In a world where everyone is out to claim their stake of a multi-billion pound industry, for the DJ/producer/artist with potentially very lucrative product ready to launch into the marketplace, a music lawyer can be a huge career asset. I've worked in the dance music industry for almost three decades. I have seen many people make their money and, perhaps more often, lose the money that should rightfully have been theirs as a consequence of doing bad deals.
During my career I have worked across the board: as an A&R, promoter, a manager, I've run an agency, as a producer and from the beginning to this day as Judge Jules, the DJ. Since 2012 I've been DJing at weekends, but during the week I'm Jules O'Riordan. From Monday to Friday I apply all my knowledge and experience of the industry to my work for leading entertainment law firm Sheridans as a music lawyer.
In my experience it's the first contracts –management, recording and publishing – that are the most important, and the most laden with pitfalls. You might have a good sense of music business language and be able to make an informed judgment about the percentages, the size of your advance and the length of the contract, but in reality, there are far more subtle ways in which the deal that you sign could be very bad for you unless you consult someone who does these deals day-in, day-out.
What does a good manager do?
Your manager should develop a career game plan and make the strategic decisions to allow you to concentrate on the music side of things. They should wear the business hat to let you concentrate on the artistic and creative side. They will negotiate deals and offers in a business minded way that you probably cannot. The music industry is a giant village and while you might be able to forge friendships and social relationships, that's not always the best way to do business. In fact, business and friendship often mix like oil and water.
Managers can be much 'tougher' behind the scenes in doing business on your behalf. They will look to develop you as a brand through: record deals, live dates / shows, publishing deals, endorsements / brand deals and apps / start-up business deals.
What should you look for in a manager?
Never lose sight of the fact that ultimately, everyone has their own interests, including managers. While a manager is there to help guide your career, understanding the business and industry yourself is essential – it's important to know what is going on behind the scenes.
Be wary of extremely young managers with little experience. Similarly, be wary of anyone who is not in tune with the times. The industry changes quickly, and your manger needs to be ahead of the curve in all aspects. It's essential that they are involved in the dance industry, not solely with bands / live music. These two worlds can be very different.
Look who else is on their roster. Gone are the days of a manager only managing one artist (unless they're someone like The Rolling Stones) – a varied roster will mean varied opportunities and a greater number of contacts. Equally, make sure they don't have too many artists on the roster – you don't want to be 'lost in the crowd' or overshadowed by the manager's A-lister.
Find out what their previous experience / achievements are. Are they relevant? Is it where you want to be heading? Is there the right chemistry?
The typical management fee is 20% of Net (ie your income less your costs: travel, recording etc). This applies to shows, record deals etc. Everything else is 20% of Gross.
A typical management deal is 2–3 years.
There should be a 'get out clause' that will allow you to terminate the deal early if certain targets aren't met, eg failure to secure a record deal or publishing deal with certain labels, and financial mile-stones. Management deals typically cover all work within the entertainment industry; if you do other work that falls outside this category you should ensure it's explicitly carved out of the deal before you sign.
While you may have to reimburse certain costs incurred by your manager on your behalf, this should only be from your actual income from music – you should not be left with any expenses debt to your manager at the end of the managerial term.
There should be a 'key person' clause, meaning the services of one or two key people should be available to you for the key parts of your management – not some office junior.
There will be some 'post term' commission obligations, meaning the manager can charge commission after the term is over on your income from certain work you did during their management, like recording and songwriting. A lawyer should ensure this lasts for as short a time as possible, typically 3–10 years.