Eleven Management is a prime example of a progressive company that’s navigating its way through the often murky waters of the music business with no trepidation.
Founded by Niamh Byrne and Régine Moylett, the firm was honoured for its groundbreaking work with the Entrepreneur of the Year Award at the Artist and Manager Awards in November.
The accolade arrived in the midst of Gorillaz’ multi-dimensional fifth album campaign, which included a VR video, an augmented reality app, 15k cap. festival, arena tour, multiple brand partnerships and much more.
Titled Humanz, the record peaked at No.2 in the UK and No.1 in the US charts, and topped iTunes rankings in more than 50 countries within hours of release.
Róisín Murphy is another act on Eleven’s roster who has challenged convention many a time over her long career, alongside Gorillaz mastermind Damon Albarn, and British treasures Blur and The Clash.
So how did it all begin?
Byrne started her music business career working in recording studios after studying a sound engineering module. “I never wanted to be an engineer but I felt it was important to understand the recording process,” she explains.
A stint in retail working at Tower Records followed, before a job in management came about with Chris Morrison of CMO Management in the early ‘90s.
It was there Byrne first worked with Albarn and Blur, as well as The Jesus and Mary Chain and Elastica. “It was a great initiation and with Chris being one of the old-school managers, I definitely got the full immersion,” she says.
Moylett was originally planning on working in banking as a currency dealer before the arrival of punk in Dublin inspired her to pursue a more creative career.
She says: “There are exceptional musicians in my family and I quickly learned that I’m not one of them, so I chose to write about music and appreciate it instead of doing it.”
While freelancing for the NME, Moylett met the late legendary music publicist Rob Partridge, who gave her a job in Island Records’ press office. It was over the course of a few decades working as a publicist that she was introduced to Albarn and then Byrne.
Here, we pose a few questions to the duo to find out how they do business and where they think the most exciting and lucrative opportunities for artists and managers are today.
What is the role of a manager in 2017, and have you seen that change during your time in business?
Byrne: The role of management has changed massively. It’s much more of a partnership now and we work very much hand in hand with our artists. The business has changed too so we need to forge new ways of doing things. There are much more innovative ways to get your music out there, you don’t have to be beholden to the traditional model. It’s an exciting time and the artist is definitely in the driving seat.
Can you tell us the story behind Gorillaz’ latest album campaign?
Byrne: Any campaign we have worked on always starts with the music/concept and once that’s established we work hard to translate that into other mediums. We try to stay true to the concept as much as possible as it’s always much stronger that way. It feels like a natural transition to be involved in many more touch points than just the record – anyone who loves music likes to experience it in many ways.
Moylett: The original idea comes from the artist and here we started with the concept of a Spirit House, a place or experience which transforms us. The project was to hang in the moment after the experience but before the full realisation of the consequences dawns. All we had to do was translate that. The beauty of Gorillaz is that you can enter at any level and find something interesting. You can be fascinated by cartoons or the cosmos or a catchy beat or tune or some plain ol’ allegory—there’s something for everyone.
You forged a lot of creative partnerships with brands for Humanz. What advice would you give to other managers looking for similar deals?
Byrne: We are lucky, the brands that we have relationships with have been really open to the band’s vision and style of working. We’ve been really impressed that the brands that we have been working with have been incredibly forward thinking and not at all risk adverse. This may not be true of all, so I think it’s really important to find a brand that is a genuinely good fit.
All the brands that we have worked with have taken a leap of faith, and when you find brands that commit to you in that way, it can only be a good thing. They have allowed us to do things that we would not have otherwise been able to do. That said, it’s really important to be understanding and know that there has to be a mutual benefit, so you must deliver.
Where are the most exciting opportunities for artists and managers now?
Byrne: We’ve just set up Gorillaz clothing brand G Foot and our festival Demon Dayz. Both have been great ways to expand the world of Gorillaz and create other opportunities. I think artists and managers can think more laterally in how they do things. There is no right or wrong way.
Do you have any predictions on how artists will make money in future?
Byrne: I don’t have a crystal ball, but I do know that one will always need to be a few steps ahead and be awake to opportunities and shifts in the business and learn to always adapt and change. I know it won’t be one thing or another and it will totally be dependent on the artist and how they shape things.
Moylett: People with good ideas will always be popular. So many people are looking for someone to follow and artists fill that space beautifully. If you get a following, the money will come.
Streaming services and playlists are seen by some as dangerous for growing dedicated fanbases and engagement. How do you counter that?
Byrne: I am not sure you can. It seems to be impossible to influence playlists unless you carry weight. It could be controversial, but I think bands and artists may find alternative ways of streaming music, unless of course you are one of the few that are in excess of 300 million global streams. What’s the next big thing? Are we looking that far ahead?
What are the biggest lessons you’ve learned during your career to date?
Byrne: Feel the fear and do it anyway. It’s not going to be good unless you are scared in some way. Take calculated risks but always take a risk.
Moylett: The oldest lesson really, don’t be afraid to fail, or as one of my artists said, ‘Jump off the cliff, you’ll discover you can fly.’
Finally, what are your future ambitions?
Niamh: To continue to do great work.
Moylett: To be able to continue is success as far as I’m concerned!