Manager vs. Agent

Manager vs. Agent
by Sue Basko, esq.

For more info, please see:

Manager vs. Agent: What's the difference? A manager helps guide a career, but does not get work for the client. An agent is the one that gets work for the client. Procuring employment is the dividing line. In California, this is a line clearly drawn in law, backed up by Labor Board cases that are somewhat shocking and counterintuitive. Music managers who did well for their clients, doing things at their request, later found themselves the subject of proceedings meant to take their earnings from them.

In this post, I talk about managers being unregulated. Managers are regulated in the sense that they cannot engage in the activities reserved for agents. If a manager procures employment, negotiates a show contract, negotiates a ticket price, etc., the manager is then (in most states) illegally acting as an agent, and can then be subject to the penalties of doing so, which can be very harsh.

Under California law, an agent must be licensed and follow the California Talent Agency Act. Music managers that procure employment in violation of the Talent Agency Act can find their management contracts void -- or more currently, severable. They can also be subject to disgorgement of their earnings. Until recently, the disgorgement was for all the money earned by the manager; just lately, the rules have changed and the disgorgement is only for the acts of procuring employment. Still- that's pretty harsh. The idea is that the State strictly wants anyone that helps anyone in the entertainment fields secure work to be licensed as a talent agent - and they will strictly punish those who do otherwise. If you are considering being an agent, you must be licensed by the State and follow the law. If you are thinking of being a manager, you must know the law, which is quite complex, to be sure you stay within the legally allowed duties of a manager. If you cross over into the territory reserved for agents, you can find yourself in great jeopardy.

Conversely, if you are a musician or other person employing a manager, you also ought to know the law, so that you are cautious never to ask a manager to do anything that can be construed as procuring employment for you. You want to be fair, right?

In Illinois, talent agents are considered employment agencies, licensed by the State, and are subject to a special provision in the law for "theatrical employment agencies," which covers any kind of employment as an entertainer. Illinois entertainment law is not nearly as developed as California law, simply because there is so much less entertainment business being conducted in Illinois. Bear in mind that any entertainment activity taking place in California follows California law, even if the entertainer and/or his representatives are from outside the state.

The New York talent agency law is very similar to the Illinois law. Both require contracts to be pre-approved by the State, rates to be approved and posted, contracts made in triplicate with the employee/client given a copy, assurances by the agency that the employer has not failed to pay an employee or left anyone "stranded" in the past few years; Illinois specifies 2 years and New York specifies 5 years.

By "stranded," the law means leaving anyone in a different location without transportation home. That may sound antiquated, but I am aware of a performer to whom this happened just this year. A big new magic show supposedly planned a tour, promising employment to performers and crew, but the tour never materialized. At least one contracted performer quit her job and travelled to a different state to be in the show, only to discover the magic show tour was not happening. She was, in fact, stranded -- and jobless and homeless, too.

The interesting thing is that when I had read the contract for my client, a man who was to be on the magic show crew, I could tell this show tour was never going to happen. I could tell that just from reading the contract. It was obvious to me from the contract that those running the show did not know what they were doing, were unaware of the laws to which they would be subject (their first shows were to be in California), and that the whole thing was never going to happen. I told my client this from the get-go. I also warned him that if the tour did take place, and if he did work on it, to protect himself against being stranded by always carrying his identification on his person, and always having enough money on him to get home. Also, have a cell phone that will work where you are going. If going to a foreign country, keep your passport with you at all times.

There was no agent involved in offering the contracts for the magic show. The show ran ads and potential employees responded and were interviewed. If there had been an agent involved, the agent would have been responsible for checking out the past record of the magic show producers. However, as a new show producer, the magic show probably had no past record. Be aware that it can really be useful to work with an experienced lawyer, because they may be able to sniff out, as I could, that things were amiss. I could tell, just from the contracts, that the group had never run a large-scale show or tour, and that there were many laws and provisions they were unaware of. Among other things, their beginning itinerary was not even set. How would they be booking locations and selling tickets if they did not even know where they would be? I was able to give my client awareness and protection. There are many forms of protection available for the performer, but it is up to the performer to make use of them.

The legal provisions regarding agents protect you, the entertainer. In order to find you work, and collect your pay for you, and divvy it up, the person has to follow strict legal provisions. These laws came about as a remedy to assist the entertainment fields, since so many actors and musicians were ripped off by those who were supposed to be caretaking of them. And -- a good agent is there to protect you from unscrupulous employers. Using an agent gives you a double wall of protection. Using an agent and a lawyer gives you a triple wall.

If you want to move on up with your career, you must find people (manager, agent, lawyer) that know the California system and operate by those rules and laws. Otherwise, you are a hot potato. California is where most of the popular music and movie industry resides. You must be working with people that know the system, otherwise you will do things wrong, legally and practically, and harm yourself or rule yourself out. Remember -- if it is taking place in California -- even if you are from elsewhere -- it goes according to California law.

Californians are very protective of their system, especially of the agency system. Many or most agents are lawyers by training, and for good reason -- the entertainment field is complex and requires a huge amount of legal knowledge.

In California, when working with movies, agency law is supplemented by provisions set forth by SAG (Screen Actors' Guild) rules and contracts, if SAG actors or a SAG production is involved. When dealing with screenplays, the agency laws of the State are supplemented by the WGA (Writers Guild of America) rules and contracts, if a union writer or production is involved.

So what does a manager do? A manager guides your career and advises you. What are some of the basics to look for?

1) A manager must be located where you are. If a manager is in a different city and wants to work with you, the manager will ask if you can move there.

2) A manager should be able to help you get an agent, so you can get work.

3) A manager should have a limited roster of clients and not be spread too thin.

4) A manager should not charge you money upfront.

5) A manager should present a contract that is fair and within the law. Always have the contract checked out by a music or film lawyer (depending on if it is for a music or actor manager).

6) A manager should have top-notch organizational skills, writing ability, computer skills, good phone skills, and should be able to connect with people.

7) A manager is not an agent.

8) A good manager will work closely with a lawyer, who will negotiate contracts for you.

Warning: I have seen a lot of management contracts. The vast majority of them are confused and illegal, attempting to practice agency outside the law. I have seen some contracts that are shockingly unfair. Because managers are unregulated, this is the area that has all the loose-cannon screwballs in entertainment migrating to it: They cannot be agents, so they choose to be managers. Don't rush. Get a lawyer. Use caution.

A good manager is golden. If you have a good manager, you can concentrate your time and thought into your art. Also, a manager guides, and this is important, especially for young musicians and actors. Some of the best managers are women, due to having such skills as attention to detail, ability to relate with others, and office/computer skills.

Where does a lawyer come in? A lawyer can procure you a recording contract. A lawyer can help get you an agent. A lawyer can help get you a manager. A lawyer can negotiate the contracts on all these things as well as on gigs, recording contracts, etc.

Are you confused? Just remember: A manager is unregulated and advises you. An agent is regulated and helps you get work. A lawyer negotiates deals and contracts and can procure and negotiate a recording contract.

Music Now:
What's Hot and What Snot

Music Now: What's Hot and What Snot
by Sue Basko, esq.

Popular music has trends. Some are good for a while, get played out, and disappear. Other trends were never good. Some trends are good while being done by the originators, but are silly when watered down and on their 6th or 7th level down the chain. Everything old is new again. Rudy Vallee sang through a megaphone in the 1930s; Tom Waits has been known in recent years to do the same. I thought Tiny Tim would be the last one to play a ukulele, now it's de rigueur. It seems everyone has a little ukulele up their sleeve, or at least in their backpack. So what's hot and what snot? Keep in mind that if you are so not-hot, you might be really white hot, but ahead of your time. Wait a few years and you might be the chit.

What’s Hot:
Singing really well. Getting a voice coach. Doing vocal exercises.
What Snot:

What’s Hot:
Lots of percussion, of all kinds. Native drums, cajons, shakers, triangles.
What Snot:
Drum replacement machines.

What’s Hot:
Bands touring like a group of hippie vagabonds in a converted school bus.
What Snot:
Having a corporation pay (and having to repay) for a fancy entourage bus.

What’s Hot:
Leading the audience in dance and movement rituals. Think: Dan Deacon.
What Snot:
Anything mosh pit.

What’s Hot:
Lyrics that powerfully take on important subjects, such as war, homophobia, sex trafficking. Think: Rise Against.
What Snot:
Lyrics that whine about the woes of being a rich kid in the suburbs.

What’s Hot:
Large musical ensembles with members and visiting players. Lots of instruments that add to the mix: Cello, violin, piano, accordion, flute, bassoon, horns, harp, banjo, sitar, ukulele.
What Snot:
Lead guitar, rhythm guitar, bass, drums.

What’s Hot:
Intelligent lyrics.
What Snot:
wtf wot wit choo. Dis iz hott.

What’s Hot:
Funny rap. Think: Wax and Herbal T.
What Snot:
Cop-killer rap.

What’s Hot:
Musicians and singers staying healthy and looking great. Getting older and still looking and sounding great. Think: Paul McCartney.
What Snot:
Rock star death by heroin or depression. So passé.

What’s Hot:
Street performing, busking, whatever you want to call it.
What Snot:
Musicians going hungry and homeless.

What’s Hot:
Music festivals.
What Snot:
Music festivals that feature tribute bands.

What’s Hot:
What Snot:
Racist screaming.

What’s Hot:
Recording and mixing at home. Having total creative control. Taking your time.
What Snot:
Spending $100,000 to record an album. Having to repay that.

What’s Hot:
Listening rooms. House concerts. Concerts in church spaces.
What Snot:
Promoters that book 6 bands a night in a cramped bar.

What’s Hot:
Hats, shades, vests, Steampunk.
What Snot:
Matching haircuts.

What’s Hot:
Balcony TV.
What Snot:
American Idol.

What’s Hot:
Schools having music education.
What Snot:
Supposed child prodigies playing the only song they know well on “Ellen.”

What’s Hot:
Making a music video with your camera phone.
What Snot:
Spending a fortune to make a bloated, silly music video.

Cover Songs on Youtube

Cover Songs on Youtube - HUGE NEW UPDATE!!!
by Sue Basko, esq.

HUGE NEW UPDATE! -  You can now post covers of many very popular songs on Youtube without the need for a synch license.  Youtube has made it very easy.  This is ONLY for Youtube.  Youtube has worked out this deal with music publishers and it is good only on Youtube.  Of course, you can share and embed your Youtube videos elsewhere.

For more info, also read: FREE MUSIC FOR YOUR YOUTUBE VIDEOS


Go to this MUSIC POLICIES page:

Search for the song you'd like to make a cover version of.  Just as an example, I would like to make a cover version of the old Cat Stevens song, "The Wind."  I go to the search bar and search for "Cat Stevens."  I could also search on the song name, but I think that will send me too many unrelated songs.  These are the results:

Let's look at this up close:

"If you perform a cover: Playback - Viewable worldwide."  So you may perform a cover of this song, it will appear worldwide, and ads can appear.

Notice, this original recording may also be used on Youtube videos.

If you search through the MUSIC POLICIES, you will see that most popular songs will allow you to make a YOUTUBE cover version -- for free, with no licensing.  However, if you want to make a recording to sell or give away, or to put on any other site besides Youtube, you are going to need a license.


There are many videos of cover songs on Youtube. Is this legal? First, what we mean by a cover song is a song written by someone other than you. Many musicians like to turn on a flip camera, sing and play a famous song, and post the video to Youtube. That is what this blog post is about.

If you want to record a cover song, whether you give it away, sell it, or stream it, you need what is called a mechanical license. Please read these blog posts to learn about that:

If you want to make a video of you playing and singing a cover song to put onto Youtube, to be totally legal, you need a synchronization license, which is usually called a synch license.

However, most musicians do not bother with getting a synch license for their Youtube cover song videos. Read the list below about this.

This is how it works: The intellectual property of a song is the song lyrics and the musical composition. The copyright on those belong to the people that wrote the lyrics and music, known as the songwriters. Sometimes the songwriters assign their copyrights over to a publisher. Some songwriters self-publish. Some songwriters self-publish and assign their copyrights over to a publishing administrator. This person or company holds the right to decide who gets to do what with the music. A mechanical license is provided for in law and the song copyright owner must give a mechanical license to a person who wants to record the song and that person must pay statutory royalties for how many copies made. However, there is no statutory right to a synchronization license, and so the songwriter or publisher can decide if they want to let you have a synch license, and if so, how much they want to charge you. They can say no and they can set any price. They can charge one person a lot and another person a little. It is totally at their discretion.

If you want to get a synch license to make a cover song Youtube video, you will contact the owner of the copyright directly. As explained above, that may be the songwriter or it may be a publisher. Other blog posts here show how to find the songwriter and publisher.

If the songwriter owns the rights to his or her song, they may allow you to post a video. Get this in writing. Major publishers do synch licensing directly through their websites. For example, Warner Chappell is a major music publisher. The synch licensing form on their website asks for all your information, as well as for your Youtube channel. They can tell you yes or no and can set any price. If all you can pay is $10 or $20, it is probably not worth the while of a major publisher to go to the trouble of checking you out and issuing you a synch license.

When you post a cover song video, be sure to do a good job. If you play or sing very poorly, or change the lyrics, or add obscene or indecent elements to the song or video, you are most likely to get into trouble. No artist wants their song wrecked!

GIVE CREDIT !!!! When you post the youtube video, be sure to say it is a Cover. In the information that will show on the page, list the name of the song and the songwriters' names. If the song was made famous by a particular artist or band, name them. Try to get this information correct and spell it right.

What happens if you go ahead and post a cover song video to youtube without a synch license? A whole list of things can happen, from negative to positive. Here is a list from the worst to the best:

1) You can be sued and the copyright holder can demand money. They can do this with no warning and with no attempt to have the video removed. In a copyright infringement lawsuit, the person suing you can demand a great deal of money, even if you did not make any money with the song. However, being sued for having a song on youtube that infringes copyright is highly unlikely to happen. Only a true copyright troll would do this. But, it could happen.

2) Youtube could take down the video. They might do this at the request of the copyright holder. If this happens repeatedly, Youtube may delete your channel.

Usually, a publisher has decided that a certain song can or cannot have cover song videos up on Youtube. If you see a song with many covers up on Youtube, it is likely that yours will also stay up. If yours is the only cover, that may be a sign that the publisher is having covers of that song removed.

If someone makes a complaint to Youtube that a certain video infringes their copyright and that they want it removed, Youtube will usually remove the video very quickly. Most publishers are satisfied with this and very few go on to file lawsuits.

3) Youtube could leave the video up, but post ads next to it, such as telling where to buy the song recorded by the major artist that made it famous.

4) Youtube could send you an email saying a certain publisher owns the song publishing rights, but saying you do not need to do anything. Then the video stays up -- unless and until the publisher decides to take action.

5) Youtube could leave the video up and people can watch it and nothing bad happens. Many major artists and their publishers actually like cover song videos because it is good publicity for them. It also usually brings them more fame and more sales. Also, it is very good for fan relations to have the fans posting videos. Conversely, it is very bad for fan relations to harass the fans.

6) Youtube might leave up the video, people might watch it, and they might like your music and want to hear and see more of you. This has happened to a number of Youtube artists who have used Youtube covers as a stepping stone to bigger things.

MORE INFORMATION: Youtube provides a lot of information about copyright. You can access the many pages by CLICKING HERE.

ALWAYS KEEP IN MIND, there is risk in violating copyright on Youtube. If your recording and video are respectable and decent, there is probably little risk.

Sound Exchange:
Can Make You Money

Sound Exchange Can Make You Money
by Sue Basko, esq.

If you are a songwriter, you register your songs with a PRO (ASCAP, BMI) to collect royalties.

If you are a FEATURED ARTIST on a song, or the MASTER/ COPYRIGHT OWNER of the recorded work (such as a record label or an indie musician), you should register your songs with SOUND EXCHANGE to collect royalties for play on streaming services such as Sirius Radio.

It is FREE AND EASY to register with Sound Exchange! (Free is everyone's favorite price!)

WHAT IS SOUND EXCHANGE? I am cutting and pasting this directly from the SOUND EXCHANGE website:

SoundExchange is an independent, nonprofit performance rights organization.

SoundExchange is the non-profit performance rights organization that collects statutory royalties from satellite radio (such as SIRIUS XM), internet radio, cable TV music channels and similar platforms for streaming sound recordings. The Copyright Royalty Board, which is appointed by The U.S. Library of Congress, has entrusted SoundExchange as the sole entity in the United States to collect and distribute these digital performance royalties on behalf of featured recording artists, m

IS THIS FOR REAL? Yes! I have had several musicians tell me that they get good money from Sound Exchange. Of course, your music must be getting play time on the platforms covered by Sound Exchange. And you must be a featured artist on the music and/or the owner of the sound recordings/ copyright on the recordings themselves. And -- you must register! This does not happen automatically and no one else does it for you!

Sound Exchange is a major tool that every musician, performer and everyone in music business should know about. Get yourself in gear and go check it out.


1. RECORD MUSIC. Be a "featured artist" on the music, as defined by Sound Exchange.

2. AND /OR: Be the owner of the masters/ copyright on the recordings of the music. This is different from owning the underlying intellectual property, which is the song composition and lyrics.

3. DO NOT SIGN YOUR OWNERSHIP OR RIGHTS OVER TO ANYONE ELSE. Before you sign ANY CONTRACT, have a music lawyer read it and advise you. Make sure this is a lawyer that actually has studied music law, practices it, and knows it. Music law has many terms and practices that are quite complex.

4. Try to get your songs played on the platforms that are covered by Sound Exchange. Once your songs are being played, you may qualify to make money.

5. Register the songs with Sound Exchange, as a featured artist and/or as the owner of the masters.

6. Keep your contact information up to date with Sound Exchange.

Success stories to share? Please email me: SueBaskoMusic AT