Successful and well-known artists function like businesses. As with any business, there is a team of people working together toward a common goal behind every artist. This guide serves as an introduction to the most common team member roles for an artist.
Lawyer (Entertainment Attorney)
It is rare for an artist to need or have the means to hire any team members in the first stages of their career. If an artist is beginning to record, play shows, make their name known and accumulate a small audience, they likely have no issue handling things on their own. However, there comes a point at which the operation outgrows the DIY method and an artist begins searching for a professional team. There is no right way to build a team—some artists find success with a large team, and some find success with a team of one or two. However, there are several things that artists typically begin to require assistance with when they are ready to develop their career to a more professional level. The team members featured in this guide are those typically hired by artists first.
An artist’s manager acts as a guide for their career, always making decisions with long-term success in mind. The scope of a manager’s responsibility varies greatly. Some artists only want a business manager to handle their finances and complex logistics, without touching their personal lives. Others employ management to handle almost every aspect of their lives, both personally and professionally. The basic goal of any manager should be to do whatever they must do in order to help their client succeed.
It is important to note that there are laws that dictate that artist managers legally cannot be live agents.
The foundation of the artist’s career often begins with gaining an audience through live performances. Concerts tend to grow more valuable for artists as they gain mainstream appeal and begin booking increasingly larger venues. Booking agents are responsible for the logistics surrounding an artist’s live performances.
In order to understand the scope of a booking agent’s responsibilities, it is important to know the various tasks required to pull off a live show. An agent’s first role is that of a salesman, identifying well-suited venues and pitching the artist to the owner or promoter in order to negotiate a good deal. The venue owner’s goal is to sell out the club, get people to spend money at the bar and make an overall profit. This means that they are trusting the acts they book to bring a crowd, so they need to be convinced that the act has a chance at drawing some people in. For more desirable acts, booking agents are responsible for sifting through performance requests to find the most lucrative opportunities for their client.
Artists playing local venues typically make agreements orally or online, entering an implied contract. However, booking agents always enter formal agreements. There are various benefits for artists who create and enter legal agreements with venues for their performances. For the most part, these contracts act as self-defense for both parties by outlining their respective expectations in all aspects, including the details that are often overlooked in causal agreements. Contracts not only detail the obligations each party commits to, but also the consequences for neglecting them and the policies surrounding cancellation. By compiling all of this information and negotiating an agreement about all the details, artists and venues are protected from surprise fees, lowered profits and issues with loopholes in the contract.
One important responsibility of an agent is to collect deposits on behalf of artists. Deposits are a portion of the agreed payment delivered to the artist (or agent) ahead of the performance. Tours require special attention from a booking agent, which is why some artists hire a separate specialist for booking them. Agents in charge of tours are not only responsible for the details and legalities of each individual show, but also for the logistics between each show.
The role of a publicist is to handle matters regarding media and public relations for an artist. When an artist’s music has become marketable, publicists work to raise public awareness of their “brand” and their creations. Any press or inquiries about public appearances are intercepted and filtered by the publicist, who decides which opportunities the artist pursues. Additionally, publicists are responsible for tirelessly seeking out press placements for artists. This makes it very important for publicists to maintain a wide range of positive connections with media outlets relevant to the target consumer base of their client(s).
Promotion agencies and radio pluggers have acted as powerful and necessary forces in the music industry for a long time. Their goals are to build the artist’s fanbase by getting their songs played and heard. Traditionally, this role almost exclusively involved reaching out to radio program directors and pitching songs in hopes of gaining airplay on terrestrial stations. In recent years, the scope of a promoter’s responsibilities has grown alongside music consumption technology. Promoters aren’t just reaching out to radio directors now. They’re reaching out to playlist curators, podcast hosts, viral content creators, influencers, and more. The process promotion experts use, however, has remained fairly uniform among platforms.
Promoters work alongside publicists and other marketing professionals in order to create promotional materials for the artist or project. Press kits, press releases, promotional records and “one-sheets” (one-page outlining all the most vital information on the band) are typically among the materials created first. After getting a strong, full grasp on their client’s individual sound and image, promoters begin to identify the promotional outlets with the highest potential to reach the artist’s target demographic. After that, it’s a matter of the product’s quality and the promoter’s persuasion skills. Their job is to contact the best outlets, utilize their professional network and deliver pitches in a convincing, personable manner so that their client’s work gets heard. Through a simple internet search, anyone can find a multitude of popular streaming playlists that accept submissions online. With a little more digging, it isn’t hard to find names and contact information of successful playlist curators to reach out to directly. The same is true for many radio program directors and podcast directors. The real value of a promoter is in the skills they hold and the established connections they have that increase the likelihood of their pitch standing out from countless others received by promotional outlets each day.
It is important to note that radio programmers and disc jockeys cannot accept any form of bribery or compensation from artists or artist representatives in exchange for [or in hopes of] air time. This practice, “payola,” has been treated as a misdemeanor since 1960, when it was criminalized as a result of an early court case on the matter.
Exploration has created a comprehensive guide on the role of music publishers in the music industry. The following is an excerpt from the guide that provides an overview of this team member’s job:
A music publisher is fundamentally responsible for licensing and administering composition copyrights of songwriters. Publishers vary in sizes: some are small, independent boutique firms and some are branches of multinational corporations.
Music publishers have an array of roles. Typically, they are responsible for securing the placement of songs in the publisher’s catalog where royalties and other revenue will be generated. These revenue streams range from royalties obtained through the licensing of compositions for the purposes of sound recordings to digital streaming and synchronization in film, commercials, or television.
Publishers interact closely with collection agencies such as, in the United States, the Harry Fox Agency and Music Reports for mechanicals, and ASCAP, BMI, and SESAC for performances in order to properly collect royalties. Typically, record labels maintain close relationships with music publishers, as publishers control the compositions being recorded by the artists signed to their rosters.
From the moment an original song is created and put into a fixed form, it gains legal protection. Under current American copyright law, that protection remains for 70 years after the author’s death in the United States. After that point, the creation enters the public domain. The entire music industry revolves around profiting from songs during their lifespan (copyright duration) by exploiting the six exclusive rights first granted to the original owner. Negotiations and agreements made without the proper supervision of an attorney who is able to foresee potential problems often prove to be detrimental for copyright owners. Artists hire lawyers for the same reasons most businesses do: to provide legal counsel, create and review contracts, handle negotiations, serve as representation in court if necessary, and provide an insider perspective on industry legal trends.
Distributors get recorded songs into the public marketplace. Artists (or their label/other representation) grant distributors the right to sell their recordings and products in exchange for a portion of the money received from each sale. Distribution companies also work to distribute music on streaming platforms. For more details on the role of a distributor in an artist’s team and the role of distribution in the music industry, access DMAI’s distribution guide.
Mamie Davis, Jacob Wunderlich, Luke Evans, Rene Merideth, Jeff Cvetkovski, & Aaron Davis