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PUTTING A LABEL ON IT

Managers on their Major and Indie Partners.

What can you depend on the major labels for today?
Ian Montone: I still find deep value in the partnership between artist and label. For one, they are often the first one through the wall from a financial standpoint. We rely on them to be our partners in helping bring the artist’s vision to life from a creative but also a business standpoint. With a smart deal, I believe that can still be accomplished. Labels by and large—and maybe I am stating the obvious—are populated by people who love music, who think about music, who have ideas about music. That will always be invaluable.

Ryan Chisholm: No matter whether it’s a major or an indie, you want a passionate team around your artist. Certain artists are better suited with an indie, while others need a major. Outside of the great work Major Lazer’s done, I think it’s still incredibly difficult to get traction at Top 40 without a major. Island’s been a great home for Mike Posner. It’s got the small-team feel of a devoted indie, but also the big guns of Republic’s radio team. It’s an ideal situation for an artist like Posner.

Seth England: I would say every manager’s answer will be different depending on the label their act is on—a lot different in my experience. In the case of Florida Georgia Line, we have tremendous partners in BMLG with Scott Borchetta and Jimmy Harnen. They’re just as consumed with winning as Team FGL is, and we’ve had very few speed bumps as a team. They have hired some extremely high-quality executives who blow us away weekly. Just last year, we started our own label, Big Loud Records. Our four original partners came from a “sweat equity” background, and that is how we’ve set up the label and its team. Breaking new acts is one of the hardest challenges teams face, and our team at Big Loud is figuring it out, and I couldn’t be more proud of them.

Greg Thompson: Expertise and execution. Partnership.

Jonathan Kalter: I don’t know… Does the artist sell records? Will radio play them? Do they sell product? Physical product? Does press love them? Like them? Tolerate them? This question is both vague and leading, and I dislike it for both reasons. With that said, there are some incredibly hard-working people at the labels. There are also some incredibly bright, forward-thinking people at the labels. And there are also some passionate, relentless champions of the artists at the labels. There’s a Venn Diagram there. Someone else can draw it.

Think about your recent label-signings. What were the #1 deciding factors in getting your artists with individual labels?
Bob McLynn: We need to have control so we can best manage the artist and their career. It comes down to controlling 100%. We make a record with the artist, come up with the execution plan with the artist, then need to see it through without anybody getting in our way. We need a label partner that respects and supports our efforts. For example, Train are free agents, but we opted to go back to Columbia for the upcoming album. Pat Monahan has a long history there, and they’ve been great partners, so it felt right.

Phil McIntyre: Chemistry. Everything is about chemistry for me. 

Bruce Kalmick: I think far less about the label and far more about the people who have interest in my artists. If the passion is real from an individual, then I feel like I’m adding a partner to the team. Everything else can be leveraged, outsourced, bought, etc.

Ian Montone: Every artist is different, and every artist decides differently. Much of it is based on the passion the label has shown for the artist and the ability to really understand the artist’s vision, music and where they fit, or can fit, in culture.

For a new act, what role is management playing in artist development, an area that was the purview of labels long ago? Obviously, labels wanted to get the best records possible—how much of development on the management side relates to making sure the act can deliver a solid live show?
Bob McLynn: Crush has always been an artist-development-focused company; that’s why labels like working with us. We develop the artist, then if we can get a song that creates enough of a buzz, they can help bring it home. And don’t think artist development is a one-time deal. Every artist needs to constantly work to keep their brand fresh and relevant—to reinvent, in many cases. We’re not interested in artists who go out and try to plunder off an old catalog on tour. It’s very difficult to keep it fresh and exciting, but that’s our goal every time.

Bruce Kalmick: This could be slightly different with every scenario, but Triple 8 Management employs over 30 people on a fairly small roster because we focus a lot of time and energy on developing our artists. Whether it’s in the A&R side, the content side or the touring world, we spend a lot of time elevating each vertical for our roster.

Marc Pollack: Managers and those they hire play the entire role in a band’s development. You can no longer count on anyone but your own team and the artist themselves. The resources—both financial and personnel—no longer exist outside your own companies. You need to develop and bring to market an almost finished product, and then continue to grow and adapt as that market changes. You can bring your label in to provide funding at some point, but as soon as you turn anything over, be prepared to be let down. The one thing a band can always count on is their fan base, and it’s imperative to continue to grow it—and the one way that is true now as it was years ago is to tour. The more you tour, the better you become as a live band, and the better you connect with your base as you work to expand it.

Ian Montone: The emergence of streaming and the impact that has on new acts has really put “the song” in the driver’s seat. You cannot be a developing artists in this current climate with mediocre songs—it’s just too competitive and too hard to fight for attention. On the flip side of that, if you’re a developing artist with a great song, doors can open for you extremely quickly. In the past, there were different things that could define a band: their city, the label, the subculture they came out of, their live show, their attitude. For better or for worse, I think the song now has become that first test. Is the song great? If yes, you have my attention, leading me to be interested in the other elements of your story. With that, the live show remains a very powerful tool. I think it’s a bit easier these days to skate by with a mediocre live show, but for any of the artists we work with, it’s incredibly important they can put on a great live show for their fans, because we know that will be one of the foundational elements of their career. I try to work with artists who are great live or want to work toward that.

For a new act, what role is management playing in artist development, an area that was the purview of labels long ago? 
Phil McIntyre: At Philymack, artist development is a responsibility that we take very seriously and we make sure that every step is well thought out. We put a ton of resources into developing artists and give them the same level of attention and care that we give to all our other artists. Live is the real test. It’s what separates the great from good. We start developing and focusing on that the moment we have music. 

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