Interview with MARTIN O'SHEA, manager at Integral RPM - November 6, 2006
"Artists must develop their material as often as possible, and listen to the people that they send it to. You just got to be prepared to take the blows and keep coming back"Martin O'Shea is responsible for the creation and breakthrough of British No.1 act Atomic Kitten.
His success with the Kittens helped him establish his multi-facetted company who do anything from developing acts to producing music videos.
O'Shea explained to HitQuarters about how working in a small successful team helps maintain artistic control, assure profits and enable launching a big act every year.
How did you get started in the music business?
I started with a friend, who was a singer in a band. I was about 19 and I started to promote his band. I got a Princeís Trust loan to set up a promotions company and we started to put shows on. We were doing shows like Saint Etienne, Big Audio Dynamite and The Farm.
It progressed over a couple of years until it was relatively successful, but at that point I decided that the risks involved were too great and I found a band I wanted to manage.
Is music management the prior business area for Integral RPM?
Integral RPM was founded in 1992, but became fully fledged in 1994. RPM stands for Records, Productions and Management. Itís a multi faceted artist driven entertainment company. With the production company we made about 15 promo videos in the last ten months for many different labels.
Thatís one of the strongest growing areas of the business. We also make documentaries and concert videos. We shot Atomic Kitten at Wembley. We just did Fish in Amsterdam.
To have creative control in this industry is sometimes the most important element of developing an act. If you got a particular vision of how the act should look, then part of that is to have the creative control to be able to produce the way they look in video or on film.
With Atomic Kitten, we found that our views were shared by Virgin and Innocent, and it allowed us to grow the new company so that our artists can all be developed and looked the way that they and we think they should. And itís growing out of that.
Weíve now taken a lot of outside work for labels all around the world. Whether itís Warners, Virgin or whoever comes to us, weíve managed to get a particular look to the videos and concerts that we shoot, which means that weíre happy with the work thatís coming in.
What is The Music House?
Itís a building in Liverpool, which our offices work from. A total of five people work for Integral. There are other management companies and thereís a recording studio. There was a band called Space who built it a few years ago. Weíve been there for about four years now.
Whatís your musical direction, and what are some of your current activities?
Cutting edge pop music. My day consists of running the overall operation. I mainly deal specifically with the artists. Itís like an A&R type of thing in terms of making sure that the development plans that we set for each individual artist are all being followed, that the records are being produced and the songs are being written.
We got a roster, which is a lot of singer/songwriters and songwriter/producers. Itís working directly in the studio most of the time or on storyboards for videos, in the creative more than the administration aspect. Iím not a great lover of the administrative side of things. I leave that to the staff.
Which artists do you work with at the moment?
We got five different bands and then we have three sets of producer/writers. We got the three former Atomic Kittens, the solo careers for them. The band thatís coming through on the pop side is a girl group called Nylon, who are coming from Iceland.
Weíve been developing them for twelve months and had one hit so far with the first single, and the second single and the album just came out.
How do you find artists?
Once you had a big success with one act youíre offered all sorts of other acts. You donít take on many acts when youíre a small company. And you donít when youíre a big company; you take on the ones that you really want to work with.
I tended to find most of them in and around the area that Iím working in. In the case of Nylon it was through my lawyer. It can come from all different sources.
Generally, the lawyers that I work with will get offers from bands or from bandís managers who feel that they canít take the act any further and want to take on bigger management companies to look after them.
The lawyers know how to find me because Iíve worked with them for so long. When somebody asks them to recommend a good management company, theyíll think about the managers that they represent or the artistís management they trust, and theyíll tend to call us.
Itís a tried and trusted way of knowing if a lawyer is calling you then you can generally feel that thereís something good about the act, because he wouldnít bother ringing you otherwise.
We also get a lot of unsolicited material, which we do listen to. We found a couple of songs that way. But I canít tell you that weíve had hits that way.
Do you listen to what publishing companies present?
We work closely with a number of the publishers. If one of them thinks heís got a particular hot song for one of our acts, weíve found many songs through that way.
You sign your writers and producers to publishers, and then you work with those publishers on other writers that they represent. You can always be amongst the first people to hear the best songs.
Do any of your artists accept song submissions from external publishers and songwriters at the moment?
Yes. Most of the time, youíre trying to get your artists to write the majority of it, and then you might need the singles from elsewhere.
If you get something that you think is good but isnít a huge hit single or you like the way that itís written, I can then try and put my other artists in to do co-writing with the people who produced that song or who have written that song, which can be an easier way to start working with more and more people.
What does it take from the material to have your interest?
A great chorus. A great melody. I always love some melody first, lyrics second. Although lyrics are great, and itíll make me think that itís worth developing some new material with that particular theme.
How should aspiring artists present themselves nowadays?
The record industry will now expect you to have a MySpace site, and expect it to be something that youíve taken a lot of care over. And I think itís not difficult to do that. There are packages now you can get which enhance the MySpace site. I think that thatís the biggest selling point any new singer/songwriter, band or entertainer of any kind can have.
How should they prepare for success?
Just develop the material as often and as frequently and as closely as possible, and listen to the people that they send it to.
I know itís very difficult as an artist sometimes when you think your material isnít anything but sensational, but if youíre not getting the cuts, there is a reason why. And itís not always down to the right people not hearing them. You just got to be prepared to take the blows and keep coming back.
Do you devise strategies for your artists in terms of what they should develop and how they can strengthen their brand name?
Absolutely. Iíve got a yet-to-be-named act at the moment that weíre signing through Sony/BMG UK, which is one thatís taken a year to devise what the market would want from it.
We put our writers in to that mix to develop a song, which is working out well. We think we got the first two singles from our own writers on an act that we developed and signed ourselves. We hope thatís going to be our big thing for the next year. Each year we plan to have a big act the following year.
Whatís usually discussed in the first meetings with a new artist?
If weíre going to sign them, it means that weíve gone through the process of assessing them and seeing what it is that theyíve got that we think we can work with. At that point itís a case of deciding what we can do for them and how to put the team around them thatís going to help develop.
If theyíre songwriters then itís a lot easier to just work closely with them in their studio to give them the briefs from publishers or from the labels as to whatís required by which ever artist theyíre writing for.
And just keep close to them in the first few months to see that they understand how they work through a brief because these days thatís sometimes the most important thing of all.
How did you get involved with Atomic Kitten?
I put them together with Andy McClusky, who was in OMD (Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, of the 80ís hit ĎEnola Gayí). We did the whole audition process with the Kittens and it started because he had a girl group he put together.
When he asked me to get involved on the management I didnít think that they had any chance of succeeding. I persuaded him to disband them and we started again. We decided that we wanted three girls, because there were no three girl groups then, with attitude.
Preferably all from Liverpool, because we felt that that would give it more of an identity, which it did. It took us about two years to get the line-up right and Hugh Goldsmith signed them straight away.
How did you manage to get the interest?
At the time, Goldsmith, Simon Cowell, those sorts of guys were the real pop guys. It was about trying to make them sit up and take some sort of notice. And I was faxing Hugh to say that I thought I had some hits.
He was interested in hearing them and I got a response from his PA saying to send them through in the normal way. I kept calling and saying you have to hear these songs. And he sat and listened to them and then called me and said theyíre fantastic, theyíre hits.
We had the first two singles on that demo CD. That made his life a bit easier. All of the songs apart from two on that first album came from Andy McClusky and his writing partner.
What did the Kittens had to develop before their launch?
We went through the whole process of vocal coaching and dance lessons. They had the whole thing before we did the first showcase with Hugh. We spent weeks getting it right with live vocals so that it was authentic and it wasnít a mime thing.
Did you have any direct contact with songwriters who wrote songs especially for them?
We did that after the first album. The first album was completely written with songs like ĎWhole Againí which was the No.1. It was only ĎEternal Flameí and ĎFollow Meí which were outside songs. On the second album we started to work with all sorts of different songwriters and producers.
The Atomic Kitten success has allowed integral RPM to grow rapidly and diversify into new areas of the entertainment industry. Why did you choose to expand in all those areas?
It was about wanting a particular look to be attached to the artist that we work with. And also to see what other people were doing in terms of production companies. It just meant finding two or three key people, which was quite easy.
I was already working with most of them. Getting them on board to actually come and work for the company and for them to be shooting the videos and dividing the treatments and working to the productions that we needed.
How do you convince an artist to take you on as a manager?
Once you had some success itís tended to be the other way around. It would be different if it was somebody who was with a high profile management company and they had an offer working with those people and then they were looking around the market.
Then it would be a case of do you click with them, do you establish a strong relationship with them straight away, which works for you both. And thatís really in the first meeting. If you really establish a rapport and you get on well, then youíre in with every chance, because youíve already proved that you can manage people.
When you do development deals, what do you expect from people?
You set a plan out; six to twelve months down the line. You want for them to be in a particular place which theyíre not in at the moment. If theyíre a singer/songwriter, then you expect them to develop their vocals and their songs so that they can compete with whoever it is thatís already in that marketplace.
And then you take a view on it three or six months later and decide if itís developed in the way that you want without carrying a huge overhead.
How does it affect managers when major label A&Rs spend less and less time developing artists?
It just means you got to develop them yourself. This one with Sony/BMG is a perfect example of that. As so with the Kittens, we decided to do all the work we could ourselves.
That is to develop the songs, the look of the act, the whole stage routine, the vocals. You then find somebody who gets it the way you do and itís very straight forward.
The deal with Sony/BMG meant that they actually put me on a retainer to develop an act for them, which with the Kittens we couldnít do because we werenít known enough.
Now that they come and say this is the type of thing we want to do, these are the types of songs we want to put to it, weíll pay you to apply and develop that talent and we use your writers. That scenario is perfect for us, because it means we donít have any costs, weíre a profit straight away, and weíre doing what we love.
Whatís your view on the music business climate?
I think the music business is going to become more and more focused on smaller groups of creative people working through a huge distribution and marketing company.
I think MySpace and YouTube are going to become the absolute tools to allow much more independents a development thatís not interfered with by anybody. It should be a huge plus. I think itís going to be small established two or three person record labels feeding through the big machines of the majors.
Can you tell anything about the upcoming projects of Integral RPM?
As I said, thereís the unnamed act on Sony/BMG. Nylon are No.1 in Iceland at the moment. Weíre hoping to achieve the same sort of success we had with the Kittens.
We got three separate records coming with the three Kittens.
Liz is recording her album with John McLaughlin producing. Sheís working with the Murlyn guys and with lots of singer/songwriters in the UK. Natasha has a dance record coming on Apollo Records.
Jenny has a record coming through Ministry Of Sound Germany.
So, weíve got a lot of projects to bring to the market for the beginning of next year.
Weíve got a musical in development, which is a sort of Grease type thing for Liverpool. Thatís going to bring two artist projects through it. Itís a direction Iím excited about. Marrying film and music in that way is not been done on a large scale yet.
You donít see huge amounts of film coming with musicals or stronger soundtracks. Thatís one area weíre going to move into and where we can really make an impact.
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Interview by Kimbel Bouwman
Next week: New Artist Diary - The Alpine
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