Interview - Nov 3, 2004
“Artists need to understand where exactly they fit into the media spectrum.”Richard Ogden, who is based in London, has previously been the head of Polydor UK, Paul McCartney’s manager, and the senior vice-president of marketing at Sony Europe, where he worked closely with Ricky Martin and Céline Dion, among others, before he started his own management company, in 2000. He currently manages the Bomfunk MC’s and TAT.
In this interview, he discusses his work with Paul McCartney and the Bomfunk MC’s, among other issues.
What positions have you held during your career in the music business?
I started in the music business when I was at university in the late ’60s. I was a journalist and I used to write for my own magazine and for ZigZag, a famous magazine at the time. Through that, I met some people in the music business and I got a job in publicity at United Artists.
Then I had my own business until 1976, when I decided to try artist management for the first time. I managed a band called the Motors, who had a big hit with “Airport”, and a spin off from that band, the solo artist Bram Tchaikovsky, and I also briefly managed a Scottish band called the Skids, who were pretty successful in the UK.
In the mid-80s, I made the move back to a record company: I was head of the Polydor label until 1987, when I was headhunted to become Paul and Linda McCartney’s manager, which I did from 1987 to 1993. When I left, I went to Sony Music, where I was the senior vice-president of marketing at Sony Europe, a position I held until four years ago, when they started re-organising and making cutbacks—I just didn’t like the way the tide was turning.
Someone I knew introduced me to the guys at DEAG, Deutsche Entertainment, who wanted to start a management business. They set me up in my own management company and two years ago I bought them out.
What did your work at Sony Music involve?
I had two tasks, and the first was to make sure that the international repertoire was successful in Europe. For example, I was instrumental in the enormous success of Mariah Carey and of Céline Dion, Michael Bolton and Oasis outside the UK—all of that was my responsibility.
My other task was to find out what was going on in Europe and to try and make it happen in Europe, first of all, and then outside Europe.
How many people work at your company?
Three. One person mainly looks after the live side of things, another looks after the books and the accounting, and I do everything.
What kinds of artists and music do you focus on?
We don’t focus on any particular type of artist or music. I’ve never really been into a genre; I like good music and I’m happy to work with anything that I think is good, interesting and will be successful.
What are some of the projects you’ve been working on recently?
I do a lot of work that is more like consultancy than full-on management, and it’s something I’m very happy to do. I’m always talking to record companies, asking what projects they have and whether they need someone to sort them out and I get quite a lot of things that way. Over the past few years, I’ve worked with Vanessa-Mae, the violinist, for six months, at EMI’s request, and I’ve worked with David Charvet, who is on Universal France, for six months.
I worked with Hayley Westenra, a 16-year-old soprano from New Zealand, who is like a younger version of Enya. Decca/Universal brought me into that project, and I spent six months working on the A&R side of it helping to find songs and a producer. I would have liked to have managed her but her parents wanted to manage her and I didn’t really want to do it with them. I don’t think that works, I’ve seen it too many times before.
I’ve also worked with Meja; Sony Japan wanted to make a record with her and they asked me if I would put it together, which I did.
What has your work with Ricky Martin involved?
I’ve always worked with Ricky Martin. I first met Ricky before anyone in Europe had heard of him. He came to London and my wife and I took him out for dinner and he felt at home, because my wife is South-American. Angelo Medina, his manager at the time, and I came up with a strategy for Ricky, which started in Spain and culminated with the official song for the FIFA World Cup 1998, “Cup of Life”.
Since then, Ricky has split up with Angelo but I expect to be working with Ricky next year, on a consultancy basis, when his new album comes out.
What artists do you currently manage?
At the moment, we’re not managing many artists, because we deliberately cut back this summer for personal reasons. We manage the Bomfunk MC’s, whose new album is starting to roll now; we have a brand new punk rock band called TAT; we are working with a fantastic singer-songwriter from the Faroe Islands, called LENA, who writes and records with her husband Niclas Johannesen and we continue to have a relationship with the Brazilian brother and sister duo, Sandy & Junior.
We are also running our own independent label, which is called EX Records, in association with the Extreme Sports Channel and we’re looking after Hamish Stuart, the producer. He did the Meja album and he has just done Gordon Haskell’s new album, which seems to be doing quite well in the UK, Poland & Germany.
How did you come to manage the Bomfunk MC’s?
I have managed them since I left Sony. At Sony, I was very involved with “Freestyler”, their breakthrough hit. We first had a small hit with “B-Boys and Flygirls” in Germany and I was working and working, trying to make it happen when, at the end of 1999, “Freestyler” took off in Sweden and it all started to fall into place.
I was already planning to leave Sony at that point, so I sat down with Raymond and Ismo and said, “Look, you need management because you’re going to be successful internationally. You don’t know what you’re doing outside of Finland and I know exactly what you should be doing so let me do it.” They said, “Yeah, great!” and I’ve been doing it ever since.
What made you want to manage them?
They had a massive international hit and I liked the set-up, the whole thing they had going. They had this kind of mysterious image and they had a producer/writer in Jaakko Salovaara who was part of the band, but not a member of it, which meant he could focus on the music.
I felt they probably had a future; we’re now on our third album and it’s going pretty well. It’s not taking off like a rocket, but my theory was proved. They kept going and many acts don’t keep going for three albums these days. They have a bit of a brand thing about them, which I like, and they can almost do anything they want now.
What are the differences between managing Paul McCartney and managing the artists you work with now?
One of the biggest differences between managing Paul McCartney and the Bomfunk MC’s is that the Bomfunk MC’s are only as good as their last record. With the Bomfunk MC’s, everyone is always going, “Do you have another hit?” but with Paul McCartney you’re running an industry.
With Paul McCartney you could do whatever you wanted. If you had a good idea, you could do it. The money was always available. If Paul liked the idea and thought it was a good, it was, within reason, irrelevant how much it cost. If you wanted to make a film, or a documentary, or an album that would only be sold independently in Russia, all these things you could do.
With a band like the Bomfunk MC’s, even though their album “In Stereo” sold as many records as many Paul McCartney albums sell, the bottom line is that you’re not rolling in money and you can’t just spend money on things just because they seem interesting. Working as a creative manager with Paul McCartney was extremely satisfying on that level.
How do you find new talent?
It’s not easy to jump into management relationships, and it takes time, so I often prefer to approach it from a consultancy point of view first, and many of those opportunities come from record companies. But we also get sent stuff all the time, which we listen to.
I’ve never been proven wrong with artists. I’ve never had an artist whom I could have managed, but didn’t, who has been successful. I’ve had artists whom I wanted to manage and wasn’t able to, the most notable being the Rasmus, whom I tried to sign three years ago, but they wouldn’t sign to me for whatever reason, and look at them now.
When I’m offered things, I know whether it’s going to work or not, and I’m not often offered something that will work. The absolute majority of stuff, solicited or unsolicited, doesn’t work. For example, we spent three years managing Nerina Pallot, who was signed to Polydor UK.
She had a huge record deal and was a massive priority for Polydor. We did the best job we possibly could, but it didn’t happen. Just because it’s signed to a label and they tell you it’s going to work, that doesn’t mean it will. Ninety-nine percent of artists who are signed to record companies don’t make it.
So you accept unsolicited material?
Yes. This week I’ve probably had eight approaches and I’ve listened to three or four of them. But you know, managing an artist these days, because nobody wants to pay big advances, it can mean a year’s work for no money, and how often can you do that?
What traits do artists need to have for you to sign them?
They have to have great songs and be determined.
How important are factors like local independent sales, local airplay, live performance experience and a solid fan base when considering signing an artist?
Obviously, those kinds of artists don’t come out of the blue. Artists approach me from other countries and ask me if I’d like to manage them, but in the end you have to think, “Could they sell in the UK?” Even with the Bomfunk MC’s, we had to believe that we could have a hit in the UK, and of course they eventually had two substantial UK hits.
Local success is okay, but it can bring problems. They have their own ideas, their own connections, people want to do things a certain way, and in some sense, you’re hired to shake off the past.
Do you support artists financially so that they can focus on the music?
If we have money available, we’ll spend it, but most of the time, we’re not rolling in it. We support it with our efforts by working for free.
What input do you have on the creative work, the songwriting and the production?
It depends on the artist, although I do prefer to work with artists who write their own songs. I’m not from the school of Tin Pan Alley, you know, just find a pretty girl who can sing and then get producers and writers and all that stuff. That’s great if you manage the producers and writers, but I don’t.
I manage the artists and in order for that to be viable and make any money, the artists have to have the whole package, they have to write and perform their own songs and preferably also produce them. That’s what I prefer.
Do you build strategies to raise public and media awareness of your artists?
Depending upon their capabilities and their knowledge, managers do everything they can, but the problem is that you can’t do everything. You have to strategize and find people to help you. Even with a brand new act like TAT, whose single we put out on our own label, we chose the publicity company and promoter best suited to what we wanted to achieve. You have to do a lot of it yourself, but you can’t do it all.
What should aspiring artists learn more about if they are to increase their chances of building successful careers in the music business?
They need to understand where exactly they fit into the media spectrum—that’s the biggest problem. In England, in the ’60s, when I started, if you had a good record and Radio One played it, you had a hit. Nowadays, it’s complex and difficult to choose what markets to target. Everybody wants everything to fit into a category and artists need to understand that.
How ready-to-go must artists be before presenting them to labels, especially major labels?
Most of the time they have to have already been successful. Labels are not really waiting desperately to sign artists. You have to do a lot of work yourself.
If you couldn’t find a label for an artist of yours, but you still believed in the project, would you release the record yourself, if only to create a buzz?
Yes, we did just that with TAT.
What are your most important marketing tools?
Initially, for most artists, the most important marketing tool is promotion, which means press, radio and TV.
Has the way artists are presented to A&Rs changed in recent years?
I don’t think so, except that nowadays you’ll be talking to someone and the day after you’ll find out they’ve been fired. There are lots of changes going on. With the whole Sony/BMG merger, it’s hard to know who’s still there and who isn’t. Obviously, you can imagine that record company people aren’t very motivated about signing acts if they don’t know whether they’ll still have a job next week.
Will major record labels increasingly license the finished product from independent labels rather than develop artists from scratch?
That’s the way it’s going to be; because there are fewer and fewer major record labels, their A&R sources are going to have to come from outside.
Are escalating release costs to be blamed for the fact that many artists get dropped after their first album if it’s not successful?
How much time do major labels generally allow for new artists to be successful before they drop them?
It depends on how much is spent on the first album. Nerina Pallot, who got dropped by Polydor after her first album, was their biggest priority a year before that. Being their biggest priority meant spending a lot of money. When they looked at how much the album had sold, she was no longer their biggest priority: their biggest priority was to get her off the label.
If a label signs an artist and keep the costs down and the album does moderately well, they’re going to continue, but if they spend an awful lot of money and not much happens, they’re liable to stop.
If artists share the costs with record labels of making the album, with the artists’ share of the costs being deducted from their royalties, do you think they should also share ownership of the masters?
Yes, but the artists don’t share the costs, they pay the costs, don’t they?
What aspect of the music industry would you change?
One of the problems with record companies has always been that certain higher echelons of management are paying themselves too much money. There always seems to be to an imbalance within record companies, with the senior level of management getting paid huge sums of money and everybody else working for very little.
What has been the greatest moment of your music career?
Paul McCartney selling out two shows at the Maracanã stadium in Rio de Janeiro in 1990, one of which sold 140,000 tickets and the other one over 200,000. The tickets weren’t sold in advance; people came on the day and bought them. Paul said to me afterwards that it was bigger than the Beatles! And I also met my wife at the same concert!
What do you see yourself doing in five to ten years’ time?
Living in Brazil, drinking caipirinhas.
Interviewed by Kimbel Bouwman