How to Create an Effective Team That Is an Extension of You
Surrounding yourself with the right people to grow your career comes down to focusing on who you are and what you need.
When you’re working to get your music career on solid footing, there’s no question that surrounding yourself with a team of like-minded individuals is essential. It’s pretty basic logic: You can’t possibly effectively cover all the bases of tour planning, label issues, merch strategy, and beyond while still nurturing your creative muse (not to mention performing).
There are different ways to configure a team, but in general most acts opt for a manager (who acts as the business arm of the artist), an agent (who handles the touring and events components), and a label (which releases the recorded work); the label deal may include a PR representative who will interact with the press and public regarding your work. As your popularity expands, there may be roles that are subsets within each of those components, such as a day-to-day manager, versus the overall manager who develops strategy and handles big-picture issues.
So how do you choose who to work with, and what are the critical attributes of a strong team? The answer isn’t the same for everyone. You first have to have a clear understanding of what you, as a totally unique individual, want and need.
The first and most important element in creating a strong team is self-awareness: understanding who you are, and having an honest picture of your own strengths and weaknesses. This will help you know where you fit into the music world and also make it easier to identify what kind of support you need. If your passion and knowledge don’t extend to visual art and identity, choose a merch manager with a leadership mindset. If you’re an introvert and find networking to be an exercise in torture, it’s important to find a publicist who can boost your signal while also respecting your boundaries.
Be wary of any potential team member who doesn’t (first) ask you a lot of questions, and (second) listen carefully to the answers. Remember that they will have a crucial role in where your path goes, and how quickly it gets there. Katie Crutchfield, the mastermind behind beloved indie act Waxahatchee, spent several years on the road as part of punk act PS Eliot and enjoyed moderate success on the DIY circuit before retooling for the new project. As Waxahatchee grew relatively quickly, she started to understand her need for a team. “I think it’s helpful to ask… what do I want going into this?” says Crutchfield on figuring out what she wanted out of picking a team. “[My booking agent] asked me early on, ‘Who are the artists that inspire you?’ and, ‘Where do you want to be as an artist?’ That was really helpful.
“There was part of me that was totally resistant to diving into the music business,” says Crutchfield. ”I was really resistant to it. But surrounding myself with the right people made it much easier for me.”
One step at a time
After you’ve looked inward, it’s time to look forward. You don’t have to hire an entire team all at once; the stepping-stones of each artist’s musical journey aren’t necessarily laid out in the same order. For example, if you’re an ambient act, live gigs might not be your focus at the outset; hiring a manager and forming a relationship with the right label might be a smarter first move. Similarly, a punk act will often find it more beneficial to road-test their work before going into the studio, so an agent and tour manager might top their list.
Daughters’ shows were renowned by the time the Providence, R.I., grindcore band quietly went on hiatus in 2009 after seven years of performing, leaving jaws agape and a trail of stories in their wake. Once they decided to return a few years later, their legend had expanded, causing the band’s popularity to skyrocket and forcing them to retool their back end to include management, which they hadn’t bothered with before.
“Striking on the live stage might be very important to you as a band,” says Daughters drummer Jon Syverson. ”If that’s the case, you might want to start with a booking agent to help you get shows. But it might make sense to get a manager to help you gain interest from labels and agents [first].”
Crutchfield agrees, adding that though she “chose management way late in the game,” her guiding philosophy in developing a team was not to fill a role until it was needed. “My team has all come from the DIY world originally, so I knew they would be patient with me and help me do things right,” she says. “Early on I had a friend help me with management, and then I self-managed for a while, and eventually things were getting hairy—I knew needed [more] help.”
Once the time came, Crutchfield used that inward focus to figure out what she needed. “A manager is a big, nuanced position and I knew that I wanted someone who was going to be an extension of me—be a hard-ass and fight for me without ever ruffling any feathers, [who would] respectfully stand up and do what’s right. That’s not what everyone is looking for, but that’s what I needed,” she says. “And I see those traits in my agent, PR person, and label too.”
Look by looking around you
Identifying the right people to join your team should start with a close look at the people in your circle and maybe just beyond. Start with peers and those within your personal network. These people will probably know your background, and will have some understanding of the path you want to take into the future. “Interestingly enough, [my PR agent] was already my friend and I would see him at the shows, so there was some trust there,” says Crutchfield. “He knew who to approach—and why—for everyone on the press side because he understood where I came from. He knew how to play it.”
Similarly, forging a relationship with the right label can just be a matter of putting out feelers within your larger network, where an understanding of your work ethic, your reputation, and the types of ideas that appeal to you will travel hand-in-hand.
“Everyone we’ve worked with has approached us. If you have no interest in working with us, I’m not here to change your mind,” says Syverson with regards to searching for a label. “There have been people who we approached in the past, but we felt that it wasn’t a relationship worth pursuing if we had to convince them. So when we were putting together the label situation, it turned out that our label was just as interested in us as we were in them. Our management was a similar thing—I couldn’t imagine trying to release our last record without them.”
Search for “the one”—but be open to failure
Success with your team has a lot to do with chemistry. Finding people you trust isn’t an easy task, and finding those who can act as your surrogates can be even tougher. Just go in knowing there is give and take, and you will need to make your intentions and ideas clear no matter how much you believe that you understand one another. And just like any other type of relationship, there will be ups and downs—or you might eventually decide to sever your ties completely. A manager’s job may be to manage your career, but it’s your job to manage them: Communicate clearly, making sure they are living up to your expectations, and if they’re not, allow yourself to move on.
Building a team that will elevate you and your career is essential, so keep your standards high when looking for people who can execute your vision on all levels. That’s the way of success.