The MMF Managers Spotlight is a new feature all about MMF Managers – a great opportunity to introduce you to our members, to find out what projects they are working on and how they got into music management.
The MMF catches up with Dazzled Music‘s Sean Johnston and Alex Kumar
How did the artist/manager relationships that you’re currently involved in begin? Is there any ‘typical’ way this goes down in 2018?
[Sean]: The process was incredibly natural for us. We met one of our artists, Sínai, in uni, became friends and trialed working together before making the artist/manager relationship official. Jungleboi and Dom [McAllister] were both in our circles, we were introduced to Tazer through a mutual friend, and Two Legs practically slid into our DMs – as you do haha! I don’t think there’s a universal answer to this question though. I’ve personally reached out to artists who I stumbled across on Spotify and Facebook, and then there’s more data driven ways to go about it too. We always felt that we had to build a relationship with an artist first and foremost, and genuinely believe in the music. There’s nothing wrong with picking up artists purely based on data, but the music and the artist’s vision should still be at the forefront, otherwise you’ll end up with a flash in the pan.
In your two years of doing this, what have been some key lessons you’ve walked away with?
[Sean]: Be patient, and trust the process. We feel it is important to give our artists time and space to write and create something truly authentic that will connect with an audience. There’s no rush releasing music because in the early stages, harsh as it sounds, no one is waiting for you. Looking at how things have been handled in the past, we also realised that the artist should always be in control of their career and be the one to call the shots. Managers, let alone labels, should not be the ones in power. They should act as service providers and guide the artist to a sustainable career.
What are the primary areas of business development that managers focus on in the first year of this partnership?
[Alex]: Internally, building the initial infrastructure has perhaps been the most important task within the first year of this partnership – starting with the legal structure of our business, to ways of accessing and interpreting artist data consistently and efficiently, finding the right industry partners for our artists, and developing early-stage campaigns. Building a solid foundation and strategising for the years ahead is obviously extremely important. It’s an ongoing process however, and we try to constantly improve and adjust as we go along. It’s also safe to say that networking is probably something that one can never do enough, especially in the music industry. That’s something we keep focusing on as much as we can while continuing to build.
When it comes to being presented with a deal for an artist in 2018, what factors do the artist/manager team have to take into consideration?
[Sean]: Firstly, I don’t think you should chase a deal early on. We have some game changing tools at our disposal these days, whether it be social media, streaming services, or else. The main thing for me is to get the music right. Once the music is right you can start strategising and building a presence for yourself on Insta or Spotify, or whatever platform works for you. The data you accumulate can be used to determine where to play live or to optimise ads. If your song starts to pop somewhere, you can look at engaging a PR company or pluggers, maybe shoot a music video, team up with brands etc. Once you have reached a certain level independently, labels certainly have the power to take you to the next level in your career, and that’s great. I think it’s important for the artist to remain as flexible as possible though. You would want to consider looking at single rather than album deals to start with, and keep options to an absolute minimum. Then you can test the waters with the label partner. If they deliver, fair do’s. If they don’t, then you’re free to walk away and snoop out other options. I also think it’s crucial to push for access to data if you decide to sign to a label. Imagine if you parted ways with the label, and you don’t have access to your fan data that has been accumulated. What a waste of time and energy that would be. The more you push for transparency and flexibility, the more you empower the artist.
Explain the importance of managing an artist’s expectations when it comes to getting the desired results of any given career goal.
[Alex]: The way I see it is that expectations go hand in hand with understanding. It’s imperative that the artist understands and is kept in the loop with the progression, plans and intricacies of their career/business, and I believe a good manager expects that understanding from them, and helps to facilitate it. Unrealistic expectations, to me, sometimes come from an ill-informed place, and the resulting feelings of underachievement or negativity can be disappointing and damaging. So the importance of managing an artist’s expectations is great, and there are many a way to do it I’m sure, but transparency and facilitating understanding – while obviously empowering to the artist – can also act as motivation and direction for the artist to make the right moves, and to reach the career goals you’re both working to achieve.
Is there anything in particular that you look for in an artist when considering whether to manage them?
[Sean]: There’s many things. Music, attitude and originality are at the top of the list for me. I love working with people who are real and have something to say as well. There’s nothing worse than conforming to some of the medieval standards that are ingrained in our industry. People often point out that it would be easier to break a straight, white, 16 year old male. Who cares if an artist is 30, or a black woman, or gay – it’s 2018. People will connect with a great artist if you let them be their authentic self.
What have been your most rewarding moments of managing artists so far?
[Sean]: Honestly, being part of the creative process from the start, and seeing your friends develop artistically and personally is pretty rewarding. I also love waking up to a sick new tune in my inbox. Artists can give you so much energy with their music. It’s the little things as well. Early on, I walked into a Superdrug, and they were playing one of Sínai’s and Jungleboi’s tracks, which was mental, especially knowing that it was an independent campaign.
[Alex]: Like Sean said, the little things do mean a lot. Like picking up a magazine at WHSmith and seeing your artist getting the acknowledgement you know they deserve. It’s difficult to single out one specific moment, but realising the progress we’ve made with Dazzled and our artists in these two years certainly keeps me going.
Since starting, do you feel that you’ve achieved your initial aspiration as artist managers or is there work still to do?
[Sean]: I think often times, working in music can feel anti-climatic, especially if you set the bar high for yourself and you don’t realise that you have reached certain targets. Those might seem small, but add to the bigger picture. You have to learn to appreciate and acknowledge the small things. Dazzled has only been around for 2 years, so there’s most definitely work to do. I think for most of our guys, the initial ground work is done, and now it’s all about working towards longevity for them.
[Alex]: Agreed, within these two years or so, we have reached many milestones that we set for ourselves – quite big ones too! The problem is that reaching a goal doesn’t mean that the work ends there. Quite the opposite. One day you might celebrate and feel a level of accomplishment, and the next day you pick up on work and begin following the next dream. It’s good to look back at times though and realise that if you’ve made it this far, you can definitely push further too.
What do you think will be a future challenge to managers such as yourselves?
[Sean]: Personally, I think mental illness has been, and is increasingly becoming a more visible challenge. There’s so much pressure on young artists, mainly because of social media and the initial financial strain that, unfortunately, is part and parcel of the job. Some great work has been done to promote mental health awareness, both for artists and for managers, but I don’t think that’s enough. For starters, I reckon managers need more guidance to be able to support their artists through mental health issues, if they ever have to face any. Managers and artists should also encourage each other to open up more about things they’re going through. That old rule of not sharing your problems with your artist doesn’t make sense to me – everyone is going through difficult times at some point, why pretend otherwise.
What’s keeping you busy at the moment? And what does the future have in store?
[Sean]: At the moment, we’re gearing up for some very exciting releases and collabs. Dom McAllister, Jungleboi, Tazer, and Two Legs are all releasing a bunch of records over the next months, and will be on the road soon. Sínai has some great cuts lined up and will continue to release her own records, and then we’re also working on a very different, and very exciting audio-visual project with an artist we’re announcing soon. For the future, we’re hoping that we can help our artists reach their full potential, but also help change perceptions and build a more diverse, inclusive, and equal music industry.