Today’s preview chapter from “Music Management for the Rest of Us” covers two roles you’ll want to avoid playing for your clients.
Booking and Checkbooking
Emerging artists and beginning managers often make the same, incorrect assumptions about a manager’s job responsibilities. Although the manager is ultimately responsible for the health of the client’s business, the manager must delegate two key roles to independent members of an artist’s success team.
Booking Agents. The booking agent is the team member who actually beats the bushes and solicits performing opportunities for the band. The booking agency should be a separate corporate entity from the management agency, and the manager and the booking agent should never be the same person, except in short-term emergencies. Whereas the manager is the master strategist for the client, the agent is the salesperson, calling on a set of leads and relationships built up over time. A good agent has his or her ear constantly to the ground for opportunities that match their clients’ skills and audiences. A booking agent is an intermediary between management and venues, and plays an important role in negotiation and conflict resolution.
Most importantly, many states have started to regulate the activities of booking agents separately from managers. In New York, for example, you may not operate as the manager and as the booking agent for a single client. If you book any shows in New York State while maintaining a home or an office there, you must register for a special license. This regulation came about primarily because of abuses in the modeling industry, where manager/agents would negotiate unfavorable deals for their clients which still rewarded them with a double-dip commission.
Although this recent legislation reinforces the ethical reasons to keep those two roles separate, there are some more practical reasons to use an outside booking agency. First, although talented booking agents and managers share many of the same skills, their different perspectives on a project can lead to opportunities that a single person could miss. I have experienced this on both sides of the equation. As a booking agent, I have often alerted managers to gigs in places they never would have thought to look. As a manager, it’s always good to know that the lengthy negotiations behind booking a show are being handled, so I can focus on the big picture plans to get folks to the event.
Unfortunately, skilled booking agents are harder and harder to come by. As shifts in entertainment and local law enforcement have changed the face of the nightclub industry, experienced bookers have been leaving the scene. Because bookers earn an industry standard commission of 10% on the gross sales at a show, many bookers can only afford to work with established acts with an already steady income. It’s a catch-22, but it can easily be solved by identifying someone to act as your client’s booking agent. Whether they’re a member of the street team, or just a family member who is helping out, you can set them up as a booker and help them build the relationships they’ll need to get your clients into the right venues. For more information, consult the essential reference book, How To Be Your Own Booking Agent, by Jeri Goldstein.
Business Manager. Believe it or not, there’s another manager besides you in your band’s life. It’s their Business Manager. The Business Manager is, more often than not, the band’s accountant. They are a trusted third party who audits every cent that flows into and out of your client’s life. Their role is to keep you honest by tracking your expenses and calculating your commission, and to keep your client honest by collecting all of the money and paying the bills on time. The best business managers are Certified Public Accountants, who must adhere to high ethical standards and subject their operation to a full public audit at any time. A good business manager will refuse to sign checks on behalf of a client. Likewise, you should look out for your client’s interest by advising against working with a business manager who encourages a client to give up any amount of control over their money. As Little Richard once stated, “If you don’t learn to count your money, someone else will count it for you.”
Business managers work on an hourly fee, like lawyers do. In certain instances, a business manager will work with you on commission with the idea that the band’s success will lead to a bigger payoff over time than an hourly rate will today. Either arrangement is fine, and you should make the decision based on what you think the band’s long-term success will be worth. Be sure to work only with business managers who freely provide you with references. And, as with attorneys, you should engage a different accountant for your business than the band does for theirs. Although your accountant may be eager for the business, you’re paying for the security that a truly independent party beings to the organization.
It may seem like an absurd expense, at first. For many emerging artists, the cost of hiring a business manager may eat up all of the profits from gigs in the first few months. A business manager will eliminate all of the awkwardness and paranoia that would otherwise accompany your relationship with your client.
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