Choosing Your Artist Team – Know Who You Are Dealing With

teamwork© 2015 Vinny Ribas

It is very difficult to build a full-time music career all alone. More often than not, at some point in time you will need to rely on the help, expertise, skills and connections of other people to do the things that you cannot. The never-ending challenge is knowing that you’re putting your trust and your career in the right, most capable hands. We’ve all heard the horror stories of musicians getting taken for a ride, or getting into contracts that they can’t get out of. So, before you make a commitment, or worse yet, lay down your hard earned money, here are some questions you should ask various team members:

Band Members

  • How serious are you? Be sure that their level matches that of your own.
  • What experience do you have? What bands have you been in, if any? Have you been a band leader? Be sure that you are getting someone who will fit right in.
  • Are you looking to join a band as a sideman, or do you want to join a band in which you are part owner? Be sure their expectations are the same as yours.
  • Have you ever been on the road? For how long? Some musicians think being on the road will be a blast until they see how much hard work it is. Others miss their families or significant others too much and begin to resent the situation. Be sure that your band can handle your touring demands.
  • How often are you willing to rehearse? Do you need to get paid to rehearse or do you consider it part of the job? What you want to know is their work ethic.
  • Do you have references? It is vital that you can talk to former band members to learn about any challenges that you might have to deal with.
  • Do you have any other commitments that might prevent you from fulfilling your commitment to this band? Some musicians might have separate gigs already on their books, have a vacation planned or have a day job that might conflict with your own gigs or plans.
  • What are your strengths? What are your limitations? Be sure that the person has a realistic perception of himself or herself. You also want to know up front if there is a gap that you will need to have someone else fill, such as back-up vocals or heavy lifting.
  • Besides your talent, what else can you bring to the table (computer skills, graphic design, contacts etc.)? Obviously, it helps when you can keep some work in-house.
  • How much money do you need to make? How long are you willing to work with the band to work up to that salary range, or do you need that much money immediately? Be sure that their expectations are in line with what you can realistically pay them.
  • Are you counting on working with this band exclusively, or will you be picking up gigs whenever and wherever you can find them? Again, their intentions need to coincide with your needs.

Booking agent

  • Some agents book specific venues that they have relationships with. Their job is to provide the entertainment for those venues. Others book artists and are willing to make whatever phone calls they need to, including cold calls, to keep their artists working. Some agents do a little bit of both. Other agents, especially those with popular acts, sit around and wait for the phone to ring. Which kind of agent are you? Be sure that what they can do for you meets your needs.
  • Do you book one genre specifically, or multiple genres? Be sure that they book your kind of entertainment.
  • What size acts do you book? Be sure that they have experience selling your size act.
  • In which venues do you have established contacts? It’s always good if they can fill at least part of your calendar with established connections.
  • Are you experienced in putting road tours together? If your goal is to be on the road, you may want someone who knows how to route you, and who works with other agents around the country to help fill your calendar.
  • Do you pursue private events (weddings, corporate events etc), or only book them as the phone calls come in? Be sure that they can book the kinds of venues you want to play.
  • Do you work with other agents? If you think you might have other agents calling you who are willing to split a commission, this could be vital.
  • What experience do you have booking my kind of act? Some acts are harder to sell than others for any of a number of reasons, such as being brand new, playing a crossover style of music or playing all originals. Be sure that he or she has the right experience for your situation.
  • Do you want me to sign an exclusive contract with you, or am I free to book dates on my own? What are the terms? The length? Is there a trial period? Is there an acceptable termination clause if things aren’t working out? Be sure that you don’t get locked into a contract with someone who ties your hands but doesn’t fill your calendar.
  • If I book a gig on my own, will you expect a commission? Some agents will require this if they book you exclusively because they assume that they could have filled that calendar date themselves and thus earned the commission. This could get tricky if you already have good booking contacts of your own.
  • What percentage of the income do you take? Agent commissions can run from 10% -20%. Be sure that the gigs they book pay enough to afford their commission. Also be sure they their commission is in line with similar agencies.
  • Can you provide references? Who is on your roster now? Who was on your roster that you no longer book? Be sure to check their references so that you are confident that the agent is reputable and will treat you right.
  • Realistically, how much can you fill my calendar? Be sure that they can meet your needs.
  • How much money do you believe you can get my act? Be sure that they can book you for enough money to pay all of your expenses and make a profit.
  • How does the commission work? Find out if they get paid from the gigs and then pay you, or if you get paid from the gig and pay them. Will you know the exact amount that every gig is paying? Beware of agents who get paid from the gig but never tell you how much the gig actually pays. They may be making much, much more than their commission.
  • What do they expect from you? Be sure you can meet their expectations as well as them meeting yours.


  • How much artist management experience do you have? Be sure that they have a level of experience that meets your needs. Keep in mind that certain kinds of successful business experience can count towards actual artist management experience.
  • Do you have experience managing acts in my genre? Different genres require different career paths. Be sure that they are familiar enough with yours.
  • How much do they get paid? Most managers earn a flat percentage of your total income from all sources. Some expect their percentage to increase as they move your career farther up the ladder. Be certain that they are worth what they are asking, and that you can afford to pay them and still pay all of your bills and make a profit.
  • What is his or her vision for your future? Be sure that it coincides directly with your vision. You can’t afford to have a manager pushing you in a direction that you don’t want to go in.
  • Realistically, what will you/we accomplish in the next 6 months? Year? 2 years? 5 years? Be sure that they are practical and not just selling you a pie-in-the-sky story.
  • Will you need to raise capital? If so, will that be their role? Have they ever raised capital before? Do they have contacts to tap into? Your plans may include a major recording project, substantial marketing, financing a radio tour or other substantial expenses beyond your current means. Lack of financial backing may completely stifle your plans. Be sure that they are competent in this area if you are going to need to go that route.
  • What contacts do you have right now that can make an immediate impact on my career? While this is not mandatory, it certainly counts towards ability and credibility.
  • What are the terms of your management contract? Be sure these are acceptable and that there is a clearly defined way to measure their performance. Be sure that there is a way for you to terminate the contract for non-performance. Have an entertainment attorney review this before you sign it!
  • Can they supply references from artists they’ve managed? Industry contacts? Be sure to not only check all of their references, but also the credibility of their references.
  • What do they expect from you, and what can you expect from them? These points are critical. The last thing that you want is to have unrealistic or unacceptable expectations on either side.
  • What level of authority and control do they expect or need to have to do their job? This is critical! Do they work for you while you call the shots, or will you be placing your entire trust and career in their hands? Who is the final decision maker with regards to gigs, promotions, picking a producer, selecting a publicist etc. In which scenarios will there need to be mutual agreement?
  • Will you be their only client, or will they have several? If they are managing other acts, are they higher grossing than you? You need to know where you will be in their line of priority.
  • How much time can they realistically devote to managing your career? Will it be a full-time job for them? Be sure their commitment matches your need.
  • Very specifically, what duties will they assume? You never want to assume that they will take over doing something that they had no intention of doing (booking the act is a perfect example). You also want to know what things they will be doing that you’ve been doing up to now so that you are not duplicating efforts. Be sure that they spell it our clearly and that all of your bases are covered.
  • How often will they communicate with you? Do you want a manager who reports every day on what is happening, or is once a week enough? Again, this goes back to meeting expectations.


There are many attorneys who have never studied entertainment law. There are very specific laws and practices that an entertainment attorney should know or at least be aware of. Be diligent in finding someone who knows the law in the area you need him or her for and will fight for you.

  • What experience do you have practicing entertainment law? You want someone who knows the ins and outs of the industry and who can advise you on what’s best for you.
  • Will you negotiate on my behalf or just issue or review contracts? This has to match your preference.
  • What kinds of recording contracts have you negotiated? Have you negotiated a ‘360 deal’? This obviously only applies if this is something you are seeking or being presented with.
  • Are you proficient in filing copyrights and trademarks? These are specialties, especially in the trademark area.
  • Have you ever successfully defended copyrights and/or trademarks? It’s good to know what you can confidently call on your attorney to do.
  • How up-to-date are you on the current copyright wars, and what is your position? After all, you want someone who keeps current and who will defend your rights as a copyright holder.
  • Have you negotiated sponsorship deals? Do you have sponsorship contacts? Having an attorney who is familiar with this and who has contacts for you is a definite plus!
  • Do you have high-level industry contacts that you can introduce me to? Some entertainment attorneys will present you to record labels they’ve worked with.
  • What do you charge and how do you bill? 6-minute increments? Monthly stipend? By the contract? Be sure they are within your budget.

Obviously, some of these questions will not apply based on your particular needs and situation. In addition, there are probably other vital questions you will need to ask for the same reasons. The bottom line is that you need to make sure that the people you bring onto your team are honest, reputable, capable and affordable!

About The Author

Vinny Ribas

Vinny Ribas is the founder and CEO of Indie Connect, an artist management, consulting and training company. The company also hosts networking and educational events and has published an app that connects people to the Nashville Music Industry. During his 40+ year career, Vinny has been a full time musician, artist manager, booking agent, songwriter, studio owner, producer and the Entertainment Director for the NV State Fair. He has also coached over 1000 artists and songwriters. He is a sought after speaker and has authored over 400 music industry articles. Vinny is also the CEO of Top 4M Entertainment, an independent film and television production company.