It’s time artist managers got paid properly
Power has shifted in the music industry, and a large share of that power is resting with artist managers.
Artist managers are the CEO’s of musicians, they are key to not only building equity in the artist’s brand but they also hold all of the artists’ investors accountable for delivering on their promises. This includes labels, promoters and publishers just to name a few.
50 years ago, the artist manager had less influence, and also less responsibility. On paper they did most of jobs they do now, but in reality, it was the labels and promoters who had all the power and ability to break an artist so it was them who did all the heavy lifting.
At that time, getting paid a 20% commission of artist income was a great deal for an artist manager; success and failure of a career did not fall exclusively on their shoulders as it does now.
However, in this new age, the artist manager is arguably the most influential and contributing factor to an artist’s career. They need to be 10 steps ahead of the record labels (the record labels are spread too thin), they are the ones who (together with the artist) speak directly to the fans and mobilise them (they couldn’t do that in the ’70s). And they are the ones who are the driving force for co-writers and building copyright (publishers do an amazing job, but the majors have hundreds of writers to every staff member, they too are spread thin).
50 years ago, the artist manager had less influence, and also less responsibility.
To put it simply, it is the artist manager who needs to develop the artist from nothing to a marketable entity so that the labels, publishers and promoters can begin their work and do what they do best.
Smart artists understand that if they are successful it is most likely because their manager is unbelievable at what they do, and they have put together the right team and investors and mobilised them effectively. It is a hard and highly skilled job that cannot be done by just anyone with a laptop and a love for music.
So this begs the question; managers have more influence, responsibility, are higher skilled and harder working than they have ever been in human history. Why are they paid the same rate, and in some cases less, than they have ever been paid?
What this means for artists
If your manager is living an infrequent pay-check to pay-check, waiting for that tour to settle so they can get their commissions, or hanging out for that APRA payment so they can pay their staff – how do artists expect to retain highly skilled managers within their industry?
Why are they paid the same rate, and in some cases less, than they have ever been paid?
This is why highly skilled managers usually do one of two things;
- They move on to other industries or other parts of the music industry that have more stability or higher pay.
- They start record labels, publishing or touring companies on the side to diversify their revenue and/or get some equity or exit strategy in their business.
When you think about it, artists should be incentivising their managers to only focus on management. Why would you want your manager to start a record label or promoting business? I can guarantee you if managers had a better financial model they would never bother with those other ventures. The reason they do is because they need to.
When you think about it, artists should be incentivising their managers to only focus on management.
Currently, artists pay their managers like they pay their accountant, lawyer or publicist. Sure managers are paid via a commission structure rather than an hourly rate, but the commission structure actually puts managers in a far worse position early on in an artist’s career than any other person contributing to the artist’s business.
Managers take on this financial risk early in an artist’s career with no equity or extra incentive. That is no way to treat (and retain) your CEO, and the most valuable person in your career.
I’ve never been a fan of re-inventing the wheel. So how do other industries retain and look after their highly-skilled business leaders?
Well, most tech companies offer stock options (real equity) into the business for every staff member that joins. Why are artists not treating their managers, i.e. their CEOs, the same way?
If artist managers were given master points on each record their artist released, and some small publishing share on each co-write, then suddenly the artist manager would have real equity in the business they are building.
They would have a real asset and passive income on top of their commission, which will not only make their business model more viable but offer them something in their retirement.
I can guarantee you if managers were offered this you would see very few of them starting side hustles and therefore they would be 100% focused on artist management. What an amazing thing that would be for our industry.
Whenever I suggest this to leading managers it is always met with a bit of an awkward response. Something like;
“Yeah I guess you’re right, but I would never want to take a master or publishing cut from my artist.”
It’s admirable; artist managers love their artists and always want to put them first. But these are the same managers who have side hustles. Almost all of them have to do additional things like book venues, work for a music body, a festival, a conference, or run a record label.
Whenever I suggest this to leading managers it is always met with a bit of an awkward response.
By “putting their artist first”, they are actually not doing that at all, their focus is split from their artists because their business model is simply not viable.
It is well-intentioned, but it’s not good for anyone.
It’s time artist managers stopped being the martyrs of the music industry and start getting paid what they deserve. By definition martyrs die, and when good managers die that is very bad for artists.
It’s time artist managers stopped being the martyrs of the music industry and start getting paid what they deserve.
Lawyers, labels, publishers, promoters, artists and media should all be working together to ensure that artist managers are paid well so we retain highly-skilled talent and have them fully focused on managing their artists. If we do this, not only will artists get paid more, but the music industry will be far more profitable as a whole.
This article originally appeared on The Industry Observer, which is now part of The Music Network.