Music Marketing

Emily White: Why Commission Based Teams Are Awesome For Musicians & Why You Should Want One

Emily-whiteGuest post by Emily White of Whitesmith Entertainment and Readymade Records.

Managers in the Entertainment industry take a lot of flack and have various stereotypes associated with their image and motives. In fact, music industry professionals in general are often pegged as sleazy, heartless businesspeople leeching off of creative minds to (gasp!) make money.

With the decline of the modern music industry over the past decade, job pools have shrunk and competition is fierce to work in a field that many in the general public view as on its last legs. However, the people in the industry who have stuck around through the music industry's metamorphosis throughout the 21st century have narrowed the field to people who truly love working in music (for the most part). They are skilled in working with artists and have a deep knowledge of music driven for the most part by a love of music.

I've spent most of my career working as a manager. Managers work on commission. No matter what level an artist is at in their career, managers generally only derive income if the artist has revenue coming in. Thus, it is in the manager's best interest to do whatever is best for the artist all-around, keeping short and long term creative and career goals in mind at all times. In addition, this model incentivizes this manager's work and ensures that actual work gets done.

So much of my job is to make certain that people working with our artists do the things they said they would do, prioritize working on their music if their plate is too full, and complete projects all the way through. Publicists, promo, and marketing folks have almost always worked for a fee up front. I value their work and skills. Even in a world-of-mouth social media society, I treasure a well-trained PR person who can work with myself and our artists on discussing how we can best communicate their genuine selves through media channels from a TV chat show to Reddit. Radio is still, arguably, the number one driver of music sales in the industry and is a vital tool to any release campaign. There are folks who have relationships to get music on the front of digital retail, etc. You get the idea. Just because we can put music out into the world all by ourselves doesn't mean it still doesn't need or benefit from promotion.

But how do we get the fast world of modern marketing and promotion to slow down for a second? Take a breath, listen to the music they're working on and select projects that they really feel they can have an impact on to get the word out as far and wide as possible.

Don't get me wrong; there are brilliant promo folks throughout the world who are selective with their client base and time while creating and executing diligently thought-out campaigns. However, most of the time, my artists often feel that press reports exist to impress us or the publicist's boss or that radio folks just take on whomever will pay them.



Brendan Benson & Emily White

Brendan Benson


All too often, I hear about promo firms that just pitch/throw everything at the wall hoping that something sticks instead of selecting the most effective promo opportunities and creating a strategy. For Brendan Benson's new album, I wanted to figure out a team that first and foremost loved and believed in Brendan's music, but also who would put thought into what kind of results we would get from their work in a music campaign.

Brendan is an extremely gifted artist who has been on majors, indies, and hybrids of both. He spent 2011 producing five albums, including his own. For a writer, musician, and producer like Brendan, creating his own label was a no-brainer. We launched Readymade Records & Publishing a few months ago so his creative output has a platform in which music can be released whenever and however he wants without barriers.

However, once music is created, most agree that a promotion campaign is still necessary for all of the reasons outlined above. There are a few options here that have been tried over the past few years. Often a private investor will come in to fund the team that a label might have had in-house in eras past. Other times publishers are getting involved to hire promo teams since they might have artists who are unsigned in their catalogs. Or, if they can afford it, the artist can fund the team themselves.

In Brendan's case, he had already laid out his own investment to fund the recording of the album. It was hard for me to justify Brendan spending even more on hiring a team to promote music he had already spent his own funds on. Why go into even more debt before we've even released anything? In addition, this is a man that has been staring at long press reports for 15 or so years. Like any artist, he's looking for tangible results from his team, not just lists of outlets that have been pitched his music.

Brendan is the producer, writer, and artist on his album and hasn't been paid yet. As his commission-based manager, I haven't been paid on any of the work I've done putting this album together. But neither of us is worried. We really believe in the new album, What Kind Of World, and we're both used to being paid "later." For Brendan that is often in the form of royalty statements and for me as commission-based manager, again I only receive income once the artist has. But, if Brendan is the creative and financial reason his new album exists, why should everyone else be paid first?

Creating A Commission Based Team

Our promo team for Readymade Records is entirely commission-based. Team members will be paid for a year on sales and synch revenue, the latter historically being Brendan's number one revenue stream. I'm mentioning the length of the term, as I wanted to figure out a way to encourage promo folks to work music longer than just a few months. As Readymade Records evolves, the more projects a team member takes on, the more revenue streams they have coming in every quarter, creating sustainable income for both the team and the artist over a longer period of time than just for a flat fee in front of doing the work.

We are so honored to be working with experienced yet forward-thinking companies such as Nashville's Thirty Tigers, Big Hassle, Terrorbird Media, Hard Boiled, Inc., Dick Huey & Corey Denis at Toolshed.Biz, Scott Cresto's Music Alternatives, Lojinx, Chapple Davies, & Freeman PR in the UK, as well as Downtown Music Publishing & BMG Chrysalis.

Assembling a team who is willing to be paid based on the results of their work in promoting music is a risk. However, this model benefits the relationships between the artist, their team and the team's work on the artist's music. The team can also work together without ego for the greater good of the artist and always focus on moving the project forward. In addition, we think we'll get the best out of our already great industry folks by aligning their revenue streams with the artists.

I'm biased, but if you have a team member who is willing to work on commission via management or promotion, be psyched! That person is working with you because they believe in you and your music. Sometimes commission-based team members are taken for granted. If you have one, realize that they are your partner in moving your music and career forward and don't have to be there. The goal here is to work together and maybe by reverse engineering how we've structured team payments and paying people on actual results instead of projected revenue, we'll move forward in a way that benefits both artists and industry folks for the long-term.

© Whitesmith Entertainment 2012

Share on:


  1. I’m just curious: how do commission-only folks feed themselves in the meantime? That would be a truly interesting post.

  2. Same way us managers feed ourselves when developing acts. By working other projects.
    Emily’s model is geared towards acts like Brendan Benson, but at the same time is scalable. A young act isn’t gonna get the hottest radio plugger in town on commission but they might get other smaller services on a commission bases.

  3. Great article. Lots to consider. When you read anything it’s about using the information provided in the most suitable way that you can. Some things works, some don’t but it’s all about refinement at the end of the day. Learning..

  4. agreed! commission-based is the only way to go, it’ll get the ones who truly believe to sign up… though, this article could’ve been a lot shorter 😉

  5. “Assembling a team who is willing to be paid based on the results of their work.” this is the model for a record label, not indie contractors.
    personally, i would not work this way doing promotions because i’m not be involved in sales or distribution, and my being paid would be contingent on what the sales and distribution people did. so, i could do a killer job and the album could still tank at retail and it would have nothing to do with how well i did. but i would be penalized by being paid poorly anyway. then there’s the issue that you can do an excellent job all around with an album, great recording, tons of publicity, and it doesn’t sell because either people simply won’t buy it, or the artist won’t tour, etc. also not my problems and i shouldn’t be penalized for it. those are the concerns of the artist, manager, and record label. finding people who believe in the record and who will do an excellent job is an issue that you have to face whether you’re paying a flat fee or a commission. but a commission isn’t a fair pay structure for an indie contractor. there are way to many factors that are completely out of the indie’s control.

  6. there’s also the issue of unscrupulous managers who have no problem hiring a promoter with loads of enthusiasm, and then turning around and stiffing them for part or all of their fee, essentially because they think that the media should have liked their artist’s release more. it’s the “i’m not paying you because my artist isn’t a rock star yet” attitude. screw that. i want to get paid for working just like anyone else.

  7. A major factor not discussed is whether that commission is based on gross or net. A manager on a gross deal is incentivized to create revenue, but if that revenue isn’t profitable the artist doesn’t get much benefit.

  8. I think if you are actually on the team, then these are actually all your problems. I actually get paid both through commission, booking tours, and also through a hybrid-label model that I own in which I pay publicist and other flat-fee parties. Having seen how money changes hands in both scenarios, I understand why you’d want to get paid a flat fee and how other people dropping the ball can mess with your program. The issue that I see is that without someone funding your flat fee, you have no work. With the amount of people going belly up, the number of people who can bankroll you is shrinking, and you yourself have been paid over and over possibly without never having invested any money in any musician ever. Through aligning yourself with good artists and good teams, you’d be able to weed out working with people who drop the ball like that and you could make money on commission. And if you were decent and had a decent reputation, you’d have work (and money) coming out of your ears because people would know you are truly on their team. And if you were decent at cutting deals, you’d have a great percent and incentives at different sales thresholds, and so by getting paid on the backend, you’d be able to make much much more through the rev share. Really the end result of the decline of the music industry on the people working in it is a bunch of us who want to get paid, and none of us who have the money to pay. The commission model might fix that, I’m with Emily on it.

  9. Commissioned team members is exactly why we consider the “partner model” of digital distribution (BFM’s model) to be better for artists than a flat fee model (e.g., Tunecore). When the parties both are on the same side of the table, it creates a win-win scenario.

  10. Excellent vision folks. I’m a (25+) year seasoned Mystic, Wisdom Instructor, Enrichment Speaker, Radio Talk Host and new author of a Planetarian Culture Wisdom book series, looking for exactly what you’ve indicated as your agenda. People keep telling me I’ll never find anyone with high skill sets to do this, however I was a high ticket Sales Trainer and know the value of expertise.
    If you know anyone interested in doing what you do regarding music with a Figure Head quality of charismatic women whose not trying to “just sell books” to the masses … but intending to get the big banks, mortgage companies, realtor chains to pay US BIG TIME … for the right to custom package my volume one for their 100s of 1000s of customers, please feel free to share my email, and I’m serios. Congrats on your vision and trust that since you’ve cast the vision, it can unfold as your reality!! Warm regards for 2k13.

  11. I’ve been championing this method of working for years, but all the people I’ve approached haven’t been interested. Hoping your article might give folks a better perspective. Thank you, Quinn

Comments are closed.