Vol 4, Issue 9: Risk Management
The other day, I received two proposals from individuals “generously” offering to take over the reins of my career. No doubt my recent invitation to attend the 53rd Annual Grammy Awards as a honourary guest artist had something to do with it. Although I’ve made it abundantly clear to my fellow players as well as several management firms that have approached me in the past that I’m confident in my abilities to navigate my professional aspirations and indeed have had success via the D.I.Y. approach, I was willing to, at least, hear them out. While I relay to you these experiences, I ask you, my budding professional artists, to reflect on why I had issues with BOTH proposals (gotta make sure you’ve learned something thus far!):
Proposal numero uno came in the form of a simple email and let me be clear, I mean SIMPLE. I received no personal introduction nor cover letter catered to my specific needs as an artist, but rather an attached text-only word document which consisted of no more than the individual stating his name, his age (not sure that’s entirely relevant, but okay…), the fact he’s worked on and off within the music/modeling biz for approximately 20 years, and three different service options he was willing to provide. Without getting into nitty gritty detail, the service options included:
a) Management: the lowest fee option, in which he got “final say over everything” (his own words). This agreement would be legally binding.
b) Exclusive Booking Agent: “all gigs and all event coordinators or bar owners interested must go through [him].” Again, legally binding.
c) Freelance Non-Contractual Promoter: the highest fee option, in which you could continue to book your own gigs, but he would assumingly be able to get you bigger opportunities as well.
In addition to the above overview, it is important to make mention of a few interesting points of discussion in regard to his proposal. First off, he made the bold claim that, “many bars/clubs won’t hire a band that isn’t with a licensed Agent.” Considering my and many others successes as self-represented D.I.Y.-ers, I don’t feel it’s even necessary to point out the inaccuracy of that statement.
Secondly, he made mention of the fact that apparently most of the acts he contacts elect option b (yes, believe it or not, he has acts he represents).
Thirdly, he NEVER outlined exactly what his fees are, and failed to list any referrals, recommendations, or past clientele.
His terms of agreement were not outlined (ie: the length of time for which the contract is legally binding would have been nice), nor was there any mention of an escape clause defining the agreement termination process in the event you or he was dissatisfied with the relationship and wished to end the contract prior to the completion of its term. FINALLY, and the point to which I’d like you to draw your attention most closely, irrespective of the option you selected, ALL monies were to be paid to him directly, and it was then HIS responsibility to pay you the lump sum after his percentage had been subtracted. If you don’t have a million red flags a-flying at this current moment given my last utterance, you should NOT be considering working in this business professionally. I mean that seriously.
The latter proposal fell much more into the “wolf in sheep’s clothing” category in that the party responsible for it at least attempted to metaphorically “wine and dine me” for a couple of weeks. We conversed extensively via email and over the phone prior to the development of any formal proposal. I tell you sincerely, it appeared as though they truly understood my ambitions and were willing to assist me in getting to exactly where I needed to go. They further made it a repeated point to make clear that they are a small but efficiently run organization that RARELY takes on new talents, no doubt as a means of drawing a parallel between their business tactics and my D.I.Y. ethos, and well, a little ego-stroking (ie: I should be SOOOO honoured that they’d consider me!) never hurts either considering most artists are pretty insecure given the exorbitant amount of competition.
Okay, so why did I go into suspicious mode when I received their proposition? Well, similarly to my previously outlined “friend”, there was no escape clause, no provided testimonials, no detailed timelines of when I could anticipate certain tasks being executed, nor were there any “legal” assurances that in fact they would fulfill the agreed upon expectations (to a better extent than I could myself) outside of their word. Yes, while this may have been a legal document, don’t kid yourself – the headache and money involved to take such scammers to court if they fail to live up to their outlined contractual obligations is far more than the average musician is able to even process, let alone deal with.
My biggest issue, however, with this second attempt pertained to its multiple demands for upfront money ON TOP of commissions to be earned on a per-gig basis. Not only was a flat fee of a cool $1600 (USD) to be paid PER YEAR (with a caveat that I should be “well positioned” to likely but NOT definitely have to pay it again in the future) in order for their services (booking, publicity, promotions) to be executed, but further, they expected me to shell out an additional 100 smackers (USD) just to have my bio and photo added to their website. I mean, I don’t know about you but if they’re supposedly “representing” me, shouldn’t that last bit at least be included?
Logically, yes people deserve compensation for their work. However, tell me would a smart consumer purchase an expensive vehicle, without conducting a test drive first? Likewise, would a well-versed businessperson overhaul their entire factory with new equipment without any warranty guarantees? I think we both know the answer to said queries.
While I’ve written extensively on the importance of protecting oneself from shady promoters and venue owners, I haven’t touched upon the topic of what a legit management proposal should overview, at great length. In sum, I hope you’ve gathered from this storytelling session that it is in your best interest to NEVER agree to an exclusive terminally-binding contract from anyone offering to manage your career that demands more than a straight up commission-based percentage of between 10-15% per booked opportunity. Two, NEVER allow said individuals to “manage” your finances. Finally, like anything else in this biz, do your research, ask for referrals, get to know exactly who you’re working with before you cross any “t”s or dot any “i”s.