This week we catch up with Ella Luby, a manager at MSE business management. MSE Business Management LLP is a professional Business Management and Accountancy firm regulated by the ACCA with offices in London and New York providing expert advice to clients in the creative industries including musicians, sportspeople and entertainers.
Firstly please tell us a little bit about who you are, what you do at MSE and how you work with music managers and their clients?
My foray into entertainment accounting started 11 years ago and I have worked at 3 established accounting firms, before finding my home at MSE.
MSE was founded 5 years ago, with the intention to break away from the traditional accountancy model. This allows us to be more adaptable with changes in technology, and more flexible in our fees, whilst still providing a high standard of service.
Most of our clients are in music, sports and entertainment (MSE): musicians, producers, managers, agents, record labels, record stores, publishers, synch agents, production management, theatre productions, sports personalities, actors; and vary through to property management, travel and visa services and even online perfume retailers.
Our ethos is to support all those involved in the entertainment industry at all stages in their journey: from grassroots artists and managers at the start of their career, through to stadium-filling artists, well-known record labels and publishers, and acclaimed managers. Our portfolio comprises UK and international clients.
We fulfil all the traditional accountancy compliance services (bookkeeping, accounts, tax returns, VAT and PAYE), as well as being proactive in day-to-day business management, tour running, withholding tax planning, royalty reporting, label services, cash flow management, and tax planning.
MSE also offer US and international tax services for our clients who perform or relocate to the USA, to ensure they remain compliant in all territories.
We tailor our services to each client, from annual accounts and tax returns, through to the full running of their businesses, depending on what each client needs from us.
My primary role is to oversee the business management team and to support them in their client needs, whether this be training, lending technical knowledge, and encouraging personal development within their roles and outside of work. We are still a small firm in terms of employees; some days you roll your sleeves up and get stuck in wherever needed to support the team. I also focus on business development, give talks to share our knowledge to artists and mangers, and assist with running the practice, continuing to ensure we are giving our clients what they need from us.
No day is the same – it can be fun, frustrating, fast-paced, humbling, educational, and rewarding.
I’ll never do anything else.
What new music releases are you enjoying currently?
Over the last couple of years (do they even count? Don’t mention the C word…), I’ve found myself enjoying and exploring the new British jazz scene – there are so many
young, incredible musicians; fresh, new sounds and artists collaborating within this community. The music is diverse, and to see any of these acts live, is an experience unlike any other.
Recommendations: Moses Boyd, Ezra Collective, The Comet Is Coming, Sons of Kemet, Nubya Garcia, Ishmael Ensemble.
I am always trying to find new music and find some gems at the industry showcases and venue events – TGE, SXSW, Independent Venue Week, BBC Introducing, SoundCity, Reeperbahn, etc. I enjoyed being able to join some of these virtually over the last year – being able to see all the acts on your list without having to dash between venues is refreshing, but it’s not the same experience as being in a small venue, experiencing live music.
Have you managed to make it to any gigs since they started opening up again?
The first live performance I went to was back in June 2021, and was actually a theatre show, one of our clients is an actor and had a role in a production at the National Theatre. To see everyone at the end give a standing ovation, and to hear a crowd applauding in the same space, was overwhelming. We definitely take it for granted how special live performances are.
Since then, I’ve made it to one festival, a show at the O2 and one of my favourite in-stores at Sixty Sixty Sounds on Denmark Street.
Live is still building its return, but it does look to be going full-throttle – my calendar over the next couple of months is crammed full of great gigs around the country, in old haunts, venues I am yet to have the pleasure of and brand-new spaces.
How was business for you when COVID hit in March 2020? Any significant challenges? How did you adapt your services?
The instant loss of touring for artists, crews, session musicians, managers, venues and the teams involved has been the most notable impact.
Given there was little planning time, no-one knew what to expect and nobody expected the colossal effect it has had – our firm and our clients have managed relatively well through the *insert C word here* pandemic.
A huge shout-out to our fantastic team, we couldn’t have made it through without each and every one of them – they have worked relentlessly throughout to ensure that our clients, and each other, are supported during these extraordinary times, and have continued to learn, grow and develop to come back stronger.
We had an evolving plan as events developed, as to how our office and staff would transition to working from home, and what our clients would need from us most at the start. Fortunately, we were able to pick up our laptops, a couple of bits of equipment, and setup from home without missing a beat.
Initially, we were helping our clients most in need of maintaining cashflow with the loss of touring. In the immediate short-term, this involved a firm-wide review of all individuals and companies who would be entitled to the various support schemes: council grants, SEISS/CJRS, and provided schedules of industry funding from the various societies and unions.
Mid-to-long term, this has been more focused on cashflow management. We reviewed current cash positions, projected how long this could last, and worked with businesses to find their “crunch-point”. This allowed owners and managers to have a timeframe to negotiate deals, and to be able to plan.
The length of the pandemic has been the hardest, the goalposts are constantly moving, and what we all thought would be 6-9 months, is now well into the second year.
We are starting to see tours happening, money moving, and increasingly solid, future plans being made. We hope the momentum continues.
At what stage would you say it makes sense for an artist to bring on an accountant/business manager?
We generally advise an artist to bring on a business manager/accountant just before they sign their first deal. The amounts can be significant; it is important to have the business structure correct, the tax-planning in place to ensure you retain as much cash as you should be whilst paying the right amount of tax, and the cash planning to allow artists to stretch the funds for as long as they can be, whilst working with management to be able to take advantage of opportunities as they arise.
Major recording label contracts contain an obligation to appoint an accountant to report back to the label where there are 360 deals in place, and we assist with reviewing budgets and delivering back-end reporting to ensure artists draw down as much tour support as they are entitled to.
This also allows management to ensure commissions are correct and paid out on time.
We are always happy to provide free of charge, ad-hoc advice, even before this point, to ensure that everyone is heading in the right direction when the deals come around.
What do you think the next few years will look like for the music industry as we recover from the pandemic?
We have seen changes during the pandemic. Management and artists have had to be more creative and diverse in their sources of income, some of which may not have been obvious pre-pandemic. There have been some especially innovative release campaigns, which push for a more personal connection between artists and their fans. People have become more connected globally, performing virtual shows internationally without having to leave home and finding partnerships with brands around the world.
We anticipate an exciting and fast-building return to touring. The continually changing travel restrictions will see many acts focus on home territories initially, and internationally as restrictions allow. It’s a great time for the home fans.
We are not out of the woods yet though, and there are additional complications with Brexit with regards to European shows. There are specific restrictions with logistics and visas. We are hoping agreements can be negotiated to allow musicians and their teams to be able to undertake tours without burdensome restrictions before too long. Solid planning, foresight and adaptability are going to be key to decision making and unlocking the live side to its former levels.
Where there is a will, there will be a way. Music will always find a way.
Is there anything you would like to say to managers who are interested in finding out more about MSE?
Absolutely – feel free to reach out to myself or any of the MSE team, whether it’s to explore how we can help, or even just to bounce ideas around.
T: 0208 362 2299