How to build a team around you

When you’re scrolling away on socials and seeing everyone else playing gigs, releasing music, and getting deals, have you ever felt left out or wondered ‘how can I manage to do all that while remaining true to myself as an artist?’ Why does everyone else seem to understand how this all works, and I don’t?  

The good news is that with the right advice from those who have the experience and knowledge of how the industry works, there’s nothing stopping you from creating a career in music that will last. 

My name is Jennie Cashman Wilson and I’ve been working with musicians since 2009. I have experience as a certified artist coach and mentor, and since 2018 I’ve led on a career development programme for my charity, Abram Wilson, which has supported some of the most successful musicians working in the UK jazz scene; including Sheila Maurice-Grey from KOKOROKO, Cassie Kinoshi from SEED Ensemble, Spencer Martin from Church of Sound and Lunch Money, Sans Soucis, and Giacomo Smith from Kansas Smitty’s. 

Fred Bolza has been my partner on this programme and has an inside view of how the industry works from the very top level, right the way down to running your own label. He’s one of our lead facilitators drawing on his 10 years of experience working at Sony Music as VP of Strategy, before setting up his own label and management company New Soil. 

Together Fred and I have worked with over 200 musicians providing gig opportunities, advice, mentoring, coaching and strategy sessions, helping them secure label signings, distribution deals, album and LP launches, high-profile performances and multiple awards and nominations, such as the Mercury Prize, Ivor Novello Awards, Jazz FM Awards and Guardian Album of the Year.

Along the way many musicians have told us they struggle to understand how the music industry works. They want to know: 

  • how to earn money to create a viable career for themselves 
  • how to release their music
  • how label and publishing deals work and how to get them
  • and how to find a manager or a booking agent to help grow their careers

Recently we reached out to ask what your top concerns were right now, and were completely overwhelmed by the response. Many of you have the same issues holding you back, especially if you’re in the early stages of your career. 

For example, how do you get a team around you who will protect your interests and help your career grow? Most importantly who do you need to get in your team first? There are a number of steps to consider, but to get started here is a snapshot of who you should have in your team and why. 

  • Lawyer – A lawyer is often but not always the first step in building your team. They can help you sort out contract terms and they know who is signing to who. Good lawyers will take the long-term view. The lawyer usually gets paid by the label/publishing company so there’s an incentive to get you a deal.
  • Label – a good label will help you with a strategy for your music to make it more prominent in the public eye. A good label should be invested in growing your streams and sales over time. 
  • Agent – will take 10-15% off your total gig/tour fee (they get paid off the top, which means they’re the first person to be paid). An agent will be invested in taking ever bigger chunks as you grow into bigger venues. 
  • Manager – will take 20% net rev (after everyone else is paid) which is a lot when you’re just starting out. A good manager will bring you a strategy and connections and help you navigate the implications of strategic decisions. But they will need a lawyer to do this (and probably an agent). 
  • Publisher – help to build composer side of your work.  

How they are split:

1)   The first group consists of the people who are involved in running the day to day (manager + agent + lawyer – their overall brief is to get you the best deals)  

2)   The second group consists of the people who are partners in connecting the fruits of your work with the widest possible audience (eg a label and publisher’s job should be getting you into the right places with the right people. If they’re a publishing company then they should be helping you with things like sync or becoming a top line writer. If they’re a label then they should be helping you make the best record you can make).

When you start building a team around you, if you can’t define what you want and why, then the team that you build will not be the right team. First, you need to know where you’re headed and why. What are your big dreams? 

Making a success in music can often seem out of reach. You might feel that you are always hustling but you don’t know why other than to get gigs and release music.

Fred and I have seen first hand how using some simple techniques can really transform your career. By working with us musicians have found clarity and created a long term vision for their future and  a plan (otherwise known as a strategy) for moving forwards. Most importantly, they have realised what they need to do to achieve their big daring dreams as a musician.  

Sans Soucis is one of our former mentees who was on our bespoke 1:1 career development programme during the pandemic. We witnessed her overcoming her fears and her exhaustion and getting past the external factors that were outside of her control. She listened to our advice, worked on the things we suggested she focus on and made it through to signing a long-term deal with Decca. 

How did she achieve this? First, she had 1:1 support from us to understand which bit of the industry model was right for her, and a good manager who understood her vision, and was willing to keep chipping away with her. 

The second factor was pivoting: this is when you’re going in one direction and then, if it doesn’t work, or proves not to be working, you change direction towards something else which will more likely lead to success. In the case of Sans Soucis she moved away from securing a publishing deal and towards securing a label deal. 

Her experience is just one of many from the artists me and Fred have worked with as a result of delivering over 200 coaching and strategy sessions for our 1:1 career development programme. 

There’s so much demand for this programme, and so many of you been asking us about our process, that we thought we’d put together a new online programme so that we can share our knowledge more widely. 

This live online programme will break down some key elements of the music industry to help you understand what you need in order to start building a long-term successful career for yourself. 

At the same time, you’ll be part of an online support network of other artists who will help you through your journey. Because connecting with your peers is a big part of making sure you feel less alone, and will help you apply these learnings to your own career.  

We’ll go deep into the key areas that really matter. You’ll understand how to create a strategy, and through that, how to make money, how to release your music and how to build a team that’s right for you. 

The really exciting thing about this online programme is that you will be able to ask questions directly to us and others in the group during and after the online sessions. This is the first time we’ve offered this, and places will be limited so that we can focus on what you need.  

If you’ve been thinking ‘How am I going to keep doing this? How can I possibly make a living out of this?’ That’s where we come in, we’re going to break it down for you and show you how you can do it. At the end of this programme you will have the components, the knowledge and the support network to make a success of your music career. 

We’re going to run this online programme only once and with a very limited number of places in order to serve each person who joins us, so it will be a unique opportunity to get an interactive personal experience. 

It’s going to be coming out very soon – watch your inbox for an email in the next few days when we open up registration for the programme. 

Fred and I really look forward to sharing our experience with you and working together help you become an active driving force in your own successful career.

Til soon!

Jennie