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Blighty Beat

While management has historically been a notoriously male-dominated field, there’s a growing number of top female music managers in the U.K. who are steering their acts to stardom. Below, you’ll hear from those working in band, producer and artist management who discuss their rules for success and much more.

Tara Richardson has been at Q Prime for over a decade after starting her career in major-label land. Her roster began with Snow Patrol, then Foals and Declan McKenna; she’s recently signed hotly tipped Coventry band FEET and Irish act The Murder Capital.

Martha Kinn started her career managing the platinum-selling duo Rizzle Kicks before joining Machine Management, where, for the last five years, she’s been looking after Years & Years, who hit #3 with their second album earlier this year. She also manages developing London artist Bree Runway.

Jazmin Sherman recently set up her own JV with Urok, Hunger Mgmt, where she represents Anne-Marie, who has the U.K.’s biggest debut album of 2018 so far, and developing act Grace Barker. Sherman previously looked after both at Rocket Music, where she spent the last seven years.

Laura Lukanz is the Executive Vice President of Artist and Producer Development at First Access Entertainment, which she joined in 2014 after a career in BBC Radio. Her roster includes Ray BLK, Team Salut, Kara Marni, Saltwives, Liam Bailey, Culture x Tones and Lauren Frawley.

Hannah Neaves last year joined TaP Music, which encompasses a management, label and publishing arm, as Director of Marketing and Artist Development. That followed stints at Atlantic and Polydor. At TaP, Neaves has a broad remit that includes working on grassroots campaigns for TaP Records signings, while helming creative direction and release strategy for superstar management clients including Dua Lipa and Lana Del Rey.

Tell us about the artist projects/campaigns you’re currently working on.

Tara Richardson: Over the past four years, I signed and developed Declan McKenna. I met the school-uniformed young snapper just after he’d turned 16, and we have since signed to Columbia Records and Kobalt for publishing, and sold out venues all over the U.K. and the U.S., culminating in the Forum London and Academy 1 in Manchester. His debut album missed the Top 10 by 38 copies, because the label didn’t order enough vinyl—we sold out before the album was released.

FEET are about to go into the studio to record their debut album with Cam Blackwood [George Ezra, Frank Carter & the Rattlesnakes]. We will launch and release their debut in 2019, and are still undecided whether to sign to one of the interested labels or self-release.

My latest signing is The Murder Capital from Dublin: a five-piece post-punk force of nature. They’re writing and playing gigs in between university work; they’ll record in February 2019 and release an album late summer. Again, we’re undecided whether to sign to one of the many interested labels or self-release.

Jazmin Sherman: There have honestly been so many highlights this year. The best day was releasing Anne-Marie’s debut album, Speak Your Mind. I met Anne-Marie six years ago when she signed to Rocket, and we’ve been working together for over two years now. Next up, we have her sold-out November tour, including two Brixton Academy shows. The ambition is to break her internationally—I’d like her to be selling shows in every corner of the globe. This year we’ve really made serious headway, but there’s a lot to do still in the U.S. and Latin America.

Gracey is signed to Polydor and has an amazing team there. We are just getting ready for her first release early next year. She’s written this song that is truly moving, and I cannot wait for everyone to hear it. The ambition has always been twofold: establish Grace Barker as one of the best young topliners in the U.K. [she’s had cuts with Jonas Blue, Sub Focus, MJ Cole and Olly Murs] and build her artist project. The music is truly brilliant.

Martha Kinn: Years & Years keep me busy. We’re in the middle of our second-album campaign and have spent 2018 travelling the world—from making a short sci-fi film in Thailand to travelling across Europe, then Japan and Korea this summer. They’re currently on a headline tour in North America, and we’re just gearing up for phase two, which means brand-new music and more global touring. I’m also managing a new solo artist, Bree Runway, who describes herself as “the love child of Lil Kim and Lady Gaga.” She recently signed with Virgin, and we’ll be releasing music next year, which I can’t wait for everyone to hear. The world isn’t ready!

Laura Lukanz: In my role at FAE, I work across management, label and publishing—alongside managing I also sign and develop artists to our record label and writers and producers to our publishing company. It’s a small but growing label team, and I oversee the U.K. label campaigns and get involved in all aspects of music, creative and release planning. To work cross-discipline is a privilege that gives me a holistic view of the business, but it’s also one of my biggest challenges, constantly switching hats.

Hannah Neaves: Ellie Goulding’s Diplo collaboration featuring Swae Lee is out, with a gigantic video to follow. Dua’s Complete Edition reissue includes a collaboration with K-Pop girl band BLACKPINK. Dermot Kennedy’s new single “Power Over Me” is out, and he’s announced a Brixton Academy show in 2019. Grace Carter’s current track “Why Her Not Me” has over 3 million monthly listeners on Spotify. TaP Records signings Col3trane are nominated for a Music Video Award, and Moby Rich is a brand-new band from L.A. whose debut EP is just out—plus we have some new as yet unreleased signings. And I can’t wait for the new Lana album next year.

Jazmin, can you tell us more about Hunger?

Jazmin: I wanted a new environment to start my own company but within the framework of a dynamic, internationally successful management company. Both [Urok founders] Sam and Roy [Eldridge]’s experience over the last 20 years on the frontline of music management was something I was inspired by and exactly what I needed to make that happen.

Sam has allowed me to create my own brand and have independence within Urok through our JV, so I can continue to manage the artists that I look after but have the backup support from his amazing, hard-working team as well. I haven’t started working with anyone else beyond Anne-Marie and Gracey—management is so time-consuming and involves a huge amount of nurturing that it makes it hard to manage too many acts at one time. The fear would be to spread yourself too thin and not give the artists all the attention they really need.

I called it Hunger Mgmt after one of my favourite books, Hunger Makes Me A Modern Girl, by Carrie Brownstein. She was in Sleater-Kinney and toured around the world, left music and wrote a TV show called Portlandia, which she also stars in. She’s unbelievably smart and funny. After reading the book, I felt really attached to the title, because I think hunger is the reason why we do anything.

What are the biggest challenges you face as a manager working with British music in 2018?

Tara: The gender pay gap. The constant male-led award nominations. The changing markets. Foals rose from the ashes during some of the bleakest years in the record business, so we know that good music and great live shows overcome, but it’s still an ever-changing climate, and we must always ensure we are one step ahead. Keeping your finger on the pulse and never losing touch with the people who buy your records is imperative.

Jazmin: Making people care. There are so many new artists, songs and albums coming through, it’s really hard to cut through and get people to pay attention. I think on a personal level, managing artists now with 24/7 access to Wi-Fi/signal/emails is difficult, because there’s very little chance to turn off. That’s more of a mental challenge and something I think we all need to work on. Just because you can be available all day every day doesn’t mean you should be, especially for your mental health.

Martha: If you’re not in the upper echelon of artists, like Drake or Ed Sheeran, trying to have a streaming/radio hit in 2018 is a constant uphill battle—you’re competing on a global stage, and that’s a lot of pressure. I’ve encountered a more risk-averse approach from major labels, which can be at odds with setting your artists up for a long and creatively rich career. I believe there’s so much value in the way that an act can affect a wider cultural conversation, but that’s a value that can’t be quantified—and it’s certainly not what some figure-obsessed labels are interested in. So finding a balance between art and commerce and keeping your artist and the label happy is tough.

Hannah: Patience is key, as is having enough great music to sustain a lengthy development period. It’s crucial to establish a unique artist proposition and stick to it. It can be very easy to make bad decisions and dilute the artist message because you feel pressure to move the campaign unnaturally fast. At TaP, that’s something we are small enough and focussed enough to avoid, thankfully.

Do you have a management mantra/one rule you always stick by?

Tara: Our company line is, “We don’t manage assholes,” and my personal mantra is “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” The golden rule.

Jazmin: It’s only music…

Martha: I think it’s important to keep perspective and remind your artists that, no matter how tough and pressured things get, you’ve got to have fun and be able to laugh at the ridiculousness of it all. This might sound obvious, but the most important thing above all else is to prioritise your artist’s mental health and well-being.

Laura: I have learnt over the years, sometimes the hard way, to always trust my instincts.

What is key to the continued success of the British music industry in today’s world?

Tara: Good songs, hard work ethic, global visions and open-mindedness. It’s constantly moving, so you have to be able to adapt and move quickly. Guitar music is making a comeback—it always does—and we are ready.

Jazmin: Labels, publishers, managers and artists taking chances. I think the second people make or sign “safe” music so it works for specific DSPs, you start doing music by numbers—and that is the exact opposite reason why any of the amazing British artists have broken before.

Martha: As much as we might not want to believe it, the album model is outdated, especially in pop music. That’s not to say albums have no value, but I think it’s smarter to view it as a small part of the meal, not the main course. You’ve got to keep your artists active by releasing new music outside of an album, collaborating with other artists, touring, doing promo, looking for opportunities outside of music.

Always have a global approach in mind and don’t let ego prevent you from doing the work in territories where you’re less successful. Don’t follow the status quo—be in your own lane, come up with innovative ideas, push boundaries and take risks. I firmly believe the key to an artist’s longevity is to have something unique and brave to show the world.

Laura: Every artist wants to grow and reach new audiences, and the digital platforms have removed the barriers to entry for creators and opened up a global audience, so an international strategy is extremely important. Being prepared and able to take advantage if you get a connection is vital. I also think much more investment, support and opportunities for new talent in the developmental stages when they need that belief and backing from platforms remains critical.

How many U.K. artists have actually ‘broken’ through in the last 18 months? The answer is not enough. I would love to see wider support for female artists, who are consistently under-represented in global streaming charts, radio playlists and events, festival lineups, and industry-led awards. It takes a conscious effort and simultaneous support across all platforms to make a positive shift.

Hannah: The same as it’s always been—global stars with mass appeal. Streaming has actually localised music in many ways, with the U.K. urban scene being huge but unfortunately not hugely exportable.

What is the most exciting thing about U.K. music and the industry right now—what’s on the horizon?

Tara: Great guitar bands! The best bands in the world have come from the U.K. and Eire, and there’s a new wave of angry kids coming for you. Generation Z is the best, most creative generation I’ve ever known, and it’s reflected in all these wicked young bands on the scene here, and in Ireland especially—where they haven’t taken music out of the curriculum and haven’t knocked down all the youth clubs to build apartments for foreign investors. Working-class kids writing about real life issues. If the U.K. can just take note and help their working classes express themselves again—other than our fantastic grime movement—then we will reign supreme for many years to come.

Martha: This drive for unique voices and an easier route to market has created a growing diversity in the industry. Artists are increasingly free to be themselves—in particular, I’m amazed to see how many more LGBTQ+ artists and previously marginalised voices are coming through, even though we have a long way to go. It’s a cliché, but this is a time of big change—labels are realising that artists can become a creative and financially successful force by themselves. There’s no longer one definition of success, or even a single path to market success; there are lots of different options available to aspiring acts from all different backgrounds. Never before has there been more of a need for these types of artists to be seen and heard.

Laura: Aside from the rise and commercial success of U.K. black music, it would be the spirit of independence. We are seeing more and more artists wanting to remain independent and be self-made, to keep hold of their power, to set up their own imprints or to identify joint ventures that allow full control over creative decisions. And it’s exciting, because FAE is at the heart of this ethos, and incredible talent is seeking us out. Our deals are collaborative partnerships, so we work side by side with artists, guiding, building, supporting, securing bespoke opportunities. We have a fast-moving, fluid ecosystem with a global infrastructure, which allows us to invest significantly in the shared vision. We are building an alternative creative community on our own terms.

Hannah: From a pure fan perspective, I am a huge fan of big collaborations with fantastic overblown videos. We’re in such a collaborations market now, thanks to Spotify so I’d like to see more girl get-togethers in the vein of the ’90s superstars—Lady Marmalade, Eve and Gwen Stefani, Beyoncé and Shakira, but with our British girls getting involved this time.