You've come this far doing things on your own - is it time to get someone to help out? You can choose to run your DJ career alone, and many DJs get a huge distance like this, but working with someone who can help you take the next step and grow your DJ career with you can be a smart move. That's where an artist manager comes in.
First, a proviso. We're a website dedicated to teaching beginners how to DJ as well as how to get gigs, and this article is definitely for our readers who have been DJing for a quite a while, have started playing outside their bedrooms, and are starting to get busy in their respective local scenes. If you're overwhelmed because you're getting too busy, well done! Maybe it's time to take the next step. That's what this article is about.
What does a manager do?
According to Artist Management For The Music Business by Paul Allen, the manager is primarily responsible for "planning, organising, directing, and controlling" (up to a certain extent) your career as an artist.
Generally, a manager guides your career, helps you make more informed decisions, and grows your reach in the industry. She / he has your best interests in mind, and without you playing shows and collecting fees, they don't get paid - this is why a manager's main job is to create more and better opportunities than you are already capable of getting.
You may be handing some career control over to the manager, so it's best to make clear from the very beginning how your relationship will work...
Getting a manager won't guarantee success and festival headlining slots, but if you have no idea where to go from where you are now and you want to kick things up a notch in your career, a manager can work with you to sort that out.
1. You've gone from playing shows once a month to every week, sometimes just because you "have to"
For a lot of us, DJing starts out as a hobby - something to do after school, over the weekend, or to meet girls (and guys). When that hobby becomes a source of income on the side, we take it a bit more seriously because it can pay the odd bill or a deliver a killer weekend. This is great if you can count the number of shows you play in a month using one hand.
Soon, though, you realise that you can make more cash by playing out more, and before you know it you've got a DJ schedule going that involves gigging in places that you really like (good), venues that you're lukewarm about, and bars that you absolutely detest (bad). I call this "gig creep".
These are probably places where you don't enjoy the music policy or it's a boring venue but the pay is decent. (Otherwise, why are you still there?) If you've been doing this long enough, you probably also begin to realise that while you bring your "A" game to the gigs you truly enjoy, your enthusiasm wanes for the gigs that you don't. Worse, the staff's telling you that it shows.
How a manager helps
The manager will navigate this tricky situation with you by offering career guidance. You can ask your friends and family exactly the same thing, and I can guarantee that they won't give you the same industry-specific advice that only an in-the-know manager can, and this alone is very much worth the price of admission. A manager will tell you whether it's worth pursuing those gigs that aren't fun ("Just suck it up!") or if you should let them go and look for better opportunities that will strengthen your DJ brand.
Your manager will also be objective about your gig prospects, and will tell you flat out when you're being unfairly exploited: I've played gigs that generated thousands of dollars for the bar but was too shy to ask for more than US$25 because the management were my friends. Big mistake!
2. You've missed out on getting paid after a show, the gear isn't set up properly when you arrive yet again, your timeslot gets traded with another DJ's because he doesn't want to play at 1am, etc...
When you've just started spinning, it's OK to show up at the gig and find that you need to do a bit of DJ booth rearranging to fit your controller or to get things set up the way you want it - this is why it's so important to know basics like how inputs and outputs on a mixer work, how club-standard gear like CDJs connect to DJM mixers, and how to work booth monitors.
It's also likely that, at some point in your career, your slot will be bumped in favour of another DJ ("I'm so sorry, but can my guy go before you? We'd like to be home before breakfast.") You'll also probably face the frustrating experience of playing an excellent gig without getting paid because the staff / promoter's piss drunk or incapacitated, which means you're going home by foot instead of that luxury cab you were promising your date all evening.
That's all normal and part of experiencing what gigging is really like, however the time will come that these things will begin to infuriate you, because no matter how much you ensure that things go smoothly by the time you pop into the club, sometimes things just don't work out due to human error.
For those who can roll with it, that's great. But if you're going to be in a lousy mood as a result, then that's going to affect your performance, and that's something detrimental to your career.
How a manager helps
A manager will negotiate, double check, and even chase on your behalf so you don't have to - that means you can focus on delivering your best performance while not having to worry or be bothered by what could go wrong. All you need to do is show up, play a mind-blowing set, and treat your fans / clients right.
Of course, your manager isn't a wizard with a magic wand: Sometimes, stuff will happen out of everyone's control, but having someone authoritative on your side (aside from yourself) can be a huge factor when it comes to timeslot grabbing and fee-hunting.
3. You receive more text messages, phone calls, e-mails, and Facebook messages booking you for shows than you can keep track of, and you've double booked on at least one occasion as a result...
If this has happened to you, it's actually a good problem to have. What isn't good is that missing out on replies and double booking lead to you building a reputation for being someone disorganised and unreliable. You'll find out rather quickly that your bookings start to dry up, and by then it'll be too late - you're known as that type of DJ.
This is a symptom of something that'll eat you up much later on in your career: If you don't get a handle on adding shows to your calendar, replying to requests, and crosschecking dates before committing, you can kiss your gigs goodbye. It's a prime example of a mismanaged DJ career.
Of course, you can make a conscious effort to be more organised with the way you that you keep track of your correspondence and show diary, but this is easier said than done, especially if you've tried to before but have failed repeatedly.
How a manager helps
A manager will help you keep track of all your bookings by forcing you to be organised. This could be as simple as keeping an online calendar that both of you share, to something as complex and personal as developing a system for bookings that makes sense to you. A good manager knows how to deal with all types of people, so at the very least he / she should be able to deal with you!
If you're inundated with requests from promoters, clubs, agents, and others, your manager can also take charge of this, freeing you up from having to deal with them directly.
Note that a manager is not your personal assistant, so it's not his or her job to remind you of everything you need to do or to get you a vodka Red Bull: Your commitments are your responsibility - your manager just makes sure that you stick to them as best as you can.
4. You've exhausted your resources and don't know how to take things to the next level, and you feel like you've stalled as a result
You've done your weekly gigs, you've bagged that local bar residency, you've got a small but loyal following on your podcast, and you've even opened for a touring DJ. That's all great, but then you start feeling as if your progress has plateaued - you suddenly pine not just for more shows, but bigger ones with greater reach.
You were happy getting a couple of hundred followers and plays on social media, but now you want thousands. The crowd at your residency kept swelling up to a certain point, and now you're starting to see a slight drop in numbers at the door.
Personally, I think this is the best reason to get a manager because this is also the time that a manager is most likely to get onboard: You've done the hard work, learned more than the basics in your craft, and have a following, so you've got a valuable bargaining chip that you can bring to the table.
Unless you're working with a manager who wants to build your career from the ground up (very rare these days), they'll want to work with someone who's already put in time building the foundation for a DJ career.
How a manager helps
A manager will help get you unstuck by increasing your opportunities and reach through their network, influence, and experience. The relationship between DJ and manager is very much an "exploitative" one, albeit in a mutually beneficial sense: You gain more chances for earning income and gaining exposure, while the manager receives a portion of that income for the services she / he renders. The more popular and in-demand you become, the more valuable that manager's portfolio becomes as well.
Managers usually get a 10-20% commission from your income. What this implies is you'll want to factor that cost in whenever you accept a booking that gets in front of you, so you may want to rethink your gig strategy, eg Should you play a smaller number of shows but with bigger fees? Do you start adding corporate and wedding gigs for a bigger payday?
Indeed, your career strategy will be one of the things that you'll want to sort first with a manager - you'll both have a clearer picture of what needs to be done when you both know exactly where you'd want your DJ career to be headed.
DO YOU NEED A MANAGER NOW?
There are many other advantages to having someone with the knowledge and experience that a manager has, but we've just picked out the ones that make the most sense to the budding DJ who's ready to take things up a notch.
I think the biggest mistake I’ve made as regards DJing thus far is not actively seeking out guidance from a manager when my career was "peaking" half a decade ago: At one point, I was playing out six times a week, juggling a fully staffed recording studio business, and doing shows locally and abroad. Obviously this is a recipe for disaster - I burned out and stopped gigging altogether. The worst part is I wasn't able to save any of the money I'd made from all those gigs!
The lesson to be learned here is that sooner is better than later - I had my chance to turn my then-DJ career into something great, but I missed it because I wasn't smart enough to realise that I needed a helping hand then, and that's something that I really wish someone had talked me into because I was dead serious about building a career at the time. That ship has sailed.
Nowadays I just play the occasional bar gig and a festival or two, and I know that it's not enough to keep me top of mind in the eyes of clubgoers, but I still do hope that I get another crack at being a professional, gigging DJ in the future. For now, I wrote this article as part advice and part warning so you don't make the same mistake that I made!