Tech Tip:Choosing the Right Music Manager
By Bobby Borg
In the classic concert film The Song Remains the Same, there's a famous scene where Led Zeppelin's manager Peter Grant, a 270-pound former wrestler from East London, is backstage screaming at one of the promoters at Madison Square Garden. Needless to say, the promoter is backed in a corner and shaking in his boots! Many artists may think that an intimidating personal manager is exactly what they need. But Jeffrey Jampol, current manager of The Doors says, "The days of the Peter Grants in this business are over." People in the music industry prefer to do business with nice guys. A manager must be able to nurture and maintain numerous relationships, while at the same time standing firm, being sensible, and demonstrating a strong knowledge of the business. (It's a fine balance between ticking people off and not being a push-over.) If a manager walks into the record label and starts pounding desks, insisting that things get done his way, HE'S BOUND TO GET ABSOLUTELY NOWHERE!
So what are the most important qualities to look for in a manager? In addition to being powerful, well-connected, a good negotiator, enthusiastic, committed, and accessible, a good manager should be one who overall inspires your TRUST AND RESPECT.
Trustworthiness is an incredibly important attribute to look for in a manager. Think about it, you've worked for so many years learning how to play your instrument and write your songs, and your band has been rehearsing and promoting its shows for years—AND NOW YOU'RE GOING TO TURN OVER A GREAT DEAL OF RESPONSIBILITY TO SOMEONE YOU BARELY KNOW! Sounds scary doesn't it? Trust must be earned over time, but if a manager doesn't at least show an initial caring, enthusiasm, and commitment for your dreams and passions, you may not have the right guy. I remember one very famous manager firmly saying to a group that he didn't need to like or be passionate about their music in order to do business with them. Sounds rather insensitive, but because of his power and clout, the band decided to go ahead and work with him. As it turns out, the relationship ended in disaster. The band drove all the way across country in a van to perform a showcase, and the manager didn't even show up—nor did any industry people! True story. Coincidently, after that, the manager didn't even return the band's phone calls. Nice! In similar situations, so many bands are promised that there's a big tour or record contract right around the corner and that the labels are ready to ink the deal. One or two years later, the band is still playing the same dive clubs and are unsigned. Surely, a manager isn't a magician. But he also can't mislead his artists as some ploy to keep them under control, feel powerful, or to perhaps manipulate into a romantic relationship.
A manager must also be someone who you can respect. We're not just talking about the number of successful bands this individual has managed or how many gold and platinum records he has on the wall, we're talking about morality and ethics. Does he show a genuine loyalty to other business partners and associates? Does he show an interest in win-win relationships in other business ventures? Or is your manager all about making money and flash-big houses, expensive cars, and arm-piece girl friends at any expense? Surely, it's not like you're an angel looking for a saint, but overall a manager must maintain a level of authority and respect and perhaps even be somewhat of a father-figure to you. Someone who's going to take them under their wing and keep everything under control—a super hero who can do no wrong, and someone who knows how to be down to earth and admit that they don't have an answer to a particular situation. Of course you may initially be impressed with someone who makes a lot of noise, blows a lot of smoke, wines and dines you, and flexes a lot of muscle—but are you really going to trust your whole career to guy like this? A manager must be secure, grounded, firm, confident, educated, and well-respected—far above all the bells and whistles and shallow surface stuff. Without these positive and respectful attributes, you're only building a relationship in a personal manager that is doomed to eventually fail! There are managers in this business and there are damagers. Stay away from the damagers.
Bobby Borg is the author of "The Musician's Handbook: A Practical Guide To Understanding The Music Business," which is available now at bobbyborg.com or in a store near you. Contact bobbyborg.com.