Interview – Artist management in the 21st Century (part 1)

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 first of our four instalments Dee and Bruce talk about the music industry in 2015 and their introduction to the role of artist manager.

Q: What are your predictions for the music industry in 2015?

Bruce Craigie: Hard to say unless the economy settles and the industry takes some better shape. In regards to the record labels they are either very big or very small with nothing in between and this has been lacking in the last few years which has made things very difficult for the development of rock bands or anybody who needs to tour because there hasn’t been the support network that there used to be when you were lucky enough to have a record deal that could help you with those things. A tricky time which I don’t see being any easier this year unless the economy settles.

Dee Bahl: Difficult to make predictions in this volatile climate but I’m hoping there is a sort of rise for the independents and they become a lot stronger and I’m hoping venture capitalists take a chance on emerging talent because it’s really hard to get funding and it’s really hard to get finance. There are some people out there with a little bit of money that can make a huge bit of difference. You’ve only got the three major record companies and there is not a hell of a lot of signing going on there, it’s very guarded considering the usual things I see getting picked up. I’m really hoping that the independent sector becomes a lot stronger and I think with the lack of money there will be opportunities for independent labels.

Q: What are you excited about in the music industry for 2015?

B.C. I think at the current time for better or worse in the digital era it’s never been easier to record music and get your music out there so that’s one of the things that’s really exciting but on the downside it’s never been harder to make a living out of the music business so it’s very difficult to quantify where you can collect any money from since it’s just such a broad scope of things that go on but what I like about it is that it feels like it’s back to being a cottage industry again in many ways and one of the things I’ve been talking about with the EL Jam project is that aim of self-sufficiency and building up your local scene and building up your own reserves and taking it one step at a time.

D.B. I’m becoming more aware of different business models of people who are trying to do things differently and almost go out on their own and give it a go and that’s exciting. There are a lot of bands out there who are doing their own albums and a whole range of people being creative and that can only be a good thing.

Q: Any great new bands and/or record labels you’ve come across?

B.C. All three of the bands within the EL Jam project are interesting in their own way. There’s Nick Tait & The Sharks who are the sort of middle group between ages of 16-18, there’s three sets of age groups and then there’s a young band from Preston Pans called The Next Big Nothing Band and then there is Art of Privilege who are the band from the18-25 age group so we’ve split it into three age groups for this pilot scheme. Beyond that I’ve been helping out this band from Glasgow called Fatherson who played at The Arches in Glasgow recently and they had a mini orchestra on stage with them which was very interesting. Then there’s a young band from Edinburgh I like called Precious & Grace and they’re students over at Edinburgh College and they’re a bit out of sync in terms of what they play musically – they sort of play seventies rock so they don’t sound like anything else and part of me likes that idea about them and they have lots of enthusiasm and so one to check out and of course the new label Tangerine, what more can I say.

D.B. Because of what I do a lot of my time gets absorbed in what I’m doing so it’s not always easy to come across new bands with limited time There is a young guy called Jonathan Carr and his music is slightly different and I’d like to see him do well. I’m looking at another act at the moment just to see if they can make the next step up so to speak.

Q: What led you to get involved in management?

B.C. I’ve been managing bands for about thirteen or fourteen years now and before that I worked in record companies. I worked at Go Discs and I worked at Chrysalis and I started of at Stiff Records and I ended up at a little label called Deceptive Records which I did some consultancy work for and that’s how I became involved in the management side of things by one of the bands that came through which is a band called Idlewild and I basically managed them from day one really and continue to do so. I came across Idlewild when I was working at Deceptive and we signed their publishing and we had a publishing deal through EMI music and that gave me the chance to quit the day job for a few months. They wanted to make some records with Deceptive so we put some records out and in the meantime we were negotiating a record deal for them and one of the labels that was interested in signing them said to the band why don’t you get Bruce to manage you and they said what a great idea and it just fell into that way and I’d been asked a number of times to manage bands but never actually taken the plunge as it were and that’s how I sort of fell into the management side of things really.

D.B. It happened by complete accident if I’m being honest. I’ve always been a bass player in various bands over the years and I came off tour once and my next gig wasn’t for a while and I always had this ambition to set up a small record label and so that’s what I did with a couple of mates. We didn’t have much money and we had to borrow money. Once we got things moving the two bands that we got for the label was a band called Aerogramme and a band called Biffy Clyro and we put out their first releases and one thing lead to another and basically by default I ended up doing a lot more for these bands and before I knew it I was their Manager. From my days of being in bands, any management company that had managed me or the band I was in basically had to come through me and I just had an aptitude towards management and I just knew how it worked. I also had a degree in Marketing and Management and I’m not saying that’s what cuts you out to become a Manager, you either have it or you don’t. I don’t see why anybody who is young and is aspiring to become a Manager can’t become one because as you go further into your career you learn a lot more. It’s not for the feint hearted. It’s not a dull job, it’s a very demanding job and it’s twenty-four/seven and I mean twenty-four/seven. However, the rewards are there to be had and it’s a very fulfilling job.

Posted by JD, 18th March, 2015

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