So, throughout my work as a music industry marketer and educator, I’ve found that there’s often a lot of confusion surrounding the various terms for different roles in the music business. It’s really tricky to find concrete info for this – especially in the metal space. Teaching people about this stuff is something I’ve always tried to fix with my band education Instagram series, #BaconsBits. You can check it out on my page @MattBacon666. Now some of this might seem basic and obvious, and I’m certainly not touching on every role in the music industry – just some of the key ones that a DIY unsigned band should know about.
This is the most basic term, and the one you’re probably most familiar with. A promoter is someone who books shows. This can be anyone from the folks who book your local metal dive bar to the guys who get bands gigs at Madison Square Garden. If you want to get a show in a new town, you need to be out there looking for promoters. They’re the people in the know who get new folks to come to the shows and help out the scene on a DIY level, every single day.
PR is probably the most important term on this list for a band to know if they’re trying to get at least a few eyeballs on them. A PR person is someone who can get you reviews and interviews. It astounds me how many bands don’t pay for PR and then wonder why they get no coverage. If you want any sort of press — especially in 2019, where we are oversaturated with bands — then you need to hire a PR person. They have the contacts at blogs, magazines and even relevant Youtube and Instagram pages, all of which you need in order to get more eyeballs focused on your music. A lot of bands think it’s very hard to get in touch with PR people, but it’s not. They want your money, and they also want to help you. Best of all, many don’t cost all that much money to hire. If you’re a band in your early stages, I recommend you hire a PR that focuses on bang for your buck.
- Booking agent
A booking agent is someone who can go out and book shows for you. He is NOT the local promoter or the guy booking shows at a specific venue. Instead, he goes out and books tours for a percentage of the guarantees — aka, the door money — that you bring in. Sounds great, right? Well, you need to remember that most legit agents only want to work with you if a) there is demand and b) they would be making money. While it’s certainly possible to find people who might help book a tour for $20 a show, at that point anything they’d normally do is something you could easily do on your own — their services are a convenience at best. Keep payouts in mind (bigger agents usually charge 10-15%) when getting in touch with agents. If they’ve already got bands generating a lot of income, why would they pick up your DIY act that nobody has heard of?
- Tour manager
The tour manager is the guy who goes out on the road with the band and makes sure everything runs smoothly. They’re the ones getting advance details with the promoters, overseeing and helping with load in and mucking in with all that good stuff. They are NOT usually the band manager. Do NOT ask them to manage your band. Instead, maybe offer to buy them a beer. There’s solid value in knowing tour managers, especially since many of them — especially the experienced ones — know a lot of promoters, agents and managers. They are connected, but grumpy and tired because they’re always on tour and trying to wrangle bands. Keep this in mind.
This is the quasi-mythical one. Everyone wants to meet an A&R man, yet no one seems to know what they do. Well look, I do A&R at Prophecy Productions and Ripple Music, and what I do is dig up new bands for the label to sign, and then work to market them. With Prophecy Productions, I’m also the project manager for my artists, which is to say I guide them through the album release process collecting their assets like music, art and layouts. These people are NOT responsible for booking tours, but they might be able to open some doors and make some useful introductions. Remember though, you’ll still need a booking agent when you get signed to a label. The average A&R person probably signs between 4 and 10 bands a year out of hundreds of submissions. Often, even if an A&R person at a bigger label is your friend — and they like your band — they might not be able to sign you, because the finances just aren’t there. When building a relationship with an A&R person, think about the relative value of your band and how much you could realistically sell. I’m lazy. I don’t want to sign a band who expects everything done for them. I want people who are motivated and give a shit. Prove you are that guy, and an A&R person will be much more likely to sign you.
- Label head
Label heads. They’re the guys with the vision, especially in the underground metal scene. Often, they’re also the guys with the business mindset. They’re the ones making the tough calls, deciding if bands get cut, and often the ones who make the final call regarding whether or not a band gets signed. In most cases, especially in our world, they’re the people who own a majority stake in the label. They oversee every project the label currently has going on, and routinely have to check in with their various staff. If they’re doing it as a one man-operation, then they’re also the A&R and the label manager… but more on that later. If they have a team, however, then they’re probably even harder to pitch to than the A&R guys. This guy is also NOT responsible for booking tours, but like A&R people, he might be able to get you opportunities.
- Label manager
The label manager is the guy who puts everything together. He oversees the various staff and makes sure all the books are balanced. This is probably one of the most ‘bean counter-esque’ positions in the music industry. Frequently, the label manager is also in charge of project management as well as making sure that records get released both on time and with appropriate costs. On top of that, sometimes they’re even the people responsible for determining the size of an advance. One more time for the people in the back – this guy is NOT responsible for booking tours. Usually, this is a very internal role, so a label manager might have even fewer connections than his peers and coworkers in A&R, or any other external-facing role.
If you’re looking for a jack-of-all-trades person to help you with every aspect of your band, you’re looking for a manager. These guys sit across a wide spectrum, from the bassist’s girlfriend who can answer emails quickly to high level industry guys who put together badass tours. As you can probably expect, while the ‘friend manager’ can be helpful early on to make some connections and take some weight off your shoulders, the doors they open aren’t always the widest. The people who really open doors are the ones who have been in the game for a while, with real connections formed over years of experience. For example, in my case, I’ve often noticed that when someone signs to a label, the label can’t do nearly as much as a dedicated manager. Most managers only have a handful of clients they work with directly, while labels will have dozens of artists at any given time. Thus, a manager can give you more personalized attention and work more in (and towards) your direct interests. Some managers are just as capable of getting tours as booking agents, while others view their responsibility as just getting the band a booking agent. As with booking agents, good managers are often in very high demand and very hard for smaller bands to become affiliated with. They usually ask for a 10-20% commission of your bands gross income.
Point being – this article is in-depth and has a lot of info, but I hope it was helpful and able to give you guys a little bit of guidance on how to navigate your band’s way through the music business. Feel free to email me if you have any questions – firstname.lastname@example.org