Manager Spotlight: Steve Abbott

05 January 2022

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Manager Spotlight offers a small insight into the heads of incredible managers. This week in the spotlight is MMF Accelerator manager, Steve Abbott.

How long have you worked in management?

I started managing my punk band I was a singer in around 1979, as we couldn’t find a decent manger (not much has changed there). From there, I went on to start an independent record label, Big Cat Records, which morphed into a management and record label, as the band I was working with simply couldn’t find decent managers (it was still the days of managers sucking on cigars & phrases like ‘it will be alright son, I’ll look after you’).

One of the first bands we managed was EMF, which brought the experience of a worldwide hit and #1 record in America. It also really opened our eyes to the lack of equity in the fruits of success for an artist / manager compared to ‘the music business’. My business partner Linda Obadiah had the idea to start an organisation for managers to share experience, along with the managers of Simply Red, Dire Straights, the legendary Peter Grant, we formed the MMF in Manchester at the ‘In the City’ conference in the early 1990s.

We actually resigned from the organisation when at the next annual meeting, the other members failed to let a single female or person of colour to the management committee. Now I’ve seen the MMF has drastically changed, I’ve recently rejoined.

Who do you manage now?

We currently manage acts mostly in the Jazz or Classical field, including Jules Buckley, Cassie Kinoshi (seed.), Zara McFarlane, pianist Lang Lang, legendary songwriter Guy Chambers & Cerys Matthews. We have recently taken on two very exciting young artists, Plinio Fernandes, a guitarist from Sao Paolo, Brazil & 22 year old composer from Reykjavik, Gabriel Olafs.

Previous artists we have worked with include EMF, Jeff Buckley, Mercury Rev, Pavement, Augustus Pablo, Mikey Dread, the Claytown Troupe, Carter (USM), Nicola Benedetti & I’ve just finished managing Max Richter after 7 years.

We also recently sold our Good Life Experience Festival.

Where did you find your first client and what inspired you to take them on?

Our first clients really came from people that were friends through hanging out. It was very much ‘friend becomes fifth member of the band/manager’.

What’s a good/bad day at work look like for you? 

All of us at Harmonic artists are workaholics, so a good days work is starting around 8am and finishing early evening & saving the sacred two hours on a Saturday afternoon without artists calling to watch the super Luton Town FC.

The bad days are being stuck on Zooms that morph into chat rooms & of course being fired, which has happened to us twice. Which brings me to the recent wisdom I heard from manager Paul Crockford, about the two inevitable experiences of a manager. Number 1 – If the artist fails the manager gets fired. Number 2 – If the artist wildly exceeds expectations, the manager gets fired (rather than be paid).

What has been the highlight of your management career to date?

I think its being able to use all the acquired knowledge, both positive & negative to work the non purely business purposes & I’m very proud to be a trustee of a wonderful Black led organisation, Tomorrow’s Warriors, who have just celebrated their 30th birthday & are pretty well responsible for 99% of the great Jazz being made in this country at the moment.

In non-music spheres as a trustee of Poet in the City. Yes, lyricists are poets & yes, poets are musicians in their musical use of language.

What do you think are the big challenges for a manager in 2021?

I think the biggest challenge is earning a living. We all know the streaming model is broken & we haven’t really found a solution to live performance through Covid times, but being an optimist, I think the relationship between a manager and artist is ever becoming fairer towards both manager & artist & somehow we will survive, as managers are traditionally fighters. I think now diversity is at the front of so many conversations, I would like to appeal to everybody to really proactively fight to unleash the potential, which will be a huge benefit to our business of the people that have been previously marginalised, through heritage or gender. That’s an obvious thing to say and it sounds very corny, but it took the tragedy of George Floyd to get responses from labels, agents & organisations in the business to what had been a long standing offer to improve their connection to the huge resource of that marginalised talent into our business.

What music are you currently listening to?
I’ve just been music supervising for a Sky Cinema production, ‘A Christmas Number One’, which has great songs, however I’m over Christmas music.

So, very handily, my Spotify top artists of 2021 include Mulatu Astatke, un.procedure, Uno Helmersson, Tony Allen/Hugh Masekela, Camilla George, Jelly Cleaver & as always Stevie Wonder, Son House, Bill Evans & Donnie McClurkin.

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