'It's a lot of pressure, especially when an artist is breaking': How the MMF is tackling mental health issues in 2019

'It's a lot of pressure, especially when an artist is breaking': How the MMF is tackling mental health issues in 2019

In the new edition of Music Week we boldly set out to answer one of the biggest questions in the modern biz: what exactly is the role of the artist manager in 2019? 

Fortunately, we have three gurus from the Music Managers Forum on hand to help answer the question. Enter: Annabella Coldrick (CEO, pictured, left), Kwame Kwaten (vice chair/ founder of Ferocious Talent, centre) and Paul Craig (chair/manager of Biffy Clyro, right).

In our in-depth feature, we speak to the trio about the host of new initiatives they are overseeing to guide the MMF into a brave new era, from their Accelerator Programme which offers funding to fledgling managers, to changes on their board and their work making complex royalty chains more intelligible. One thing that becomes clear is that the perception a lot of people have in the industry about music managers is... well, outdated.

“It’s so bloody old school, isn’t it?” Kwame Kwaten told Music Week. “You sit there and you go, ‘That’s got nothing to do with what we have to do now’”, he continues. “That old way of looking at things is dead – it started to die at the beginning of the internet revolution. People said, ‘This is what you guys do,’ and it’s like, ‘No! No! We don’t just do that: we do this, this, this, this, this, this and that.’ The list just gets longer and longer and longer.”

One of the MMF’s most important initiatives has been the publication of The Music Manager’s Guide To Mental Health which contained a host of first-hand accounts from leading managers covering three specific areas: anxiety & depression, alcoholism & drug addiction, plus work balance & boundaries.

Here, in an unread extract from our cover feature interview, Coldrick, Kwaten and Craig talk about how mental health awareness is a crucial part of a modern manager’s job. And not just in the way it affects their artists...

How has awareness of mental health become a bigger part of a modern manager's role?

AC: “We’ve done extensive work on this. We published the Music Managers Guide To Mental Health two and a half years ago at The Great Escape and we've done roundtables with our membership. We were approached by a suicide prevention charity, and they're going to do a free session for our members along with Mind about looking out for, and noticing, the signs and what you can practically do. There are a lot of charities looking at mental health for artists and, obviously, we absolutely [support that]. But we've also been looking at what can we do to support our members as well.”

Because managers are as susceptible to the pressures as artists?

AC: “Exactly. When we first talked to Mind – who I love – they kept talking about, ‘Go talk to your line manager and HR team’ and it’s like, ‘Our members don’t have HR teams! They're either self-employed or running very small businesses.’ And so that's why we can help try and provide that support.”

Paul Craig: “There are some wonderful initiatives being made by different groups, and it's great to see George Ezra is doing something at the moment. The great thing is it’s being discussed – everyone's aware of it, everyone's happy to talk about it and look at how we can help. That wasn't the case when I got into the business. But I think there's still some more initiatives that can happen and that will happen. On the manager side, it is very lonely. Talking to other managers can help you realise that you're not the only person sharing that load. I think we, as the MMF, will continue to offer our members more and more where possible: both advice and access to people who can help at various times. It’s something we take as being very, very important. Having been a manager myself, you do have ups and downs. It’s not like, ‘Woe is me’ but it is tough, and it's sometimes tougher because you're a team of one or two. Nowadays there are bigger management companies which is great, they can offer support and lean on each other. But I do think we, as a community, and the MMF, have a huge role to play in that.”


You don't want to let your label down and say ‘no’ too often and you don't want to say ‘yes’ too often either because then your artist feels the pressure... It's a very complicated Rubik's Cube

Paul Craig, MMF/Nostromo Management



Perhaps by virtue of its existence, the MMF is already doing that…

PC: “We probably are, but I think we can and we will do more.”

Kwame Kwaten: “Without me even realising it, I definitely agree with what you just said. The whole thing about being in a room and just being able to offload [to another manager], like, ‘You know what, this just happened?’”

PC: “It's a lot of pressure, particularly when an artist is breaking. You go from scrambling for everything to then trying to manage the mental health of your artist. You don't want to let down your label, you don't want to say ‘no’ too often. You don't want to say ‘yes’ too often either because then your artist is feeling the pressure. It's a wonderful journey to be on, but it's a very complicated Rubik's Cube. You're forever thinking, ‘If I say no to protect my artist too often, am I then deflating the label?'. Sometimes a network or people who’ve done it before can be very helpful. That’s something we can provide.”

AC: “We do that a lot. It's not necessarily formal mentoring structures, just conversations with people who’ve been through it.”

PC: “It’s about sharing experiences. That’s the point. And when you're doing it, particularly for the first time, it’s like climbing Everest on your own. So it's like, why don't you just stop for a day? Maybe this time on your tour you all [schedule] a day off. Yes, it's going to cost you money, but that money is going to be worthwhile because your artists or your group need a day to decompress.”

Subscribers can read the full MMF cover feature here.

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