Breaking Into the Music Industry 101: Who to Hire

I love the term “breaking into the music industry.” It signifies forceful, decisive, and purposeful action. In this industry, that’s what it takes to survive. Nothing happens by accident. You have to make things happen.

One of the most important tips I can give any aspiring artist who wants to make music a career is to treat their music like a business. Everything from setting up a business plan (which includes funding, marketing, accounting, structure), treating their work with a certain level of professionalism (balanced with a level of candid honesty) and personal investment. I’ll be dealing with a lot of areas in this series but today I want to focus on getting the right team.

It’s important to assemble the right group of people when it comes to your band. I want to discuss the types of people who can help you build your band’s “business,” tell you when the right time is to hire those people, and what to look for or expect.

Manager: The manager probably the most important person on your team. They’re responsible for handling all the business/administration parts of your music career. While they might not specialize in booking, publicity, or legal affairs, they should have a working knowledge of each of these areas and how they affect you. They should be able to help you create a longterm strategy which should incorporate your music’s branding, business plan, and goals. They should be the social butterfly that naturally networks with people and isn’t afraid to close the sale. They make you more money so they can make money themselves.

When to Hire a Manager: If you don’t know how your shows or records play into your long term business strategy (or if you don’t have a business plan), you either desperately need a manager or you’re not ready for one. Managers are generally paid 15-20%, but it is not uncommon these days to find ones working on a monthly stipend. If you are struggling with the business aspects of your career but you’re still finding your success growing, it’s a good time to start looking. As an alternative, you could find a mentor (such as more experienced band or industry person) who might be willing to help or hiring a consultant that you could talk to from time to time without the larger costs.

Publicist/PR Firm: The publicist is responsible for getting you media attention on whatever level you are at. This is the person who will get you features in magazines, radio stations, and your music reviewed. Dollar for dollar, this is probably going to be your best investment as an artist if you want to grow your audience, build a buzz for your music, or have some press to show off to record labels, promoters, or your mom. There is a huge difference between hiring someone who can do “press work” (sending in press releases to magazines or press kits to radio stations) and a publicist who has established relationships with media contacts and who understand your genre of music/your audience.

When to hire a publicist: I believe you should have a publicist from the point you decide you want others to take you seriously. The optimal time to have people writing about you is when you’re about to tour, release a new album, or both. Publicists will usually charge a flat rate per PR campaign. Hiring a publicist will impact your career almost immediately and is worth every penny of the investment if you find the right match.

Booking Agent: The booking agent is the person who gets your bands shows. They are the ones that get you better performance opportunities, negotiate terms with promoters, find you slots at better or venues or opening for larger acts. They are the ones that juggle the logistics of coordinating tours, live shows, etc. so you can spend more time focusing in your music and typically are more familiar with out of town markets than you are. A good booking agent will understand your market, get you shows that play into your longterm business strategy, and find opportunities that will allow you to make new fans in both old and new markets for your music.

When to Hire a Booking Agent: If you have yourself struggling or frustrated with booking new shows or if you’d like to go on tour but aren’t sure how to approach it/where to go, a good booking agent can free up a lot of your valuable time. Promoters like working with people that they know and if a booking agent has built relationships with venues, that will usually mean more shows booked (and better ones at that). If you’re only doing the occasional show in town, chances are that you don’t need someone. If you’re planning to tour, it helps to get a pro (try and plan at least six months in advance).

Entertainment Lawyer: Whenever you are dealing with music contracts, it is a good idea to consult a lawyer. They often can take on work by job so you can often just hire one as needed. Your band’s lawyer can help you negotiate or understand contracts, resolve claims, help you with copyright or trademark registrations/infringements, or set up your band as a business entity (we’ll cover that later). These days, it’s common for the lawyer to also be the one who approaches record labels on your behalf as well.

When to Hire an Entertainment Lawyer: First, determine how much legal work you need done. If you find you have a lot of legal issues going on (contracts created, copyrights, scandals), you might want to consider hiring on a retainer. If you only have projects once in a while, find one who understands your needs and budget. Lawyers can be expensive ($150-$250 an hour or more) so you’ll want to find someone you can trust and well experienced. You can also hire a lawyer if you’re able to sue someone or be sued…but its probably a good idea to have someone in line already in case something happens.

…I’ve covered when to hire but in case you’re wondering who I would hire, here are the people that I personally work with in my band:

Manager: I handle all business affairs in the band myself. In fact, I manage other acts on occasion as well.  I also offer consulting services for artists who don’t need someone working full time for them on this end.
Publicist: Alex Steininger of In Music We Trust (alex@inmusicwetrust.com). In this industry, it’s hard to find people who are honest, reliable, and competent. Alex is a great guy with a huge passion for his clients, I couldn’t recommend anyone more.
Booking Agent: Seeing as how I run a booking agency, I feel pretty comfortable booking my band’s shows. We play an average of 125 shows per year and play for audiences of 10,000+ on a regular basis.
Lawyer: My band’s lawyer is Spencer Trowbridge at McNamer Law (spencer@mcnamerlaw.com). He specializes in intellectual properties, gives regular presentations on the industry, and is one of the most upstanding people I know on earth.

And remember, I’m not saying that any of the above can’t be done on your own but it’s always better to get things right from the start and have a solid foundation to build your career on then to miss opportunities or have to go back and fix past mistakes.

17 Comments

  1. ruckazz says:

    im a underground rapper in baltimore, just started my indie label, an just release my first mixtape on the streets ,what advice can u give me.

    • Hi,

      That’s a pretty wide open question that can go so many ways… I’d say just keep doing your homework and learning as much as you can about the industry as well as about business/marketing. Find a way to create a niche for yourself that hits a completely different type of audience – that’s the easiest way to break out.

  2. I believe the musical power that the artist has contribute towards being known.

  3. travon bastain says:

    I need a good manager to get me gigs at local and exciting places

  4. vinsmk says:

    Hi 🙂
    I’m a solo artist. I want to do live shows but, I don’t like the pub scene.
    What kinda shows do you suggest that I do?

    • Simon Tam says:

      You always have options but it comes down to this: either go with the status quo (find what’s existing in the way of venues, bars, music halls, festivals, in-stores, or other opportunities) or create your own niche (rentals, niche audiences/conventions, creating cooperate partnerships, etc.)

  5. Steve says:

    Hey SImon, I’m internationally known hip hop artist. For many years I’ve been doing everything myself, which has given me minor success but not on the level of where it should be. I’d like to hire you and your team of professionals to assist me with moving my career forward. Email me at sjemusic53@gmail.com. Thanks.

    • Simon Tam says:

      Hi Steve,

      How would you define internationally known? If you’ve got great press, are doing international tours, and have a global fanbase, you probably don’t need me. However, I’m only taking on consulting clients right now (not booking or management). If you’re interested in talking, feel free to send me an email. Information about consulting is available under “Services”

  6. Steve says:

    Sorry for the last post. I really need to proofread sometimes smh.

  7. Larae says:

    This is very interesting, You are a vefy skilled blogger. I have joined your rss feed and look forward to seeking more of your excellent post.

    Also, I have shared your website in my social networks!

  8. kokee vega says:

    How much do you charge as as booking manager and what type of venues are you connected to in California.

  9. Baton says:

    Hello Sir,Am very grateful and I appreciate your efforts of doing this publication. Will be of great aid to me.Thanks

  10. Amber says:

    I would like for someone to help me get to the top of the teen artists. can you help?

  1. […] If you’re not sure who to hire the industry, read the first part of the article here. […]

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