Interview with SEPPO VESTERINEN, manager for Finnish rock bands HIM (Ger Top 3) and The Rasmus (Ger No.1) - Mar 22, 2004
"I don't see downloading as a big problem."
Based in Helsinki, Finland, Seppo Vesterinen manages rock bands HIM (Ger Top 3) and The Rasmus (Ger No.1).
How did you get started in the music business and how did you become a manager?
In the 80s, I managed a number of Soviet bands when the Soviet Union was opening up, and I also managed bands that were based in Scandinavia and in Los Angeles. Of the latter, Hanoi Rocks (click on artist or track names to listen to Real Audio files Ė Ed.) achieved a considerable amount of fame. I had a long break in the 90s, when I didnít touch anything to do with rock bands. In 1997, I started managing HIM and Iíve been doing it since.
A series of accidental events led me to end up in the music industry, but I never made a conscious decision that this was what I wanted to do. Even coming across the bands I work with happened almost accidentally. Nobody asked me to manage them and I didn't ask to be their manager. Things just happened.
What experiences have helped develop your skills as a manager?
It's very difficult to gain knowledge on management through, for example, university courses. You basically learn as a result of your work experiences and through your contacts, that network of people that you build up.
What artists do you currently manage?
HIM and The Rasmus.
How did you first learn about them?
HIM came first, obviously. Their first album was out in Finland and they had generated a measure of interest in other countries; there were also quite a few publishers who wanted them to sign a publishing deal. They wanted advice on those aspects, and thatís how we started. We decided not to sign publishing to anyone.
My relationship with The Rasmus also took off slowly. I knew the guys as they were supporting HIM on a Scandinavian tour and during that time some German people showed interest in them. They had a Finnish manager back then, but when he started to work for a record label, it left them without management. They asked me for advice on contracts and such things and thatís how it started.
What made you want to work with them?
I like both bands; otherwise, I wouldn't be managing them. I saw in them a potential for growth and for long-term careers.
What was instrumental in breaking the bands outside Finland?
Itís hard to say what broke them, but both bands have their original style and sound, so that helps a lot. They also have good songwriting skills, which is obviously a key factor, and they are easy to work with. The Rasmus have worked with Swedish producers on two albums now but every HIM album has been a different project, because they have never been producer-dependent.
When you signed them, did you think that they would break in other territories?
Yes, I had to think that way. Finland is too small a market for a manager to be able to make a living. I'm not really involved in what they do with shows in Finland, thatís handled by their booking agent here. My job concerns all the things that happen outside Finland.
Why was Germany the first territory outside Scandinavia that they both broke in?
Germany is a very open market compared to that of the UK, for example. The range of bands that might be successful in Germany is wider, the market is not that dependent on trends and there's more variety. German music TV, like MTV Germany and VIVA for example, are also more open to different kinds of music.
Is a US release planned for The Rasmus?
Thatís the plan, yes. Interscope will release them in the US and they will do their first showcases in May. With The Rasmus, we have a co-management arrangement for the US with Tony Ciulla. He manages Marilyn Manson and he managed Smashing Pumpkins for a number of years. He's also worked with Rammstein, so he has some European knowledge as well.
US marketing is a huge thing and quite a lot of that marketing obviously comes from the record company, but our co-manager can probably cover areas, mainly underground channels, that the record company might find difficult to reach.
Why did The Rasmus change labels from Warner Finland to the Swedish indie label Playground before their latest, third album?
The Warner contract ended and the band had fulfilled all their obligations to the company. They were open to offers from other labels and Playground Music showed the most enthusiasm for the band. They brought in new producers and, being a Swedish label, they have more knowledge and experience in the international field, although that knowledge is now starting to spread in Finland too.
It's hard to say what would have happened if the band had signed to somebody else, but they have a good relationship with Playground. They were signed to Edel for Germany, but Edel couldn't handle it and the album never got the exposure it deserved. The new album is handled by Universal for most of the world.
Have there been The Rasmus releases in Asia?
Most Asian territories, including Malaysia, Indonesia, India, Korea and Japan will be releasing the album ďDead LettersĒ, which includes ďIn The ShadowsĒ, their biggest hit to date.
How do you find new talent?
Well, as I said, it just happens. I donít go around looking for new talent, though I might run into someone in a bar who's an interesting person or musician. Things are very improvised.
Do you accept unsolicited material?
Yes. I don't get a lot, because most people know that I'm not really looking for acts at the moment, although I have been getting stuff from Germany, France, the UK and obviously some Finnish material. I have two bands who are coming on well and I don't really want to get into multi-management, so to speak, as that would mean a considerable increase in overheads; developing a new act can easily take two years, and during this time there is no income at all. I try to keep it intimate and close to the artist.
What traits do artists need to have if you are to consider signing them?
Feet on the ground, some experience behind them, and to be able to write original music.
How involved with the repertoire and production are you?
Not all that much. I think thatís up to the artist and the producer, so I donít hang around in the studio giving my opinions. If they ask, I let them know what I think, but it's up to the artist and the producer to deliver the actual music. Working in the studio is an intimate process and I don't want to mess with it, so I keep to the sidelines and take care of the business and the development of the act in other areas.
How much do you take other territories into account when considering a new artist?
I'm not interested in the Finnish market, except if itís a new artist that I can test-develop here. Finland is a good playground for gaining experience, even if you're unsigned. It can give you, as the manager, an insight into what a band is about; nonetheless, record sales here are pretty insignificant.
What should unsigned artists learn more about in order for them to stand a better chance of building a career in the music industry?
Itís imperative that they develop their songwriting skills. They should also play live as often as possible to gain experience. Lastly, they need to keep their heads instead of falling for a cliched rock lifestyle.
How has the Finnish music industry changed in recent years?
There has been a trend of major labels buying independent labels. The majors and some independents have started gaining a bit of international experience, which they previously lacked; Finland had never had an internationally successful artist as Sweden had, for example.
Contacts with other companies, record licensing and artist developmentall of those things have improved lately and the business environment is slowly becoming more and more professional.
How active is the independent label scene in Finland?
At the moment, itís not at all active. It has been much more active in the past but, for a new band, getting an indie deal is not much easier than getting a major label deal. Majors now play a leading role in most things.
To what extent do Finnish media give new artists exposure?
Thatís one of the good things about Finland, that because it's a very small and cosy environment, even unknown bands can get exposure in the major magazines and evening newspapers.
How highly do you rate radio in Finland?
Itís very much Top 40. Playlists vary but only slightly and very few stations play unknown artists. Helsinki, the capital, only has one privately owned station that is open to different things. There's also the state-owned radio station and they're more open to new bands, but radio in general is tough for new artists. Radio stations here are following the same pattern as those in other countries.
Why is it that, so far, it has mostly been Finnish rock bands that have gained international recognition?
There are a few ethnic music scenes that are doing pretty well, so thatís another area, but apart from that I don't really see what else there could be. We had two dance acts, Bomfunk MCís and Darude, who were pretty successful a few years ago, but they only had one hit single each. At least the Finnish rock bands have had more long-term success.
If you sign a new artist, would you shop him or her to a Finnish label?
No. If I have something new then thatís the easiest way, but it's also problematic because nobody offers one-album record deals and signing a band for the long-term in a small market like Finland is not the cleverest thing you can do. You'd lose out on a lot of the income that you would receive if you were successful in major markets.
My objective would therefore be to sign to labels in major markets like Germany, the UK and the US, but thatís not always possible.
Broadband Internet is widespread in Finland. Are there consequently huge numbers of people who download music with Kazaa and similar programs?
Obviously, people download, but it's slightly less of a problem here than in Germany, for example. We have another problem in that we are close to Russia and the Baltic, and a lot of inexpensive pirated product comes in from there, and that especially affects artists who sing in Finnish.
Downloading happens as it does anywhere, but I don't see it as a big problem really. You can help the situation if you do nice packaging that will make people want to buy it. Downloading is more of a problem with dance music than it is with rock bands, who have wider fan bases.
Considering record labels are less and less concerned with developing new artists and instead want a ready-to-go package, including songs and production, do you think management companies will take on more responsibilities for the development of new artists in the future?
Managers work closely with the record companies and one possibility is that managements hand over partly developed acts to the record companies, creating a short cut for them. That is already happening, but in Finland record companies are actively looking for new artists to sign, and as we donít really have managements, it hasn't really happened on a large scale.
If you could dramatically change any aspect of the music industry, what would you do?
I would like artists to have better contracts. Iíd get rid of out-of-date aspects of record contracts such as packaging and licensing deductions, which is what record contracts are all about. That would improve the artist's share of the income. I would also like to see record labels working on their international skills more.
What has been the greatest moment of your music career?
All that is happening now is great and a new territory is always exciting, but being at the first Hanoi Rocks shows at the legendary Marquee club in London was truly amazing.
What do you see yourself doing in five to ten yearsí time?
I donít have a five-year plan. I could still be working in the music industry if things work out right, but if I get bored, Iíll do something else.
Interviewed by Kimbel Bouwman
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* Playground A&R Lars Tengroth on signing The Rasmus