Artist & Manager Awards 2017: Interview with Producer Manager of the Year Winner Jill Hollywood

13 November 2017

Jill Hollywood never set out to be a manager, instead arriving in London in the mid ’90s as an ambitious graduate who had dreams of writing for The Face.

After finishing a journalism degree in Sydney, she spent 18 months editing dance music publication 3D World before the bright lights of London beckoned.

While her initial plan didn’t materialise, the leap of faith was the beginning of a long career in music that’s seen Hollywood work with some of the most sought-after writers and producers of the last 20 years. 

“I came over thinking I’d get a job with Sheryl Garratt who was then editor of The Face,” she remembers. I had no money and no contacts, just a portfolio with great stories, but I couldn’t get enough work.”

So she found a temp job in the music industry, which kick-started eight years working in A&R at Polygram and Telstar during the most affluent years of the business.

“I dived headfirst into A&R. I was so green but super keen to learn and fell on my feet at Polygram. I worked for some really cool people who were very generous with their contacts. There was so much to learn and it was a really great way to do it because I would jump into my car and drive around the country seeing bands. It was a different climate then, there were lots of bands and loads of venues. It was really fascinating.”

Thanks to generous recording budgets, Hollywood was able to team her artists with revered producers such as Jacknife Lee (U2, Jake Bugg, R.E.M.), Jagz Kooner (Manic Street Preachers, Primal Scream) and Youth (Pink Floyd, The Verve, Embrace). “That’s where I discovered how to make records,” she adds.

When Telstar went down, Jazz Summers offered Hollywood a job working with the producers on his roster at Big Life. She was hired when eight months pregnant with her first child, and the support and flexibility of Summers, who passed away in 2015, inspired 10 years of loyalty. 

“I felt that he’d really stuck his neck out for me and it was so encouraging. I don’t know a lot of other men in the business that would have hired someone into a new role when eight months pregnant. 

“My experience of women in the business that have had babies is that it makes them hungrier for success and for their families. Maybe Jazz was clever enough to know that it would make me a better employee.”

During her time at Big Life, Hollywood helped guide the careers of Lee and Youth, as well as Cam Blackwood (George Ezra, Amy Macdonald) and MyRiot (London Grammar, Birdy, James Morrison). In 2016, she decided it was time to go it alone and launched Echo Beach Management.

Lee, Blackwood and MyRiot joined the Echo Beach roster, which also includes mix engineer Ash Howes (One Direction, The Corrs, Dido), Chris Zane (Passion Pit, St Lucia) mix specialist Dave Bascombe (Depeche Mode, Tears For Fears), orchestral arranger Davide Rossi (Coldplay, Alicia Keys), renowned DJ Alex Metric and vocal coach Lorna Blackwood (Rae Morris, Years & Years). In September, legendary Grammy award winning mix engineer Michael Brauer was added to that list. 

In recognition of the longevity and success of her creative partnerships, Hollywood will be honoured with the Writer/Producer Manager Award at the 6th annual Artist & Manager Awards on November 14th. 

Ahead of the ceremony, we sat down to chat with her about the most important lessons she’s learned during 20 years in the music business, the changing roles of managers, producers and writers, and why she’d like to see more support for new talent. 

How did your background in A&R set you up for producer management?

A lot. As a manager, you learn how to make a record and the importance of what producers bring to the project. I’m so lucky to manage the guys that I do and see what experience, passion and skills songwriting craft can bring to a band. When bands sign a deal, a lot of them haven’t made a record before and don’t have that songwriting craft. Producers are the ones that form, shape and create success really. A&R opened my eyes to that.

What are the biggest lessons you learned during your time at Big Life?

Jazz used to always say to me, ‘Get the music right and the money will follow.’ He had a forensic approach to getting the songs and mixes right with small subtle changes that really made a difference. I think that’s key because you can make the best record in the world, but once you’ve let it go you can’t be responsible for the success. You can feel quite powerless but if you let yourself get bogged down in the business side you forget that it’s just about the music. All you can really do is focus on making the music right. 

How do you choose who to work with at Echo Beach?

I have a tendency to work with artists that are really musical. Technology has opened up the playing field for people to make records with a laptop but there is a world of difference between a programmer and someone who can produce other people’s records. If you’re really musical and a songwriter, that can solve most of the issues that come up in records. 

Having a really great space to record in is really important on a practical level. Budgets are such that there is not enough money to pay for that space. Then I look for a little bit of experience. The first few years of grump work are the years that producers should be doing on their own. It’s only when they’ve learnt who they are and how they work, and built up a bit of traction, that a manager can step in and create a career.

I also build my roster based on what the people I work with need. I took on Lorna Blackwood after artists that came to us were asking for help with vocal coaching, and Coldplay’s string arranger Davide Rossi joined because a lot of my clients had big visions for songs and needed orchestral arrangements. There’s a lot of collaboration, which is something I learned from Big Life as well.

What advice would you give to someone launching their own management company?

Always work with people you think are super talented and unique. Managers are sales people so you have to get to know your clients and be really proud of the work that they do in order to be able to go out there and promote it. 

I’ve managed some of my clients for 10 years. I speak to them every single day, and sometimes things go great and it’s easy to pick up the phone, and sometimes things aren’t so great which makes the phone calls harder. Unless you actually like them as people and respect what they do, you won’t get through those times.

All I have to do at the end of every day is put on some music that they’ve made and it reminds me exactly why it is that I’mout there finding them work and hustling.

What’s the role of a manager in 2017, and have you witnessed that changing during your time in business?

It’s definitely more A&R focused. Over the last five years, major record companies have taken a step back in development so the role of managers and producers in developing artists is absolutely key. 

We are making a lot of records with artists that would have been signed four years ago that aren’t now. That means we are often forced to look at really small budgets and the only way we can assess whether we want to get involved is belief in the artist. 

I think managers are having to be everything now; the record company, agents—because without a record deal agents are less keen to get involved—and financiers, because there is no money from a label to make records, or they are getting more savvy about how to work branding and sync opportunities.

It’s even harder now to establish or break an act so it takes more perseverance, intelligence and passion to deliver the same things that were easier 10 years ago.

What are the biggest developments you’ve seen in the production world?

In pop, 17 names at the end of a big hit on the Billboard Chart is fundamentally different. When I started in the business, most artists wrote their own songs and if there was help it was from a producer so there might have been one other person on the credits.

Artist songs are now passed around between writers and there is a tendency for the same people to be used each time. There is a lot of money concentrated in very few people.

We need to find a way of trickling that down to the developing writer producers who will ultimately be the hit writers of tomorrow, but need to stay in the game now to make sure they’ve got a chance to do it in a few years’ time.

And that’s because they’re being paid on a royalty basis and songs might not get cut?

Yes, and there is a lot of experimentation with artists that goes on. A&R people have a tendency to do a years’ worth of writing, especially with young artists, so you’ve got producers or writers along the way that are there as a part of the development. Unless they are financed they won’t be there to do it in future.

Would you like to see them being paid per session?

Maybe. There is certainly talk amongst management circles that basic studio costs should be covered for writing sessions and I know some managers are insisting on that now. That might become the norm, and it certainly is in some countries so it’s not a radical thought. 

My attitude is to be a little bit more selective about the sessions you do. If you make your clients overly accessible you diminish what they can bring.

Can you pinpoint a proudest moment from your career?

The challenge of starting my own company and making it successful has been really rewarding for me, and to have the validation of this award 18 months in is really encouraging. Outside of that, I have a few and they are all to do with the records that we’ve made. Jacknife Lee recently had a No.1 album with The Killers in the UK and the US, and MyRiot had a No.1 record in the UK with London Grammar earlier this year. When Cam Blackwood did the George Ezra album, which sold four million around the world, that was a really proud moment for me. When you make great records that have touched people and connected with them worldwide, it’s really easy to feel good about what you do.

How about the most challenging times?

The hardest times are when you know you’ve got a really talented artist, producer or writer, and they haven’t had that flame of success or run of luck that you know they are capable of having.

It’s challenging to make sure that all my clients are recognised in the industry for the talent that they have. It’s a cyclical industry, producers can come in and out of fashion, and A&R people have a tendency to work with the same ones.

How do you keep your clients happy and motivated in that environment?

By providing them with the opportunity to be creative. All the guys I manage are artists so if they’ve made two records on the trot that they are not loving or finding difficult, it’s about taking a step back from that and working out how to fill them up creatively. That can be them finding their own music or finding an artist that you think will inspire them again. Producers are artists, they have artistic temperaments and they need to be fulfilled. Success can bring satisfaction on some levels but it doesn’t always bring them everything they need.

What would you change about the music industry and why?

I would change the exposure for new artists on national radio. So few records are added to national radio stations so there aren’t many opportunities for new artists to break through in that format. 

Time and time again, we are seeing artists breaking out of countries like Germany because they have powerful individual radio stations with really progressive radio programmers. That’s why artists like George Ezra and Rag’n’Bone Man can break through Europe. That’s difficult in the UK, and when you’ve only got one artist breaking in a year, that to me says the system isn’t working. We made some beautiful records last year that didn’t see the light of day because there wasn’t a space for them. There are very few TV shows now too, which makes it harder.

It’s very hard to break an artist through a Spotify playlist and maintain any kind of momentum. It might get you a lot of international industry attention, but those New Music Friday playlists come and go every week.

So until we solve that record companies will really struggle. They won’t sign anything which is what’s happening now. I understand that only 30 acts were signed across Universal’s four major labels this year, whereas last year they were signing 30 each. That reduction is quite frightening.

Spotify has hit headlines this year for filling its playlists with ‘fake artists’—music made by producers using aliases, the copyright of which is owned by Spotify. Is that something you’ve had any dealings with?

I would love it if Spotify rang me up and said, ‘I’m going to get you £5k to make a latino acid jazz album and we’re going to get it on every latino playlist that we’ve got… !’ No, I haven’t experienced that. 

But I do think there is a bit of a dark art about the Spotify playlists. There is definitely machinations at Spotify about bringing through artists and acting as a record company. No one knows what the deals between the major labels and Spotify were because of NDAs, but my understanding is that Spotify managed to do those deals with the majors on the understanding that it wouldn’t become a record company. But there is definitely a line being crossed between Spotify just promoting music and it actually getting involved in breaking acts.

We see it with artists that we’re working with—being ushered into the office and encouraged to remain independent on the understanding that there would be a little bit more support from Spotify. It’s going to be interesting to see how that pans out. 

Is Spotify ultimately a good thing for the music business?

Spotify has meant that a lot more people are listening to a lot more music so it can’t be bad. The technology is quite new and if you consider that only 2% of the global population has a Spotify premium account, imagine if it was 5%, how much more money would be trickling down? I’d really like to see artists getting a higher share of their streaming income over 25%, which is the average maximum you get from a major. There’s a lot of money going in but by the time the major record companies have creamed it off there is a tiny spout coming out the bottom.

I think that will change, artists will either stay independent to keep control of that streaming income, or do deals with label services companies that offer a half way solution. You’ll get a lot of artists breaking outside of the major record companies. When that starts to happen, the majors will start giving artists more control because otherwise they won’t get artists to sign to them.

Final question: what are your future ambitions?

I don’t think I’ll stray further from producer writer management. What I really want to continue to do is to make sure my artists have careers in 10 years‘ time. It’s very easy to be distracted by the new, but the more records you make as a writer/producer, the better you get.

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