Team Building 101: DIY artists, you are not alone…



Ever since Napster and its sinister brethren appeared on the scene a lot of my peers (even those with the purest of hearts) have added to their music collection without spending a dollar.  In addition to getting music for free, the actual method of creating and distributing music has fundamentally shifted.  Threats of lawsuits from the RIAA may have slowed the free music exchange sites, but social websites, blogs and China have continued to make music available to the masses au gratis (that’s french for free or with cheese, not so good with the franscais).

It is far from original to state that the way the public obtains, shops for or even listens to music has changed over the past decade.  Countless reporters, bloggers, industry experts and politicians have noted the fundamental shift in the music industry.  Your humble author has also contributed to the rhetoric.  But now it is time for musicians and their respecitve teams to stop talking about the change and adjust their own business models in order to succeed in this “all-access-all-the-time” era of music.    Here’s my roadmap:


1.  Amazingly good music.    If you don’t have number 1, there is no point in reading past this point.  Because of the ease of getting music out to the public without the cost restrictive hurdles of cd manufacturing, warehouse and transportation costs there is more music available to the public than at any time in history.  While the digital shift has seen many positives, the overhwelming result is an overly saturated market full of average music.  No one likes to think of their music as average, so I’m assuming that you are still reading to see what else you need for your team.  I don’t want to belabor the point, but seriously, if your music isn’t good, you are not going to get far (except for the aboritions of people like Lady Gaga, Soulja Boy and Nickleback).  It all boils down to the music; and that’s a good thing.

2.  Hire A Lawyer.  Yeah, yeah, I know, I’m a lawyer and I’m telling you to hire an attorney.  But it doesn’t have to me.  As you will see in steps 3 and 4, you will be consistently entering into contracts.  Hand shakes are cool, especially funky ones with fist bumps included, but they are not cool for agreements that will involve money and your career.  A lawyer who understands new media, intellectual property protection and more importantly contract interpretation and law is essential.  The new music model involves, digital distribution of music, corporate partnerships, website policies, copyright and trademark protection, royalty collection, license deal, etc. etc.  A lawyer who you trust should be step number 2.  (If a lawyer tells you she will “get you a deal”, you need to politely excuse yourself from her office and never look back.  This old school model is as dead as Chris Brown’s Drink Milk ad campaign.)

3.  Hire a Manager.  Your buddy might be a fun guy and is good at working a guest list, but you need a professional that will not only manage your day to day career but find new opportunities for your music.  The manager needs to think as creatively as the musician, but instead of making music, they should be making deals with new partnership opportunities, tour deals and promotions.  A manager should get a percentage of the money that the musician makes for the work that the manager actually does.  DO NOT sign a manager agreement that blindly gives your manager 20% of everything you make unless that manager used to work for U2 or Jay Z.  Another old school tactic, managers should get paid for what they bring to the table and not just feast on all of the opportunities that come to the band without the managers’ help.  Your agreement with your manager should spell this out in great detail (NOTE, having a written agreement with your manager is a mus.  See point #2).

4.  Get a PR/Marketing Firm.  A firm that understands the music business is obviously important.  But what is more important is a marketing team that understands your music and your niche.  If you are trying to cross over from a hip hop audience to a more mainstream pop market, look for a PR firm that has both clients on its roster.  PR firms can be expensive but if you have a budget to spend they can typically tailor their efforts to match it (see point #2, again).  Posting your music on popular blogs and on social sites  is definitely worthwhile.  However, if you want to take it to the next level, you need the network and reach of a competent PR/marketing firm.  Yes is cool, but is better.

If you have the “new team” assembled you are in a good spot.  This team should be able to act in much the same way as the archaic labels once did.  One remaining step is physical cd distribution.  While the CD is dying it still makes up a large percentage of music sales.  However, unlike the old days, your team can approach physical distributors  after you have enough buzz and digital sales racked up.  If a distributor sees good numbers, a deal can be inked for small distribution of physical copies of your album.

The DIY artist has a lot of opportunities now.  But like many experts have noted, (click here for a great article on the perils of a DIY artist)   just because an artist can produce and publish her work for the public to hear, does not mean that she will succeed.  If your music is good (and your mom thinking it is good does not count), start building this team and you just may be able to achieve success in the music industry.

Good job team

Good job team


Speaking of a DIY band, check out French Horn Rebellion.  Originally from Milwaukee, now embedded in Brooklyn, these guys have made their own opportunities and have worked hard to get a foot hold on the indie electro pop scene.  Good music and a sense of humor make them a popular band with cross over appeal.  Now with a good TEAM behind them, you are undoubtedly going to hear a lot more french horn in your music.



  1. Pingback: Team Building 101: DIY artists, you are not alone… « Lawyer 4 … « Team Building
  2. webryder86

    Great post, I’m all about making artist development a team effort & keeping it DIY and utilizing online assets to their fullest…

    However a point to contest: “DO NOT sign a manager agreement that blindly gives your manager 20% of everything you make unless that manager used to work for U2 or Jay Z. ”

    Yeah sure, that’s a great idea if your certain your going to jump to the top of the charts, but if your niche musician & I’m a manager dumping countless hours of time into your account, I’m going to be sure to get a return on investment. Only way any manager can sustain themselves on taking in 20% on all streams of revenue on independent clients is if their working with 5-10 clients concurrently, which is a tough thing to do when you got a couple struggling artists on your hand, they need all the attention they can get.

    My hesitation in jumping into management head first has always been the numbers, they just don’t play out compared to my opportunity costs. Having 2-3 independent artists grossing a healthy $100k income annually would only produce me $40-60k gross annually, not including the expenses involved in making the whole operation work (office, internet, some help?). Not to mention getting your artists to the point where they can net $100k annually is a journey in itself (that would take about 2,000 true believing fans about 40k touch n’ go fans for the each of them).

    Your thoughts on making the numbers work for a start-up manager?

    • lawyer4musicians

      Finally!!! The perfect comment. Someone challenging me. Gopi, where have you been?

      Here’s the thing with management. I’ve seen it work both ways. Artists want to avoid a situation where a manager forces a contract on them that gives away 20% without seeing what the manager is capable of doing for the artist. If the artist knows that “but for” the manager’s help, credit in the industry and power of persuasion, they cannot get to where they want to be, then it may be safer to sign an all in deal with a manager.

      There is a “smell test” involved. If a manager that does not have a proven track record approaches an artist and quickly produces an all in 20% agreement, it probably doesn’t smell too good. If on the other hand, the manager and the artist have been working with each for some time and its clear that the manager is making things pop for the artist, then the same agreement won’t smell quite so nasty.

      Typically, if an artist is doing his or her job, they are going to be responsible for most of the revenue that comes into the band no matter what. I just don’t want to see artists running into agreements without seeing what the manager can do.

      I agree that it is definitely a tough road for indie managers (same as it is for artists). I have seen managers shift to a consultant role because of the very issues you raise. As a consultant, you can take on more clients and spend less time on the road and dealing with booking for an artist while still creating revenue streams for the band. Consultants can pitch multiple clients for license or endorsement deals and charge a fee or take a percentage. So there may be a little more flexibility there.

      Thanks again for the comment. Hopefully others will follow!!!

      • Gopi Sangha

        Josh! I’ve been everywhere! Haha, recession got me working twice as hard!

        However your right, a sort of trial period certainly needs to happen before an artist & manager commit to each other. It goes for the manager too, no one wants dead weight on their roster because an artist cannot follow through or manifest the will to put in work. As far as consulting it certainly can be a service a manager can offer alongside management services, giving you a product mix and the ability diversify your streams of income.

        Glad to contribute to the discussion! Keep up the good work with the site, it offers great advice.

  3. Hugh Hession

    I wrote a post on my blog in parallel to what you are saying about the quantity (and quality) of music in the marketplace. It is true. Music overload is eminent in the music industry of today. However, artists need to have an understanding of their market and niche to get clear on their direction. Many just “throw” their music out there, and that doesn’t make sense.

    The commercial, major record label niche, as I call it, does not fit most – although it’s ironic how so many artists try to go this route, no matter what their genre is.

    There are many niches in music, but one thing does stand, in which I completely agree. The music has to be exceptional. Sometimes it’s more about performance (re: Jam bands). Other times, its more about the song.

    The thing is, and this has always held true – bands have to be able make something happen by themselves to create the initial demand. It’s not viable for any music business professional to take on a band that hasn’t in some way shown that they are committed by getting over that initial hurdle of “standing out” from other bands. This takes grueling rehearsals, booking gigs, and other online and offline promotional strategies to create a demand for their music, which directly impacts the type and quality of venues they play. When they have gotten over this initial hurdle (and lets face it, many bands don’t), then there is some potential viability which will in turn cause some heads to turn and enable a band to put together a quality team of professionals who can actually take the band to the next level.

    I was an indie manager in the 90’s and actually did quite well with my company. At that time, there were many, “I am your buddy so I can be your manager” types. I capitalized on my professionalism, knowledge and experience. Indie manager’s have really increased in number since that time and are becoming more common place – there are some very good companies out there and that creates more opportunity for the up and coming artist. However the viability factor always plays into it or it doesn’t make financial sense for an industry biz professional to be a part of the team (at least from a commission standpoint).

    Great resource, by the way. Keep up the good work.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.