Interview with SHAUNA GOLD, former manager of Avril Lavigne - Jan 28, 2008
"Songs in film, TV and video games are a huge source of discovering new music,"
... observes Shauna Gold, who, after establishing Avril Lavigne as a hugely successful international act, is dedicating her time to discovering and managing new artists.
Working within the same company that still manages Lavigne, she aims for breaking at least a couple more artists in the same way.
She talks to HitQuarters about working very closely with the teenage Lavigne, and about the difficulties and new opportunities new artists are faced with these days.
How did you start out in the music industry?
It just sort of happened accidentally. I was going to university for biochemistry. I was a huge fan of music and going out to live shows all the time.
I took a year off and did some volunteering for the label Nettwerk, because I loved some of the music.
Before my year was up I got asked to start working as their receptionist. I did that for a brief stint. Then I got asked into the management company shortly after. I kept getting promoted, and thirteen years later Iím still here and hadnít come back to school.
What artists are you currently working with?
Iím managing a solo artist called Camila Grey as well as her band Uh Huh Her, with Leisha Hailey.
Then I manage a new 17 year old R&B/pop artist, Alisha Pillay, and a rootsy bluesy artist, Melissa McClelland.
How involved are you with the repertoire and production?
Not at all. Iím solely on the management side of the company.
Do you have your say in the direction of the sound of a song or an album?
The way I and a lot of people within our company work, is we sign talent we believe in their vision as much as they are. We just try to help connect the dots and let them realise that vision.
We donít try and tell artists how to write songs or tell the producers how to produce. We give our feedback if we like a song or not, whether itís good or not. But in terms of the creative process, we try to leave it to the artists and producers as much as possible.
What package needs to be ready to get involved with management?
With management, first and foremost, an artist needs to be able to perform live. And preferably have a bit of a live following. They have to be the real deal in that area.
I like to work with artists who write their own music, perform their own music, have a great live show and a have an online presence.
Whatís the difference in working with new or established artists?
Established artists already have a fanbase. Theyíve already got an audience built up that you can sell concert tickets to and sell your music to.
Nowadays itís awfully hard to get a record deal for a new artist. Itís awfully hard to get one if an artist is looking for a lot of money upfront. We encourage artists not to have too immense expectations.
Try to find a label that is willing to take the time to develop an artist. If itís not a straight ahead pop artist, itís really tough. You really just have to have patience and work from the ground up.
Really work on your online presence and touring small and building it up. You really have to be in it for the long haul.
What is usually discussed on the first meetings?
I want to know who the artist is as a person. Who they see themselves as? Where do they want to be? What career is it that theyíre after? To see if I can help them sell their music and think that itís realistic.
We work out a strategy together. I need to see an artist perform live to make sure that theyíve actually got real talent. Itís really important that they not only perform their music, but also record and write it.
Do you attend showcases featuring new artists?
Iím going to all the different festivals like South By Southwest and CMJ. All the usual suspects as well as word-of-mouth.
Lawyers, friends at labels and producers often send packages or links to sites to check artists out and establish connections that way and then Iíll often fly to see an artist perform on one of their tour legs.
But itís usually better to get the recommendation of friends in the industry.
How significant are music conferences like South By Southwest and MUSEXPO for managers to attend?
I prefer to go to South By Southwest, and I hope to go to MUSEXPO as well, but I havenít confirmed it.
Itís significant to meet new talent and to meet other colleagues in the industry. Itís an important aspect for both. Especially for the international labels and publishers around the world. You get an opportunity to spend time with promoters you donít know.
You work with artists outside Canada (Camilla Grey and Uh Huh Her being LA-based). Would you also work with a band from Europe?
What does the Canadian music industry focus on nowadays?
The Canadian industry, like all of the world markets, is just looking for great talent. Canada has a lot of great artists.
I donít think itís any different. Everyone has the same goal; just trying to find artists who can still sell records and concert tickets.
What are the other sources you find new talent through?
Different lawyers in the industry and different people working at labels.
Publishing companies are always forwarding music. Whether itís someone theyíve heard of or someone that is signed to a label or signed to the publishers we have relationships with. They forward music when there isnít management involved.
I also had bands contact me that are saying, ĎIím a big fan of this artist Iím working with. I think you should check out these guys.í Just a lot of word-of-mouth.
How do you choose your projects?
First thing for me is: I must love the music. I donít always make my decisions based on a different point of view.
I have to believe that itís going to succeed. And then having a meeting with the artist and finding out what their drive is. It takes a really focused work ethic. If an artist doesnít have that, itís not going to work.
Do you cover a specific genre?
I work with a variety of different artists. Uh Huh Her is an indie electronic band. Melissa McClelland is a roots blues americana style artist. Alisha Pillay is an urban pop artist. Avril Lavigne was a straight ahead pop artist.
I have managed The Devlins, Sixpence None The Richer, Supreme Beings of Leisure. A very dynamic roster.
Do you still manage Avril Lavigne?
I donít personally. Our company still does. Iím just focusing on finding new talent to sign to the roster and develop.
I was her manager during the first five years when she first came to Nettwerk. Terry McBride, CEO of the company, is her current manager.
When did you first meet Avril Lavigne?
I first met Avril in October of 2001. I signed her to management.
Who discovered her?
Initially it was Mark Jallet, who works for the label, who was trying to sign her. She ended up going to Arista.
Six months later she was looking for new management. She came and met with Terry and myself. Sheíd been meeting with several other managers, but she decided to come to our company.
It was interesting that six months prior, a man from our label had actually discovered her before we had in terms of management.
How did you work with Avril?
Very hands-on, because she was so new to the industry and so young. She only just turned 17 when we met. I was traveling with her far more than a manager traditionally would. I was gone over 300 days a year for five years.
How did she develop up until her breakthrough?
A lot of people thought that she was all pre-fabricated, but in fact she always had a strong sense of who she was as a person and what she wanted to be.
The key to her success was first and foremost her talent, and second of all just allowing her to be who she wanted to be, not trying to mould her.
Everyone had their own opinion of who they thought she should be. The job that we had to do was just pushing all those people away and letting her be who she naturally was.
At the time that she came out there were not a lot of role models like her around. Kids could instantly connect because she was so real. Kids were obviously longing for a role model that they could relate to, and that was her.
Who chose the singles and the producers for her?
She had her own choices of producers and mixers, and they were all great choices.
In terms of picking the singles, there were conversations between her, myself and Terry, and the record label. We all had our opinions and had conversations back and forth until we all agreed. It was a collective effort.
What was key in ensuring and maintaining her success?
The real key was making sure she had what she needed to stay focused to do the job. It was a pretty grilling schedule going around the world several times over.
Really just letting her be who she was. Not forcing anything on her. Not letting anyone else try to force her or tell her who she actually should be. Just keeping her real.
Why did you part ways eventually?
It was time for me to go grow the roster. It was a great run. She has matured, and she has a very solid career foundation.
I wanted to go and look for new talent and hopefully have several more similar successes. Itís a much harder industry environment at this point, but I would love to break another couple of artists.
How do you co-operate with the A&Rs?
Very well. Iíve been pretty fortunate so far. I donít always agree, but in the end it has always been mutually respectable and we always reach a decision that we agree on.
What does it take for the unsolicited material to grab your interest?
My assistant goes through everything first and narrows it down for me. I just have to be able to hear that someone has great songs and a great voice to go with it.
It doesnít have to be any particular genre. What I think is a great song or what somebody else might think is a great song, could be two different things. I have to hear it and I have to believe in it.
What makes a great song?
You can feel it when you hear it, because the artist believes it and can feel it and is singing with that emotion. If they donít believe what theyíre singing and there is nothing to connect to, then it is not a good song.
The right melodies and the right lyrics and the emotion with which itís being sung all have to be in there.
Are you looking for outside songs?
I see the purpose of it, but itís not anything Iíve ever had to do. The kind of artists that Iíve worked with always tended to be songwriters anyway.
Especially these days, when the ways of making a living are getting narrower, itís much easier when youíre working with artists who are in control of not just the masters, but also the copyrights.
Are you involved when songs are placed in TV series or film?
Iím not a song plugger personally. However, there is a division like that that is an incredibly important aspect of the company.
These days, songs are not only an important revenue source for the artist, itís an important aspect for breaking careers as well. Songs in film, TV and videogames are a huge source of discovering new music.
What has changed over the years for a manager?
We just have to get a lot more creative in strategies and finding ways that generate revenue streams. The traditional methods of making money have shrunk, but there are a lot of new opportunities.
Itís our job to find them and capitalise on them, while still keeping the integrity of the artist and their music.
If you could dramatically change some aspect in the music industry, what would you do?
The change has already happened with the Internet and how accessible music is to fans around the world. I think thatís incredible.
Itís not only a small handful of artists with big record deals that are getting the opportunity to make a living with their music. The fact is that the gates are open for so many artists to have a career.
I just hope that a lot of artists can continue to make music. And that we figure out what the revenue streams are going to be, what the new model is going to look like. Having the revenue sources meet the demand and accessibility of the music that is out there.
Weíre meeting somewhere in the middle so that a lot of careers can continue and a lot of fans can continue sharing their music.
How significant are the Canadian Juno Awards?
There is always a spike in sales just like the Grammys and the Brit Awards. I donít know if itís that big of a deal. Itís an honour, but I donít believe it makes or breaks anyone.
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Interview by Kimbel Bouwman
Next week: New exclusive Artist Diary!
Read On ...
* A&R Joshua Sarubin on developing Avril Lavigne at Arista
* Songwriter/producer Lauren Christy on breaking through with Lavigne