Depending on who you talk to, music management groups either represent the best opportunity for the survival of the music industry, or the largest threat ever to the artists at the core of the music business.
Traditionally, music management agencies remained separate from the other businesses that interacted with artists, especially booking agencies and record companies. Music managers often acted as the glue that held these complex relationships together, playing the role of “bad cop” when it came time to negotiate with other companies on behalf of clients.
That doesn’t mean that relationships between management companies and other music industry enterprises have to be adversarial. The legendary Copeland brothers behind I.R.S. Records, C.I.A. Management, and Frontier Booking International (F.B.I.) used their relationship to shepherd a generation of artists that defined the alternative scene of the early 1980s. (About the names – their parents were both spies.)
Today’s music industry operates on much leaner margins, and the leaders of influential music management groups contend that a new model for a profitable music business requires consolidation and synergy. Music management groups combine many of a performer’s business relationships under one roof. A modern music management group might consist of:
Debate is hot and heavy over how well music management groups can effectively represent their artists, especially when so much of a company’s bottom line rests with the amount of margin they can squeeze from their touring acts. Traditionally, music managers defended their clients against encroachments from record labels and merchandisers that wanted to claim “points” on their entire careers. Now, music management groups challenge that notion with carefully crafted contracts that spell out exactly what a company can keep from an artist’s earnings.
Why would a musician want to sign a deal with a music management group? The most successful music management groups already have infrastructure in place to take an artist from obscurity to superstardom in months, rather than years. Other, more moderate,music management groups use their scope to minimize costs for artists that maintain a strong core following without needing to worry about the mainstream.
Nettwerk has done this successfully with artists, especially in the electronica genre, while Sanctuary has carved out a niche in heavy metal and hard rock. While Nettwerk enjoys constant revenue from a catalog that includes Sarah McLachlan, Sanctuary’s critics claim that it risked too much for the sake of growth. In fact, the Sanctuary Group is at the center of a bidding war that may define the future of music management groups.
If you want to build a career in the music business, avoid trying to launch a music management group right out of the box. You can start an effective music management agency of your own with just a cell phone, a computer, and a passion for the music of your first client. Learn more in my book, Music Management for the Rest of Us – you can even sample some free chapters.
Joe Taylor Jr.