Music & Entertainment

How to Become a Music Manager: Learn What a Music Manager Does and 2 Ways to Become a Music Manager

Written by MasterClass

Sep 11, 2019 • 5 min read

You don’t have to have an amazing voice, perfect pitch, funky rhythm, or incredible guitar shredding skills to have a career in music. In fact, you don’t have to play an instrument at all. If you’re interested in the music industry but have a better knack for business than you do for musical performance, you can aim for a career in the field of music management.

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What Is a Music Manager?

A music manager is a person (or group of people) who oversees the business affairs of a musician or band.

Although music managers aren’t as well known as legendary singers like Rihanna, Aretha Franklin, and Celine Dion, some of them are quite legendary in their own right. Famous music managers include:

  • Brian Epstein (The Beatles)
  • Peter Grant (Led Zeppelin)
  • Jon Landau (Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band)
  • Scooter Braun (Justin Bieber, Ariana Grande)

What Does a Music Manager Do?

In the case of many singers and bands, a music manager is responsible for all aspects of the artist’s career apart from the actual writing, recording, and performance of music. This includes tasks in all realms of the music industry, including:

  • Managing live venue performances. Helping the artist get booked in live venues. Sometimes this means interfacing with booking agents, event promoters, or venue managers. In other cases, this means hiring a separate tour manager or a group of road managers. These people report to the artist’s core music manager.
  • Working with record labels. Fueling interest in the artist from record labels and negotiating terms of a record deal, should a particular record company show sufficient interest.
  • Logistics. Assisting with the logistics of recording, including being a point person with recording studios and music contractors.
  • Cultivating a fanbase. Cultivating and communicating with an artist’s fan base via social media, live promotions, exclusive releases, meet-and-greet sessions, email newsletters, and more. Many artist managers will hire a publicist, publicity agents, or a full publicity firm to assist in this endeavor.
  • Paperwork. Reviewing contracts, budgets, and other legal and financial documents that your clients may encounter. This may involve working with music publishers or with performing rights societies like ASCAP and BMI. Once again, many managers seek outside help in this matter, whether that’s an entertainment industry lawyer or a specific business manager whose scope is exclusively focused on a musician’s business affairs.

How Do Music Managers Make Money?

Most music management professionals work on commission. This means they receive a percentage of their clients’ revenue. This model is similar to that of other artist managers, like those in the film industry.

  • Music managers occasionally work on handshake agreements, but ideally, you should have a management contract with your clients that specifies the percentage of their earnings that go to you.
  • Music managers and management companies rarely commission on the entirety of a client’s gross revenue. This is because the client needs to reinvest a chunk of that gross revenue into sustaining his or her band. This could include tour transportation, service fees to get songs on streaming platforms, fees paid to publicists, or even commission paid to other professionals like lawyers and talent agents (which are different from managers).

What Skills Do You Need to Become a Music Manager?

A good music manager must combine a wide array of skills, particularly those that may be lacking in the musical artists they represent.

The most important aspect of the artist/manager relationship is trust. You will be tasked with handling money your client has earned, and you will also be advising them on sensitive artistic choices. The only way to sustainably handle these tasks over many years is to treat your client with the utmost degree of honesty and respect. Specific traits possessed by a good manager include:

  • Honesty
  • The ability to multitask
  • Financial literacy
  • A DIY spirit to create opportunities for your clients
  • Relentless drive
  • Some fluency in the artistic language of music
  • Connections within the entertainment industry
  • A passion for artist management

The best music managers love what they do. They’re people who embrace the corner of the music business that they occupy.

2 Ways to Become a Music Manager

A music manager of a successful band can theoretically live anywhere, but they are concentrated in the music industry hubs of New York, Los Angeles, and Nashville. Opportunities also exist in cities like Atlanta, Miami, Houston, New Orleans, Memphis, Chicago, Minneapolis, Portland, Seattle, Boston, and Denver.

However, in the era of connectivity and remote work, it is becoming possible to effectively manage a client’s music career from hundreds of miles away.

There are two main ways to get into the business of music management:

  1. Work for existing industry professionals. This might mean becoming an apprentice to an established manager, or it may mean getting in on the ground floor at a music management company. Your job description may be far from glamorous, but it can provide you with an on-the-ground vantage point of the business side of the music industry.
  2. Identify great unestablished bands and offer yourself up as their manager. When you discover a new artist before big managers and talent agents can swoop them up, you have the opportunity to grow with them. This means you may spend long periods of time working for very little money—assuming there’s any money at all. As such, you will be just as motivated as your clients to get their careers to the next level. Remember that until they become a successful band that’s making money, you won’t be making money either.

Being a music manager is hard work. There’s always the chance that your client’s next album or next live show will lead to a major breakthrough, but realistically, it’s more likely that any sort of breakthrough will be well into the future. But if you, like Jon Landau and Peter Grant and Brian Epstein, can identify talent and can work like crazy to let the world know about them, you and your client just may end up as twin success stories.

Want to Learn More About the Music Industry?

Whether you’re an aspiring singer-songwriter or have dreams of changing the world with your music, navigating the complex world of record labels and contracts can be daunting. No one knows this better than music producer Timbaland, who has worked with artists like Jay-Z, Missy Elliott, Justin Timberlake, Beyoncé, and Aaliyah. In Timbaland’s MasterClass on producing and beat-making, the Grammy-winning producer shares what he has learned about collaborating with vocalists, layering new tracks, and creating hooks that stick.

Want to learn more about the music industry? The MasterClass All-Access Pass provides exclusive video lessons from master musicians, pop stars, and DJs including Timbaland, Christina Aguilera, Usher, Armin van Buuren, and Deadmau5.

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