The Hip-Hop Artist's Guide to Team Structure

Mike Walbert
Posted by Mike Walbert on Jun 5

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We'll be covering numerous subjects in depth to provide artists with the tools, resources and knowledge necessary for success. To do so, we’ve discussed artist development, marketing, making money and the rapidly evolving music business with industry professionals.

This guide is intended to be a resource for artists, but we highly recommend researching each topic and continuously learning about best practice, trends and tips. 

In this post, we'll cover:

        1. The Importance of a Good Team

         2. Team Members & Roles

         3. Assessing Your Need

         4. Pro-Tips

THE IMPORTANCE OF A GOOD TEAM

Not all teams are created equal. Some managers, lawyers and booking agents are simply not good at their job. A bad team can hurt an artist as much as a good team can help . Your goal is to surround yourself with passionate, hardworking, smart and creative people. (Keep squares out of your circle.)

With that said, if you look behind every successful artist there is a good team that keeps them grounded, creative and moving forward. In order to keep you focused on your art, it’s critical to have a few teammates on the field that can contribute to the overall goal.

TEAM MEMBERS & ROLES

No matter how big or small your team, having an understanding of definitive roles will make everyone’s life easier. James Supreme' (Tour Manager) says, “It helps create a level of accountability and responsibility. Everyone on my team is expected to do what they do best. Naturally, a lack of definitive roles creates internal conflicts when there are no set expectations for individual performance.” 

EVERY team is unique, but here are a few key team members and their potential roles: 

Managers

A manager can play many different roles, but many of the best managers should be involved in high level strategy, business development, creating opportunities, run point on large decisions, keep things organized and build a team. On a smaller team, the manager usually ends up doing a lot more.

Sonicbids puts it very well… “a good manager will help you navigate your career, but also helps build the rest of the team you'll need as your brand grows. Having an effective manager on your team will allow you to focus more on the creative side of things, while he or she advises you on business maneuvers that will enhance your presence and ensure that a proper strategy for success is laid out and followed.” 

Some teams have 2-3 managers that oversee different tasks. There are three generic categories we can put managers into:

  • Tour Manager
  • Day-2-Day Manager
  • General Manager

1) Tour Managers run point on the road. They should be the point of contact between the artist and the venue, promoter, media, merchandise booth, booking agent and everyone else. The tour manager ensures that the tour runs as smooth as possible and oversees all monetary transactions between promoters and artist. They should be very organized and ideally a good friend, because you’re going to be spending a lot of time together. If you have a tour manager, you’re doing alright!  (Pro-Tip: Don’t go on stage until your tour manager has your money in hand.)

 Money: There are a number of ways to work out payment, but here are two. The tour manager can be paid a stipend for each day or show on the tour. You could also work out a percentage of revenue from shows.

 2) The Day-2-Day Manager does a little bit of everything. They manage the artist's time and makes sure the artist continues to make music, be creative/productive and that everything runs on time. The Day-2-Day manager can also run point on emailing, social media and daily communication.

The day-2-day manager may also be the Artist manager, if they are fully dedicated.

 3) The General Manager can be high level and focus on strategy. They should have a plan and be proactively creating opportunities.

Money: Managers should not be paid a salary. Managers should make 20% of all revenue created by the artist.

 Your Manager(s)…

  • shouldn’t work harder than you. The artist is the lifeblood of a team. Your team will feed off your energy and should work as hard as you, but not harder.
  • may have a few clients, but be cautious of a manager with too many artists. An ideal manager has between 1-3 clients. If they have more than 3 you probably aren’t a priority.
  • should be a fan of your music.
  • needs to believe in your vision, and help shape and craft that vision.
  • should be the first person on your team.

Booking Agent

The booking agent works directly with promoters and talent buyers to get artists on shows, tours and festivals. They should help route tours and negotiate deals to protect the artist’s interest.

Here are some notable agencies (with agents) that work with hip-hop artists: 

  • Paradigm Agency (https://www.paradigmagency.com)
  • Cara Lewis Group (http://clewisgroup.com)
  • ICM (http://www.icmpartners.com)
  • The Agency Group (http://www.theagencygroup.se)
  • Universal Attractions (http://universalattractions.com)
  • Rogue Agency (http://rogueagency.us)
  • Creative Artists Agency (http://www.caa.com)
  • White Mountain Agency (https://www.whitemountainagency.com)
  • Nue Agency (http://nueagency.com)

Booking agents can and should play an active role in the development of an artist. They should be fielding offers and presenting opportunities for an artist. There are a lot of great booking agents that constantly look for and sign up-and-coming artists before there's a lot of demand, but that is rare. Most agents want to see some demand and momentum prior to investing their time and energy.

With that said, you really don’t need a booking agent until there is some demand. There isn’t much they can do for an artist that no one wants to book. As the demand for your shows increase, having a booking agent on your team will be vital to your development.

A booking agent should have other clients and connections with promoters and talent buyers. Since they often speak on your behalf, this person should also be extremely knowledgeable about the music industry.

Money: Booking agents make 10% of booking fees.

Lawyer

 A lawyer will tell you that a lawyer should be the first person on your team. There is some truth to that, because you shouldn’t sign anything without having a lawyer - that represents your best interest - review the document. However, if you’re just getting started and building momentum, there isn’t a lot of paperwork.

Your lawyer should be smart and respectable. They should ideally be connected and understand the rapidly changing music business in depth. They need to have passed the bar and legally able to practice law in your state. It’s great if they are a close friend or family, but the chances may be slim. 

There is no perfect way to find a lawyer, but here are a few tips:

  • Ask your friends, family and other artists that you know in your city
  • Find out if there is a law school with an entertainment department nearby. You can ask a professor to recommend a recent graduate.
  • Do you have a linkedIn account? You can explore the LinkedIn universe. 

Regardless, do your research (via word of mouth or some online digging) to find a respectable music lawyer.

Lawyers representing musicians can offer a variety of services like reviewing contracts, negotiating deals and handling any legal matters that might arise. If you are negotiating a label deal, or any partnership for that matter, you’ll definitely need someone in your corner negotiating on your behalf. 

Publicist

A publicist's job is to develop awareness and interest in an artist using all forms of media. Even the most talented artists have a hard time reaching their desired success without some media attention. It is the publicist’s job to make the media aware of your shows, collaborations and music releases.

 A publicist may also help with high level strategy and brand development. They should already have relationships with select media outlets (and influencers) and understand what the media outlets pick up. Your publicist should be both well-written and well spoken, considering they’ll be expected to communicate your endeavors to the media. 

Creative Director

Some artists are fortunate enough to have a creative director that oversees all of their visual assets. Many artists undervalue the importance of a very strong visual brand, but humans are very visual people, so you need to connect with people’s eyes as well as their ears. A talented creative director with a vision can make a huge impact on your development.

You should trust the creative director completely with your look and feel. If you don’t then you shouldn’t work together, simple. Ideally the creative director has professional training in the arts, and can be the visual extension of your musical talents. 

ASSESSING YOUR NEEDS

 Now that we’ve outlined a few definitive roles, let’s discuss your needs. Do you really need a booking manager? If you’re not frequently booking gigs, probably not. 

Okay, so what do you need? It all depends on what you’ve got cooking. It’s simple really; you can’t have a manager with music or something to manage. You can’t work with a publicist without having anything worth publicizing.

 Supreme says, “I think most artists want managers before they have anything to manage. An artist should seek official management once they have exhausted all of their efforts, resources and relationships to achieve their end goal, and are ready to listen to and trust someone else's opinions.”

If you’re still not sure if you should seek management, use RapRehab’s checklist as a guide. In short, it may be time to find a manager if you find yourself in serious need of: 

  • An organized approach
  • Additional contacts
  • Support
  • Motivation
  • Expense streams
  • Income streams
  • An additional hand on the steering wheel of your career

In the early stages of your career, your management team can respectively be a close group of friends --- friends who believe in your talent and/or friends that have free time to dedicate to helping you accomplish your goals. Unless your friends aren’t self-motivated enough for the job, this sort of arrangement could be the framework of an all-star management team later in your career. “I've found having close friends on my management team creates a productive work environment that's conducive to success,” Supreme says. “When one works with their friends, it becomes less about the individual's ego and more about the team's end goal since there's already a level of established trust and respect.”

Then again, you could be your own management - at first - if you can handle all of the duties outlined above. Every hip-hop artist is in a different stage of their career, and that’s okay. 

When you are ready to grow your team, you should approach it like an entrepreneur might grow their company. Start by understanding yourself. Know what you do well, and what you do poorly. Find team members that help fill in the gaps and add value to your team. If you’re unorganized, make sure someone on your team is VERY organized… etc.

PRO-TIPS 

Pro-Tip: If your booking agent isn’t actively working with you and bringing opportunities to the table, it might be time to find a new representative. 

Pro-Tip: The lawyer should represent you, and only you. They shouldn’t represent your team members. However, if you have incorporated yourself, they may also represent the entity you created. In this case your team may have equity in that entity. 

Pro-Tip: If a lawyer ever gives you a weird vibe, bounce immediately.

Pro-Tip: Managers can be the most valuable person on your team, or they can be full of it. Be careful. 

Pro-Tip: Your team might change over time. You may realize the team you start with isn’t the team that’s going to get you to where you want to go. Regardless of what may happen, make sure you’re honest and transparent with your team. Trust and loyalty are important, and you never want to burn bridges.   

Pro-Tip: For more info on publicists and PR, read The Artist’s Guide to PR & Press.

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To help us paint a picture of what your team structure should look like, we’ve pulled a few points of advice from James Supreme, a fresh-minded producer/tour manager who’s helped connect career dots for platinum selling names like Lil Dicky, MadeinTYO, G-Eazy and more.

Need more advice? Read other chapters of our Artist Guide here.  

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Mike Walbert

Written by Mike Walbert

Mike Walbert is the Executive Director of the A3C Festival & Conference. As as partner in the business Mike oversees various aspects of the business, including: Business Development, Sponsorship, Branding and Marketing. Mike officially joined A3C in 2009 as the Artist Director. Since 2010 Mike has managed the strategy and team that have grown A3C from a regional showcase to an internationally recognized institution in hip-hop culture.

Topics: Featured, Artist Advice, Essential Guide to Hip-Hop

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