“Everyone should work for free”

January 22, 2012

Admit it.

If you’re like most artists, you have this ridiculous belief that everyone should work for you for free.

I know because I hear it from all my friends. Other managers. Publicists. Radio promoters.

Well, the problem is, that’s an unrealistic idea.

Crazy and unfair to boot.

But, before I tear it completely to shreds, let me defend it for a second.


Yes, I know where it comes from.

You think people should work for you for free because your music is so great.

And maybe it is. And maybe it isn’t.

The problem is that so many people in this world are DESPERATE to work in the “music business” that they WILL work for you for free.

Anyone can hand out business cards and call themself a manager, even if they have NO idea what they are doing and have never managed a band before.

So of course, someone in that situation is going to have to “work for free” because they have no proof that they can manage anyone effectively.

I know because I used to be one of those people (a new manager, although I always was good at it, even when I had little to no experience).

Of course, when I was starting out as a manager, I was working for free. But that was fourteen years ago.

And, back then, in fact, I wasn’t just “working for free” – I was losing money.

But it was ok.

Because, like many managers, I had a day job and I managed “on the side.” A lot of managers do this when they are starting out.

A lot of people manage as a hobby.

And that’s fine.

But what about when you get past that point?

Sure, I worked for peanuts, essentially “for free” for many artists. Sure, we made some money…but it was peanuts compared to the hours I put in.

And to add insult to injury, after working pretty much for free for four years for one band, that band screwed me over big-time when even a tiny bit of money came knocking from a shady music publisher. Now the band is nowhere and the shady guy got fired from his big, hot shot job at a major studio. Ha!

Anyhow, I digress.

Point is, I think a lot of artists get SPOILED by newbies and believe that EVERYONE should work for them for free.

And sadly, a lot of artists and bands also somehow justify it being ok to fire their manager and screw them out of money when things FINALLY take off after their manager’s YEARS of hard work and making NO money from them. All I can say is karma is a bitch.

But back to my original point…


Now, there’s a BIG difference between having a manager that’s say:

1) an accountant by day — and manager by night (or a manager that works from home)


2) having a professional, full-time manager

I’ve crossed over from that first group to the second (although thankfully I was never an accountant).

Yet, artists seem to always approach me with this thought process, “I’m making NO money. I have no fan base. My songs may or may not even be that good. But I want YOU to work for ME for free. It’s your job to figure out how to make money for me, even though I’ve never made any money for myself.”

Ha ha ha ha ha ha.



In case you haven’t noticed, there have been DRAMATIC shifts in the entertainment business over the past few years.

Most notably, record companies (and publishing companies) are downsizing more than ever before — to the point where even many of my long-time A&R friends are losing their jobs….and not getting hired back.

With labels (and publishers) signing less talent, that means less money all the way around.


How do managers get paid?

Normally, the biggest way is from a percentage of your record label or publishing deal advance.

Whereas back in the 1980s or 1990s, it wasn’t unheard of for a band to be getting nice 7 figure deals, that just isn’t happening anymore. So back then, a manager could make a good six figure income if they just got one artist a good record and publishing deal every year.

Flash forward to 2012. Budgets are being slashed left and right. And sure, labels and publishers are still signing bands. But you’re much more likely to see a $50,000 – 360 record deal being offered today than anything in the six or seven figure range.

What does that mean?

That means managers aren’t reaping those big commission checks anymore.

And without them, there is no more “work for you for free ’til you get signed.”

Now you’re just coming to a manager and flat out asking them to work for free.


I don’t know what the future is but at an industry event the other night someone told me that “big” and “established” MANAGERS of star acts and well-known bands are now asking ARTISTS TO PAY MANAGERS FOR THEIR SERVICES. Or taking 30-35% commission instead of the standard 15-20%. Because even 50-100% of $0 is $0.

Ha, and to think all these years, I was just AHEAD of my time.

Of course managers are doing this.

Because those big, fat record and publishing advances aren’t there anymore.

And managers need to get paid somehow.

It makes sense.

Any reputable manager isn’t running a charity.

Managers run a business with staff and rent and expenses to pay.

And don’t forget, most managers are self-employed so we’re all paying for our own office rent, assistants, sick days, health insurance, cell phones, computers, computer repairs, it all adds up. Plus, there is no “paid” vacation time or 401K plan when you’re a manager so you have to build that into your cost of doing business.

Maybe now that you see how things have changed, you’ll stop asking a manager to work for you for free.

(Please feel free to forward this email and this email alone to members of your band or other artists you know. But please do not post it on a web site or blog without asking permission. Thanks!)

Copyright @2012 True Talent Management. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without author’s prior consent.

Jennifer Yeko
True Talent Management ~ True Talent PR

9663 Santa Monica Blvd. # 320

Beverly Hills, CA 90210

http://www.truetalentmgmt.wordpress.com – Read my music blog for advice on making it in the music business


One comment

  1. Yay! Thank you!! I agree whole heartedly.
    I’d like to add that the same goes for musicians and artist.
    I’m sick of giving my music away for free or having to pay to play. The other day, a musician friend asked me to play on his album for free. And the reply I hear is ‘but you are getting exposure’. That’s crap!!
    This is my living. I don’t have a day job. I license and sell my talent. That’s all I have.
    I have rent and bills also.
    In 1970 a 4 piece band averaged $400 a gig. In 2012 it’s exactly the same. Even less sometimes. We are the only group of people in America whose income has never increased with the inflation.
    Everyone is up in arms over the SOPA act cuz their afraid of losing access to the internet, and while it’s a terrible act, we need better Anti-piracy laws and a stronger union.
    So to hear record label execs whine because they are losing money and managers now want to charge 35-50% is disgusting, while the artist is still, and always has been, throughout time, the least paid. And….without the artist they have no product to sell.
    Artists need to stop feeling desperate, know their worth, and demand to get paid!!! Then maybe they wouldn’t need to ask others to work for free.
    And everyone would be happy!!

    Doña Oxford
    Working Musician

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