Managers and agents — these are the titles most confused by up-and-coming bands who do not yet fully understand the workings of the music business. Is it your manager’s job to land you the big gig that is going to break your career? What involvement should an agent have in the personal affairs of the band?
Let’s begin with what a manager does for a band. A manager has a very abstract role, and I like to describe him/her as the band’s common sense. A manager’s main role is to assist in the development of the band’s career through personal advice and guidance, and is involved with all aspects of the band on a daily basis. He supervises publicity, public relations, and assists in the selection of the band’s attorneys and accountants. He can also provide financial advice and procure endorsement deals and media appearances. A manager with great industry contacts can be a huge asset to a band, but in reality, a manager can also be a friend who just works passionately for the band. It all depends on the needs of the group, and ultimately, you’ll know if your manager is doing his job if your career continues on an upswing.
In contrast to the abstract job that the manager does, an agent has a very defined role. An agent (also known as a booking agent) finds or receives offers of employment and is typically responsible for negotiating the contracts. Now, if you’re in a local band and are happy playing local gigs, then (much like a manager) you might get the results you’re looking for by hiring a friend who is going to work his butt off to get gigs. But if you’re aiming for the big time, you want to try to land an agent with industry contacts that will result in big shows with lots of exposure. The band’s manager should be an asset in trying to find the best agent for the band.
While there are crucial differences between agents and managers, there is one common element between the two: Both will take a chunk of the band’s money. A manager is typically paid between 10—15 percent of the band’s gross (before tax) earnings, and is also reimbursed for all travel and out-of-pocket expenses. An agent also receives 10—15 percent, but only for the shows that he or she books. Keep in mind that if you have both a manager and an agent, you’ll pay them 20—30 percent of the band’s gross show income.
So when should a band seek management or an agent? The answer is different for every band. If you feel you’ve hit a plateau and aren’t able to get your band to the next level, then it might be time to explore management options. On the flipside, if the band is doing well without management, why fix what isn’t broken?
This article is not intended as legal advice. If you have specific legal concerns, I recommend that you personally contact an attorney.