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Artist Management - What's it all about?

Lets start by making something clear. There’s a big difference between an artist manager and a booking agent and although in South Africa the norm is for both roles to be undertaken by the same person, it is important to recognize the difference between the two.

A booking agent’s job is to find an artist gigs and liaise with the artist manager on touring schedules. An artist manager’s role on the other hand encompasses far more as they become responsible for guiding the artist’s professional career. They develop strategy to raise the artist’s profile, create opportunities and ensure the artist continues to grow in success year after year. They become the buffer between the industry and the artist, handle the negotiation of contracts and assist with both commercial decision making and the creative process, plus a whole lot more.

A good well-rounded artist manager should be equally capable of holding his own in the studio on a creative level as much as in the boardroom at the highest level of record company negotiations. Your manager will become the single most important person in your professional life so it’s therefore essential that he or she has a thorough and deep understanding of how the music industry operates.

Unfortunately due to the size of the South African music industry and the way it is structured there isn’t yet a culture of true artist management or artist development in the country. It is still common to find “artist managers” who are more interested in making money in the short term than investing in the development and growth of an artist’s career. Beware of the breed of artist manager who just wants to jump on your bandwagon and collect commission from your earnings without doing much for you.

Times are changing

Artist management is often misunderstood and the type of management needed will depend on the type of artist, where they are in their career and what their aspirations and needs are. It’s not a case of one size fits all. Managers can range from friends who have hustled with an artist since day one to seasoned mentors with years of industry experience, and each will approach their role differently.

Many nu school artist managers are taking on a much more creative role than may previously have been the case, handling marketing, PR, branding and social media in sync with the artist. As Tyler, the Creator’s manager Christian Clancy says:

“It’s more about building brands as a partner now. Building multiple businesses that intersect under an artist’s ‘parent company’ umbrella. Most artists, or at least the ones I work with, don’t live in one lane. It’s less about immediate gratification. Some businesses thrive, some die, but they are all part of the same soil.”

Although true artist management and development is in its infancy in South Africa there is a new generation of artist managers doing good quality innovative work such as the likes of Black Major who represent artists as diverse as Beatenberg, Abdullah Ibrahim and Felix Laband, and Lee-Roy Davids who manages Cape Town hip hop artist Youngsta.

“I need a manager”

When young aspiring artists are asked what they need a manager for the response is usually “to find me gigs” or “to get my music out there”. For others the business and administrative side of their careers is taking up too much of their time, or they simply don’t understand the intricacies of the music industry and need help taking their careers to the next level. Whatever the reason may be, your manager should believe in your music and should share your vision as to where you want to go in your career, and crucially be able to make things happen for you.

An experienced and knowledgeable manager will achieve things that you simply wouldn’t be able to yourself, but the music industry is extremely competitive and remember an artist manager works on commission so its expecting a lot to think that someone is going to invest the time, money and energy needed to build an unknown artist’s career if it doesn’t make financial sense to do so. That being said, there are occasions when an experienced manager will take an unknown artist under their wing, adopt an A&R role and accept the risk of developing that person. Of course less experienced artist managers often embark on projects for the love of the music and having someone passionate who believes in your music pushing your career can certainly have its benefits.

Artists want their music to be heard by as many people as possible and the reality is that the focus and experience of individuals in the South African music industry is very localized and therefore limited in global terms. As an artist, you therefore need to decide which market you want to focus your energy on and if you possess any international aspirations then it would be advisable to look outside of South Africa, not only for management but also for your record label and publishing deals.

The relationship

Every scenario is different and will depend on the particular circumstances and parties involved, but the bottom line is that an artist/manager relationship should be built upon trust, respect and honesty. Your manager will be the buffer between you as an artist and the rest of the music industry and will be responsible for creating opportunities, developing a strategy for your career, advising you on important business decisions such as the selection of your team (i.e record label and distribution, marketing, booking agent, publisher, PR, radio and TV plugger, merchandiser) then coordinating and managing these team members to ensure that they’re all doing their jobs.

Not every relationship which starts out well ends smelling of roses and history is full of examples of legal disputes between artists and their managers where the relationship went sour and the parties wanted to divorce. You can’t predict what the future holds but you can take steps to protect yourself, and that’s why a carefully worded and fair management contact is so important.

The contract

What does each party have to do and what do they get in return? Sometimes one party doesn’t deliver what was expected, or they may want to walk away. Then what happens? What if things do work out and the artist becomes hugely successful and starts making a lot of money? How long are you tied to each other and is the manager entitled to receive payments after the end of the management deal in return for his investment, time and efforts in building the artist’s career?

As with all music industry contracts there is no standard agreement and each contract should be tailored to the specific circumstances. When entering into a relationship which will potentially have serious long term implications you need to consider the hypotheticals, have the difficult conversations and ask the questions. If your manager has your best interests at heart and operates with integrity he or she should be open and willing to answer any concerns you may have.

But above all, get independent legal advice. The fine print is there for a reason and understanding what you’re agreeing to is crucially important. That’s why most contracts will contain a clause which says something along the lines of:

“The artist acknowledges that he has been advised to seek independent expert advice from a legal practitioner who has knowledge of the music industry, to assist the artist in the negotiation and conclusion of this agreement.”

Don’t take this lightly as by putting your signature to a contract you’re agreeing to be bound by its terms, and unfortunately the South African music industry is rife with a culture of unfairness. The agreement you’ll be asked to sign will inevitably be drafted in your manager’s favour, not yours, so paying for an experienced music or entertainment lawyer to check and explain the wording of the contract and handle its negotiation on your behalf is a worthy investment in your future career.

In part 2 of this article we’ll consider some of the clauses which you’d expect to find in a typical artist management agreement and offer advice on how to deal with them.

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