It’s Hard To Get Ahead In The Music Business, Working With The *Right* Kind Of Industry Expert Will Make All The Difference
(Listen to the episode of The Music Industry Blueprint w/ Rick Barker that inspired this post here starting at 25:42.)
Music business expert Rick Barker notes that the little differences between a music manager and a music career coach are actually vastly important. Notably, a music manager is a big-picture planner, an engineer for success that directs the flow of your progress in the most profitable directions(s) possible. A music career coach is focused on the minutiae of your day-to-day experience as an artist and will give you the tools you need to turn your raw talent, skills, and vision into a polished finished product. Both are almost-always essential to an artist’s success in the music business, yet working with either is not always appropriate depending on your level of achievement.
In this article, you’ll learn how to tell which you need right now.
Music managers are most often paid through a kind of profit-sharing scheme wherein if (and when) you make money, they get paid. In the past, that created situations where managers worked incredibly hard, yet weren’t paid for their work until after the artist made it big. Because labels are no longer built to make music stars from scratch, managers are no longer responsible for that, either. If you’re not at the point in your career where you are profiting from your music and your fanbase (so your manager gets paid), you’re not ready for a manager.
A music manager is your employee. They work for you, and because their paycheck is directly tied to your profits, they will always aim to connect you with opportunities, other artists, and industry collaborators that will grow your success. As expert negotiators, their job is also to ensure you are treated fairly in any collaboration or contract you engage in and to represent you to shareholders . If you’re not at the point in your career where you are involved (or about to be involved) in contract, collaboration, and other negotiations, you’re not ready for a manager.
Music managers have a strong entrepreneurial spirit, a knack for understanding how data translates into real-world information about your fanbase, and a close proximity to the music industry. Mostly, they figure out innovative, effective, industry-leading strategies to strengthen your following and increase your profits. This includes spearheading everything from marketing campaigns to new revenue streams like tours and features . A music manager needs data (video views, social media engagement, sales, gig attendance) to do their job, so if you’re not yet established as a business with marketing and revenue-building campaigns, you’re not ready for a manager.
A music manager is also an excellent problem solver. They have an extensive network of industry contacts and a wealth of knowledge about the music business. When artists reach a point in their careers where they don’t have the connections or the finances to overcome a roadblock, a music manager is there to leverage their connections, knowledge, and oftentimes their checkbook to clear the way . They unlock advancement by using connections and networking. If the challenges you’re facing are things you could solve if you had different or stronger skills, you’re not ready for a manager.
A music manager, when you have one, will be your big-picture person. Their focus will be to clarify your goals and hold you accountable to your contractual obligations for growth and momentum as a brand. They will be the one who will identify and oversee other team members (lawyers, business manager, agent, etc) so that you can focus on developing your strengths as an artist . If you’re still at the point in your career where you need to hash out the small details — your unique branding and sound — you’re not ready for a manager.
At some point, a label is going to become willing to invest in you. Before that can happen, though, you’re responsible for investing in yourself and working to develop your career on your own/with the guidance of an industry professional who you directly compensate for their time. Music managers will most often approach you if you are label-ready. If they haven’t, it’s probably because you don’t need a manager; you need a music coach. And if you can’t afford $1000 a year to hire a coach to educate you, then you’re probably in the wrong business.
Being your own advocate is about more than just contract negotiation (though it does involve contract negotiation). Overall, it is a process by which you learn to hear, listen to, and respect your inner voice . As a recording artist, you are going to be surrounded by people who are constantly trying to influence you and the direction of your growth. Before you can be successful in such a noisy, cutthroat space, you need to not only acquire leadership and negotiation skills, but also a strong sense of self and vision and the ability to defend them.
Music managers are profit-focused and use data-driven tactics to improve your numbers. Music coaches are security- and strength-focused and use skill-building tactics to help you become more established as a musician and brand. Those tactics include exploring in-industry jobs and gig opportunities, learning about live performances and other direct-networking practices, finding vocal and instrumental coaches, developing better social media marketing and streaming practices, preparing for auditions/interviews/first-impressions, designing a productive daily creative habit, etc . They can do many of the same things that a traditional day-to-day manager might do, without a label deal or royalty contract.
A music coach’s job has some overlap, here, with a music manager’s role in that they both want you to be able to move forward. However, while a manager will expect you to already have all the skills and confidence necessary to solve problems that are solvable (by you), a music coach will be more understanding of your insecurities or weaknesses. Their job is to facilitate breakthroughs — whether skill-based or confidence-based — to enable you to move forward . Oftentimes, that involves “lifting limiting assumptions” or empowering you to recognize your strengths and abilities .
A music coach, when you have one, will be your detailer. Their entire job focus will be to pay attention to the small (potentially underdeveloped) details of your music career with an eye for helping you stay on track toward your larger, long term goals . Sometimes, that even means they’ll help you form and clarify measurable, attainable long term goals. Other times, it means they’ll simply guide you to the next step in your development, where a music manager will become helpful. A music coach’s impact on your career is responsive to where you are now.
Working with the right people at the right time is essential to your success in the music business. A music coach’s job is to help you get from wherever you are now to wherever you want to be, while a music manager’s job is to turn you from a modest success into a very profitable one. For many artists, working with a music coach is an often-overlooked but incredibly important step in developing their potential as a recording artist. If you want to max out your chances of succeeding in the music business, consider the above-listed conditions of your current career. Working with a music coach, not a music manager, will give you the tools to develop the mindset and strategies necessary to be successful.
To find out more about music coaching services, reach out, and book a free consulting session by contacting me.