Interview with DIANE YOUNG, manager for BBMak (US Top 10) - Jan 29, 2003
“Artists who write their own material are much better at promoting it.”Based in London, England, Diane Young manages BBMak (US Top 10). Here she describes the traits artists must have in order to be successful and the skills she has found to be indispensable to a manager's career.
How did you get started in the music business and how did you become a manager?
The university I went to had a thriving venue, which many bands used to play as their warm-up show before they played the Forum or Wembley in London and agents, managers and record company people would come down to see them.
Some of the individuals who booked the bands, including myself, used to pioneer our favourite acts and we had bands like Roachford, Deacon Blue, Was Not Was and Wet Wet Wet, a whole host of bands that were on the verge of greatness and were seeking somewhere to perform. Whilst booking the bands, I came into contact with A&R people, and I thought that that was what I would liked to be doing. I was about 21 at the time.
What experiences have been important in developing your skills as a manager?
I’ve done a lot of things: I started as a social secretary, working part-time at an agency; I’ve worked as an assistant tour manager on the road; and I’ve run a venue where I learnt about the live side. Working for a publisher for a year got me interested in the machinations of the publishing world, but what I really wanted to do was A&R, so I joined CBS. That later became Sony, and I was there for a total of six years, learning about A&R, studios and making records. Having previously dealt with live performance, there I became involved with the creation of music in a studio.
After CBS/Sony, I went on to run Dave Stewart’s record company Anxious as the General Manager. Since it was a small label that didn’t have enough people to cover all responsibilities, I worked very hands-on with marketing, sales and promotion and gained a lot of experience. When I left there, I went on to work in a studio and then at a PR company. At that point I ended up taking a consultancy to run a small record company, but I had already started to manage artists and decided I didn't want to give that up. It's been a bit of everything, which has given me an understanding of what managing artists is about.
Managing is not just about the psychology of your relationship with the artist, you also need to understand the music business as a whole, including legal, business affairs, artistic aspects, the live side and media. As a manager, you need to have a finger in lots of pies and apply your skills on an international as well as a domestic level, because being able to break an act in one territory simply isn't good enough. It's great for a domestic profile or acknowledgement, but everybody is in it to make a claim internationally, because that’s where the real dividends are.
Who do you currently manage?
Sugababes for America; Sam Obernik, who is signed to EastWest and who sings on the Tim Deluxe hit “It Just Won’t Do"; Shelly Poole, who was one half of Alicia's Attic and who I'm developing as a producer, writer and artist; and Craigie, a brilliant producer, writer and artist who is a cross between Moby and David Gray and who is a big priority for Island in 2003. I'm also developing a terrific singer called Kayleigh, who's only 17. She is currently working with Craigie, Vince Garcia and Double R.
Who was creatively involved in the making of Sugababes’ second album “Angels With Dirty Faces”?
Ron Tom was heavily involved in the A&Ring of the first album. The second album was very much a combination of the record company Universal with their A&R man Darcus Beese, our office Crown Music and some of the producers and writers that we work with, such as Brian Higgins, Bacon & Quarmby and Craigie.
What was the key to breaking them?
One absolutely brilliant song, “Overload” laid the foundations of recognition which was later followed by “Freak Like Me”, a genius idea, and the infectious “Round & Round”. The band got dropped by London Records after the first album, but a new deal with Island/Universal was skilfully negotiated for them by their lawyer and the band have since gone on to even greater success.
Why did BBMak break in the US before breaking in Europe?
It was very much intentional. We started in Southeast Asia and then moved on to America, where we spent a lot of time. Once we had consolidated our position there, it was time for us to work with the European market. But we then had a licensing problem in Europe, so we ended up going back to America to do an Nsync tour. When we came back again, it was really a matter of writing a new album and going back to America.
How important is it that your artists also write or co-write their own songs?
It's incredibly important. I'm not a manufacturer of projects. The people I work with have something to say and are able to translate that into a very significant contribution in the creation of their record. Also, if they’ve made it themselves, they're much better at promoting it.
How do you find new talent?
It's a strange process and one that's hard to pinpoint. When you've been around for a long time, people seek you out on the basis that you've been involved with this or you know about that, although sometimes it's just sheer fluke. Craigie walked in to see his lawyer one day and I was in the next room, so we bumped into each other and I heard his stuff and thought, "I've got to do this." Every situation is different: I'd known Sam Obernik for ten years, and her producer rang me up and said, "You’ve must hear this stuff", because he was based in a studio that I used to work out of. It's always a sequence of events and coincidences that brings things together.
Do you accept unsolicited material?
Yes, very much so. I get about 20 packages a week and they all get listened to. Unfortunately, there is often poor quality material, but sometimes you do find something through a demo that is great, like for example Chris Braide. I got a demo from him when I was at CBS and now he's a very successful writer. I signed him to EastWest many years ago.
Are you currently looking for songs for your artists?
Not really. I tend to recruit songs and producers from the people I already have a relationship with or who have raised my interest. I always accept stuff, but a pitch from an unknown source is always much more difficult to give time to.
What do you look for in an artist?
A strong personality. The artist obviously needs to have talent and a clear direction in the first place, as well as the ability to realise that it will happen as a result of teamwork.
Would you work with a non-UK artist?
Do you think unsigned artists are knowledgeable about the music industry, or is it something they need to learn more about in order to stand a better chance?
There's a level of sophistication today that wasn't there fifteen or even ten years ago. With all the Popstars, Pop Rivals and Pop Idols going on and all the kids attending drama schools because they want to be stars, there's a greater level of awareness and understanding today. At the same time, there's a lot of idiotic expectation about the industry too, because of these situations.
What should an unsigned aspiring artist with no connections do to get started?
At the beginning, you’ve got to have absolute faith in yourself. If you want to do this for a living you have to be quite single-minded, not to the point that you don't listen to what's being said to you, but unless you've got faith in yourself, you won't survive the battering. It happens on the business side too, to people who are not artists and I sometimes think it’s an industry of humiliation. You have to be tough to go into this.
Once signed to you, do you support an artist financially so that they can focus on the music?
I tend to work with people for six months on a non-contractual basis and if things go well, we then enter into a contractual agreement. I support people creatively and I assist them in doing what they need to do to develop their careers, but I wouldn't support somebody by giving them pocket money.
How common is it for you to put artists through vocal coaching, songwriting seminars, dance classes or similar?
It depends on the project. Vocal training is good, because it teaches people their skill and helps them survive longer, but I don't believe in sending people to dance classes. With the people I work with, it’s more about the awareness of their physical selves and an understanding of what their physical presence is like on camera. It's more a general media training that I believe in.
As a manager, do you develop strategies for your artists with regard to what they should develop and how to strengthen their brand name?
Every project is different and you work on highlighting its strengths and hiding its weaknesses. The branding of an artist happens over time as they grow and evolve. With a manufactured pop artist it’s different, you have something to trade straight away and that’s what it's all about. But the artists I believe in all have long-term careers and it's not a tangible thing. Obviously, one does create certain strategies with regard to the advertising, promotion, what product they should be associated with, etc., but there isn’t a five-step plan that's guaranteed to make it work.
What do you think of the Popstars concept?
The concept programmes are fantastic tools for generating careers for writers and producers, but they only allow a certain type of talent to come to prominence. I'm not interested in that sort of stuff and it’s not the way I work. Other people believe in it and run their business in a certain way and these people are necessary in the industry, because they satisfy a market. The concept, like everything in music, is a transition. It's a cyclical thing, every ten years these things come along and they flourish for a certain chapter in time and then they die and other genres of music take over and then they’re revived again. It's here for the moment, and after a while it will no longer be relevant.
What do you think about the radio situation in the UK?
It's very tough and it's the same story everywhere in the world. Somebody said to me that it is more restricted here than it is in America, but that’s not true. Yes, it's a smaller market demographically, but any piece of music takes a lot of targeting. The business has changed in the sense that before, if you got your record on radio, you'd have a hit. That isn't the case anymore, one has to think much more cleverly about the marketing and developing of the act.
Many UK acts have had no radio but massive TV exposure, and that has brought them success. Radio is very important, but it might take longer now to develop your act through radio. Other mediums are more successful for certain types of music. You don't go into this business thinking, “If I get my act on radio then everything's great.” You can't be that laissez-faire about it.
Record labels seem to spend less and less time developing new artists and instead want a ready-to-go-package. How does this affect managements?
I know lots of managers who develop projects and I've got a couple of things bubbling myself. If you believe in the artist’s ability and you have the resources and the contacts to make things work, then why not do it yourself? You can't go into a record company and say, "Sign this artist, he/she is great." You need to prove it to them by doing a lot of the musical and aesthetic development yourself, and the marketing and media research too, to make it an attractive proposition for them to invest in.
Do artists pay for promotional costs, like for example videos?
Sometimes it's 50% recoupable. It depends on the contract and the record company. I've seen it in practice for a long time, although each record company has a different philosophy about it.
If artists share the album's recording costs with record labels, do you think they should also share ownership of the masters?
That would be really nice, but you can't always have it. When you go to the bank there's always a condition applied to your loan.
What is a common royalty rate for new artists from record sales and do you think it’s a fair one?
Of course, from my side of the coin, the rates are not fair. But the business affairs division at the record company is there to make money. Royalty rates are variable and depend on how much a record company wants you. They are flexible to a certain extent, and sometimes you can bend the rules.
Do you have any advice for unsigned artists with regard to record label contracts?
You really need to understand what you're signing and in order to be able to do that, get a good lawyer. You can understand a contract by yourself to a certain extent, but there's a lot of detail in them and a lot is in the scripting. It's a case of give and take as well, and you can't go in there thinking that you're going to create the rules. A lot of acts don't understand what they're getting into and you often hear people say, "I didn't realise…" Therefore, try to understand as much as you possibly can, even though it’s hard—I’ve been in the industry for fifteen years, and I'm still learning. It must be incredibly difficult for someone who is completely fresh to the whole culture.
There seem to have been fewer UK acts breaking in Europe in the last 10 years. If you agree, what do you think it’s related to?
There are less internationally consolidated artists today than before and in many places the domestic market is more important than the international market. In Japan, the domestic market is much more significant now than it ever was before, and it's the same in many other territories too. Many territories always had thriving domestic markets, but there has been a rise in the support of those markets. I couldn't really say there’s any other reason apart from certain communities supporting their own kind a bit more today.
What aspect of the music industry would you change dramatically?
I'm very much 'live and let live' and I think there's a place for everything. If there is one thing that annoys me, it’s the crappy 'here today, gone tomorrow' pop acts. I wish there were less of those and that radio wouldn’t embrace them as much.
What has been the greatest moment of your music career?
Two years ago, in a venue in Boston, standing with 30,000 people who were all singing BBMak's "Back Here" back to the band.
What do you see yourself doing in 5-10 years' time?
I hope that the people I work with will be able to grow together and that we will have created a major international talent company that deals primarily with music, but also with TV, film, the Internet and digital marketing, and that we have a talent base of self-sufficient artists whom we work with, helping move their careers along effectively. I suppose that what I'm really hoping for is to be able to create a recording media organisation of our own.
Interviewed by Kimbel Bouwman
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