Amy Lamé has been in office for around three months when we meet at Soho venue The Social. And to say it’s been a whirlwind 12 weeks for the capital’s first night czar would be a gross understatement.
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Artist management contracts have been known to contain some idiosyncratic clauses over the years, but the one buried deep inside Stuart Camp and Ed Sheeran’s contract at the artist’s behest is surely one of the most unusual.
“He’s inserted a clause that says I will be with him at all times, looking like I’m enjoying myself,” Camp laughs. “It gives the lawyers sleepless nights, like, Surely we could be in breach if there are pictures where I look grumpy? But I don’t have to actually enjoy myself. As long as I look like I am, that’s OK…”
Right now, his joy seems to be genuine. And he’s certainly been with Sheeran every step of the way during the singer-songwriter’s remarkable rise.
After his 2014 album X sold 2,948,802 copies, according to the Official Charts Company, Sheeran’s return was always going to be huge, but the innovative double-single release of Shape Of You and Castle On The Hill has turned it into a blockbuster event.
Both tracks broke the previous UK one-week streaming record, Shape Of You smashed the all-time Spotify record, while Sheeran became the first artist to have the Top 2 UK singles for five weeks in a row.
So no wonder Rocket Music Management’s Camp answers the door at his newly-done-up house in the nice part of Clapham with his trademark smile on his face.
His still-unpacked suitcase from his Grammys trip (Sheeran performed at the ceremony, as he did at the BRITs) is still in the hall, his house refurb is so recent he doesn’t know where the sugar is and he’s fighting off the effects of glandular fever, but he seems perfectly relaxed in what he terms “the eye of the storm” before the most anticipated album since Adele’s 25.
But then, Camp’s experiences with Sheeran have taught him to be unfazed where others might be daunted, as the ginger kid with the guitar and the loop pedal has made the impossible look pretty darn easy at every turn.
Camp actually started on the label side of things, first at Infectious then, when that was bought by Warner, at East West, which in turn became Atlantic.
He was product manager for a bunch of American rock bands and James Blunt when Rocket’s Todd Interland finally persuaded him to try life on the other side of the fence as Blunt’s day-to-day manager.
By his own admission, he “took to it pretty quickly”. Later, he looked after Lily Allen before taking on Sheeran in 2009. Sheeran was homeless and had been turned down by almost every label in the country, but Camp took him on, let him sleep on the sofa at his place (then considerably smaller than his current abode) and, slowly but surely, helped guide him to international superstardom.
Today, Sheeran is his only client, “the last thing I think of before I go to bed and the first thing I think about when I wake up”.
Right now, those thoughts are full of dizzying projections for global first week sales and touring plans that will take him and Sheeran up until at least summer 2018, not to mention the constant Sheeran-related questions from Camp’s own 119,000 Twitter followers.
But there’s still time for him to warn Music Week about his “potentially vicious” cats and sit down to talk streaming, stadiums and social media strategy…
Who actually had the idea for the two singles?
Me, [Atlantic president] Ben Cook and Ed were sitting in Ed’s house in Suffolk, arguing over which one should be the single.
We were just going round in circles, pros and cons, pros and cons. Then it was like, The album’s called Divide, why don’t we have both sides? It was a Eureka moment which, at any one point over the next few years, one of us will claim to have been solely their idea, but it was pretty mutual.
Had you been arguing for different singles beforehand, then?
Yeah. You can probably guess who wanted which. Ed wanted Castle, I was very much either/or. I could see the merits of both. But that’s why we weren’t falling out or coming to a decision, because everyone knew that the other was a very good argument as well.
How are you feeling about the album?
Very confident now. We know the market’s there, we know people want and are desperate to hear more music, so it’s now more a case of seeing where those numbers land.
Does it feel like an even bigger deal now?
It does to a certain degree, but there’s less pressure. We could have been worried if one of these singles had fallen off quite quickly, if they hadn’t been doing quite as well, we might have been, Ooh, how’s the album going to do? But we now know that there’s the demand there. I’m just desperate to get it out, we just want people to hear it.
Do you worry about fulfilling industry/retail expectations at all?I do worry that some people might be getting a little silly on what they expect. But I’m not worried about it. Does that sound horribly conceited? There’s someone very close to me and this project who thinks it’ll do 350K [in week one] and I’d be very happy with that. That’s one of your best band’s lifetime best sales.
Even the big sales are usually around 200K. So I’d be ecstatic. But really I’m thinking, What will we have sold by the end of 2018? It’s about the long game.
Has streaming changed the dynamics of selling an album like this?
Yeah. It might not necessarily be about the album sales and what they tot up to, but at the end of the day we just want as many people as possible to hear the music, because our primary business is still live.
If people are hearing it on whatever, I can’t feel too bad [because] they might buy a ticket. It’s about getting out there as much as possible.
The album will debut on streaming services on release day. Are you a believer in streaming?
Absolutely, 100%. Always. We were always over-indexing on streaming, even from the first record. We became the poster boys for Spotify to a certain degree, before anyone else really latched on.
In the years since the last record, it’s caught up and it’s now taken over for everybody. But we were always that act.
So far, your touring plans look relatively low-key. Are there bigger things to come?
Yeah. In 2018, we just do stadiums. I knew three nights at The O2 would be an underplay and create a bit of fuss, but I didn’t realise quite how much.
But to be fair, we wanted to play this year and we can’t do all the stadiums all the time, because they’re weather dependent, so we knew we’d do arenas first. But in summer ‘18 there’s a lot of outdoor shows, a proper stadium tour, even obscure stadiums!
Were you disappointed by the secondary ticketing furore around the dates?
It’s always a shame. We do what we can to try and stop the bastards putting them on the secondary market, but you’re always going to get it.
A load of people bought tickets on [secondary sites], even though we told them not to, quite explicitly and they were getting billed for three or four grand. Everyone comes back to us like, What are you going to do about it? It is frustrating.
I’d love to do a Glastonbury model where it’s names and tickets but even that is just a pain in the arse for everyone.
You’ve got to balance it with what’s actually a good fan experience for buying a ticket. It’s an on-going thing and we’ll be looking at it even further for the stadium shows. Hopefully we’re doing enough shows so that the people who want to see us can, and aren’t spending hundreds of pounds.
Why has Ed connected as well as he has?
The music’s great and he just comes across well as a person. It’s been the same since Day One, everyone has wanted us to do well and people have been cheering for him. That helps.
He’s not a jack of all trades, but he does go across genres, he gets so many different people championing him, from grime acts to hoary old rockers, everyone just gets it and he does tick a hell of a lot of boxes, but without weakening him in any areas or looking like we’re going for a compromise.
He’s crossing those barriers and he just does it perfectly. He is sometimes quite sensitive about it, especially for Sing and Shape Of You, that was a little out of his comfort zone, so will people think he’s jumping on a bandwagon? But with him, if it’s good there’s no barrier to it becoming an Ed Sheeran song.
Does it help that he came up the hard way? Will he be the last superstar to make it like that?
You’d imagine so. Everyone else is either looking for or expecting a quick fix in this internet age. But for years before I met him, he had CDs in his rucksack and was sleeping in railway stations and doing all sorts. He really slogged it from the age of 14.
Did you always think he was going to make it?
Yeah. Not that I put a limit on it in my head, but I never at the time thought he’d be playing Wembley Stadium or anything like that, but I always knew there’d be a market for him.
When he came to me, he’d exhausted his turning up at record labels, chubby and ginger and that’s when we just took a year out of it.
He did the No.5 Collaborations Project EP. When that first charted, we were out walking in Richmond Park and we were like, How do I screengrab this, it’s No.55 on iTunes, thinking that was amazing.
Twenty minutes later it was No.10 and by teatime it was No.1. That was a nice day. That’s when the labels started coming back to us. He thought the doors were all closed and that’s when he thought, Fuck it, I’ll just do it myself. He’d been around but bless him, he didn’t give up.
Have you ever fallen out with each other?
Never. It was almost unspoken, we knew the mission and we were making progress. There are certain things we disagree on, but eventually we come round to each other’s way of thinking.
I don’t care how we get there or who gets the credit, as long as we get there. I saw everything and anything in life [with previous clients]. Ed’s always like, Am I a pain in the arse? And I’m always telling him, Yeah, you’re terrible, knowing full well that I have literally put my head into the mouth of the lion. You learn a lot in those situations.
How would you describe your management style?
I think I’m very fair and understanding. I’m not a shouter, silence scares people more. Having been on the other side, I knew the managers I loved and ultimately you’d always work harder for them.
So you try and be that person. There were so many managers in the late ‘90s, mentioning no names, where you’d be like, You’re an arsehole.
That was before the spirit of [legendary Led Zeppelin manager] Peter Grant had completely disappeared and everyone was just going, I’ve got to be a complete c-u-n-t, that’s the only way to get things to happen. And it isn’t at all.
The managers I got on with were people like Tav [Alt-J/Wolf Alice manager Stephen Taverner] and CJ [Raw Power Management CEO Craig Jennings]; they have their moments, but they were still decent and fair and would listen to you, even when I was the 20-year-old kid.
Your bond with Ed sometimes looks less like business and more like friendship…
I think that’s important. Some people always refer to their acts as my client and I’ve never been one of them. Our bond comes from living together and, glandular fever aside, I do everything with him. If you want an act to get up at 5am to do bloody German breakfast TV that’s going to be hell, at least be standing next to him when he does it. You can’t expect otherwise. There’s no airs and graces between us, we speak our minds.
What’s different about managing him now, compared to the early days?
Not a lot to be honest. He certainly hasn’t changed as a person. There are bigger things and I’m spinning more plates but, as a whole, it’s no easier or harder. We’ve always had that same attitude. We want as many people to hear the stuff as possible.
His whole attitude is, If I’ve made a record I’m proud of, I will do anything and everything to promote it. He’s not one of those people who’s like, I’ve had two No.1 albums, you can fuck off. He was really looking forward to getting back on the promo trail.
Six weeks later he’s still like, eah, bring it on, two hours sleep, Dutch TV.
Meanwhile, you’ve become a cult figure yourself on social media…
I only ever went on Twitter so I could see where Lily Allen was when I was looking after her. And then when we put [Sheeran’s] first tour on sale after the album was released, we literally broke the internet at 9am and I couldn’t get hold of anyone.
I had to get on Twitter and put the fire out and it snowballed from there. So now, when people ask me sensible questions, I try and answer as many as I can. My father was trying to show my very elderly neighbour what I did for a living and he came across some [Tumblr] site entitled Stuart Camp Gives Less Fucks Than The Virgin Mary. I got in trouble for it. I was like, I’m 38 years old, why am I in trouble for this, it’s not my fault...
Do you have targets for this campaign?
I know Ed would love to do 20 million albums off this one record, that’s his personal one. We did 14m of X, so... Let’s see! Beyond that, we don’t know.
There are folders on Ed’s laptop that have the next three albums on them, though that might change. He has his little secret ambitions for every campaign, which he never tells anyone until after the event. The Wembleys were the last one, he hasn’t told me what this album’s are and he won’t until after we’ve done them.
Where do you see the two of you being 10 years from now?
We’ll be at the end of what may be Phase 1. He’s got a clear plan - he knows the titles for the next two records, it won’t take a genius to work out what they may be! I’d like to think we’ll still be relevant and I’m sure we will be. He wants to be [like] Springsteen, career-wise. He’s definitely in it for the long haul.
And finally, have they asked you to do next year’s Super Bowl yet?
No. I’m not sure we want to do it. It’s always been a strong point for us that he’s a solo act on stage but, for that, you really have got to have the fire-breathers and dancers. I’d love them to ask us. I’m just thinking what we’d do for a show like that, but I’m sure Taylor Swift’s got an album out this year...
When Diane Wagg and Stephen Budd took on co-chair duties at the Music Managers Forum two and a half years ago, the organisation had gone through something of a revolution.
The likes of Brian Message and Adam Tudhope had made their mark, invigorating the trade body, making it a more engaged organisation that opened its doors to a younger constituency and could move the industry agenda forward.
“With Jon Webster as CEO,” suggests Budd. “The organisation took a turn, becoming more proactive, campaigning and more direct in its communication.”
With that momentum in mind, Wagg and Budd wanted to further develop three key areas they felt would be crucial for both the MMF membership and the wider music business going forward - promoting collaboration, enhancing the power of the manager and supporting the FAC as the artists’ voice.
“That doesn’t mean that we backed off issues,” emphasises Wagg. “I don’t think anybody is under the illusion that the MMF doesn’t fight its causes. But we wanted to be more collaborative and grow the membership to connect to a wider base.
“And the MMF has grown hugely over the past couple of years, it’s much more diverse and we’ve created a genuine management community. Our board now represents both bigger management groups as well as the independents and we’ve been joined by lots more female managers and younger managers.”
“We’re genuinely trying to bring a contribution that shifts things forward, both for managers and the artists that we represent,” adds Budd. “We’re aren’t about intimidation, but we are about persuasion.”
We sat down with the MMF co-chairs to get their take on how the body has evolved in recent years and the kind of things its members will be faced with going forward.
Where do you feel your approach has been particularly effective? What would you count as MMF’s central achievements during your tenure?
DW: We’ve been central in encouraging the culture of transparency in the industry. We still have a long way to go, but there’s now an acknowledgement that artists are the foundation of our whole ecosystem. We’re seeing more care and fairness directed towards them. And I think we’ve seen a shift in terms of the majors who are starting to share more data and espousing a more open attitude to their business practises. The value gap between DSPs and the music industry is usually what gets the headlines, but the MMF has campaigned for transparency all the way down the 'value chain' - from DSPs to collection societies to labels and publishers to artists.
SB: There has been a recognition that transparency is like a currency - it’s good for the labels to attach themselves to that aspect of things. There was a kind of terror around it before: ‘Why should we ever discuss our business?’ I think that has loosened up to a degree. It still has a significant way to go, but I think there has been an attitudinal shift, which we have contributed to.
DW: It’s also a result of the growth of our artists' businesses. There has been a seismic shift in the power of the artist. They don’t necessarily have to sign to a label now unless they want to and it works for them. I think the power of the artist is something that we have helped to promote and grow.
SB: That’s something we’ve done demonstrably as well, not just verbally. Setting up Amplify for example - raising £4.8 million that has been invested into artist development. That encourages different business models and, again, gives the manager that central CEO and key role in developing artist careers. It ultimately creates greater opportunities and choice for the artist as to when and if they decide to do a record deal.
The manager’s role has changed a lot over recent years. How has the MMF adapted to cater for that?
DW: It’s about giving practical advice and support to managers now. The business has changed so much and, you’re right, the management role has changed over the past decade. Managers have a 360-degree overview and responsibility to their clients and are the only industry group who have a duty of care to the artist. When I first came into the business as a manager, I would have a great demo, a good photo, a sold-out gig in Camden and I would be able to get my artist a record deal. We would work together with the record company team and have funding to develop. That is so often not the case now. So, it’s now about how we can support managers further – good training for new managers, skills updates and information for all managers, an engaged and supportive community. And the whole issue of funding and investment has changed massively so a key element is initiating and pursuing funding opportunities for managers and their artists.
SB: We can shine a light on that, make it really clear for people - where they can access that kind of funding, educate the people around it, advise and give views on best practise.
DW: Managers don’t need to operate alone anymore. We have over 500 members who represent over a thousand acts and we’ve upped our game with far more social events, workshops, panels, weekly information updates, great “induction” days (run by Jon Webster and Erik Nielsen and called A Degree In A Day!). We’re heavily involved in the education of new managers coming in and work closely with all the academic institutions. Sometimes you hear people in the industry say there aren’t a lot of good managers these days. We say there are loads of brilliant young managers coming through and our training, education and support is important in that regard and has been really successful.
You talk about collaboration, do you think managers have more of a desire to meet up and talk and share ideas, which you can facilitate?
DW: Yes, which we absolutely love doing. So much is changing and as a manager you absolutely need to be in touch with other people and know what’s going on globally as well as in your own territory, otherwise I think you can feel quite isolated. This is something Steve and I have particularly promoted during our tenure. That’s what’s amazing – everyone has got their story and can help each other out. I’m not sure that was always the case before the MMF because people felt too vulnerable.
SB: I think it’s also in line with where the business is going. If you think about the management groups that have been set up, there are several where it’s 15-20 managers collaborating together to a degree in a more dedicated environment.
What are the main challenges that you are going to have to tackle going forward for the management community?
SB: Obviously, we are amid an enormous campaign with FanFair Alliance, getting the secondary ticketing market regulated in a way that makes a real difference. If we manage to achieve a legislative difference, it will be a significant benefit, not just to our artists and to the live music community, but also to the consumer.
DW: I think we have succeeded in putting it on the political agenda. Transparency and fairness is still a major issue, but we are making progress.
SB: Elsewhere, we are supporting the diversity campaigns that have become a central topic of discussion recently. We helped create the Meritocracy Dinner Series in conjunction with UK Music, and are supporting a new initiative called Young Music Boss, which aims to create a pretty much level playing field for the BAME community within the industry. We’re actively involved in that and feel it’s important.
DW: Another key area we’re working on is health and wellness and the “softer” skills for managers in addition to the technical and knowledge skills. The MMF is asked for advice regularly from our members and we’re working with other partners such as Help Musicians UK and Support Music to look at what we can do to develop support. What do you do when someone has addiction or mental health issues or stage fright or writer’s block or their world is falling apart? How do you help maintain your artist’s health and wellness? And not only that, the health of the manager, the tour personnel, the industry teams? You know, at what point do you get involved, what do you look for which might cause or exacerbate a problem? I had a call from a tour bus driver in America at one in the morning last year saying that he had a British band on board and someone was having a nervous breakdown and he didn’t know what to do. It’s incredible that, in an industry going back 40 or 50 years, we still have not set up anything where people can ring through and get support. So, we are working hard on that and we are doing more of that in terms of education and workshops.
One of the MMF’s most prominent projects over the past couple of years has probably been the Dissecting the Digital Dollar report...
SB: Yes. Through that we’ve been able to clearly outline where the industry is at in terms of the modern-day ecosystem and bring clarity to the situation. It is an ongoing process for us. Importantly, it came out of a mass consultation across the industry. Over 200 people attended round-tables internationally to bring together the views and information that have ultimately gone into that report. I think that’s why it has been so positively and widely received. The MMF has invested its own time, money and resources into making it happen and it’s pushed the agenda forwards for the whole recorded music industry.
Talk to us about the MMF’s work in the US...
DW: Aside from our own network here, we have a network in the USA of over 2,000 members. That’s about growing the influence of managers and artists globally and obviously the US is the biggest music market in the world. We hold regular meetings in New York, Los Angeles, Nashville and Boston engaging with US managers on issues such as Dissecting the Digital Dollar and supporting grassroots engagement.
SB: Previously the American management community wasn’t talking and collaborating. They were extremely competitive and not necessarily working towards the same aims. They weren’t sharing information. I think that’s what we’ve inspired over there. Of course, the reason for doing it is because a lot of our members’ businesses are international. If you’re a manager and the US is the biggest music market in the world, you are going to be spending a lot of time, energy, and effort focusing on that market - the larger management companies here, especially, have US offices. The two markets are extremely linked and we can’t ignore that. We have been actively engaging with managers in the US so that we all work together towards similar agendas because issues in America, as we have seen with the whole fallout over the PROs and the bills going through congress, affect what happens over here and affect our members’ income. It’s an important area that we can’t ignore. This seems likely to become even more important as the fallout from Brexit will bring us closer together with the US market.
You brought Annabella Coldrick in as the new chief executive in 2015. What impact has she had?
SB: She has made a significant impact on our ability to communicate with government. She is a professional strategic campaigner, which has been enormously helpful and made a big difference to the MMF as an organisation. We’ve got a very broad Board now with people from a whole variety of different management businesses, so it’s really widespread, which is important. There is no one commercial interest controlling the MMF, it’s got cross-management industry support from the smaller companies through to the larger companies.
DW: And we are finalising an updated version of MMF governance to ensure we bring in new managers and more diversity. When I arrived, I think that there was me and one other female on a Board of 18. Now our female membership is just under 40%. We have a fast-growing membership of fantastic female managers, young managers and BAME managers. Updating our rules for Board rotation and encouraging a diverse and forward thinking Board whilst retaining the veterans and the vast experience has been a key element of our tenure as co-chairs
SB: We are keen to recruit active younger managers to join the Board, which is always difficult because of the time that they spend with their artists. But the MMF Board isn’t for people who have come to the end of their careers, it’s for people who are dealing with real management issues on a day to day basis, who have to run their own businesses. And then the funding of the organisation is another agenda point for us that is ongoing - making sure that our finances are robust. Actually we are doing pretty well, but we would like to find some more serious ongoing funding support for what is an extremely important organisation for the entire music industry.
The MMF is funded through membership fees and associate companies, which include labels, publishers, CMOS, PROs and so on. But you also count tech companies such as Google among associates. Is that problematic considering the music industry’s current battles with the likes of YouTube for more adequate remuneration for artists’ content?
DW: Again, it’s about collaboration. It’s better to be talking than going head-to-head. From there the hope is that you can influence from within.
SB: Our associate members come from all corners of the music industry and Google have a large stake in the industry, as we know. We have an open door to discuss with them the concerns and issues that the industry might have. YouTube is the biggest streaming service in the world. We have issues about what artists are being paid but you have to have a dialogue - and we’ve got a dialogue. We have never had any influence or pressure from Google or any of our associates whatsoever.
DW: And if you look at the wider industry, these kinds of relationships are necessary. The labels obviously need to have a relationship with streaming companies. Google Play Music has sponsored the BRITs for the past two years.
How would you describe the MMF’s relationship with the major labels? There has to be collaboration, of course, but there must also be points of conflict at times...
SB: Without naming names, I think that different majors have come to the table in different ways. Some have been more open and willing to engage and others take a little more persuasion. But I think overall, we have seen a significant shift in openness and communication, and engagement with them has been a lot better. We want to continue that and offer a bridge between the labels and the artists community so that we can look together at how we can improve and make the future more collaborative and open for all.
DW: I think that the walls are coming down. What we all want in this conflicted world right now is for people to work together and be transparent. I think that it’s almost going to be impossible to stay in business if you refuse to build a world where everybody gets a fair share of the pie.