Music business explained

Who is who in the music industry (a guide to good networking)

17 August 2015

When you play at an international festival, you'd like to get most out of presence there. If you are lucky enough to perform, you already made it further than many artists ever will. But there are people at these festivals who might be able to take you even further. There might be agents, managers, A&R people, publishers, PR people and promoters who are worth investing your time in, as they all play important roles in the music industry. They cannot perform miracles and make you rich & famous if you don't make great music or if you are not 100% dedicated, as at the end of the day, you and your music are the product that needs to be sold. To be able to sell something, you need to have an audience. So there should be people out there who are willing to pay for your music, either by attending live gigs, buying your music (online or CD) and/or buying your merchandise. If you make music people want to hear (and pay for!) and if you are not a copycat but make original music, there is a chance that someone is willing to invest time and money in you to build up a career.

Manager (artist manager)

Behind the scenes of any great artist is a great manager working to create a great brand. A manager can be your best friend or someone working for a bigger organisation. He or she guides your professional career in the entertainment industry and is involved in counseling and advising you on all matters related to your musical careers. Usually a manager gets 15-25% of all your earnings, which means that if you are a starting artist, this manager probably earns 15-20% of nothing. Very often your contract with your manager is a gentlemen’s agreement: there is no money to be made but you both invest time and money (tor phone calls and other office costs). It is a good idea to start with 1 year and evaluate after that year how you want to continue. Managers come in all shapes and forms; most important is that (s)he believes in you, is willing to invest you and that you agree on your career path. With your manager you work on your short term and long-term goals. The manager is the person to speak to your (booking) agent and negotiates a record deal for you. You might be on the phone with your manager at least once per day discussing tours, publicity, contracts and other business. As long as you both have the same goal and aim for the same thing, it can be a good match. Keep communicating and evaluating, checking whether you are on the right track to reach the objectives you have set. There should be some kind of plan, and everything you do is part of that plan to reach your objectives.

Objectives are different for everyone; one is happy to make music on a daily basis, others want to buy a house or need to support a family so need to earn money, you might want to travel abroad or become (very) rich & famous. Together with your manager you decide what you are aiming for and you make a plan to make it happen.


An agent helps you getting shows. He or she represents an artist or group to request performances at venues. S(H)e tries to sell your act and that is hard work, especially if you are unknown to the public. The agent deals immediately with your manager or record label, or with you if you don't have a manager or record label. They negotiate terms and might be on the phone 8 or 9 hours per day. Obviously they take a percentage for all this work, usually 15%. Sometimes you have various agents for various regions; an agent for Southern Africa, one for North Africa, one for the USA, for Europe etc. When you discuss the deal with them, you don’t only talk about the percentage they will take out of your fee, but also if the deal is exclusive or nonexclusive. Are they only one in that specific region representing you, or can other people also try to get shows for you in that same region. It is very important that you discuss (non-) exclusivity, as you don't want to have an angry agent on the phone because (s)he contacted a festival and someone else already beat them to it. That is not good for you and definitely not good for the agent's reputation.

The reputation of the agent is important. The agent builds up partnerships with certain venues and festivals; it's all about good relations and trust. They always deal with promoters and they most (all?) promoters in their territory personally. They invested a lot of time and energy to build these relationships and that is good for you because they can ask promoters a favour to book you if you are an unknown act. When you send an email asking if you can play somewhere, chances are that your mail is never answered, maybe not even opened. But if an agent sends a mail or makes a phone call, the promoter surely will respond.

Besides facilitating live performances for you, your agent will negotiate deals, arrange technical set-ups for shows (tech rider), securing hospitality, logistics, promotional efforts and send out contracts to the promoter or club manager. The agent reports to you and/or your manager. MYA's advice is to choose an agent for territories you don't know; find a European agent who is specialised in your music genre to secure bookings for you if you want to play in Europe. A friend can do it as well, or you can give it a try, but we recommend investing in an agent over a manager.

Tour Manager

One your agent has booked you a tour, you might hire or get assigned a tour manager. This person will help you with the tour; all technical aspects, logistics, transport, etc.

Label / A&R

In the old days it was every artist’s dream to sign with a record label. If you want that, you have to impress the A&R person of the label you want to get signed to. A&R stands for artist and repertoire; these people spot talents for labels. They go to shows, listen to Soundcloud and check YouTube to find new talent. This rarely happens out of the blue, so you and/or your manager and/or your agent should invite A&R managers to your live shows. You should try to get them enthousiastic about your music. And you should make sure you try to get signed to the right label. Preferably a label that already has a lot of experience with your genre or with similar artists.

Once you are signed to a label, they call the shots. They decide about your career. If you are one of the lucky few to get money paid in advance; WATCH OUT – you have to pay it back. That is called recoupment. They give you money, rent an apartment for you or buy you a car, but you will have to pay it. You might end up rich for a couple of weeks and the next 3 years you are touring and selling albums, but you never see a penny because you have to recoup the money. Don’t get excited when they wave a big fat cheque in front of your face; payback time will surely come and you won’t make any money for years.

We are not saying all record labels are bad; not at all. It is great when you have a label behind you. They have all connections, they know what they are doing and they can make you a star. Just be careful what you sign. Watch out for words like exclusive, worldwide, indefinite and recoup(ment) and check for how long the contract is. Best to try 1 to 3 years first before signing away your music and creative freedom for life. Because the A&R agent might have something to say about the music you record. They will give advice and you have to follow that advice. They will help you selling more music and you have to trust them that they know what sells and what doesn’t. There are 4 big major labels and thousands of smaller independent labels. Do good research if you get offered a contract.

You don’t have to be signed to a label. You can release your own music and remain in charge of everything. That is a lot easier with access to internet and computers. You have to learn about publishing and distribution, but it is possible to do everything on your own. Many years ago money was made through selling recordings, nowadays more money is made through performing live show and selling merchandise.


Another way of making money with your music is through publishing. When you are established as an artist, you might want to consider signing with a publisher. These people ensure you are getting paid when your music is used commercially. When your music is used in an advert or television series, you can earn quite good money. It’s all about ownership of songs, about rights of songwriters and song owners. A song is the work, the composition made and the writer of the original song owns the song. You cannot copy other people’s music without their consent, you need permission from the owner when you reproduce a song or use a sample that is written by someone else.

You only do business with a publisher when you think they can add something extra. If they help you with getting syncs for example, that is the right to synchronise your song with visual images. For example when your song is used for a television programme or in a commercial. This whole publishing business is quite difficult; you need a specialist to explain the details to you as it is hard to understand. So if a publisher or publishing company contacts you, seek advice from a lawyer specialised in copyrights. Don’t just sign a contract because they promise you the world. Most of the time they just buy your songs so they own the rights and it is not clear what you get in return. Check the territories; is it for the whole world or only a specific region? And never sign anything that doesn’t have an end date. Always make sure it is only for a couple years!

Communication & PR or Publicist

Like the ladies of Blackmore Creatives say, "Public Relations is not optional. Whether you take control and develop a commu­nic­ations strategy or not, people will make assumptions about your brand and your business." Communication & PR is something to think about when you run your own business. And when you make music, you are running a business. It can be hobby, but if you want to earn an income with your music, you need to treat it as a business. As an artist you are a brand and you need to think about how you want the audience to see you. Every picture you post and also pictures other people post on social media, add to your image. You have to think about your communication strategy; what is your core message? Whom are you targeting; who is your audience? Who are the people you want to convince to buy your music?

You will need a biography, good high-resolution pictures and for some shows you might want to send out a press release to get extra media attention. In the age of social media, people do not believe what you write about yourself, but they are critical and want to know what other people think of you. So you better give the others good information that tie in with your objectives and portraying the image that you have chosen. Don't let others get away with their interpretation of you, but beat them with a good communication strategy. Everything you do is worldwide knowledge nowadays; there is nothing like a private moment anymore, so always be aware of what you do in public.

If it does go wrong, you can ask your PR advisor to help you with crisis communication. What are you going to do if someone posts something negative about you? It is about music, so it is likely your music is not to everyone's taste; you cannot please everyone with your music and you have to think how you are going to deal with negative reviews. What if someone posts a message of you smoking while you want to have a clean image because your target group is young and easily influenced? Will you ask them to delete the post? Your social media strategy should tie in with your overall communication strategy which will have to suit the general objectives you have for your career. Everybody can post status updates and tweet messages; but what is the purpose of these posts? Do you want to start a dialogue, interact with your fans and followers, or are you using social media to send out messages? Are you going to start competitions, ask questions or ask your fans to upload videos of them dancing to your music? There are many ways to engage with your fans and followers. It is what makes social media powerful; it is two-way communication, you can interact and you are closer to your fans than ever before.

Writing a communication strategy is not an easy task. It is recommended to ask a specialist to help you. It is not about writing without spelling mistakes, but it is all about setting (SMART) objectives


Promoters are people who work for a venue or festival. They book artists; you, your manager (if you have one) or your agent (if you have one) will contact a promoter to ask if you can play at his or her venue or festival. Promoters usually want to see evidence that you are a good performer; that you sound good live and that you have a positive stage presence. Best way is to make a little video where you perform live. It has to be sweet and short; some promoters can get up to 200 demos per week, so they only look at your video for 10-30 seconds. So make sure it starts with the best parts! No intro, but immediate action. Include a shot of the audience and a how you look on stage. The video itself doesn't have to be of the best quality, can even be filmed on a phone, but it has to show that you can perform and play a crowd. The video can be posted on YouTube and you can have your music available on Soundcloud. Nowadays, you don't have to burn CDs or send your work by post; an email with links to videos and your music should do!

The packaging of your demo or the look of your webpage is important as well; you have to stand out to make sure they even open your message or put your CD in their player. This is where it can be good to have an agent, because (s)he has contacts and builds relationships with promoters and can recommend you. It makes it easier to get noticed by a promoter if (s)he knows your agent. And someone with knowledge of communication and PR can help you with the packaging; with your biography, perhaps a logo and writing a promotional text. You can do it all yourself, no need to hire agents and PR people if you cannot afford it, but it does help. Keep in mind that you have to capture the attention of the promoter first with your letter/email or packing and secondly within the first 10 seconds of your video. When you send everything by email, make sure you have the correct name and email address and call a couple of days after you sent your mail.

Once a promoter is interested in you, (s)he will also check your social media; how many followers do you have on Twitter? And how many fans on Facebook? They will check where these followers and fans are based. If you only have followers and fans in Zambia, it might be a challenge to get booked for Mozambique. It is recommended to spend time on your social media and broaden your fan base. If you want to play in Europe, you need to have followers and fans in Europe. Or a good European agent who believes in you and your music and wants to put time & energy in mailing and calling venues and festivals.

Once you have a booking, you will have to send a technical rider. What kind of equipment do you need? How many microphones? Make sure you have tech rider ready in case the promoter asks for it. Please get advice from a sound engineer who can help drawing a stage plan (who is standing where on stage). If you are a DJ, make sure you communicate whether you use vinyl, CDs or play from a USB-stick.

As a starting artist, you won't get offered a lot of money and nowadays it is hard to get your airfare or other transport costs covered. You have to have a plan on how to cover your expenses for travel, accommodation, food and communication. Only when you are a headliner and attract a lot of people who pay money to see you perform, you might be able to get all expenses paid, but most of the times you have to sort everything out yourself.


You can read more on how to get booking under 'Artists' (Bookings and Touring Overseas). For questions, please do not hesitate to contact Annelies to become a member of the MYA community.