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January 05, 2011

So You Think You Need A Manager?

In the Market for a Manager, You Might Want to Consider DIY


In the late 1990s, I was in a group called The Presence (in addition to my solo work, I'm still a member today). Even though we were just starting out, we had a few joints that people were feeling in NYC. So we really wanted a manager. In our minds, it was time to take that "next step.” So I spoke with an experienced Manager who managed a lot of the acts that I wanted to emulate, in terms of their success and creativity. He told me that we didn't need a manager. In fact, he said that a manager wouldn't do anything for us.

His response pissed me off, because from my perspective, we weren't going anywhere and we needed help. We were really young in the business, and I thought that a manager could help us get to where we were trying to go. So I shunned his advice, and I met with several "managers,” explaining our situation to each. All the people that I met with were "first time managers;” but I didn’t know that at the time. I thought all these meetings in bars were actually getting me some where. In retrospect, it should have been obvious to me that I was spinning my wheels. After all, why would an experienced manager meet with artists that clearly couldn’t do anything for themselves?

Well, it took me a long time to realize that the advice of that very first manager that I spoke with was right! And if anyone would have said anything different to us at that time, it would have been a shark move. Although this was back in the late 90s, and the music scene has changed a lot, this issue surrounding a manager is one thing that hasn't changed.

This all comes back to my mind because now that I've grown in the business (that is to say, having produced and mixed countless many tracks, performed at numerous shows, and started a record label), the very last thing I EVER want to do is talk to a manager. It's ironic that when I was about 21, I carried the exact opposite approach. I've dealt with managers for well-known artists of past note as well as up-and-comers, and in my experience, they are either “day-planners” or they just plain get in the damn way.

You have to understand one basic fact about managers if you are just starting out as an artist: They get paid when you get paid. But that's not as good as it sounds. What that actually means is that if I contact you for a beat, for instance, and you direct me to your manager, your price will likely not be negotiable. Although this might be construed as good thing, it usually isn't.

Consider this scenario. Let's say I contact you for a beat and you want $1,000 dollars for it. We may be able to work it out one on one; trade some favors; change our agreement around until we get to a more reasonable price range; whatever. We might agree on a price that’s somewhere between $400 and $600, where still both walk away happy. But If there’s a manager negotiating, they’re likely gonna get about $200 of that $1,000, which comes up to 20% (15-20% is pretty standard for a manager). Guess what that often means? The manager most likely ain't going lower. So instead of getting that $400-$600, you get nothing. Because the manager doesn't want his or her 20 percent to represent much less then $200 dollars at a minimum.

I should point out, however, that if you have a manager that is actively hunting down work for you, then that's all acceptable. He might have contacts in film, or with major labels, or with more people in your local scene than you do. This would then be a win-win situation. But ask yourself, if you don’t already have those contacts, why would the manager be giving those to you when they can work with the next man that already does?

Of course, I'm not trying to paint all managers as useless or sinister. Some "first time managers" are genuinely trying to help. However, most of the time, they just have no idea what their doing; and this can damage your career and/or make your goals even more difficult to achieve. My point is, good managers are typically looking for someone that already has a name (brand presence, or more easily marketable product) and has earned money already. So as an artist, one good reason that you should be looking for a manager is if you are in such demand that you can't keep up with all the requests or manage your money correctly. But you have to be honest with yourself, are you really in that position yet? Fact is, a lot of new artists have managers in order to feed their own ego. So look deep in that mirror before you hire someone, and keep things real; handle your biz, straight up.

Finally, I want to end with something that happened recently. I heard beats from someone that I found very good. I run a podcast, a record label, I know almost every emcee in the NYC underground, I offer engineering services, I have this platform here at BeatTips as a Blogger, and I'm generally a pretty good guy about spreading the word around about people I find interesting. Why do I point all this out? Because those are all the things that this artist (beatmaker/producer) NEVER found out about me because of the reaction I got from his manager. I was given a semi-third degree about who I was by this manager—aka third party—and then ignored.

To this “manager,” let me say this: we are not on such different levels, homie. In fact, I'm probably far more well known in underground circles. But because of your “management,” I’m now less inclined to share with you the advantages and goodwill that I’ve earned. Maybe what your “manager” did was un-intentional; maybe it was an oversight; maybe I'm too sensitive; maybe there was a problem giving me a proper decent (respectful) response. Regardless of what it is, in this specific case, your “manager” actually hurt your interests rather than helped them.

Editor's Note: For more information on DIY, check out the BeatTips DIY Resource Center
Also, The BeatTips Manual (in the Business Part) includes a comprehensive discussion of so-called producer managers and the like, along with the advantages and disadvantages of each.

The BeatTips Manual by Sa'id.
"The most trusted source for information on beatmaking and hip hop/rap music education."


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