Editors Note: : Teachers, Coaches and Singers, Please Read!

So often, I get letters and phone calls from singers asking me about this manager or that manager. They ask whether singers really have to pay retainers to managers, when to pay commissions and many more questions. I also get sad calls from singers who have been burned by one of the few (very few) unscrupulous managers out there.

Managers, on the other hand, are having a difficult time making a living in the current arts climate. The few (very few!) unscrupulous singers out there take the fees and then don’t pay their managers for months at a time—or not at all. What’s more, fewer traditional jobs are available out there.

The net result: fewer and fewer managers in the field. The managers who are left are being deluged with calls from singers who believe with all their hearts that the only way to make a career is to have a manager.

Obviously, this is a big problem. The new AGMA comes to the rescue yet again, however. The musicians’ union continues to do wonderful things for singers. Every singer and every manager (and those who are interested in becoming either) should check out the new voluntary manager standards on pages 22 and 54. They are excellent and will make a huge difference—but only if good singers and good managers use them.

Singers should ask their managers to agree to the standards—and if a manager is adamant about not having anything to do with these standards, singers need to consider finding new management. This is the only way the field of singing will ever become a level playing field for singers and managers. Singers and the managers who are struggling need to work as a group and insist that standards start being kept.

If these standards are not the ones managers and singers can agree upon, let AGMA hear from you so it can come up with standards that can be agreed upon by both sides. Let’s all agree that for this business to thrive, both singers and managers have to feel the deal is fair. No one wants a lopsided deal, because it won’t survive.

Before you go into negotiations, you need to know the terms. Here are some questions for which you can find answers in the new agreement:

• Some managers say they aren’t bound by agreements because they aren’t agents. Is this true?

• If a singer changes management, who gets the commissions for old jobs?

• Is it legal to charge you a retainer? A signing fee?

• Under what circumstances can you be charged fees at all?

• What type of manager can sue you for fees?

• Under what conditions do you not pay a commission to your manager?

• Can your contract be renewed automatically without your knowing it?

• Under what conditions may you terminate your contract?

• How much commission do you pay on a concert job versus an operatic job?

• Do you pay a commission when you obtain work through your own efforts?

• Are you going to do any more jobs based on a verbal agreement?

• When you receive a lump sum that includes transportation, meals, etc., on what do you pay commission? How is it written up?

You must have answers for these questions before you go into negotiations with your manager. Teachers and coaches often have the opportunity to guide singers and make suggestions. They need to keep copies of this AGMA agreement handy and pass it out whenever singers are talking about management.

Let’s spread the word

If good managers and good singers stick together about this agreement, talking together with AGMA about what works and what doesn’t, we’ll come up with a permanent arrangement that works for everyone—and that’s what’s needed.

CJ Williamson, Editor

If you have a question about this article or anything else, please write to Ms. CJ Williamson, the editor of Classical Singer magazine, at cj@classicalsinger.com or P.O. Box 1710 Draper, UT 84020. Letters can be used as “Letters to the Editor” if you would like, “Name Withheld” if you would like, or meant for the staff only. Just let us know.

CJ Williamson

CJ Williamson founded Classical Singer magazine. She served as Editor-in-Chief until her death in July, 2005. Read more about her incredible life and contributions to the singing community here.