MBP006: Artist Manager vs Agent

What Is The Difference Between An Artist and an Agent

Welcome to Episode 6 of The Music Business podcast. In this episode, we look at the difference between an artist manager vs. agent.

Listen to the Audio

In this episode James talks about:

  • Roles
  • Commissions
  • Differences

Please leave a comment below and tell me what you think.





Welcome to the Music Business Podcast. This is James Taylor.

Hey it’s James Taylor here, and we’ve got a great question here today from Simon in Birmingham in England, a manager and artist. Before we get into that question, I wanna thank our sponsors in Audible. This podcast is brought to you by Audible, the leading source of audio books. I’m a huge fan of audio books, whether you are traveling, working out, or running errands. Audio books is one form of media you can chew while getting other things done. So I’m very happy to have Audible as a sponsor of this podcast. And if you go to audibletrial.com/jamestaylor, you get the first month for free. That’s a free audio book. And you can at cancel anytime. So let’s go into the episode.

The question I had in was from Simon in Birmingham in England, and the question is, “James, what’s the difference between a manager and an (agent)?” This is a great question, and it’s one I hear a lot, sometimes when aspiring artists come to me and they start talking about an offer being made by a manager or an agent, or maybe they’re thinking about that first person to get into their team, they kinda get their roles mixed-up a bit, so I kinda want to get into this episode is just lay things out, see what each roles do, and see the difference between one or the other.

As you develop your career, as you become a successful artist, then you will probably have both, managers and agents, and when I say agents, I say that in the plural. But often, when I see artists come to me and they initially ask me about managers. And I start delving into it with them, and what I quickly discover is that they don’t need a manager. They need an agent. They have some confusion on what those two roles are.

Let’s break it down just now, a manager – I’ve had the good fortune of becoming a manager for a number of platinum selling artists, successful artists, and young artists that are coming through as well – and a good manager is basically the CEO of your company. They’re the person who’s in charge of all the business side of your career, and as a result, they oversee everything in your career. It’s actually a very powerful position. It used to be the record labels had the most powerful position in the music industry, but today it’s the managers cause they oversee everything. It’s a great job to have, as someone who has been a manager, it’s a very interesting role to have, to see your artist’s career develop and share that journey with them.

Now, the good managers, I always say, are strategic. They may have a background in something, maybe they come from marketing or have a background in media or something, but they’re definitely strategic. They’re thinking about the long term gain for you as an artist.

Also, they’ll be connected. At the start, with the young artists kinda coming through and I often hear something like this, “Hey, I got this uncle who wants to manage me or the band, should I go with them?” Sometimes that can be the right decision, but I suggest trying to find someone that’s connected. Especially if you’re a new artist kinda coming through. Because a good manager, that relationship between manager and artist, is like a marriage. And the artists that I manage, it wouldn’t be unusual for us to be speaking on the phone, maybe five, six, up to fifteen times a day. So you’re communicating with each other a lot, and it’s very important that you have a strong relationship that develops and gets stronger as the years go on.

In trying to look for a manager, and I’ll try to get into this a little more in-depth in another episode, cause I know I have another question that asks it specifically, but what I could say just now is that when you’re thinking of finding a manager, try and find that has one or three artists in their roster, try to avoid ones that have more than that. My general rule is, a good manager can only manage up to three artists, unless they’re part of a larger management company and they have a large support network, and they have this three different types of artist so you want to have them have a mixed portfolio of artists, and you want to be that artist that’s the rising star.

Now, a manager will receive anywhere from 15-20% of the gross or the net of your income. Gross or net, obviously very very important. I know artists that pay their manager 20% of the gross, and I also know artists who pay their manager 15% of the net. There’s no hard and fast rule, I think you just need to get down on negotiation the experience of the manager, how much work you’ve got, where you’re career is at as well.

An agent, on the other hand, focuses only on the live part of your career. And they’re usually territory-based. So you’ll have multiple agents over time. You’ll have a US agent, a UK agent, a German agent, a Japanese agent, so it’s very common you’ll have multiple agents.

An agent, unlike a manager, an agent has lots of artists on their roster – 10, up to 50 artists. They’re paid in a slightly different way, they’re paid around 10-15% of the gross income that they bring in from the live shows that they’re booking.

When will you choose one and not the other? If If you’re just getting started, and you see the key thing to be the live experience, this is what you love, you love playing live, and yet you wanna do recordings but they’re really a tool get out and do live shows, that’s when you feel full as an artist, then I would say focus on getting an agent.

It’s a little about chicken and egg in that good agents will only take in an artist when there’s a little bit of revenue coming in, maybe up to $5000/month, you can build yourself initially, you got some regular gigs coming in, there’s an income coming in, that’s when an agent will more likely go ahead and take you.

A manager is something you wanna get into if what you’re thinking about is the broader brushstrokes of your career, the strategic stuff. Maybe you got some gig touring under your belt, but now in case you want to get into bigger projects around it, maybe there’s a new album project that you’re looking to do and you really want to take that, or you want to increase your media visibility generally, or maybe as a brand you want to have your own line of guitars, you want to have your own line of products, a manager will come in and sit above the agents that you have in place, and really coordinate them a lot better. And also acts as the coordinating point between the labels and the agents and publicists, and all the other people on your team. So a crucial, crucial role to get right, which is why I generally say, don’t rush into that one.

If your primary thing is to play live, get the agent first. Focus on that, and then over time, then you can start thinking about the manager. Cause there are a smaller number of good managers out there, so I should focus on the agents first.

So hopefully that’s been useful, giving the difference between a manager and an agent, couple of things I should say, if you go to musicbusinessinstitute.com/blog or /podcast, and you can actually leave your own question. So go there, we use a little thing there called speak pipe, directly on the browser you can record your question,there’re a couple of things there we ask about you, tell us a little bit about yourself, your website, and then I will get as many of these questions as possible and answer them. That’s musicbusinessinstitute.com/blog or /podcast and you can leave your question there.

I hope that’s been useful to you.