The Struggles of Self-Managed Artists

20th November 2013 No comments

*This article was originally written for Think Like a Label. I’ll be posting some of my favorite and most popular pieces for TLAL here on Thirty Roses with kind permission from Think Like a Label owner and editor Jeremy Belcher.


It seems puzzling that, at a time when more artists are acting as their own managers, others in the industry aren’t supportive of this. For whatever reason, many in the music industry operate under the antiquated presupposition that, if an artist is talented and/or professional, they will have a manager outside of the band who represents their interests. This may have been a logical train of thought thirty years ago, perhaps even ten years ago, but not in 2013.

Artists are realizing now, more than ever before, that they must be aware of the business side of their careers in order to sustain the creative side. For some musicians, this means more meetings with managers and further involvement in things they may not have given much credence to previously.
For other artists, they want to be in control of their careers as much as possible and self-managing is one additional way for them to do so.
Then, of course, there’s the simple economics of it, especially for artists at the beginning of their careers; self-managing is far less expensive. Even if you find a manager who is willing to wait on getting paid, it’s often still an extra body to pay for during a tour, and that adds up to a large sum of money over a surprisingly short span of time.

Ann Marie Landry of New York City based publicity and social marketing firm As the Music Plays feels as though many of the artists she represents may not be having difficulty booking shows, but definitely feel a manager’s absence in other aspects of their careers. “I don’t think I would say that they are having trouble by not having a manager, but there are opportunities that are just not available to people without the types of connections that come from having a manager. Also, just the general knowledge of the industry can be tough. A musician might not have studied the music industry, and having to teach oneself how things work can be very time-consuming.”

As an independent artist who is currently working without a manager, British singer Melissa James describes a different experience.
In her attempts to book shows promoting her upcoming debut album, ‘Day Dawns,’ she has found it increasingly difficult to find venue managers even willing to speak with her, simply because she is managing her own career at present. This is despite many appearances on various BBC6 radio programs and the increasing positive buzz about her talent, as well as her record.
Additionally, she states; “I also struggle to juggle all the different tasks, whether it’s sending submissions to festivals and trying to get bookings for gigs, making arrangements for upcoming gigs, (which means speaking with my musicians and trying to fit in a rehearsal around different diaries). I’ve been doing everything necessary to get the album finished and ready to go to print, and now that it has, I’m busy doing all I can to try to get it noticed. This means lots of phone calls and emails and lots of following-up all those that I’ve contacted. Just trying to juggle all the different hats, as well as being the artist, is what I find difficult. It doesn’t really feel as if there’s much time to do the creative stuff that I really want to be doing. “

With this becoming increasingly the norm, why is it still so difficult for artists to get by without outside management? Why do booking agents, venue managers, and record companies feel it necessary to be so dismissive of artists in this situation? What can be done about it?
There are some measures that the artists themselves can take to aid in the quest for credibility. While little can be done about the refusal of some to acknowledge that a musician can be their own manager, if there is enough traction behind an artist, it’ll be difficult to ignore them.

While it may be difficult to get noticed by some larger venues, every city has a slew of smaller clubs and bars that are always looking for acts to book. Over time if you’re filling the house at various places and selling out gigs (even small gigs), it’ll be more difficult to ignore you. Ultimately, if a career is gaining momentum and a fan base is being built, venues, publications, and radio stations will have more impetus to pay attention.

Also, take advantage of the resources that abound on the internet, as well as the city you’re based in. Joining organizations with others in the industry will not only provide for great networking opportunities, but will put you in contact with likeminded individuals who may be in the same situation you find yourself in. Subscribe to industry oriented web sites (many of the best are entirely free but will email you new articles as they’re published), look around on professional networking sites like LinkedIn, and talk to others in your city to find out about any organizations in your area that may be geared toward the music management/marketing/promotion.

With any career, it’s a good idea to stay abreast of current news and key figures. Reading industry publications and establishing relationships with other managers will give you a degree of credibility. Obviously as a performer, music and the creation of it is the priority but it’s also important to nurture the management role. Building relationships with managers and others on the business side of things will prove to be an invaluable support system.

Additionally, keep in mind that some of the time, the people who may be passing you over or ignoring you entirely are bombarded with artists who want to be heard. Remember, it’s a difficult industry. Often, those who focus solely on management have difficulty getting their own careers established. It isn’t always easy to be heard when you’re the proverbial new kid on the block, but acting in a professional manner and being persistent (without being a pest) will allow you to establish a rapport with different promoters, venue managers, and radio personnel. It may take time, but every aspect of an artist’s career does.

Ideally, in the not-too distant future, there will be industry wide recognition of serious artists who choose to manage their own careers. Giving self-managed artists the same professional considerations that are afforded to others in management will create a more inclusive environment throughout the industry. It will bring in more revenue, and allow more music to be heard by more people; which is ultimately what everyone wants.

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