Being The Boss: Managing Your Manager

[Editors Note: This is a guest blog written by Eli Ball, CEO of Lyric Financial. TuneCore and Lyric Financial partnered in April to bring artists TuneCore Direct Advance.]


As an artist your career is your business and you are the CEO. Before you begin protesting that you are an artist and you have a manager to deal with the business stuff, hear me out.

The music industry is full of so-called “professionals” who want to tell you how to be successful. In fact, many of them rely upon the assumption that you are not in charge, but make no mistake about it: you are the boss. While it absolutely takes a great and committed team to build a successful business, you as CEO are ultimately responsible (not your manager). Consider this: your manager is effectively the COO/CFO (chief operating officer and chief financial officer) of your business. As your COO/CFO the manager’s job is to execute your vision and be a trusted sounding board for your ideas. Sure, a good manager will bring you opportunities they think will advance your career – that’s their job. But remember, your manager works for you, not the other way around.

Here are some tips to help get you off on the right footing with your manager:

The Benefits of Having a Clear Vision

First, you need to define your vision for what you want to represent and accomplish as an artist. Be very clear about your goals and what you are willing to do and not willing to do in order to achieve them. Notice I did not use the word “comfortable”, since running a business is anything but comfortable. It’s challenging at every level of your being and the more success you have the more challenging it becomes.

By having a clear and concise vision that you’ve actually written down and discussed with your team, you save yourself from the directionless confusion so many artists fall victim to. It also gives your manager a clear idea of what you’re looking for and defined goals to achieve and to be measured by.

Be Aware That Your Career Needs Will Evolve As You Grow

There’s an axiom in the business world, that “the team you start with is not necessarily the same team you finish with.” In plain English, as you grow your career, the challenges you face at one level may require a different skill set from the one needed at the next level.

With that in mind, and setting aside for a moment the important issue of loyalty (to be discussed on another post), as CEO you need to be very comfortable that your manager can help you not only immediately, but is able and/or willing to adapt as your career grows. I am not advocating that you change managers whenever you hit a rough spot or the next level, far from that. However, as CEO you are responsible for making sure you have the right people on your team and the right people in the right roles (check out Jim Collins’ insightful book called “Good to Great” to learn more building a great team).

5 Fundamental Issues You Absolutely Need to Address

Regardless of your experience level and whether you have a manager or are considering hiring one, here are some basic issues you need to discuss with your manager:

  1. Does he/she clearly understand and share your vision and goals?
    As noted above, this is crucial for a successful long term business relationship. Of course, you need to really have a clear vision from the get-go to make the most of your artist/manager relationship, so if you don’t yet have that down pat, perhaps work on that first and find the right partner second.It’s also worth noting that this isn’t a one-time conversation. As your vision and goals evolve be sure that your manager continues to be in sync with you.
  2. Is there a fundamental level of trust and respect?
    How do you measure this since trust and respect are built over time? In the beginning, it boils down to personal chemistry. Do you feel comfortable with this person managing your business and representing you? Do your homework. Research their background and check industry references, education and training to determine whether their skill set will be additive to you and your team.If you already have a manager and it isn’t working, you need to ask yourself why and address the issue(s). Then trust your gut. In the end do your best to make the right decisions and if it turns out to be wrong, correct the mistake.


  1. Do you communicate well?
    Your relationship with your manager is the most intimate business relationship you will have. It’s a two way street. You both need to be able to speak honestly and without reservation on any topic. You will need to strategize together, support each other, constructively criticize each other and hopefully congratulate one another on mission accomplished. As an artist you are responsible for writing, recording, promoting your music, touring on the road, as well as keeping an eye on your business, i.e. – You’re busy as all hell! It is critical that the two of you can communicate almost telepathically and regularly. Make sure to put some strong systems in place that respect each of your personal styles, withstand busy schedules and changing time zones.


  1. As CEO what level of detail do you want to be involved in?
    Like a producer who manages the recording process in the studio, you need to be clear what you want to be involved in and just as importantly what you don’t. This is not a one size fits all template, since like a producer you organize your team to work fluidly with your personal style, strengths and weaknesses. Are you a delegating leader or do you like to be in the weeds on day-to-day decisions? What frequency of reporting and level of detail works for you? When are you able and ready to process business information given your responsibilities as an artist?Before any unnecessary confusion and frustration arises, you and your manager need to be in agreement on this issue. Expect to have to revisit this frequently. Your business is dynamic and constantly evolving. As such, the amount of information and decisions to be made increase with the growth of your career.


  1. What is your business plan?
    Assuming you and your manager are in sync on the previous four topics, a formal written business plan on how as a team you are going to execute building your career is absolutely critical before you take another step. This is the road map that will guide you towards achieving your vision. What tools and resources will be needed for touring, recording, promotion and administration? How do you plan to fund each part of it and manage the cash flow? Are you selling rights to your songs or recordings to raise capital? Taking on investors? Bootstrapping it, using one source of revenue, say touring to pay for the recording? Or a combination of all three?Keep in mind that a business plan is not set in stone rather it is an evolving document that provides a clear rational guide for your career journey at each step. As you face challenges and opportunities it will need to be modified. But having a clear well thought out map to begin your journey beats the hell out of flying by the seat of your pants, simply reacting to external factors rather than proactively dealing with them.

I hope this helps give you some perspective and a common sense guide to managing your career. Best of luck. Remember, it’s a marathon not a sprint, so stay true to your vision and learn to smell the roses along the way. It definitely makes for a more fulfilling life.

Artist Management Series: Vanessa Magos

Like almost everything in the music industry over the years, the role of artist managers has changed. As independent artists gain more traction and power, there’s more at stake and more responsibility. All of this translates to the need for business development in pushing an artist’s career forward. And that means being on-call, setting expectations, negotiating deals and contracts, and handling areas of business once typically considered foreign to a manager.

In order to take a deeper dive into the ever-changing role of the artist manager in 2015, we’ll be interviewing some of the best in the independent music world throughout the month of July! From newcomers to veterans, from pop to alternative to country, we’re digging into daily lives of those who not only manage musicians, but actually challenge, support and push them to succeed.

First up is Vanessa Magos. Vanessa has been co-managing indie pop sensations VÉRITÉ and Betty Who under New Torch Entertainment, a three-year old management company based in New York City. She’s been on the grind non-stop for two years and enlightens us with her views and experiences on the management game thus far. Enjoy!

How did the artist/manager relationships that you’re currently involved in begin? Is there any ‘typical’ way this goes down in 2015?

Vanessa Magos: I feel that things are becoming much more personalized and self-sustained, both in the sense of the relationship between artist and manager and between artist and fans. Your relationship with the artist is critical; the bigger they get, the more challenges and insecurities they naturally face, and in a way you as the manager act as the core team between all the different moving pieces involved in the development process.

One of our artists, Betty Who, was a friend of mine before anything on the business end began, which definitely instilled trust since the beginning of our working relationship together. Betty and Ethan (Vanessa’s management partner and co-founder of New Torch Entertainment) went to college together and started everything from the ground up, so they have a really special connection there. With VÉRITÉ, we were introduced by her producer who was helping her look at management companies. We fell in love with the music and wanted to get involved. At the end of the day it’s making sure everyone is on the same page and has that shared vision for the project, no matter how or where you find each other initially.

In your two years of doing this, what have been some key lessons you’ve walked away with?

As a new manager I am constantly learning new lessons every day. One of the biggest things I learned quickly was that you are solely responsible for having the bigger perspective and understanding of the vision for the project.

What are the primary areas of business development that managers focus on in the first year of this partnership?

In the first year of an artist’s career you’re building the foundation that everything else will grow upon. You are bringing in the core members of the artists team…lawyer, publicist, agent, etc. that are going to be supporting the start of the artist’s career. But first and foremost, you and the artist are establishing your relationship and a shared vision and work ethic. Without a mutual vision and dedication to growth in an authentic way that supports the way the artist wants their career to unfold, things will waver. Focus is critical.

In your experiences, what are some of the biggest misconceptions of an artist manager’s role(s)? What did you go into it thinking?

Not many people really understand what a music manager does. From an outside perspective it may seem like either the artist or the manager is doing more than the other but the reality is that it is an extremely collaborative process. Neither the artist or the manager can do their job alone, and although their roles are very different, they both carry a lot of weight and need to meet each other halfway every step of the way.

The manager is the one person on the team involved in every aspect of an artist’s career. It’s a massive commitment. It’s such a complex thing – staying on top and managing all aspects of multiple projects. I feel that I’m constantly learning from others. I think people don’t realize how all-encompassing the role is. It’s a special position to be in because you have a bond with an artist that no one else does. You get to see such a different side that not a lot of other people get to see. Every high and every low.

Explain the importance of managing an artist’s expectations when it comes to getting the desired results of any given career goal.

I think the mentality of ‘always moving’ is important. We set quarterly goals, review them, and move on. With each set of goals, even if you have or haven’t accomplished them, you keep moving. You take a second to celebrate it, or you don’t, and you keep moving forward. I believe that maintaining consistent goals, and never letting yourself hit a ceiling is important because goals will change and evolve, and you have to keep it moving along. Humor always helps too.

vanessa magos photo by kate edwards
Vanessa Magos (photo by Kate Edwards)

Did Betty and/or VÉRITÉ have the resources of a label before entering your relationship? How do you go about building a team (booking, publicity, etc.)?

Neither Betty or VÉRITÉ had a label deal before working with New Torch. Ethan and Betty began working together in college and would brainstorm the project from its first days on their campus coffee shop between classes. VÉRITÉ was a waitress at Applebees who would record demos in her apartment at night after a 12 hour shift. Betty is now signed, and VÉRITÉ remains happily unsigned. Both projects are exciting and challenging in their own ways. As you build your team, things change and adjust, but at the end of the day, the manager is by the artist’s side first and foremost steering the ship.

We’ve been very fortunate with both of these projects to have amazing teams of dedicated and passionate people supporting each of them every step of the way.

When it comes to being presented with a label deal for an artist in 2015, what factors do the artist/manager team have to take into consideration?

I think what it comes down to is making sure that the label is on the same page as the artist. You don’t want to get into a deal simply for the sake of feeling cool and having a record deal and then a year into that relationship find out that you’re not on the same page with the artist’s overall vision. That’s hard and tricky to navigate, but it’s the artist and manager’s job to consistently be in communication with the label and make sure everyone is constantly aligned. It’s very easy for things to shift off-course if communication isn’t strong. Early on is the most important time to have those conversations and ensure everything is working as it should internally.

How important is music publishing to the artist manager in maximizing the artist’s catalog? What kind of role do they play in staying on top of it?

I think publishing is a huge and important thing, and it’s something I’m constantly focused on for our artists. For us, we want to keep an open dialogue with the artists’ publisher; whether that be sending them new music, pitching new collaboration ideas, pushing their synch department, etc. We do whatever it takes to make sure our artists are at the forefront of peoples’ minds.