Dedicated to the Business of Contemporary Live Music

Managing expectations

NXT Features
15 January 2018
Duncan Ellis
Managing emerging acts is an ever-changing job, with a to-do list reacting and adapting to the tidal shifts of the wider music industry. Rob Sandall talks to the managers riding that wave.


It’s fair to say that the role of manager has gone through more flux than any other job in live music. More than ever before, managers have found themselves not only in the driving seat, but increasingly paying for the tour bus too.

It’s reflective of not only many artistes’ inclinations to embrace a DIY ethic, but additionally a recalibration of labels’ own interests.

Duncan Ellis of Atlas Artists, who currently work with acts including Skinny Living, Haus and Celeste, says that things have certainly changed, but not necessarily in ways that people had previously envisioned.

“I’m more involved and hands on than ever – there’s been a real evolution of the role of manager in recent years,” he says.

“People have tended to predict the future in terms of ‘the death of record labels’ and so on, but that simply hasn’t happened.

“What’s really changed, in regards to working with those labels, is what they expect of an act.”

Ellis argues that there’s still a huge amount of worth for artistes to find their way onto the majors, but notes that getting there is now a potentially unfunded path for many.

“When you’re looking at a timeline that’s around two years of development before a label will take an interest, it means there’s no early investment in emerging artistes, which I sometimes find frustrating,” he says.

“Additionally, to be blunt, the money has to come from somewhere, and that might well be a management or production company.

“But of course that comes with risks, and with costs to be recouped – production and marketing budgets aren’t small things – so it’s not so much of a surprise that artistes are being told they’ll need to be giving up as much as 50 per cent of their profits.

“It sounds like a lot, and actually sure, it kind of is a lot. But significant investment is in many cases the only way an act will be taking a step up.”


Minimum requirements

Achal Dhillon, who with management company and record label Killing Moon works with acts including Draper, Mantra and Bad Pop, agrees that a manager must diversify more than ever if they’re to be successful.

“Anyone working in this business should have a basic, current knowledge of the mechanics of releasing a record digitally,” he says.

“If you’re starting off dependent on third parties such as record labels, PRs, agents, promoters etc in order to progress the artistes career on their own account, then your ability to do practically anything becomes rather limited.

“Killing Moon is specifically set up in a manner that we can achieve what I see as the primary goals of an “introductory” release, which involves working most conventional distribution and marketing channels in-house.

“Our management clients are all given the full benefit of our record label, marketing and distribution to establish a base level beneath which they cannot possibly fall below.

“This approach, I believe, has also made it a lot easier to get our input into larger label set-ups and indeed see the different corners of a career in a balanced manner.”

Dhillon goes on to add that what artistes ostensibly want, underneath all of that, is for their work to be “appreciated by someone who isn’t them”.

“At the very formative stage, there should be some concentration on what’s largely understood by development, which can range from A&R in the sense of making their music as good and ambitious as it can be, to procuring shows and tours, marketing releases, dealing with PROs, sorting merch, creating online/social content etc,” he explains.

“Often, you will need to think of all of this before everybody else does, so having some sort of ambition for the artiste whilst not crushing what they want to achieve, that’s reflective of their art, is a must as well.”


Authentic is everything

Steven Braines

CEO of The Weird & the Wonderful Steven Braines, works with acts including Maya Jane Coles, Catz ‘N Dogz, Chelou, Wax Sings and KDA.

He sees the manager-artiste relationship today as being directly comparable to a business partnership, and in that sense is keen to have his acts weigh in on anything and everything should they choose.

“Our artistes will be part of the selection process for the lawyer, agent, label, press person, and have final decision/veto over everything,” Braines says.

“We aim to facilitate options and then navigate our talent through their choices, so if it’s a new act, we’ll help find them a lawyer and an independent accountant as early on as possible to make sure all is impartial and transparent as possible.

“Then there may be an agent if the band is playing regularly, then label and then publisher.”

He notes one unchanging truth in that “planning is still key”, adding that a savvy manager keeps every potential point of income and exposure working in harmony.

“Media presence, radio play, positive exposure in general helps sell tickets and sells records, so everything has to align,” Braines adds.

“Recorded music, interview strategy, gigs etc all need to reflect the brand too, and the wrong ones will end up losing you brand deals; the wrong brand deal will lose you gigs and credibility.

“As long as you are authentic in your choices, the artiste knows why they are taking the opportunity, be it a gig or a brand deal, and is making the records they want to, things tend to thrive.”

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