Behind the Curtain: The Pros (and Cons) of Managers, PR Agencies, and Roadies

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Discover the ins and outs of hiring managers, PR people, and roadies from a collection of working musicians who have been there and done that.

From the moment a songwriter composes a hook, to the day that a song hits the top of the charts, there is a huge amount of largely unrecognized work that goes on behind the scenes. Producers, managers, PR agencies, and even roadies help get the music from artists’ minds to your ears.

From Colonel Tom Parker to Sharon Osbourne, managers and other unseen players have helped some of the best musicians in the world reach new heights. Who can help you, and what should you consider when selecting them? We polled a group of musicians about their experience and advice about hiring and working with the people who can help move your career onward and upward.

For the love of money

Joe Henry and Adam's Attic

Joe Henry is the front man of the California-based, internationally touring pop and rock band, Adam’s Attic. They have found success in less expected avenues such as licensing their music for television—complex negotiations that a manager can help with.

We find that it is helpful to have [someone] oversee our vendors and provide insight. There is nothing like having someone you know and trust implicitly on your side. If you don't have a good manager, a band can become involved in a lot of deals that are futile, and thus waste a lot of money.

Some people are good talkers, but they are unwilling to do the necessary work. Adam's Attic produces music; our manager needs to find opportunities and build relationships to expose our music. We have paid vendors in the past who were unwilling to do the work for which we paid them. With our manager's help, these vendors were exposed, and we didn't continue to work with them.

Aside from an interview and checking references, Henry recommends that you ask potential managers for a few more pieces of information—treat it like the business transaction that it is.

Ask to see the types of reports the manager has developed for other artists. Ask for a 90-day written management plan. Just as a good salesman should offer a 90-day sales plan when interviewing for a new job, a manager should invest enough to be willing to write a plan for the band. Ask for a list of successes the manager has had with other bands. The manager's reference list should include some of the bands on this list.

Two (talking) heads can be better than one

The experience and specialized knowledge that a manager has can allow musicians to accomplish more than they could on their own. They key is to strike a balance between blindly accepting management’s suggestions versus scrutinizing them with a healthy degree of skepticism.

Holly Star

Just 19 years old, Holly Star had already released an album and played at large festivals on tour. A small town talent discovered via the internet, she is thankful for the guidance that a good manager can offer.

​I really appreciate working with my managers. They have such a good perspective as they have been in the industry longer than me. Time and time again they help me make wiser decisions overall. The only downside I can think of is that there are times they will encourage me do things that are outside of my comfort zone—but that's not really a downside!

Take your time to find the right one.There are people out there who promise a lot, but you need to witness the fruit of their work and character before giving them your John Hancock. If you are going to agree to work with someone and pay them a certain percentage of your income over the course of several years, you need to give yourself necessary time and patience to make that type of decision!

Richard Kelleher

Richard Kelleher is a music journalist and marketing expert. His insight from the non-musician perspective is valuable. Kelleher knows that there can be conflict between musicians and managers.

Remember, you’re hiring your boss. Learn to listen to his/her advice and be willing to accept it when they say “no.” That’s the hardest things I’ve seen bands do. When the manager wants to take them down the right street, and the band doesn’t want to go that route, the band needs to listen. Study Bruce Springsteen and Mike Appel.

Protect ya neck

Musicians need to check any business agreements carefully, and know the industry’s standard numbers. Paying attention and bringing in a third party expert to review any contracts is sound advice from Kelleher.

Your manager may work for an outside agency, but should be your boss. They should be more concerned with the band than lining the agency pockets by sticking the band with copyright, video costs, production, and all the “add ons” ... That’s why you select with care.

Don’t nickel and dime yourself if you’re a band. Never pay a manager more than 20 percent. On the other hand, if a manager is only grabbing 10 percent, I’d be leery. He or she probably doesn’t have the experience to know what the going rate is.

Lastly, never, ever, sign a contract without a lawyer looking at it. There’s only a handful of music lawyers in this nation. Choose that lawyer with even more care than your manager.

Phil Barnes

Don’t think a manager is right for you or your band? You are not alone. Americana and folk singer Phil Barnes has been successful enough to pursue his music career full-time. He finds value in foregoing a manager.

I have chosen to not work with a professional music manager. I've found that in this stage of my career, it's possible for me to handle the duties of a manager. I wake up a little earlier, stay up a little later, and handle my current and prospective relationships—whether business- or venue-oriented—around the times of day that I am not writing or performing.

Sure, I'd free up a lot more time in my day by passing along the duties, but with that, I lose the strong personal relationships with venues and partners that I have worked hard to establish over the years. When someone calls to talk about Phil Barnes, they know I'm going to be on the other end of that call. That's what I've built my musical brand upon.

Who are you: Promote yourself

Management and PR are two different animals, and you may find that you need one and not the other. Despite not having a manger, Barnes is a believer in hiring a PR agent or firm.

Hiring a PR manager has been the best promotional move I've made as an artist. With the funds I've saved by managing my own work, I've been able to retain a firm that is constantly and consistently pushing my efforts to press and media outlets. If you don't have a PR team behind your next release or tour, you're not doing your work proper justice. They'll secure blog, print and TV press that you would most certainly be unable to attain on your own.

Essentially, you're paying for new ears to hear your music, new eyes to see your next video, and new voices to spread your music further than your current network ever could. If you have a big show coming up, wouldn't it be great to have the right media outlets promoting your next show, coming to see it, and following up with post press and reviews? That one-night-only show turned into two or more weeks of coverage from multiple media outlets. Simply put: get a PR team to put a microphone up to what you do best. People will listen.

If you do decide to hire a PR firm, Barnes advises you to think outside the box.

Take meetings with PR firms that don't necessarily specialize in music. I know the attraction of hiring your favorite band's firm, but I feel that you’re limiting yourself and your connections if you stay only within that realm. If a company has the right reputation, the desire to work hard for you, and the right connections, that's the firm to go with. That matters more than "Music" in the business' legal name.

Dan Godlin

Afraid of commitment? American singer songwriter Dan Godlin has had success with hiring PR companies for shorter, finite campaigns.

I never had a PR "manager," but I've hired PR companies to run a two or three-month campaign for me to help create some buzz around my projects. It's super helpful in order to get interviews and keep the indie music world informed of what I'm up to. It's a good investment at times, other times it's a bit of a waste.

Now I'm focused on making the best music I can. The public will come to me when it's that good. They can't not. That's my new philosophy on it. I do value great PR people and the work they do. Top-of-the-line PR people with outstanding connections in the biz can help get you very far. But I stress this: It's all about the people they know. It's a business of relationships. Period.

(We Are) The Road Crew

Everfound

Whether you live for it or loathe it, touring is an essential part of bringing your music to both new ears and your existing fans. Need some extra help on the road? The three Russian brothers that comprise alternative rock band Everfound have independently released four albums and have toured extensively. Here is their advice for finding the right road crew.

Interview and look for experienced people if budget allows. Actually call the bands they've worked with and try to learn a bit about them before making the hire. If you can't afford a very experienced person, hiring someone new to the industry could be a great thing as well. In this case, you can mold them into exactly what you need them to be since they don't have a particular way of doing things yet. The most important thing is to make sure they're a good person, great hang, and have a great work ethic.

Started from the bottom

Vilified as parasites and venerated as magicians, those who keep the music industry running behind the scenes have a huge impact. You can choose to DIY these duties, but make sure that you educate yourself and consider delegating in other areas. Finding the right manager, PR person or agency, and road crew can make the difference between fulfilling success and career-killing failure.

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