Unless you’re the Harvard Business School a cappella group, having someone to handle the money side of your act might not be a bad idea. Formal legal agreements protect both artists and manager and can prevent a lot of problems later on, even if at the moment you’re just gigging in pubs. Caroline Roberts asks industry experts for the lowdown…
Talk to a specialist
Legal advice is essential when drawing up a contract. Damian Baetens, business advisor with music development agency, Generator, says: “Any serious and professional music manager will always ensure the artist gets independent legal advice and may contribute to the cost of this.” He explains that if you’re a promising act, a music lawyer will be keen to work with you and will often reduce their rates or put charges on account against future earnings.
It’s important to consult a specialist music lawyer. You can find a list in the directory on the Generator website, and in The Unsigned Guide.
Know what’s covered…
“A contract sets out what a manager will do, what they will be paid, the geographical area in which they will act for the artist and the length of the contract”, explains Carol Isherwood, a music lawyer with legal firm, Ward Hadaway. “Contracts usually last three to five years but will have a break clause so there’s the right to terminate, for example if the manager hasn’t achieved certain goals.”
It's also important to stipulate what sort of activities come under the contract and limit it to music-related ventures, rather than anything you do in the wider entertainment industry. If things really take off, you could end up writing your biography, for example.
…Even when your manager’s your mate
This is a fairly common scenario for an act just starting out and can work well - Phil Harvey, a university friend, managed Coldplay early in their career and still has a role with the band. But it’s often more difficult to have that important business conversation with a mate. Damian suggests setting some initial management targets, such as getting a certain number of gigs or a spot on specialist radio within six months, on the understanding that you’ll put a legal agreement in place if it all goes to plan.
Inexperienced managers should consider joining the professional organisation the Music Managers Forum, where they can find guidance and advice.
Get the commission right
Commission levels for managers are usually around 20 per cent of the artist's earnings. “That should be a percentage of net income from things like gigs because of the expenses involved, and gross income from other things”, says Carol.
From a manager’s point of view, a clause covering post-term commission provision is a key part of a contract, she adds. “A manager should continue to receive commission after they've stopped managing a performer, for example, if an album breaks after a management term has ended but the manager was instrumental in setting it up.”
Do your homework
If you want to find out more about contracts and music law, The Unsigned Guide is a great resource, and it might be worth getting hold of a copy of Music: the Business by Anne Harrison. It’s the music industry’s business bible and is regularly updated. Generator also offers workshops and events. Their next Music Futures conference is in Newcastle on 22 November and features many industry specialists.
Image: Disneyland Dapper Dans by danorth1 on a CC BY-ND 2.0 license.
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