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Music Agents

by Joy R. Butler, Esq.

[Audiobook Cover] This article is an excerpt from the audiobook,
The Musician's Guide Through the Legal Jungle:
Answers to Frequently Asked Questions About Music Law




There are several representatives who can help and guide you through your music career. A list of the music agents with the most impact on the musician's career might include the following:

Although there is overlap in the functions of these representatives, each one plays a distinct role in the musician's career. Let's briefly discuss the role of each one. We'll conclude with some thoughts on negotiating contracts with these music agents.

The Personal Manager

A personal manager aids you in molding your music and entertainment career. Typically, the personal manager works with performing singers and instrumentalists, or those songwriters who also perform. Musicians who are songwriters only may get a lot of management assistance from music publishers.

The personal manager's duties are varied and often undefined. At the beginning of your career, he devotes the most attention to helping you secure a recording contract or songwriter agreement. He helps you put together a recording package by assisting you in selecting songs, musicians, vocalists, and a producer that will best showcase your talents on a demonstration tape. Later in your career, the personal manager plays a similar role in helping you put together recording packages for albums.

Once a recording contract has been negotiated and executed, the personal manager acts as your liaison to the entertainment industry. He interfaces with the departments of your record company such as artist relations, promotion and marketing. He also coordinates communications among your attorney, record company, talent agent, and other business professionals. In the ideal personal manager-musician relationship, you and your personal manager establish the goals and guidelines for your career development. Then, your manager handles the day-to-day business of managing your career. He is the central coordinator for the release and marketing of your albums, your tour schedules, and your publicity campaigns. That way, you have more time to devote to the creative aspects of your career.

Since it is the personal manager's role to guide you through your career, he should have contacts in the music industry as well as in-depth, behind the scenes knowledge of the music industry. He should be familiar with standard industry practices and with the reputations of professionals in the industry. He plays a key role in your securing a recording contract and songwriting deal and then acts as your liaison to the record or publishing company once your deals are secured. So he should know in what genres of music the labels and publishing houses specialize, and understand how those companies are organized.


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The Talent Agent (or Music Booking Agent)

If you are a musician who performs live, a talent agent, also known as a booking agent, arranges live performances for you. The talent agent may also obtain and negotiate contracts of employment in other areas of entertainment on your behalf.

Since talent agencies are in essence employment agencies, the relationships between talent agents and musicians are often more heavily regulated than the relationships between personal managers and musicians. The guidelines for talent agents are set by state labor laws and by unions. For example, California requires talent agencies to submit a detailed license application and to file a ten thousand dollar bond. Many talent agents are members of or are franchised by one of the music unions - the American Federation of Musicians or the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists. Franchised unions must follow union-established rules relating to fees and to the length of talent agreements.

When choosing a talent agent consider whether the agent has successfully represented artists playing your genre of music, and whether the agent likes your music.


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The Music Attorney

If you are presented with a music contract that lasts longer than a short period of time, requires you to pay over a percentage of your income or puts you in an exclusive relationship, you should have an attorney experienced in music law review the contract before you sign it. That means consulting with an attorney before signing an extended contract with a talent agent, a personal manager, a record label or a music publishing company.

No contract is set in stone. Even if you are a new songwriter or performing artist, the music contracts set in front of you are generally not take it or leave it offers. Even the musician with very little bargaining power can get the other side to make at least some concessions in his favor if he knows what to ask for. This is where an attorney familiar with the common music industry contract terms can help you.

Many lawyers will have an initial meeting with you free of charge. At that meeting you can discuss your specific legal needs, the attorney's experience in the music industry, whether the attorney has any conflicts that might prevent her from representing you on a particular deal, and her fee arrangements.


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The Business Manager

The business manager handles the musician's finances so you won't need one until you have experienced some degree of financial success. She helps you with investment decisions, tax matters, monitoring income from contracts, estate planning and other financial matters. Until you require the expertise of a business manager, an attorney or accountant can satisfy most of your financial management needs.

Your business manager should at a minimum have expertise in accounting and general business practices. She should also have specific knowledge and experience in the music business since many music business principles differ from general business principles. If your business manager will be giving you investment advice, your state may require that she be licensed as an investment adviser.


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Negotiating Contracts with Your Music Agents

When negotiating contracts with your representatives, there are a number of factors to be considered. A crucial negotiating point is how you will get out of the agreement if the relationship with your representative doesn't turn out well. This may seem cynical. However, the musician's right to terminate a management agreement and the music manager's right to payment after termination have been central issues in some of the most drawn-out legal battles involving musicians.

For that reason, you should address these issues at the beginning of the representation relationship. Negotiating termination rights is most critical in agreements with personal managers and talent agents. Typically, your agreement with an attorney or business manager can be terminated at will with minimal complications.

Take a look at the contract negotiation guide for a personal management agreement to get an idea of other important issues to be addressed in agreements with your music agents.

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Joy R. Butler is an entertainment, intellectual property and business attorney. (View Joy Butler's full bio.).


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