Record labels across the board are chronically understaffed – that’s just a harsh toke on a brutal truth. That’s why record labels have started to set up some rather nefarious management deals. That is to say that they will sign you,but they want you to work with a specific manager or management group. This can often come at the expense of your current manager, if you have one. Still – I want to try and take the time to evaluate the relative potency of both sides of this arrangement. While it certainly can seem a bit frustrating – especially if you have a close relationship with a particular manager there is definitely an advantage for the artist – not just from the record labels point of view. Coming to terms with management deals and their place in this industry is going to be an important part of any artists prolonged success.
Management deals are set up because record labels don’t have the funds to support the kinds of people who can really help to break an artist. They are set up also because the label can’t really justify taking an additional percentage of an artists income if they aren’t providing some sort of managerial services. At the same time – they want the artist to get as big as possible. The only solution they really have then is to help max out that merch game and touring – things that a label can definitely help with and give advice on but which they can’t fully or properly invest themselves into. Management deals sometimes are a part of the record contract itself – but a lot of the time they are set up in a sort of weird nebulous manner – ie: the label makes it clear to the artist that they don’t need to accept a manager but it sure would help them having a future with the label if they hired this particular guy.
Now I’m not too sure about the legality of that but I do know that labels definitely do take into account your managerial situation when they sign you or decide to keep you. This isn’t just a political thing, though that can have an influence (More on that later) but also a financial thing. Like I said before – in this day and age the label fronts the money but it’s the managers and PR people who are really going to start moving product. There’s only so much energy a record label can invest after all. Labels are in the business of signing bands that they think are going to move units – if you can’t make a case that your band is going to move units or have the know how to do that, with a manager, consultant or something else then you are going to find yourself rapidly traveling up shit creek without a paddle. Most industry people simply don’t trust artists and are going to feel much more comfortable if there is someone between them to facilitate things.
Of course – having a manager has countless advantages, especially one that has been approved by the label. It means that there is already a relationship there and it means that there is already somewhere you can start to try and twist the label for extra things like tour support or a slightly edited contract. These things may sound minor in and of themselves, but as I’ve discussed before, in this industry it’s all about saving bits and pieces here and there. Most artists have managers because those are the guys who really help them to develop but a lot of artists have issues finding a manager who works for them. In some ways having that choice taken away from you can be remarkably helpful and help you to determine where you really fit into the grand scheme of things. In the age of solipsism and social media sometimes all you need as an artist is some much needed perspective.
That being said – as helpful as a label appointed manager can but don’t think for a second that this isn’t also a political move. Giving a struggling management company a client is a great way for a label to look magnanimous. On the flip side of the coin – management companies might try and suck up multiple artists from a label in order to gain greater influence over that label with the implication that by managing the labels artists they are doing them a major solid so the label should be more willing to sign their bands in the future. As previously discussed – a lot of this industry is just a huge circle jerk so by consequence it would make sense that some of these management deals are really only set up in order to hep facilitate a side of things that many artists feel like they would be better off without. Unfortunately anywhere big money starts to come in one is also going to find political influence – that’s just the way the industry rolls.
Long story short – management deals while occasionally helpful are usually just a way for industry players to get their fingers sunk deeper into each other so that they can all congratulate each other at the big circle jerk-y parties they have every quarter. I’m not saying you should totally alienate and disregard a record label who pushes for one, but you definitely should be very careful – especially if whatever manager you might end up having to hire doesn’t seem like a good fit. Play your cards right and a management deal within a label could end up being a boon, but if you slip up you could leave yourself hanging for years.
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