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Interview with MORGAN JOHANSSON, manager for Jose Gonzalez, Caesars - Mar 3, 2008

"Nowadays itís a lot easier for an act to be self-sufficient"

picture Morgan Johansson was involved in Sweden's independent music scene since the late '80s, and has a considerable contribution to making Swedish bands successful internationaly - in Europe, UK and America.

He manages acts like Jose Gonzalez (Top 20 UK), Caesars (Top 40 UK), as well as influential indie bands like The Hellacopters and The (International) Noise Conspiracy.

His booking agency is behind some of Sweden's biggest festivals, that host bands like Foo Fighters and The Hives.

He talks to HitQuarters about getting your band ready to play live, about working only with acts he likes, and about making sure a sponsorship or commercial suits a band before being tempted by the profit.

When did you found Luger and what was significant in developing your managing skills?

Back in the late Ď80s I got involved in this non-profit organisation/youth house in Sandviken, Sweden, that arranged shows with local and foreign bands.

Eventually, in 1991, three of us - Ola Broquist, Patrick Fredriksson (who came from a similar organisation from our neighbouring town Gšvle) and me decided to start a booking agency within that youth organization.

We already had international contacts back then with different booking agencies like Paperclip and agencies in Germany and England.

Before the Internet era, you just sent letters to each other and we could receive a package of a foreign band coming on tour in Sweden.

In 1997 we bought ourselves out and went on as a private company and in late 1997 we moved to Stockholm. Thatīs also when we started our management company, Moondog Entertainment.

Lugerinc is now both a promoter for Swedish and foreign artists and bands as well as a booking agency for Swedish acts, both worldwide and for Scandinavia.

And Moondog entertainment?

Moondog Entertainment is the management company since 1997. At that time, we saw there were a bunch of acts that we worked with that had a potential to do well outside Sweden. We thought they needed management.

We had around 10 bands in our roster. We tried to work that for a couple of years. Then we realised that a lot of the bands didnít really have the setup needed to fully explore the worldwide potential we thought they had.

We put the management on hold for a couple of years and continued to work with The Hellacopters. We restarted management in 2002 again.

Do you cover a specific genre?

Ever since the company's birth our main goal has been to give everyone the opportunity to enjoy upcoming and thrilling alternative music. We always work for the alternative scene in a major way. Big or small.

But we donít look at specific genres. We definitely work with acts that in general write their own songs. Weíre not a management that is branding pop stars.

How did you build your roster?

We started Luger at a time where there really wasnít much competition. There were a couple of bigger booking agencies in Sweden, but there were really no one working with new unsigned up-and-coming bands. So, thatís how we built our roster.

With a few of the bands we started to do management in Moondog.

One of the partner owners in Moondog, whoís not in Luger, is called Fredrik Holmgren. He has a label called Startracks. A few of those acts come through his channel as well.

What artists are you currently managing?

The Hellacopters, The (International) Noise Conspiracy, Josť GonzŠlez, Junip (feat. Josť GonzŠlez) Caesars, a new Swedish band called Jonas Game, and a band called Big Bird.

How do you keep the artists away from the any distraction thatís disturbing their creativity?

As a manager you deal with a lot of the administrative stuff, so that the artists donít have to put a lot of time in the day-to-day business work.

You take care of stuff for the artist, so that they can actually concentrate on writing songs and playing shows.

The other side is that you try to be creative as a manager and find new ways to develop the bands and gain success.

Do you want your bands to play live as much as possible?

Not necessarily. Itís different with every act. However, in days like these, where you sell less and less records, playing live is definitely a necessity for a lot of acts, it can be one of the few ways to actually make some money.

On the other hand, itís expensive to play live. You have to reach a certain level in playing live to start making money. Otherwise you just lose money, because the income is less than the expenses.

With most of the acts we work with, the live aspect is definitely a very important thing. But itís not like that we automatically think thatís the only way to success. We try to sit down and look at every act in its own unique situation.

What is that certain level they need to reach?

If you start to work with a brand new act, I donít think the first thing you should do is try to get a showcase in England or America. You have to build them up to a certain level in your home country.

They have to improve their experience first. Playing a lot of shows makes you become a better live band. Writing a lot of songs makes you become a better songwriter.

Itís both playing their instruments better and better and experiencing the interaction with the audience.

It depends on what kind of act it is. It also differs a lot where you play live in various places in the world.

If you go to the US and see a show, the interaction with the crowd seems to be a lot of a bigger deal than for example in Scandinavia.

Whatís your view on the increasing commerciality of live events?

Branding and sponsoring can sometimes be the right thing to do. And sometimes itís definitely not.

A lot of people that work in the live business today take it for granted that a show should be branded or sponsored. We try to look at that in every different situation.

And when it comes to branding and sponsoring we always try to see more upsides than just the financial part of it as well.

Sometimes you can gain something out of it, for example if you have a good media partner on the tour. At other occasions you donít need it or itís just not the right thing to do.

For example, with the band The (International) Noise Conspiracy, who are very outspoken politically, it wouldnīt be the right thing for them to just have any sponsor.

It definitely has to be the right company or media partner, otherwise their crowd would not take them seriously.

How involved are you with the repertoire and production?

Iím not really. We work with acts that do what they can do, and being involved in production and songwriting is not our strongest side even though we definitely throw ideas at them sometimes when it comes to producers, mixing engineers etc.

Our stronger side is dealing with the administrative day-to-day stuff and also finding a creative way of how to present the act when it comes to marketing or what kind of tours they should do.

What direction they should take musically is totally up to the act.

Whatís discussed on the first meetings with a new act?

We discuss their commitment and their expectations. What they are willing to do. What they want to reach. How much hard work they are willing to put down.

What package needs to be ready for an act who wants to get involved with management?

When me and my partner Fredrik at Moondog have a gut feeling about something, we try to sign it. But itís hard to point out what the general approach is like.

Whatís the difference in working with new or established artists?

Even all the members in our two new bands Jonas Game and Big Bird have been in different bands before. All of them have at least ten years experience of being in bands, touring and working in the music industry.

They know the business already, even though these specific bands are new bands. Weíve never signed a 17-year-old kid that didnít have any experience at all.

As a booking agent within Luger Iíve signed new acts that didnít have any experience.

Maybe a lot of younger artists have a romanticised view on things. They may think that things will go faster or easier than they actually do in reality.

Do you attend showcases like Midem?

I donít visit Midem too often. But I went to the Noorderslag seminar in Groningen, Holland this year. Iím going to South By Southwest (SXSW) in Austin, Texas next March. It differs.

We try to work with local bands. I think itís important for us to work with bands that are based in the same country as ourselves, because it makes it a lot easier when it comes to communication and day-to-day business.

Even though a lot of the bands that we work with are always on tour. A lot of the bands that we work with do have a career in North America.

SXSW is a good opportunity now to catch up with people and meet them more on a social basis than on a business basis. Whenever we feel thereīs need for it, we also try to team up with a co-manager for the North American market.

Itīs pretty much impossible to keep up with everything thatīs going on both there and over in Europe and other continents.

This year I donít represent any act that is playing at SXSW, but maybe next year I will, and then itís of course a lot more about business-related meetings.

How did you get deals for your bands in the US?

Some of the acts have been signed worldwide in Sweden. And then the Swedish label got the deals. But sometimes we try to find deals ourselves.

What are the other sources you find new talent through?

You get unsolicited material, you talk to other acts, you see stuff. When you work in this music business you can discover a band at any time in any way.

It could be on the radio, on a show, someone supporting one of your own acts. Or someone sent you a link to Myspace or a similar site.

What does it take for the material to grab your interest?

My personal taste of music is very wide. Sometimes something instantly grabs you. With other stuff you have to listen a lot more.

Obviously, when you listen to something and you decide that you need to listen more to make up your mind, in some way it already did grab you. Because you decided to listen to it one more time, and then one more time again.

And of course, thereís stuff you listen to it once and then never again.

So far, I have never found something on a website that I ended up working with as a manager.

But thereís stuff that has been sent via email and for example I picked the act out as a support to one of my acts, or recommended to other people in the office that are promoters to bring the band to Sweden.

How do you choose your projects?

The bottom line is that you definitely have to like it musically. I wouldnít work with an act that I didnít like myself but still thought would have commercial potential.

Fredrik and me sit down and discuss it. You have to click on a personal level with the members of a band.

Are you looking for outside songs?

No. All acts we work with are fully self-contained. Well, obviously Josť GonzŠlez, and some others have recorded a few covers, but they pick them on their own.

You have this whole other different side of the music business where someone finds a good-looking girl or boy and then they try to put them in different clothes and find songwriters for them. Manufacturing them. But thatís not the way we do it.

Are you involved when songs are placed in TV series, films or commercials?

Yes. And with all the acts we represent we work closely with the publishing company that owns the publishing rights for that act.

Besides playing live, we try to place our music in TV series, movies and commercials. But thatís not always automatically the right thing to do.

Sometimes when youíre offered a commercial and tons of money, you have to see what this advertising is for. Is it right for this act? Will they be forever associated with this product and company? Will they lose credibility?

A lot of the times we turn things down. You canīt really work this way - sit down at one point and decide that a sync is the one and only way to market the band. And have it depend on finding a sync request for a huge advertising campaign.

If a request comes, you have to look at it then, but itís not the one important cornerstone of a whole career. Because then youíre too depended on something that you canít really affect too much.

What has changed over the years for you as a manager?

Our experience. Our way to be able to do a good job. Because you learn all the time. Ten years ago, we didnít know so much about what we were doing.

The music industry has changed, you are selling a lot less records nowadays. Itís a lot harder to get a deal with a big indie or major label.

Ten years ago, in many cases, a good deal was what made it possible to continue for an act if they wanted to do it full time, 365 days a year.

But nowadays itís a lot easier for an act to be self-sufficient. Itís a lot easier to tour internationally.

Even though you donít sell records and itís harder to get an advance and to be able to live out of that, youíre now able to survive and make money on touring more easily.

How is the Scandinavian music business doing?

The live business is doing really well. And more management companies are popping up.

The business is pretty strong, but obviously the labels are struggling like everywhere else. And a lot of shops for physical CDs are closing down.

As being a member of the International Music Managerís Forum, what would you like to change in the music industry?

Iím not very active in the IMMF, but in Sweden we have Carl Blom and Petri Lundťn who are very active.

Obviously, piracy is hurting a lot of people in the music industry, but the easy availability of music online is definitely helping a lot as well.

But Iím not defending piracy in any way. Iím completely against it.

There is a new way to distribute music, and we should use that in a good way. It can help a lot of bands to find an audience a lot quicker than ten years ago.

Eventually we are going there. iTunes is one way. But iTunes is in a way very traditional. I think one way to go can be to subscribe to music. You pay a certain fee a month and get unlimited downloads.

Iím not sure if thatís the right way, but itís one of the ways to use the unique possibility to distribute music through Internet and get the revenues.

Whatís coming up for Lugerinc/Moondog?

On top of the usual agency and promoter business Luger has some major events coming up this summer, we have a new one day event called ĎWhere The Action Isí on June 14th in Stockholm.

Itís an open air show with twoĖthree stages, featuring, among others, Foo Fighters, Queens Of The Stone Age, The Hives, The Hellacopters, Dinsoaur Jr, Dirty Pretty Things.

We are doing our Accelerator Festival again, and we are continuing with our festival in Gothenburg, Way Out West, that premiered last year and sold out 16,000 tickets over two days.

With Moondog we have a handful of acts. And when one act has some time off, other acts are being active.

Caesars are releasing a new album in a couple of weeksí time. The (International) Noise Conspiracy are releasing an album this summer. The Hellacopters are releasing a new album. Thereís definitely much work to do.

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Interview by Kimbel Bouwman