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Interview with STEPHEN BUDD, producer manager at SBM for Rick Nowells, Mike Hedges, Tore Johansson, Arthur Baker - Dec 4, 2000

ďIíve known some of the biggest producers ever who are absolutely crap when theyíre put in front of potential clients and have to sell themselves. ď

picture Stephen Budd runs Stephen Budd Management, a management company for producers based in London, UK. Clients include Mike Hedges (The Cure, Manic Street Preachers, Travis), Rick Nowels (Madonna, The Corrs, Melanie C), Chris Kimsey (Rolling Stones, INXS, Johnny Halliday) and many more.

How did you start off in the music business and how did you become a manager for producers?

My first real experience, when I was 15, was acting as a stage manager at the free pop festivals in the mid-70s. As a result of that, I got a job as a roadie with a PA company who did the first Motorhead tour, Hawkwind, stuff like that. I did that for 2 or 3 years and saved up a little bit of money.

By the time I was 19 or 20 punk had started happening. I found a band I liked, and told them I wanted to put out a single for them, not really knowing what the hell I was doing frankly. I got them to agree and spent a couple of hundred quid recording them. Then I pressed up a load of 7"s, realised I hadnít pressed any labels up, then had to do loads of labels, then realised I hadnít got any sleeves for them, so had to do those. I learnt the hard way really, because in those days, there was no one-stop shop for the manufacture of records.

Then I took those singles down to Geoff Travis at Rough Trade, who bought them all from me. So I went back to the factory and got a load more pressed up, went and saw Geoff, got some more cash, and so on. Funnily enough, that first single I put out did reasonably well - it was No.2 in the Independent Chart. It was by a band called Second Layer and was probably the first single ever to have a drum machine on it.

I continued to put out singles on a tiny label that was effectively run from my bedroom. I signed a band called The Cardiacs, who are still around today, and a band called The Sound, who I then recorded an album with, and then signed them on to Warner. I also managed The Directions, who later became The Big Sound Authority.

I eventually got into management for producers because one of the bands, The Big Sound Authority I think it was, needed a producer for an album, and I called up Tony Visconti, who was David Bowieís producer, and we got along really well, and he suggested I look after him and his studio, and it came out of that really. This was in 1985.

Then in order to keep the studio busy I thought that if I managed a few producers I could persuade them to come and work in the studio. It didnít really work out like that, because producers wanted to work wherever they wanted to work. But that was the start of the company, and at that time it was a bit radical for producers to be sold.

I just remember talking to The Smiths, and them saying theyíd love to work with Tony Visconti, but they didnít dare call him, they thought he just wouldnít answer their calls, and I thought this was bonkers. So I created a more active promotional role for producers. I canít say I was the first, but, at that time there were only three other competitors in the UK - Worldís End, Dennis Muirhead, and Zomba.

Were there any great obstacles or hardships to overcome in establishing Stephen Budd Management?

Itís all been a great obstacle! Itís all blood and guts really. Iím heavily sales and marketing-oriented, so now instead of waiting for people to come to us we go out and generate business. In a polite way, we donít ram it down peopleís throats, we go and find whatís out there and make suggestions, and our forte has been that, to make appropriate suggestions, and make the best possible production happen.

In terms of the struggles and pitfalls, just maintaining a company over 15 years and building it and making it grow in this extremely competitive industry is quite a task. The overheads involved are huge, weíve got a big roster of producers now, weíve got nice offices, and Iím middle-aged now, so my living costs are a lot higher than when I started! But there have always been good things to balance off the difficult things, and thereís always something interesting going on.

Whatís in a normal dayís work?

Well, if you had asked me that three years ago, I would have said, I manage lots of producers and I go and see lots of people, and I visit studios, and spend time there, and match up songs with producers. Whereas now Iím a typist!

I spend at least 35% of my day typing e-mails - itís fucking crazy. So I miss the personal contact element a bit, and the time that I spent having a more creative hands-on role, which is what Iím trying to move back towards.

Effectively what Iím doing is setting up opportunities for producers to work with artists, and that means selling the producers to A&R people and to artistsí managers, and talking to as many of these people in as many different ways as I can about what theyíve got going on, so that I can pitch my producers to their particular project. Itís a bit of a numbers game, but I need to talk to as many different people as possible, find out what projects theyíre working on, get to hear the music, try to find out what their needs are i.e. do you need someone who is engineering-based, or more arrangement-based, whatís the budget, when is it going to happen? etc. and juggling four or five different elements to try and fit in the right person, or one or two people that might be right for that project, so that they then have a choice.

We currently manage 35 different producers, and cover genres from two-step to rock, although weíre not that big on heavy metal.

Your management company is very large, both in terms of the number of clients and its success. Can you give an overview of the kind of tasks people perform within the business, and the kind of people that it takes to run it?

Thereís six of us. Iím the managing director, and I have two roles: one is running and managing the company, which means looking after the growth of the company and the structures within it i.e. how the whole thing operates, and the long-term thinking behind it; and then my other role is sales, so I go out and flog the producers to A&Rs etc. I have another person that does flogging as well.

Then thereís a full-time accounts person, who is responsible for the raising and chasing of invoices, preparing management accounts, and generally looking after our clientsí finances. Then we have a production person, who is a general manager as well, whose role it is to, once Iíve negotiated the key headline terms of a project, put the budget together, organise and co-ordinate the production, where, when, who are we using, what studio, what engineer, is it all on budget, is it all on time, liaising with the producers on a day-to-day basis, making sure the production is going smoothly, liaising with the record company, letting them know whatís going on.

We also have a variety of back-up staff, marketing back-up, day-to-day managers, and a secretary/receptionist.

In terms of the kind of person needed in our company, I would say that, above all, they need to be thick-skinned! People who arenít afraid to be accountable, primarily because we arenít funded by a major record company. You go to some major record companies and there will be loads of people farting around doing nothing. Weíre a small company, so that canít happen here, the buck has to stop with us. Weíre a service company, which means we really are responsible for our client, and we have to respond properly. Itís very obvious within a few days if somebody is not on the case, so we have to have people who will take responsibility, and are not obsessed with the glamour of the music business.

What resources do you use in order to find new clients?

Lots come to us because they know whom we manage now, and weíve had a lot of hit records Ė six No.1s around the world this year, including Ronan Keating, Mel C, Sonique, and Travis. Some producers get recommended by lawyers, by other clients/producers, and by A&R people. Occasionally weíll go after someone, if we know they havenít got management and we like them.

What do you look for when taking on a new client? In your opinion, what makes a good producer or songwriter?

a) Can they do the job? b) Do they have credits we can sell, c) Are they personable decent human beings, and d) Can they sell themselves to some extent, because Iíve known some amazing people, some of the biggest producers ever, but who are absolutely crap when theyíre put in front of potential clients and have to sell themselves.

What services do you provide for your clients?

We try to find them work, obviously, plus we can offer project coordination, invoice raising and chasing, and PR and marketing. Weíre also a voice on the end of the phone when things get difficult. I know what itís like in the studio, and being a producer can be a very lonely job. There are lots of heavy egos involved, and everyoneís looking at you to come up with the correct solutions, but when youíve got a quandary, maybe you need someone to talk it through with, whether it be a musical issue or something to do with the people youíre working with. I have a very broad musical understanding, so Iím a good person to talk to, even about things like basslines.

Do you have any input to the music?

As much as people want me to have. Some of my clients are not interested in what Iíve got to say musically at all, whereas others are very interested. Iím really flattered because some of the bigger producers ask me about choruses etc. I get a great personal satisfaction from being able to make an input to a massive hit on a musical level. But my work is obviously more to do with the business side.

What resources do you use in order to find work for existing clients?

Iím not sure how many tricks of the trade I should give away here! Basically, itís the relationships with managers and A&Rs that weíve created over the years - you just try and create as many positive relationships as you can, and then they come to you. Either they will say, we really like Joe Bloggs from your roster, can we work with him? Or it will be a case of, weíve got this project, can you suggest anyone? And then Iíll have to ask when, how much, how long etc. and on the basis of that Iíll recommend a couple or even three producers, set up meetings, and then theyíll choose the one they like most. And thatís exactly when the producersí ability to sell themselves makes a difference. We also keep in regular contact with all the people in our database, and are constantly making inquiries, to see if they have any projects that we could work on.

Do you pay attention to things like who the manager is, who the attorney is, who the team is when assessing prospective work for your clients?

Yes, definitely. If Iíve got a big manager coming to me with a baby artist, who wants to work with a big producer, itís more likely to be a hit than if itís a baby artist with a baby producer, or an unknown manager. Having said that, on some occasions weíve been approached by an artist with no profile, a manager no oneís ever heard of, with no label, and weíve gone and worked with it, because we love it.

Itís common knowledge that an artistís manager usually gets a commission from the artistís income, is it the same for a manager for producers?

Of course. The producer gets paid in advance, per track, generally, and a royalty if he exceeds the advance, and we take 20% of both.

What character traits do you think a good manager should possess, what character traits does a successful manager possess - are they the same?

Yes, I think they are the same, because if a manager is good, then the clients that heís working with will be successful, and he will pick successful people to work with. You simply canít survive that long being a bad manager.

Is there strong competition from similar management companies?

Yes, itís very, very competitive. When I started there were only about three companies doing this in the UK, and now there must be at least 30, about 10-15 of those being reasonably sized players, with more than half a dozen decent clients, and the rest perhaps have one or two clients.

Do you take on clients from outside the UK, and do you actively look for them?

Yes I do, primarily from America and Scandinavia. If theyíre good, I donít mind where they are. One of my major clients lives in France, and Iíve got 3 people I manage who live in the US.

What advice would you give to a producer looking for a management company?

If heís an already established producer, I would say make sure that the management company you are talking to has the capacity to do the job properly for you.

And if itís a baby producer whoís trying to break into production, I would probably say that unless there are a couple of projects that youíve got which are pretty high profile, youíre going to have to look for the younger, enthusiastic manager whoís got enough time on his plate to really stay focused on one or two individual small clients, hoping that theyíre going to be able to get the lucky break and heís going to be really committed to that one individual.

But I would say that you only really need a manager once youíve got something to market, which may not be the case early on.

Do you listen to unsolicited material?

We get sent it all the time, occasionally we listen to it. Generally weíd want there to be a little story attached to it, rather than just receiving a demo tape. Weíre looking for acts whoíve got some kind of other angle to it, ratter than just begging to have a producer for free so that they can then take this to the record companies Ė thatís not that interesting.

Do you use the Internet for work purposes?

We have a web site which gets a substantial amount of hits, and itís generated a lot of work from America. Itís got videos of the some of the producers, their biographies, and thereís even a video of me, so people can see whom theyíre doing business with. I also use the Internet for research purposes, to look up producers who we might be interested in, or to find out about acts, and e-mail I find extremely useful.

What view do you take of the direction that the music business is taking, when you consider the constant improvement, and lowered prices of music equipment, as well as the increasing use of the Internet?

Itís making it more democratic, and itís also diminishing the value that people put on the traditional skills of a record producer, which is a shame, because thereíll be a lot of crap records made. Record production is a highly developed skill, and the more the value of recorded music is undermined, the less people are willing to invest in the actual recording, and the less great quality records are going to be made. That is a potential problem.

But then again, one of the most fascinating things Iíve seen is, where I was sitting in a room in London and I was watching a live online jamming session happening with musicians in LA, New York and Scunthorpe, all at the same time. That was a staggering thing to witness, and the concept of live online recording was pretty exciting.

If you could dramatically change some aspect of the music industry, what would it be?

Short-termism. The way the charts operate, itís far too fast, it doesnít allow people to develop over a proper period of time. It doesnít allow artists to develop their craft in front of the public, it doesnít show them what a real artist is all about. Itís diminishing the possibilities of launching long-term artists on the market.

What do you see yourself doing in 5-10 years time?

I think a lot of independent companies are going to be hooking up with each other in various ways, companies who have complimentary things to offer. Iíll be very surprised if Iím just here on my own, managing producers, I think Iím more likely to be attached in some shape or form to other players in the business who are offering other services. I think itís a really good time to be an independent, because with all the majors merging with each other, there are more opportunities for truly creative individuals to flourish.

What has been the greatest moment of your music career?

The other week I sat there and realised we had No.1 records in 9 countries with 4 different songs, and, although it didnít feel like the pinnacle of my career, it felt pretty good, for about 10 minutes.

interviewed by Luci VŠzquez

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