Managers are great. They take care of all the tedious bullshit you don’t have time for. They write effective emails and they know all the right people. They probably understand your brand better than you do. Best of all, the good ones are out there creating money, making opportunities while you focus on your work. The only drawback? They’re taking a cut.
Chances are, if you’re reading this, you don’t have a manager. You’re sitting at your computer screen wondering why X got a feature on that blog or how Z just booked an east coast tour and why these things don’t magically happen for you. Stop doing that. Right now. Because it’s never going to happen like that.
In the majority of cases, things like that are only going to happen if you take the initiative to become your own manager. It will mean more responsibility, it will mean doing some things that might actually feel like work, it might not be fun all the time but guess what? That’s exactly why people get paid to do it. From my humble and limited experience, below are a couple of tips that can help produce tangible results for that pesky hobby you laughably want to call a “career.”
1. Get a Gmail account. Use it.
Nothing screams “I’m still using dial-up” like a Yahoo or Hotmail email address. Just as the iPhone has rapidly become the ubiquitous mobile device, so has Gmail become the go-to email platform. Create a Gmail account specific to your artistic project. Make the email address as obvious and easy to remember as possible. Use this email for all correspondence relating to said project.
Contracts are not negotiated via Twitter or Facebook. Yes, these are great tools for interacting with people whom you have personal relationships with but, alas, most “official” dealings are still done by the most antiquated form of online communication. Email provides a concise and concrete arena to actually get shit done. It’s all your communication in one place and it’s a definite record of what has (or hasn’t) been discussed.
2. Try to act professional.
Who’s ready for a garbled analogy? Think of a manager like your lawyer in court. They know how to talk to the judge, they’re familiar with the law, and they know all those petty tricks that can muck up the judicial process. Now think about trying to represent yourself in court. You don’t know the law, everyone’s speaking a language you don’t understand, and it seems like the verdict is pre-determined simply because there’s not a suit standing next to you.
As a developing artist the easiest and quickest way to be overlooked is through a demonstrated lack of professionalism. The creative world is fun and compared to other professional environments, VERY laid back. But, believe it or not, people who find a way to carve out their own niche are the people adept at conducting themselves with a reasonable sense of decorum. Effective planning, following through, patience, working well with others, networking etc.…..these skills lead to success in any field. If you work even half as hard at developing those traits as you do on your art you’ll be surprised at the opportunities that start to materialize. At the very least you can take solace in the fact that you’ve figured out something the person spamming your DM’s with Soundcloud links never will.
3. Be self-aware as an artist.
This is the most difficult one. It’s also the one where a manager is almost invaluable. You must have the ability to take a step back from your own work and be objective about who you are as an artist. Some artists believe everything they make is manna from heaven, others struggle with crippling anxiety and self loathing at the thought of sharing their creations with anyone. Try to operate somewhere in between these two extremes.
Think about what you want to accomplish and aim high. Then think about the smaller and more manageable steps you can make now to move closer to that goal. Nothing is going to happen overnight. It will probably take a great deal of trial and error before you figure out who you are and what defines your personal brand. It’s all a process so don’t lose faith, what works will produce results and what doesn’t will be lost in the ether.
Personally, I can think of five or six different things I’d like to accomplish with my music that currently seem like they could NEVER happen. That doesn’t mean I’m not still thinking, silently taking notes, and making tweaks in preparation for the off chance I find myself in a position to jump headlong at an opportunity.
4. It never hurts to ask!
I have heard this piece of advice from so many creative people, in all disciplines, of all ages, at every level of achievement. Why? Because it’s 100% true and can be applied universally. For every opportunity you’re intimidated by, for every long shot that just seems too impossible, there’s someone who asked for it and got it. Use that knowledge to your advantage.
I’m not saying you should misrepresent yourself or try to bend others to your creative will (See # 2), but when acting as your own manager you’re taking it upon yourself to be assertive for your work. Approach people humbly, with genuine interest and respect. Highlight your talents and what you bring to the table. People like to help other people and chances are the person you’re talking to was once in the exact same position you’re in now.
You will not get an emphatic yes from everyone, you probably won’t get a reply from most, but here and there you’ll find someone willing to give you a shot. Congratulations, you just made a valuable connection! And even better than that, you just learned that all you really had to do was ask.