Should I Hire a Retainer-Based Manager? Part 2

Should I Hire a Retainer-Based Manager? Part 2

Big post below, continuing from the last one regarding retainer-based management. Last time, I gave you my Outerloop Coaching partner Paul’s take on why some managers are demanding retainers from developing artists. And he’s right there… but that’s where we start to disagree.

By the way, I have some upcoming posts answering questions on releasing singles when you don’t yet have the album or EP recorded, plus a great example of a well put-together EPK and what all the elements are. You won’t want to miss these. I promise.

But back to the topic of the day. We were recently asked: “How do you feel about retainer-based artist management?”

The answer, it turns out, is a little complicated. I answered the question on my podcast “Manage Mental” (please subscribe and listen!) where, to put it bluntly, I dismissed the practice as being a scam.

Paul has a different take. Here it is.

“I don’t think retainers and flat fees should be disregarded out-of-hand. If it were up to me, ALL developing artist managers would work this way, honestly. I’m constantly having the “if we were all born yesterday, what would the music industry look like, not beholden to historical norms?” conversations and I can’t think of any reason why commissions make sense for developing artists EXCEPT for tradition and the marketplace conditions that follow from it.

But I would never, ever advise going into a manager relationship with flat fees or a retainer unless there are extremely well-defined goals and benchmarks to reaching those goals.

Here’s why:

Developing artists do not always have the goal of increasing / maintaining revenue. Oftentimes, the goal is more investment-based. For example, increasing YouTube views, social network followers, or building a quality EPK are all investments in future returns. Getting a booking agent or a record label are investments as well. There can be a whole lot of work put into obtaining those goals and, in my opinion, a manager should be compensated for it because it has value to the artist and the work done to achieve these goals, even when unsuccessful, deserve to be compensated for.

In a marketplace where good managers are decreasingly interested in working with developing artists, but developing artists are still in great need of quality management, there should be a mechanism whereby quality managers are again made interested in “taking a chance” on developing artists. Retainers / flat fees will be tempting for scammers but will also be very tempting for quality managers in working with developing artists.

So, I believe, a long-term contract between the artist and the manager, or a retainer / flat fee, should be in place. Nearly all the time. (Again, my personal opinion, in a vacuum, and not reflective of either an official position by OM, reflective of reality, or Mike Mowery’s opinion, which I am fairly certain IS different than mine.)

But, if I were a developing artist, this is what I would be looking to have in place in order to work with a manager on a retainer / flat fee basis…

Financial resources to cover any obligations I’m taking on: avoid getting into a situation you can’t get out of because you have a debt you’ll need to negotiate away or pay off.

Goal(s): Specifically, what do you want out of this relationship? And don’t just say something vague like “progress” or “more fans” or “a record deal”. Get specific. “I want a record label with x, y, or z record labels and I want it to be for a albums minimum and b albums max.” “I want 1500 more Facebook followers.” “I want to play x more gigs in the next 6 months for at least y more fans in z new markets.” That sort of thing. Focus the goal(s) and then listen to the manager tell you how you’re going to achieve it/them, together.

Side note: If the fee is expensive, make revenue a part of the goals that are set.

Benchmarks: How will you know when the manager isn’t accomplishing what you need? These benchmarks should NOT set by you, they should be set by the manager. Why? They should know better than anyone how long it will take for them to deliver on their promises. And if they don’t hit those benchmarks, the only person they can blame, is themselves. They set YOUR expectations – your expectations were not too lofty or unrealistic because YOU didn’t set them.

Side note: if the benchmarks take too long to achieve (you’ll know this by doing the math on the flat fee being charged) then you know before you’ve spent a single dollar / euro / krone / pound the relationship isn’t right. Either you aren’t far enough along and need to do more work before you’re ready or the manager isn’t ambitious enough.

Side side note: If the manager says it will take longer to achieve than you do, you can expect this manager is being realistic and you should strongly consider staying in touch.

Ultimately, if your gut tells you the manager isn’t right for you, whether offering a flat fee deal or a commission structure, run. Your gut will almost always be right (unless you’re wrong on the regular, in which case find someone else in the band / family whose gut you trust more than your own).

But don’t disregard managers who charge flat fees out-of-hand. One of the developing artist managers I respect most in the industry charges flat fees with most his clients and I recommended him to my own BROTHER. So, yeah, I’m a fan.

Final disclaimer: Mike disagrees with this, almost certainly.”

Although I disagree with Paul’s willingness to consider retainer-based management under ANY circumstance, I think his advice for those who do consider it is solid.

Hope this post is helpful and, whether you follow Paul’s advice or mine, I hope this saves you a lot of money! See you next time!

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