Interview – Artist management in the 21st Century
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 third of our four instalments Dee and Bruce talk about the changing media landscape, funding and the changing role of the record label.
Q: Artists are increasingly gaining sponsorship from brands of all kinds. How do you feel about the way the market is moving?
B.C. I don’t really have a problem with sponsorship. I guess it depends on who the sponsor is and dependent on the artist really. Artists need financial help and you need to take it where you can really. It’s almost impossible to walk down the street without finding a sponsor somewhere. Most of the venues you play, the bigger venues are sponsored by somebody. I suppose it’s a question of where do you draw the line. I mean if they can help you realise your dream and help support you at an early stage then I don’t have a problem with sponsorship really.
D.B. It depends on the brands credibility and anything is acceptable depending on a bands situation. It depends on your values and your outlook on life. For me there has to be a balance because there is so much commercialism and you have to be aware of the feelings of your fanbase. If there is a negative connotation towards the brand that can have an adverse effect on your fanbase. There is no right or wrong here. It just means that there are potential opportunities for new ways of funding and if it’s an appropriate fit for the band then go with it. Things have to be run passed your lawyer and you must ensure your management team are not just doing it to make money.
Q: How has the changing media landscape affected the way you do business?
B.C. I think it’s changed certainly if you take into account the digital landscape as part of that it’s changed the way the business has worked in the last ten years. There is a saturation of digital outlets and you can spend all day everyday combing various outlets to look for music and find music. I still think it’s like back to the basics because you’ve still got to find the band and find what makes people come to that band. In many respects it was easier when there was just fewer outlets of media, you know you only had two radio stations or you only had three magazines. Now there’s magazines and online presence wherever you look. It’s very dissipated so it’s a question of using these to your advantage, finding the tastemakers that seem to be important. It seems that your facebook presence or you social media presence is important in terms of getting lots of people to your site and then those in the industry can see that and they can check on your status in terms of booking you for shows or getting involved with you and they can make a judgement on that straight away.
D.B. Bands have to work so much harder now to assess all the digital outlets available to them to for channelling their music to their fanbase or to continue to build their fanbase. Before the internet there were fewer media channels and so it was more straight forward about how and who to get your music to. There are now many more avenues for people to access and consume music and bands have to be more active in interacting with their audience and trying to establish a more direct relationship with their fans.
Q: Do you think the way people discover artists now has an impact on the longevity of an artist?
B.C. There are still those tastemakers such as Steve Lamacq and the Evening Session and previously John Peel or a writer you trusted in NME for example. Now it’s also a question of blogs and other artists building up profiles for other bands and recommendations and so there’s always going to be these tastemakers at local radio stations and small stations. Talking about the shelf-life for an artist, for a guitar band it used to be on a two to three year cycle when you made a record it would take another six months for the record to come out then you’d tour for a year and a half and the you’d make another record and before you knew it it was three years gone and it seems that with artists nowadays they have a new record out every other week if they’re popular and everything seems to be hammered home so quickly because the shelf-life seems to be so much shorter.
D.B. In terms of reality talent shows very few of them stay around for very long because the talent is questionable and also they may not be prepared to handle the exposure since the rise to the top is instant in their case.
Q: Given everything you and the artists need to supply to the labels and the media how has the role of labels changed?
B.C. In terms of the smaller labels they tend to take a lot less risks now because they don’t have the finances themselves to be able to support that world tour or make that big record in America or go and mix the record somewhere exotic. That just doesn’t exist anymore which may not be a bad thing. It does seem that with some of the labels or distributors you take a finished record to them now and sometimes cover some of the costs of the marketing and promotion yourself. There are less mid-sized labels now so you have to find the money to make the record before you approach the record company or the distributor and although it’s cheaper to make a record now you still want to make a good record to deliver to the label.
D.B. Labels are looking at other income streams now. For example, it’s not unusual for labels to have management teams or publishing and be involved in 360 degree models and be involved in every aspect of a bands career. Labels have changed as well due to how music is now being consumed. There were a lot more labels twenty years ago and there is not a lot of money available for development and that has a knock on effect on the money that’s available for new artists. How many bands have come through in the last five years from small venue to stadium level – very, very few. There is a direct lack of funding, if you haven’t made it on your first album you get dropped. How are people meant to succeed? With Biffy Clyro we were very lucky as we started on the independent label Beggars Banquet and we were allowed to go and make three albums and learn our trade before we went onto a major label. These kind of opportunities are very rare or don’t exist anymore. Very, very tough times out there.