Want to spend more time in the studio and less on the phone to accountants and record company executives? A producer manager could take care of the business and develop your career into the bargain.
In offices, studios and clubs, producers everywhere hand out beat CDs in the hopes that they will soon become the next Dr. Dre or Timbaland. Though the odds of success are certainly slim, new producers are appearing on albums at a rising rate. Cost-cutting measures by an industry that is still trying to recover from years of lost income, along with the desire of artists to have the newest, most unique-sounding material, have allowed a new crop of producers to place tracks with top-level artists. Assuming you are lucky and talented enough to actually get a song placed with an artist, what kind of things do you need to know as your career hopefully takes off skyward? The first step might be linking up with a producer manager.
What's that, you ask? A producer manager, like an artist manager, handles day-to-day supervision of business activities and plans long-term career goals for the client, usually in conjunction with a team of professionals like an accountant, publisher, lawyer and so on. While an artist manager usually spends his or her day on the daily activities of an artist such as photo shoots, tour plans, album concerns, magazine interviews and the like, a producer manager handles the day-to-day business aspects of a client's production career. As a producer, getting a song placed on the next Eminem album is not the end-all. There are lots of things you need to know and lots of concepts to be aware of in order to ensure your royalties are properly paid. If you don't have a production manager, use this article as a basic guide to understanding the intricacies and business elements of being a working producer. If you're already a working producer and you've got a manager, use this article as a checklist to make sure your business is up to par!
As I stated above, the main focus of a producer manager is on the business side of the producer's affairs. Specifically, you can trim those down to about five main areas of daily duties. First off, there are phone calls. Secondly, emails. Then you have the dreaded 'administrative' work. Next you have to be able to liaise with numerous important contacts, and finally network to maintain relationships or develop new ones.
To maximise efficiency, a manager will take care of all the 'other stuff', allowing a producer to concentrate on their creativity. As with all businesses, it starts with making and (hopefully) taking phone calls. Phone work may sound like old-fashioned sales pitching, but many closed doors can be flung wide open with properly executed dialogue. "Working the phones is a vital part of the business," says Zach Katz, a producer manager based in Los Angeles who represents producers such as Jonathan 'JR' Rotem (Dr. Dre, 50 Cent) and Hi-Tek (Snoop Dogg, The Game).
Another important function of the producer manager is the ability to send and receive vital email communications in a timely manner. Today, with most music executives and creative types packing serious PDA and communication devices, a large portion of business can be typed in the palm of your hand. "I spend a large part of the day communicating with lots of different people. I might [email] with an A&R exec about which projects are open, an admin person at the label so I can collect a client's back end, an artist manager, attorney, or publisher. [Portable] email allows you the flexibility to always be making something happen," says Henely 'PRO' Halem, a producer manager based in New York who handles a highly respected, up-and-coming producer named Emile (Ice Cube, Obie Trice).
That brings us to administrative responsibilities. A manager is usually responsible for a large amount of paperwork, again eliminating the need for the producer to be involved with such non-creative activities. Invoicing, preparing budgets and making sure song/album credits are turned in on time to the record label are just part of the production manager's administrative duties. It's a good idea for a producer manager to have an easy-going, yet professional attitude when dealing with the record labels. After all, it's their client that wants something from the label (ie. their fee and royalties).
This brings us to the concept of liaison, where the manager maintains good communication with the label and other business executives. A manager with a professional, working client will have to possess the ability to 'vibe' with many different people during the day. For example, on any given day, a manager will possibly have to converse with their client's music publisher, the client's business manager or accountant, and most certainly their client's attorney. "I have to be able to speak with the licensing person at a label, discuss the budget with an A&R administrative director and sell my client's skills to an artist or perhaps their manager," states PRO. A producer manager has to be in good contact with numerous executives from different areas of the business, making sure the publisher is collecting the proper royalties, ensuring the accountant is on top of the client's taxes and bills as well as overseeing the contracts necessary to produce songs for current clients.
Now we come to networking. Keeping in touch and on top of your business with phone calls and professional communication is certainly a key to success, but there is nothing like the kind of results you can get when you show your face, as we'll see. Attending industry events, scheduling meals with other executives and planning meetings are more valuable than you can imagine. Of course, depending on the client and the skills/experience of the manager, daily duties can vary widely, but for the most part, the five areas described above form the core of the producer manager's basic business responsibilities.
About five years ago, every producer, including those working on A-list projects and those still wanting to gain their big break, had an individual playing their music for them. As most producers were happily confined to basements and lofts in their creative digital bliss, managers added another responsibility to their tasks: being the 'beat shopper'. Kids fresh out of college with 'peoples', professional managers with real experience and those who had 'contacts' found themselves in offices with freshly burned CDs. It was very common for a producer manager to walk into an A&R office, play an instrumental and have the A&R exec say 'yes' or 'no'.
Today, a lot has changed. There is so much more on the line financially that playing just an instrumental (aka 'beats') and getting a positive answer is almost never going to happen. "I wouldn't say [shopping beats] is dead — it's just metamorphosed," says Katz. "Today, you have to shop songs." If we're talking about the hip-hop genre, beats that come with the choruses or 'hooks' already recorded on them are usually a must. In the R&B and pop worlds, you have to hand in a complete song for the A&R exec to even consider its use for an artist. In addition, the explosion of MP3 and digital portable music players have allowed producers and managers to show their goods on the spot. Just headphone up and go — instant creative meeting. "A word to the wise: always carry an MP3 player with you. This is the best way to present your music anywhere, anytime," says Tony Perez, a New York-based manager who represents clients such as Scram Jones and Ezelpee.
Most successful producers have a long-term, career-driven goal of formulating their own sound or sonic image. As such, managers seek clients whose work sounds unique and stands out amongst a wide range of equally talented producers. "You don't hear Timbaland trying to sound like Dre. The Neptunes don't attempt to sound like Mannie Fresh. All of the great producers [especially in hip-hop] have created their own sound, and I look for people who are capable of understanding that and those who strive to develop their own sound," says Zach Katz.
In speaking with many different managers over the course of my experience, I've also been told that many managers will not take on a new client without feeling confident that the producer's work ethic is as strong as the manager's. Zach continues: "The drive and the work ethic are just as important as the creativity. One without the other usually adds up to a situation that doesn't work in the end."
In the United States, becoming a member of a rights society such as ASCAP (www.ascap.com), BMI (www.bmi.com) or SESAC (www.sesac.com) can be a big help in networking. The societies hold numerous events each month that attempt to aid songwriters and producers. You should also check out NARAS, the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (www.grammy.com).
In the United Kingdom, becoming a member of the Performance Rights Society (PRS) can be valuable for meeting new people or a potential manager. Check out www.prs.co.uk for their events. The Music Producers Guild can also be an excellent resource. (www.mpg.org.uk)
Most professional managers are often out and about, seen at many industry events and, of course, in the studios with clients and artists. If you haven't found the right producer manager for your career, make sure you are looking in the right places. Network your way into a recording session; you never know who will be there to give you a shot to impress them on the spot (remember, as we stated previously, always have your MP3 player at the ready).
If you become a member of a club or society, that can be a very important aspect of how efficiently and frequently you can meet new people in the industry (see box). Attending industry events such as 'meet and greets', round table discussions, open mic nights, seminars and guest speaker engagements offers a terrific opportunity to meet potential managers. Another key is to make an impression while at those events. For example, while listening to a guest lecture, present a smart, well thought-out question to the guest when the Q&A portion begins. If your question is intriguing, you'll have heads turning and voices asking 'Who is that?' A manager in attendance might just introduce themselves or vice versa.
As someone who has had many years' experience working in music retail (at Sam Ash Music in New York City), I also can attest to the fact that many people meet and exchange information while looking at new gear and equipment. A short trip to the local shop might be more valuable than you can imagine. Keep in mind, though, that the search for a good manager — one that can help you with your career as a producer and whom you trust and vibe well with — is often a very tough mission. In fact, it can often be looked at like a union or personal relationship.
Given the fact that most successful producers are highly creative, they often lack desire or aggressiveness in their business dealings. Usually, a producer manager is much more focused on business, rather than creativity, so the marriage is frequently a match made in heaven. Just like in a relationship, a client "needs to be ready to listen, learn and take criticism. How can they take those [potentially negative] situations and build positively from them?" asks Perez. Of course, it's also necessary to be aware of when the partnership between producer and manager is no longer working. "You cannot take this business personally. Ending a business relationship is extremely hard," says PRO. Just like one's personal life, it's vital to know when the situation is right for you and when it is no longer working for you.
I can sum it up like this: trust your instincts — hopefully, they are on the money. If you feel a producer manager can help you, try it out. In my experience, most managers will begin to work with a client without a contract. If the growth of the business relationship is good for both parties, then by all means, work out a longer agreement. As always, be careful of what you sign. Your career is often floating throughout the ink in a pen. Make sure, of course, that any agreement is drafted by an attorney or other music industry professional. Secondly, make sure the terms of the agreement are understood by both parties signing the document. If you have the talent and the drive to succeed, there are plenty of managers who will team up with you. Remember, as a producer, it's ultimately up to your creativity; the right manager can maximise your skills to their fullest potential.
1. Phone calls.
3. Administrative paperwork.