, safeguard their physical and mental health and shepherd their business interests. Classically the idea is for the artist to focus on creating art, writing and performing, while the manager takes care of everything else. In practice, the level of involvement an artist will have in her business will depend on the demands of her daily career (touring, writing, producing), interest in business and stress-tolerance. How this balance falls between a manager and artist is different in each case, but the ideal outcome is that both parties focus on their strengths and interests, so that together they can thrive.
Managers typically manage relationships with all business stakeholders in an artist’s business, such as with (the employees of) the record label, publishing company, booking agency, business manager, lawyer, tour and production manager and sync representatives. Which of these stakeholders an artist has depends on the configuration of that artist’s business, but all these parties are common to see with larger more developed talents. While the manager drives communications with these parties on behalf of the artist, the artist often retains much of the creative conversations and relationships with other artists. That is how things tend to fall in music, managers talk to managers, artists to artists.
The more elaborate the business of an artist, the more’s required of a manager to manage it. Larger management companies will have senior managers with a certain number of talents, who will have support from so called “day to day” managers and interns, who will help with the more administrative daily activities. The senior manager will be more involved on the strategy front, reviewing deals, confirming tour routings and music roll-out plans.
Key things that an artist manager will work on, include among other things:
- Long-term strategy
- Music development and release plan
- Marketing & social media
- Personal support
- Maintenance of calendar
- Travel schedule
- Touring strategy
- Rights administration
- Financial / business management / insurances
US managers typically collaborate with business managers for the management of an artist’s business, touring and rights administration. Whereas in Europe, it’s more customary for the manager to drive this in collaboration with an accounting firm.
You can already see that many of these functions don’t happen in isolation between an artist and her management team, but instead require input from all the stakeholders, like how a tour depends on the music release plan, which requires the label’s input, which first requires music that’s completed, that depends on writing sessions, and so forth.
The cool thing about artist management is that it’s the most versatile of all roles in music. It will expose you to every part of the business and quickly will help you build foundational industry understanding. Therefore, I think exposure to artist management via junior roles is a great way to get your feet wet in the industry.
Conversely, it’s also grueling work. The music industry is a winner-takes-all business that’s highly trend-sensitive. Social and streaming service playlists make it so that success begets more success. Therefore, only a small percentage of artists ever reach scale, and consequently only they make meaningful money. As the manager typically earns a commission (15-20%) of an artist’s earnings, it means one can work very hard, for very little. A common trend is for managers to achieve success with one artist, use that credibility to expand their roster, aiming to achieve some diversification in the process. But, since it’s a 24/7 job that requires high personal availability, it remains hard to scale. Roll-ups are common in the industry, where successful managers acqui-hire other up-and-coming managers who need resources to staff out but don’t have consistent income to justify such expenditures yet. The result is a dispersion between many independent managers and a few larger companies that dominate.
What does it take to become a successful Artist Manager?
First and foremost, artist management is something you should do because you have an intense passion for the art, artists and culture. “Breaking” talent is a hard thing to do and music’s a highly competitive industry with low barriers to entry (anybody can download music production software, learn how to make music or self-assume the role of manager), so one needs to have the tenacity to grind in order to be successful.
It’s very helpful to have an understanding of the specific subsection of music you wish to become a manager in. Knowing the history of a genre, key artists, brands, labels and events that move the needle in that genre. And knowing the people associated with them. All of those things will help you in your persistent efforts to create opportunities, which as a manager can range from setting up collaborations between artists, finding promotional opportunities, establishing the artist’s team and so on.
Additionally, understanding how the industry functions from the ground up is essential as well, since the artist manager needs to cover so much ground. Sometimes managers work together on clients to complement each other’s knowhow, for example when one is great at marketing and the other at touring. Sometimes these collaborations happen on a geographical split too, where you’ll have one company handle an artist’s European, North American or “Western” interests, with another party representing in Asia.
You’ll need a 24/7 work ethic since an artist’s audience will likely grow to be global. Music releases are almost always globally coordinated nowadays and when you add international touring, it means that there are always things that should be checked, can go wrong or require attention. Since you also need to provide personal support to an artist, I think it’s safe to say that the best managers make sure they are always accessible to their clients, or at least make them feel that way.
Being a proactive networker is essential too. Effectively, a manager maintains relationships on behalf of their clients. For me, this has meant traveling globally and ensuring I visit each key city at least once a year to ensure people have a face to a name. Many managers move to hotspot cities like Los Angeles, New York, Nashville, London and such since there are more opportunities and a concentration of music professionals there.
The best managers are prolific collaborators too with a keen sense of awareness about their strengths and weaknesses, outsourcing their weaknesses to third parties. Managing a significant artist’s career is very time consuming, so offloading certain responsibilities to the label (marketing, A&R assistance), publisher (A&R assistance), PR & marketing agency etc. is essential to remain sane and do the most with the available time.
How to get started as an Artist Manager:
As said, management is a job that requires no credentials. With an artist’s permission, one can simply assume the role of manager and start seeking opportunities for the artist. This means there are many amateurs, but also that credibility in management comes from 1) what you’ve achieved and 2) who you’re working with.
I (Budi) simply started by finding great talents to represent on SoundCloud and hustled us into getting traction and built from there. This is a very difficult thing to do and also requires a great degree of luck (we were working on the right genre, on the right platforms, at the right time).
The other, more obvious route, is to work with existing managers in a junior position. You can look for internship opportunities (managers always need interns, since there’s always menial work to do) or if you’ve already interned somewhere, consider looking for day-to-day management positions. If you’re feeling adventurous, you may pitch managers of artists you love your services rather than seek internship vacancies. Such vacancies are more frequently found by established management companies, who work with established music schools as talent pools. Independent managers do so less structurally so I think those are better to pitch directly.
Artist management won’t pay much unless you’re working for an established manager or management company. Most managers earn a 15-20% commission over the gross revenue their clients generate, which can be variable and mostly driven by touring income.
Some management companies will permit you to manage clients on the side, allowing you to gradually build a client’s profile and revenue to commission from, supplementing a primary salary. Others don’t, but have a revenue sharing model in place. In these scenarios, managers with clients that generate meaningful revenues are able to merge their rosters into existing management companies and receive a base salary that’s offset against the commissions their artists earn, which are then split with the company. Effectively, it allows the reduction of volatility in earnings by giving us a portion of the manager’s commissions to the company. It may also provide them with additional resources, such as office space, a (shared) assistant and leverage of a larger brand (like Red Light Management, for example).
Artist management roles are most prominent in the key music cities globally, notably Los Angeles, New York, Nashville and London. We found it hard to find substantive salary information but anecdotally, our understanding is that salaries range from $30,000 - $125,000/year with the latter being for senior managers who work closely with established talents. Entry positions are in the $30-40K range and In the United States, the average salary of an Artist Manager is $70,960 per year. The top 10% of managers make $127,000+ per year, and the bottom 10% make $39,000 per year. (source)
Artist Management Opportunities:
Good artist managers always will have a lot of work on their hands and need assistance to get it done. Additionally, it can be hard as a successful manager with an established roster to keep track of upcoming talent, which is where junior talent can be critical. Thus, if you’re looking to get started in management, it’s incredibly helpful if you’re 1) willing to get your hands dirty and 2) are constantly on the lookout for upcoming talent.
Conventionally, management companies are structured as follows:
- Junior or “day to day” managers
- Senior managers
- Who may also be owners of a management company or run an entire division (think “Head of Electronic”)
Most managers and management companies will always have interns and cycle these, typically in alignment with school periods. As you identify what companies and managers interest you, check out their websites and career sites or reach out to inquire when they’ll start hiring for their next internship batch.
Junior managers are typically hired after having some foundational experience in the music industry. That could be interning at a management company, but also equivalent learning positions at booking agencies and record labels count.
One way to establish credibility and a line of communication with a manager you admire is to pitch them upcoming artists that you’re tracking or are in contact with. Once you’re in a management job, you may even be permitted to develop a beginning artist on the side, which you can potentially roll into your agreement with the company to improve your standing and be able to scale the artist faster.
Via MusicCareers, you can also register for a weekly job alert specific to the job categories you’re interested in. By navigating to our Jobs page and clicking the Job Alerts pop-up, you can sign-up and a curated weekly digest of positions that interest you.
Thank you for reading the second installment of our Job Highlight series, where we unpack the most interesting roles in the music industry.
We also made an in depth article on How to Be an A&R Manager.