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

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 music 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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  • How to Get a Great Manager | Stone Music Management - November 5, 2012 reply

    […] How to get a great manager: 6 tips from music executive Jeff Rabhan. […]

    Lightning Lujan - November 23, 2015 reply

    jeff…thank you for the great info…
    heres a scenario for ya..theres a guy i know..this is how i describe him…what if you took a dash of hendrix…including the left handed playing..
    mix in some Santana…as far as equipment and guitar tone…
    add a little Jerry Garcia…as far as great songs and dedication to playing 300 days a year….
    he’s good looking..great age..and has a branding plan..
    he’s friends with KC Porter and understands his equation to making hits..easy equation he says..
    30 or so original songs he’s written.
    plus jeff…he literally plays and sounds like the guys mentioned above.!!!
    we need someone with vision, brains, and guts to make it come together…
    i agree with everything on your website..but this one needs to be babied..its not some gooey band..
    hes a great solo artist and the brand,which includes Sanatana passing him the torch..and blowing peoples minds with his stage performance..
    takes a jedi to train a jedi…
    id like to have a talk, some coffee, and see what we can come up with..
    323 424 2900

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  • Triple Queens - May 28, 2015 reply

    Hi !
    We Are Triple Queens And We are very talented we can dance sing rap and freestyle were very flexible. We just want to have an opportunity to be famous.

  • Herbie Weaver - June 4, 2015 reply

    Your tips were great and very helpful I’m a singer and piano player and producer I could use a good manager!!

  • Stephen - June 29, 2015 reply


    How does the “path to success” change for someone who’s aim is to write songs for other artists to perform? I am a songwriter that performs my own songs, and thus develops them for the group I have for any given gig. But these arrangements are not the image that the songs need to have.

    Do you have any tips on approaching management from a songwriter’s perspective?

    Thank you!


    Sam - June 29, 2015 reply

    Thanks for writing us, Steve! If you’d like to get in touch with Jeff directly to discuss your question, we suggest using any of the contact information he lists on his About.Me page. You can also check him out on Twitter. Hope that helps!

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  • Dskywizzy - July 18, 2015 reply

    Thanks for this great information …you hav help me to grow more in my music career.the most inspiring information that i love most building ur local personality….making people to know u more in ur home town….great..thanks alot sir!!

  • Mare Dayco - July 21, 2015 reply

    Thank you for writing such a refreshing & inspiring article! It made my day! I’m grateful for the fabulous advice. I have mgmt right now, but I wish I had read your article much sooner. I will definitely apply what I’ve learned here! Blessings & hope to see you at a future hip-hop show! God Bless! Prov. 3:5-6
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  • Dylan Hair - August 2, 2015 reply

    Thank you for the detailed information. I am young and a aspiring singer and I appreciate what you shared.

  • Doug Ferony - August 26, 2015 reply

    Great Information building Building Following branding and Live show are Key Components.. Thanks Posting Article!! DF

  • james meek - September 23, 2015 reply

    this is good insight,i love the part of becoming popular in hometown,thank you alot sir

  • Jim Oliver Cano - October 26, 2015 reply

    Great article. We are organizing a movement in latinoamerica. It is a big potential market. We don´t have competition. These are great tips unfortunatedely few people speak english among my musicians.

  • Alene Schneierson - November 15, 2015 reply

    I write songs for other people to sing. I don’t want to sing in public, or ever get up on a stage.
    Are there managers who handle this kind of thing?

    Sam - November 18, 2015 reply

    Thanks for writing us, Alene! If you’d like to get in touch with Jeff directly to discuss your question, we suggest using any of the contact information he lists on his About.Me page. You can also check him out on Twitter. Hope that helps!

  • BigMarc - November 15, 2015 reply

    This was awesome boss,dope tips GodBless you for that.this is link to my music is making wave at the moment.

  • Bernard Charbonneau - January 19, 2016 reply

    Management is not absolute but is the result of artists and manager working together in the same direction.

  • Swaxzy Micheal - April 29, 2016 reply

    Thanks a lot for the great tips you’ve listed above, it’s so encouraging and I really appreciate that…am gon work hard towards that and I belive in every tips you drop for real

    Casey - May 19, 2016 reply

    We’re glad you enjoyed the tips!

  • Sharon Wright - March 20, 2017 reply

    Thanks a lot for this informative post. I wonder what the situation is like for an artist who has had some instant fame on a TV talent show and has had up to 1.8M views on YouTube but had nothing previously? What is the best for this type of artist. Obviously starting from scratch after having a lot of attention could be counterproductive as the fan base is already there. Should such an artist seek management straight away or go back to basics and use the fan base to kick start their career? Thanks

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  • Chandler - September 26, 2017 reply

    This has a lot of great information, and I know that I will be taking a lot of it to heart. I know that this is an older post, but I am wondering what your thoughts are on over populated or over saturated markets, especially for more niche genres? I am in Southern California and there certainly is no shortage of live acts. Myself and my band mates will go out and support other bands several days a week (when not rehearsing or gigging ourselves) in order to support other bands. We have seen a trend however that more often than not, the other bands on the bill are the only people in attendance lately (Bands supporting other bands). Yes this is great, but it is also depressing. It is getting harder and harder to draw people out of their homes because they can just “watch it on Facebook Live” or Instagram later on and then complain that everyone else does fun things while they sit at home. Just wondering what all of your thoughts/impressions are on this

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    Am really talented in writing songs for others but I don’t how to find artists to sell my songs and how should I do it pliz

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