Thanks to the internet and social media, today’s musical artists and bands have a better chance of getting their music into the marketplace than ever before. They also have more opportunities to interact with fans and build a brand.
BUT, that also means that a lot of artists and acts are thinking along the same lines. So there’s a lot of music out there. For casual listeners, an endless amount of tunes available could be someone’s idea of nirvana, but it can also begin to resemble a hellish amount of clutter to wade through. And for musicians, setting oneself apart from the pack means a great deal of time spent on social media. The downside to that is, there’s less time spent CREATING music.
“Today, more than ever, you need a TEAM behind you to help you reach your goals,” claims Jesse Morris, a Los Angeles-based music veteran and entertainment lawyer who has been helping a wide range of acts reach their full potential. “If everybody has a defined role, the sum can be more than the parts.”
Morris is a firm believer that thinking of a group (and even an artist) as a company is a way to make the entire process be more efficient and self-fulfilling. “So many people are trying to make it today, that it’s hard to be seen in the crowd,” he says. “I see bands who are spending all of their time on Facebook, and they really do need a manager to help them with it.”
And for those who scoff at the concept of creating a “team” or “company” around you while thinking of how the world’s most famous acts (Led Zeppelin, Rolling Stones, etc.) made it based on their great songs alone, yes, it still is possible. “But now the world is smaller and people are more connected so things can happen quicker,” says Morris. “Teams can form even before the record deal.”
So here’s how to create your “all-star” musical team:
THE SHAREHOLDERS = THE BAND!
“The band are the owners of ‘the company’,” says Morris. “They own it.” A band is the music creator at the start, as well as every other element of the company listed below. But the faster they can create that sense of a team around them, the more time they can devote to music, which in turn, can help make them a successful ‘company’.
CASE STUDY: The Rolling Stones are one of the best examples of a group who have turned the concept of their music into a corporation. Today, they have professionals handling every aspect of their business dealings, though lead singer Mick Jagger reportedly signs off on every issue that comes across their desk.
THE CEO = THE PERSONAL MANAGER
If the CEO is a good one, the personal manager will do their best to make sure that the artist is a successful company. “They advise the artist or the band, not just on a day to day basis, but two to three years ahead of time,” says Morris. When looking for a competent personal manager, it’s crucial that artists find somebody who they can trust, as well as who their personal connections are and what kind of past success they’ve had.
CASE STUDY: Scooter Braun has completely shaped Justin Bieber’s career, doing everything from recognizing his talent in Canada to putting him up at his own home before he became well known. Today, he’s doing everything he can to ensure that Bieber stays in the public eye. Braun has also signed South Korean pop star Psy, who was relatively unknown outside of his YouTube hit “Gangnam Style”. “When Braun signed him,” says Morris. “He got Psy on Ellen’s US TV show and then made sure he was at the Grammy Awards. This helps you become a household name.” See also Irving Azoff and any number of his well known acts, which include The Eagles and Christina Aguilera.
GENERAL COUNSEL = THE ATTORNEY
A group’s attorney is involved in all deals (record and otherwise), negotiating contracts and will even help bail you out if you’re in trouble. He or she will also advise an artist to make sure that their rights are protected. In order to find one, it helps to scout around, get references and even meet with those on the shortlist. “Make sure they respond to you,” advises Morris. “If they are taking a week or two to respond, that’s a bad sign. If they are too busy for you, beware!”
CASE STUDY: Los Angeles based lawyer Dina LaPolt currently represents Aerosmith lead singer Steven Tyler’s interests separately from the group.
VICE PRESIDENT OF BUSINESS DEVELOPMENT = THE AGENT
The sole responsibility of the agent is to book live shows for the artist or group. However, they can also get film or TV gigs for the artist as well. When deciding on an agent, be sure to check out their client roster, see what connections they may have and whether they are booking gigs at venues that you want to play at. “An agent should also like your music,” says Morris. “Otherwise, they won’t go to bat for you to get good shows.”
CASE STUDY: The William Morris Agency and CAA are two major Los Angeles agencies, responsible for hundreds of artists, groups and actors.
THE CFO = THE BUSINESS MANAGER
The business manager handles the money flow the company and is usually an expert on taxes. When musicians go on tour, tax rules in different countries are a consideration, which is when the manager’s skills are needed. An astute manager ensures that the artist—or shareholder—gets paid regularly. “They are the person handling money, so that person should certainly be trustworthy,” says Morris.
CASE STUDY: New York based firm Gelfand, Rennert & Feldman represent Lady Gaga in all her ventures.
OTHER TEAM MEMBERS = STAFF MEMBERS
Publicists, tour managers, roadies, mixers and social media marketers can also be important members of a team, depending on what a group wants to accomplish or excel in. Most groups handle these tasks themselves, until they become successful, when they’ll want to leave these jobs to the experts they hire. “With tour managers you want experience,” says Morris. “Publicists should believe in you and social marketers ought to spend a lot of time on you and be creative in this space.”
CASE STUDY: U2 is astute at having an entire team working through every move they make, be it advance publicity, tour design, website work and touring staff.
With most acts, getting a record deal is the first—and sometimes ultimate—goal. Everyone on the team will be dealing with them at one time or another. “However, you can take an act like LMFAO, who had a manager, but decided to do everything themselves,” says Morris. “So they hired a personal assistant and decided to be their own CEOS.”
At the end of the day, a company either has their own record deal, or they are working on one.
PART TWO: In the next article, we’ll explore what happens once a record deal is in place.
Jesse Morris is a Los Angeles based entertainment lawyer and musician who has been in several rock acts. His professional areas of expertise include contract reviews, advising, negotiations, trademarks, copyright law, publishing and recording agreements. He can be contacted for a free initial consultation at firstname.lastname@example.org or +1 (310) 439-3737.