When a professional athlete begins their career, there’s a tremendous amount of both league and team support devoted to their development—not just as an athlete, but also training and guidance on how to conduct themselves in handling a wide range of off-field activities, including teaching them the basics regarding financial literacy.
For a new artist entering the music industry, however, there’s really no formal, institutional support to be found. Most artist development efforts are almost exclusively focused on helping you become the best entertainer or songwriter you can be. When it comes to understanding financial matters or learning how to surround yourself with the right trusted people to build and protect your career and your future, new artists are essentially flying solo.
Assembling your team
Like a professional golfer or tennis player who functions independently, you’ll need to create your own team around you. Hiring the right professionals at the beginning of your career will allow you to maintain team continuity; sustaining those same relationships over the years as your career matures and your needs evolve and grow in complexity.
Not surprisingly, many artists turn to family members when they’re just embarking on their professional careers. This can be a viable option in rare instances when a relative happens to have a well-established career as an entertainment attorney or business manager. But the expertise required in this industry is so specialized, and the potential stakes so high, you want to make sure you assemble the most skilled team possible.
“As a young music executive, the one thing that you have the rights to when you first start out is essentially yourself—everything that comes after that are deals you have to make to give away small pieces,” cautions Grammy-award winning music executive Christopher “Tricky” Stewart. “Whether it's a deal for your publishing, a deal for your music rights, a deal for your mastering rights, or a deal for your merchandizing, each decision you make has the opportunity to massively impact both the arc of your career and your financial future.”
Who are the core people you need to surround yourself with?
- An entertainment attorney from a reputable firm with both a specialization in and an established track-record with representing entertainment artists. Entertainment law requires a unique skill set and specialized knowledge beyond the scope of most attorneys.
- A strong accountant or business manager with a history of working with artists; someone who’s able to handle the nuances of reconciling tours and looking at recording contracts and merchandizing contracts to help figure out fees and royalty splits
- A career manager to guide the ship; someone who is constantly out there searching for new deals and new opportunities to enhance your visibility and expand your revenue base
- A road manager who’s on the road with you every single day, making sure that all your needs are handled while you’re touring; taking care of everyday travel expenses; supporting your band members, and coordinating with venue management. A financial/banking manager to provide you with access to all the cash flow, lending and other financial resources you may need to manage short-term needs as well as support your long-term planning goals.
“For most artists, the idea of bringing all these specialized professionals together from day one just isn’t a practical reality,” explains Rasheed Muhammad, senior vice president and client advisor with SunTrust’s Sports and Entertainment Specialty Group. “While you’ll likely need all of these functions from day one, you probably won’t need full-time dedicated employees. Think of this team as an end-state you want to achieve as your career progresses.”
You have to start somewhere, but be observant and recognize the point where you’ve outgrown your team infrastructure and require more skilled professionals to support your growing needs.
Demand transparency and communication
Team interaction and communication will be critical. Understand that everybody has an ego, and each will want to be seen by you as the essential cog in the wheel. But given the nature of the work to be done on your behalf, there will always be overlap between the duties and responsibilities of various team members.
You can’t just sit back and trust others to handle all these affairs on your behalf. Too many artists try to avoid involving themselves in coordinating the efforts of their team—taking the “no news is good news” approach until they realize (too late) that there’s a problem.
Requiring frequent and honest communication between the members of your team is critical. There needs to be full transparency across all your professional consultants; a willingness to pick-up the phone to call each other, and, at a minimum, an annual review where you sit down together as a team to discuss where your career currently stands, where you want it to be three years from now, and the actions each individual needs to take to help you get there.
You don’t need to look hard to find stories of phenomenally successful artists who have ended up in financial crisis. The causes are varied—from outright theft to poor investments, unpaid taxes, or the simple inability to control expenses or manage cash flows and budget. By surrounding yourself with the right team, however, you can help avoid the pitfalls that have derailed the careers of many others.