How to get a great manager: 6 tips from music executive Jeff Rabhan

by Mariana on October 29, 2012 · Comments

This guest post is written by Jeff Rabhanartist manager, music-industry executive and international consultant. His clients have garnered twelve Grammy Awards, sold more than one hundred million records and generated over one billion dollars in global receipts. Rabhan currently serves as Chair of the Clive Davis Department of Recorded Music at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts.

After 20 years in the business and hundreds of showcases under my belt, I’ve seen a lot of aspiring artists who have two things in common: They’re all looking for a manager and all trying to get signed. But for the great majority, that’s a pipe dream. The odds are against you. I know it sounds harsh, but in truth, many artists miss their opportunity by not being prepared.

Finding a proper manager can be a painful and frustrating process for many artists; the seemingly endless amount of pitching, sending out unsolicited material and inviting seasoned pros down to showcases only to be met by rejection on the other end can be debilitating. Many musicians blame the managers — it’s easy to convince yourself that their blind eye and stone ears can’t see and hear your musical greatness. But in truth, artists often are not properly prepared for management, nor are their careers in shape to the point where an experienced manager would be interested. So how do you know the right time to get a manager and what are the best ways to secure proper management?

DIY until you no longer can

If you’re sitting at home on the couch right now, chances are you don’t need a manager. You should be your own booking agent, publicist, marketing exec and radio promotion person before anyone else. For one, you’ll learn about all of the different aspects of your career and become educated. Second, you’ll build the relationships yourself instead of hiring a manager based upon who they “know.” Hopefully, by the time you’ve reached the point where you are so busy that you can no longer handle the tasks, proper management will have taken notice. After all, if you have a lot going on, the buzz of a band finds a way of reaching music execs.

In fact, there’s a funny saying amongst music industry people: “If you’re unsigned and great, I’ve heard of you;” meaning, if all of the pieces are put together and you’re ready for the major leagues, managers will find you, as will labels, and lawyers too.

Trust me. Rock bands are famous for handling their business correctly. They split up the chores, handle the tasks and operate their band like a business. This is one sure way to impress a possible manager. I remember before Incubus was signed to Sony Music, they had a strong relationship with their fanbase in southern California, kept meticulous fan lists and had plenty of merch to sell so much of the groundwork was done. The rest is history. Remember: If you’re a new act, no one is waiting for your music to come out. So get all the elements right first.

Get your online presence together

Any manager worth his salt will want to see an organized online presence. That doesn’t mean a website with a few old songs and bad pictures! Managers, labels and executives alike will want to know that you are part of an active community that includes a destination website for your project or band, as well as Facebook, Twitter, a ReverbNation profile, or even a Tumblr. The website should be updated, platforms linked, and the artist active. This is the bare minimum! In today’s market, artists are getting deals with labels and managers based upon the strength of their online presence alone. You could be one of them if you “work” your social media fanbase. Just ask Justin Beiber if YouTube helped him….

Know who you are

Very few managers are interested in figuring out who you are for you. Without a strong sense of identity, a sonic footprint, and a dialed-in look you are wasting time pursuing representation. Take the time to experiment and know exactly who you are, who your audience is and how you communicate with them first. A manager can help you execute but only you can determine those key points. Stepping forward without these three things intact is like a guitar player leaving his instrument at home the night of a gig. Branding is the phrase that pays and every artist needs to be in the branding business.

Some artists take offense to the term “branding” and feel that it goes against their artistic ethos. Think again. As a wise manager once said, “No one wants to manage the greatest band you never heard of.” Branding is music.

Captivate a following in your hometown

A manager friend of mine once told a band looking for management “Don’t call me until you can sell out the best club in your hometown!” I believe that message holds true. If you’re not popular where you are, how can you expect to be in demand anywhere else? Work on establishing yourself in your hometown and making yourself a household name at clubs, radio stations and the musical community. Bands that are making noise locally are usually the ones that get snatched up long before projects that have no local development.

Master your live performance

These days, an artist with no live following looking for management is like a tree falling in the forest. With so much income reliant upon touring and merchandise sales in today’s market, most managers will want to know that you are capable of earning on the road and building a fan base every time you get out and perform. This means that if you’re a band, you are tight and know how to sell it from the stage. If you are a solo artist, you should have a band together that showcases your talents and they are prepared to perform your material at any time.

I can’t tell you the number of times I was hyped on a band that I went to see and they couldn’t deliver it live. It’s a deal-killer every time.

Avoid “Uncle Joey Syndrome”

Many musicians fall prey to this horrible disease! Rarely is an artist served well by having a family member or close personal friend as their manager. More personal relationships are destroyed in this scenario than successful careers made. Plus, opinions are so subjective that often family is blinded by the reality of your situation. Hire the best person with the most experience you can find. Occasionally you meet the artist who believes that their career is the family business. I’ve managed artists who have insulated themselves with family and do not have the ability to see themselves clearly. Objectivity is the key to great management and blood rarely possesses it.

Having great songs is truly just the beginning. Without building your base and utilizing all of the tools available, you may find yourself in the unpleasant situation of waiting to be heard. So get off of that couch and know that success is in your hands. If you build it, they will come. Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.

Jeff tweets daily at @JeffRahban.

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