Assembling Your Team

A huge factor contributing to the success or failure of an artist lies in selecting the members of the artist’s team. There are so many facets of the music business and a true artist typically does not want to be directly involved with every aspect. Rather, he or she wants to focus on what is important – creating and performing music. Of course, that does not mean that you should sit on the sidelines and let your team members make all the decisions. You have to find a happy (safe) medium and learn to delegate (where appropriate). Just thoroughly investigate and make sure you are delegating authority and responsibility to reputable, reliable individuals who are experienced in the music business or, at the very least, have a hunger and drive that will jump the many hurdles of this business. Some good starting points are: and Billboard’s various directories (visit for further information). So who are these players, you ask? Here are just a few, but feel free to add others to the mix (e.g. street teams, groupies, etc).

First, and likely most important, is your personal manager. This is your main “go-to person.” He or she assists you in making major business decisions, assembling the rest of your team, coordinating and promoting various aspects of your career (e.g. ensuring you meet the right people in the business; working with various individuals to ensure smooth sailing with recording, tours, your budget, publicity campaigns; and acting as an intermediary between you and others interested in your music, etc). Picking a manager that suits you requires consideration of a few factors. Of course, a well-connected manager who is passionate about your music and willing to devote his life to your success would be an ideal choice. However, early on in your career, these types are not pounding at your door so you will need to analyze other options. Do you appeal to a major manager’s younger associate who simply adores you? Do you know someone who is inexperienced, but head-strong and willing to invest the blood, sweat and tears to catapult your career into stardom? Personally, I like the latter as I was, and still am, that person. Dedication, passion and a willingness to kill (metaphorically, of course) for a client are great character traits in a manager, even if he or she is not that experienced. Negotiating a deal with your personal manager can be complex as they typically take 15%-20% of your earnings (although certain deductions are industry standard). These deals, like many other music-related deals, should be drafted and negotiated by an attorney who understands the ins and outs of the music business.

Speaking of attorneys, the second member of your team should be your attorney. Two issues that should be addressed early on when shopping for an attorney are (1) experience in the music industry; and (2) what they charge. There are different fee arrangements so make sure you understand exactly what you are being charged and for what services (e.g. some charge hourly fees while others may take a percentage of your profits). Choosing an attorney requires an analysis similar to choosing a personal manager. Clout is always good, as is experience and the attorney’s network within the industry. As a side note, it is important to know whether there are any potential conflicts of interest (some of his or her clients may have interests adverse to yours). Finally, just like shopping for a personal manager, shopping for an attorney requires you to do your homework. Use the internet and reach out to other acts the attorney is/has worked with to get a feel for the attorney’s style, personality, etc.

Next up are business managers. This is your money man or woman. He or she will handle all the financials – although, he or she may not ultimately decide your fate. Remember, the money might not last forever, so do not spend it like it is going out of style – you will live to regret it. When selecting your business manager there are some key points to address: Is he or she a CPA? Does the person have Errors & Omissions insurance that will protect you if he or she mishandles your money? What kind of philosophies does the person practice in relation to investing? Other than maintaining your income, what will the person be doing on your behalf? How often will he or she report to you on your financials and what will those reports entail? Customarily business managers charge hourly rates, flat fees (or combination of those), or take a percentage of your profits (somewhere in the ballpark of 5%). If there are two things I want you to take away from this article (relating to business managers) those would be this: (1) family and money, in most instances, are like oil and water – they do not mix. Most family members are inexperienced with handling finances and if things go awry, they are the hardest to fire (for obvious reasons); and (2) to the extent possible, YOU SHOULD BE THE ONE SIGNING AND CASHING YOUR OWN CHECKS.

Finally, agents make a great addition to your team. These are the people who primarily focus on booking your live performances and because of that, their fees are much more limited. They are also regulated by unions which place a cap on what an agent can charge an artist (typically around 10%) and there are exclusions customary in the industry (e.g. earnings from records and songwriting, etc). Although agents are an important piece of the pie, you will likely have little contact with the agent. Instead, your personal manager will be the one with the majority of direct contact. As such, you might want to make sure that the personal manager and agent mesh well together.

This article represents a fraction of what should be considered when developing your team. Of course, the agreements you execute with these individuals will vary on a case by case basis. Nevertheless, it is imperative that you educate yourself as to potential candidates and that you take any necessary precautions to protect yourself and your product – your music!

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Michelle is a Partner at Swanson, Martin & Bell, LLP and is licensed in Illinois and Indiana state and federal courts. With a Masters of Law in Intellectual Property, Michelle is the Vice Chair of the firm’s Entertainment and Media Practice Group and a member of the firm’s Intellectual Property Litigation and Transactional Services Practice Group. Her copyright and trademark practice focuses on intellectual property prosecution and related transactions, including performing trademark availability searches and providing advisory opinions, as well as preparing and filing trademark applications with the United States Patent and Trademark Office, and copyright registrations with the United States Copyright Office. Michelle also assists with the oversight of the firm’s extensive trademark docket and conducts required monitoring and maintenance of clients’ trademark portfolios, as well as provides clients with corporate counseling and innovative corporate solutions to address their respective needs.

Michelle further provides comprehensive representation in the drafting, negotiating and executing of various entertainment-related contracts and licenses, including but not limited to band member agreements, artist management agreements, session player agreements, performance agreements, sound engineer agreements, recording and personal services agreements, publishing agreements and licensing agreements. As a former artist manager, she has implemented many facets of national and regional tours, assembled benefit and charity concerts, communicated with various industry personnel, facilitated radio and internet publicity campaigns, arranged radio, print and internet interviews, and assisted in the development of press kits and websites promoting local talent. Michelle has also guest lectured on entertainment and intellectual property-related topics at The John Marshall Law School, DePaul University College of Law, Chicago-Kent College of Law and Azusa Pacific University (CA), as well as served as a panelist on various other entertainment-related continuing legal education courses. Michelle is an author and editor of the Litigation and Industry Updates Column of the ABA’s Entertainment & Sports Lawyers Journal and has also had numerous articles published by the Chicago Music Guide.

In addition, Michelle serves as Chair of Swanson Martin & Bell, LLP’s Community Service/Pro Bono Committee and proudly volunteers her time as President of the Associate Board and as a pro bono attorney to Lawyers for the Creative Arts, a non-profit organization that provides free legal services to eligible clients in all areas of the arts. She also currently serves as Events Chair for the Chicago Chapter of Women in Music, a non-for-profit organization dedicated to fostering equality in the music industry through the support and advancement of women. She recently served as Chair of the Young Lawyers Division for the Illinois Association of Defense Trial Counsel, where she was recognized as the Rising Star recipient and received a Meritorious Service Award and President’s Commendation.

DISCLAIMER: The information contained in these articles constitutes general information and guidance and shall not be construed as legal advice applicable to or provided for any particular person or entity, and shall not be deemed to create an attorney-client relationship between Ms. Wahl and anyone who elects to read and/or rely, to any extent, on the material provided herein. In that respect, Ms. Wahl hereby expressly and specifically disclaims any such legal relationship, but encourages any person or entity seeking a legal advocate pertaining to the issues addressed and discussed herein to contact her directly for further information. Ms. Wahl may be reached at Swanson, Martin & Bell, LLP (330 N. Wabash, Suite 3300, Chicago, IL 60611 or via telephone at her direct line: (312) 222-8585 or e-mail at: