Managing a Friend's Art Business
July 22, 2004 1:33 AM   Subscribe

So I have this highly artistic, yet sometimes shockingly lazy friend. In an effort to get him to complete something more substantial than a brief sketch in his notebook, I've cooked up a plan wherein I become his manager, and take charge of designing and maintaining his web site, advertising his name, booking space in shows, and printing, selling and shipping his work. We've worked out most of the details, and he is already starting to finish pieces, yet I am at a loss as to how we should divvy up the eventual income. How much would you all say is a reasonable portion for a manager to expect? Twenty-five percent? More? Less? I'd certainly appreciate help from any experienced individuals out there.

I should qualify that my friend's artwork for this project is completely digital at this point, so 'print' is the proper term. Think Noah Grey with illustrations and digital paintings instead of photographs. We want to offer sizes up to 13x19, and he will be covering the cost of printing (on my equipment) through his portion.
posted by alas to Work & Money (14 answers total)
20% is the standard in the music world - and that covers all income of all sorts.
posted by skylar at 3:07 AM on July 22, 2004

I'd think more than 15% for sure, especially if you are not only digging up the contracts but motivating him as well. Considering the amount of pain that ususally comes from stepping in as an incredibly lazy person's manager, I'd negotiate for 25% or more, or set up a more complex compensation structure. Something with a low base pay for you (which should help motivate him by giving him a steady cost to meet), a sales quota for you to meet (which gives him some security), and a comission incentive on top of it (to motivate you). Whatever you can both agree on.
posted by scarabic at 3:13 AM on July 22, 2004

I cant't help but think that I've seen this movie before.
posted by Space Coyote at 3:52 AM on July 22, 2004

I would advise you to think long and hard about this. It sounds like your friend isn't privy to your plans just yet.

You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make it drink.

I've found that in art, there is no real place for laziness. People seem to think of it as this laissez-faire type of thing, but it takes great determination, real desire, and a personal passion to keep things going. If your friend is lazy, something so unstructured, yet demanding, might not be the right career choice for your friend.

Good art can take hours and hours and hours of concerted effort (not to mention that late in the game you can fuck it up, which is really annoying). Not to mention growth and development of personal style over a course of time also requires concerted effort.

A bad fallout could ruin a good friendship.
posted by pissfactory at 3:56 AM on July 22, 2004

Response by poster: After reading your post, Pissfactory, it strikes me that my description of the friend as lazy is really not accurate: directionless is more like it.

I agree with everything you wrote, and the only reason I'm interested in helping him at all is because I do sense a passion within him to do, well, something with his talent. He fills up sketchpads at an amazing pace, his imagination is spectacular and unique, and I've watched him long enough to know that he has certainly refined his style over the years, yet besides a couple of one-shot comics in college literary journals and a few colored drawings for other acquaintences, he has done nothing any person would consider substantial.

So far, however, this seems to really be motivating him. The couple of pieces he's finished since we started in on our little endeavor have involved those hours and hours of effort you mentioned, and I'll be damned if the final prints don't look and feel like real art.

Also, he does know that I'll be taking a portion, we just haven't sat down to work out solid numbers yet (early thanks to Skylar and Scarabic for the advice on that).
posted by alas at 4:36 AM on July 22, 2004

What I wouldn't give to hire an agent for my own work! I'm an artist, and marketing is the least fun I have. It's tiring, and drains me of my creative energy. Local consignment places want 40 - 50% commission, and take no personal interest, generally. I'd gladly forfeit 25-30% to someone who can be successful at it. If you're interested in taking on another artist (contemporary, complimentary to your friend's work) in your reportoire, please let me know. Email's in my profile.
posted by yoga at 4:51 AM on July 22, 2004

Another way to look at this is to see him as a supplier, and you as a merchant. Like WalMart buying widgets and selling them retail. You're WalMart, your friend is the widget manufacturer.

Your supplier establishes his price, you put a markup on it for resale.

For tax purposes, this supplier/retailer model would probably be much simpler than some kind of split-the-proceeeds model. Ask an accountant.
posted by yesster at 6:26 AM on July 22, 2004

My ex-music partner's mom was our agent and she would take between 10-15% for shows in town and 20% for shows out of town. Trouble was that I would never know the total of how much we were getting from the organizer and the mom would cut the checks for us, effectively never telling us her take on each gig. I remember asking what she was doing in terms of actual work and she'd get real huffy and testy, which lead (in part) to my breaking up the group.

If you are going to take a percentage, put it all down on paper and have both parties understand the percentage of the total portion. Seems obvious to me now and probably would have saved me a lot of grief and irritation.
posted by KathyK at 7:04 AM on July 22, 2004

The capitalist in me says to milk him for all you can get.
The friend in me says to deduct your expenses until he gets enough of a name to hire a real manager.

I suppose somewhere in the middle is appropriate. Whatever you choose, get out of this business deal as soon as it's feasible if you want to remain friends.
posted by mischief at 7:57 AM on July 22, 2004

I could be completely wrong but I thought managers were restricted by law to take no more than 15%. At least, that's the way it works in Hollywood. Agents can take 10% so someone with both loses 25%.
posted by dobbs at 8:30 AM on July 22, 2004

I think that's just an industry distinction they make within movies, dobbs, not any kind of broad restriction on what managers can charge. I'm almost certain, for example, that it doesn't apply to the music industry, where people who call themselves "managers" can effectively own a band, and just pay the musicians a fee.
posted by LairBob at 8:39 AM on July 22, 2004

If you get your friend a show in a "real" gallery -- the traditional kind, not artist-owned co-ops or spaces in cafes or bars -- the gallery will likely take 50% of your sales profits. The upside is that you can charge much more per piece in such spaces, but you should have a provision with your friend on how you'd split the remaining 50%.

(I'm basing the 50% figure on what I know from New York and other large cities, though I think it's fairly standard.)
posted by lisa g at 12:00 PM on July 22, 2004

I thought managers were restricted by law to take no more than 15%

It's only because of the paranoid unions/guilds/whatever in Hollywood that anyone would ever get busted for that.
posted by scarabic at 12:30 PM on July 22, 2004

I think that the average in art is about 20% or 25%. But I think that you should take more. You're going to do all of the running of the business end if I read your post correctly. I don't know more than a few anecdotes about this, but the artists I know who have no-business-responsibility-and-they-like-it-that-way are willing to earn a lot less money to have somebody take care of all of the business end. They find it frees them up to work on their art, which is what they want to be doing, not haggling with galleries, shipping art, updating websites, and generally doing the things that get them paid. I've heard deals bandied about at 50% of profits of the venture. But this seems high to me.

I'd probably suggest something similar to scarabic's suggestion to have graded pay. You make a certain amount no matter what, and then take a bonus on top when things start to go really well.

I think it also matters how long term this partnership is intended to last (even if you don't know for sure and might change your mind as it develops). If it's a short term thing, where you're just helping out a friend who's got another job and doesn't support himself on the art, then I think you should get less. If it potentially could support you both, then that's something else entirely.

Oh, and don't fuck up your friendship over something trivial like how much money you're owed off a drawing that your friend did that you helped him sell.
posted by zpousman at 1:01 PM on July 22, 2004

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