The artist-manager relationship is one of the most important relationships in an artist’s career. The manager has to “get” the artist and the artist’s artistic vision, but also needs to have the knowledge on how to translate that vision into something that will generate mass appeal and profits. The manager also has to have the business acumen and connections to generate opportunities for the artist so that his or her career can grow. An artist needs to be able to trust the manager, feeling that not only is the manager knowledgeable, connected, and in tune with the artist’s essence, but also that the manager is at all times acting in the artist’s best interests instead of serving the manager’s own needs.
Management agreements have several important aspects that need attention and often, negotiation.
The first of these aspects is the term of the management agreement. I explained what a contract term generally means here, and for purposes of this article the “term” will refer to the length of the relationship. Traditionally, management agreements have a term between three and five years. Managers typically would want four or five years because, as they often argue, it takes a long time to create the momentum needed for an artist to really start seeing success. From a manager’s perspective, this can be true and also gives the manager the opportunity to still be representing that artist when success comes; that way the manager can receive a full commission rate at the artist’s higher income level instead of earning a percentage of the low (or no) revenues artists usually earn at the start of their careers.
On the other side of this, artists usually want to sign with a manager for the shortest amount of time possible, which allows the artist to get out of the deal faster if the manager is not delivering on promises or things just aren’t working out. There is almost nothing worse for an artist than being stuck in a bad deal that hinders the artist’s career by blocking potential opportunities while the artist waits for the deal to end.
These days I have been seeing even shorter terms on management deals, often one or two year initial terms with at least one option period attached. Both parties really need at least a year to get enough momentum going to start seeing some increased success, but it seems the management deal is following the trend of all deals in the music business by shortening terms to try to reduce risk.
What people tend to forget when thinking about the length of an artist-manager relationship is that terms can always be renewed. If the contract term length is on the shorter side, the parties can always renew the agreement at the end of the term if they still desire to work together. The parties don’t have to part ways just because a piece of paper set a time limit at some point in the past. On the other hand, if the parties feel it is time to move on, they have the freedom to do that knowing they gave it a fair chance during the time period they originally allotted.
Part 2 of this series will cover management commissions.