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Do you need a manager, or a lawyer?

To land a record deal, you need a manager. But managers are different to what they used to be. Perhaps you don't need a manager. You need a lawyer...


It is common knowledge that your chances of landing a record deal without a manager are about the same as your chances of meeting the life partner of your dreams if you don't brush your teeth every day.

So, an aspiring band first needs to find a following, second a manager. An agent will be a useful in-between step to get more gigs.

The market for music is different to the way it was back in the 1960s and 1970s. In those days, there was very little structure for popular music marketing. If you wanted to make money, you had to be creative and invent ways of getting people to hear and pay for your music.

That meant that a successful manager would be an inventive, entrepreneurial character. He or she would not be constrained by convention, but would seek out new ways to generate business (possibly not entirely legally according to the legislation of the time).

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That's how we got things like stadium rock, festivals, clubs and tours. Not so long ago, these things that are now part of the musical establishment just did not exist.

But things have changed, or rather developed. From all the business enterprises that were tried and tested in the 1960s and 1970s, some were found to be successful, others did not prosper. But the successful models for doing the business of music have now become commonplace, popular, regulated, and are well-known and understood by everyone in the industry.

Hence the need for an entrepreneurial manager in the old sense no longer applies. What a band needs now is not someone who is creative in a business sense, but understands the ways business is currently transacted; can weave themselves into that environment, and manipulate and profit from business methods that have become standardized.

And that type of person is...

A lawyer.

Doing the business of music today is all about approaching people who are established in their power and influence, persuading them that you have something to offer that will make them money, then negotiating a good deal.

A lawyer is very well placed to do all of these things. Not so much creativity necessary, but an understanding of legal matters and contracts, and an acute sense of how and where the money is flowing. And a good set of talons and horns for attack and defense in the take-no-prisoners world of the music business.

And don't think that lawyers don't care about music. To become a successful music business lawyer, you have to be passionate about what you do. That might be just the business side of music, but many lawyers are true lovers of music.

Often lawyers are seen as 'the enemy', and they probably make more money out of music than even quite successful musicians. But you need at least one of these able and powerful people working for you.

That is the route to success in the modern music business.

By David Mellor Monday December 4, 2006