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.