With the music business changing at an incredible speed, Feast invited Biffy Clyro manager Dee Bahl and Idlewild manager Bruce Craigie to discuss the ever-expanding role of the artist manager in the 21st Century. In the last of our four instalments Dee and Bruce talk about the investment, marketing and the Music Managers Forum.
Q: Are independent investors including management companies a realistic alternative to labels?
B.C. Yes, I think so. As I said, because it’s easier to get your music out there, there’s no reason why, if you build that team around that investment, there’s no reason why you can’t build up the artists profile to a certain stage where it becomes inevitable that a bigger record label might come along and pick you up. Ed Sheeran is the perfect example of that. He’s got to such a size where he had to be picked up. These stories are few and far between unfortunately, but it shows it’s possible. If you can work with a management company or a set of investors that understands the needs of the music business, I guess that’s one of the issues because the music business is one of those industries that’s very difficult to invest in because the goalposts change or the length of time it might take an artist to get onto that ladder or get successful might take longer than an investor anticipates and in the time of economic crisis it might be hard to find those investors that will give that amount of time and the repayment terms may not be satisfactory to the artist where the investor wants their money back a bit quicker. All of those things have to be taken into account but it’s a question of finding money wherever you can but you have to make sure everybody’s comfortable with the deal.
Q: How important is marketing and innovation important in creating and building an artists’ fan-base?
B.C. I’m still of the opinion that talent and ability is the basis of any career. It is important to get that out there but I’ve always felt slightly nervous of things being hyped or marketed because I think that people do see through that quite quickly. Whatever you do it needs to appear natural. I mean we all know how a piece of music on a bit of Youtube footage can suddenly exalt you into the stars so it can happen very naturally that way as well. It’s the trick of finding a nice natural way to do it but it does come back to talent and ability.
D.B. It’s almost everything. It’s vital in breaking a new artist or a new release. That’s why bands end up signing with major labels. The marketing budget that the majors can afford on campaigns is huge. It’s very difficult to do it online yourself. To have everything working in a coordinated fashion to gain a reaction from an audience is an expensive and time-consuming process.
Q: In the recent past there was a good deal of publicity around the appointment of Brian Message to head the Music Managers Forum. How do you feel about his appointment and the relevance of this trade organisation to the way managers do business?
B.C. I’ve never been a member of the forum, not for any real reason. I’ve been lucky in my early career as I had lots of experience at record company level so I kind of knew what was going on at record companies. I think it’s probably not a bad thing these days to have the forum there. If a young manager can learn from any individual or organisation that would seem to be a good thing from my point of view. Brian has been very successful in what they’ve done. Part and parcel of the way they do business has worked very well for them and they’re investing money into the business themselves so you can only applaud that kind of investment from their point of view.
D.C. Brian Message was originally an accountant, if I’m correct. In this day-in-age you need new business partners to emerge simply because of the lack of investment. So having someone like that who understands the business and how money can be generated can be a positive thing which other aspiring managers can learn from and Brian becoming the head of the MMF can only be a positive given his background with Radiohead. He must have learnt a lot given his experience as an accountant but he must also have learnt a lot from managing one of the biggest bands in the world. The organisation is relevant because people like him can pass that experience on and that can only be a positive. I’ve never actually joined the MMF but I recognise it’s a great way of networking. I’ve sort of gone out on a limb myself and I’ve learnt along the way and it’s worked out okay for me so far.