This week we are talking all things music management, with Lou Cuming! Lou is the artist manager behind LANKS and recently, Ghosting. In this episode, we discuss the roles of an artist manager, the importance of playing to your strengths, the LANKS national tour, mental health, and much more!
How did you go from playing music to getting into management?
It was pretty organic. I guess I was the most organised person in the bands I was playing in, which isn’t saying much, because musicians are usually notoriously disorganised! [laughs] I was just booking the shows for bands and promoting the shows which was very basic at that stage. And then Will, my brother, who is LANKS, he started his LANKS project which sort of grew out of some bedroom producer demos, which turned into an EP. And he was doing it solo, which was a new thing for him because we’d just been playing in a seven piece band. So he just needed some help, and was like “can you help me out?” and I was like “yeah, but i’m not managing you.” [laughs] And then it was a slippery slope, I was like “I’m not managing you” and then I was like “I’ll co-manage you” which didn’t work because Will wasn’t really into the idea of managing himself.
Then we went to Bigsound, and I was playing with LANKS and we did a showcase at Bigsound. I went to all the showcase stuff, but also the talks, and I was like “this is so interesting, and I really love it, and it’s super creative” and I just went “I actually want to manage!” which was over a week, I was like, this is something I am really interested in.
What are your roles as a music manager?
I think every manager is really different, and each artist needs a different manager…. I would consider myself a fairly creative, big picture strategy type of manager. Early on I realised that detailed, sort of day-to-day stuff, wasn’t necessarily my forte. I’ve definitely developed processes around making sure that I stay on top of things. But I know that’s not my strength. My strength is big picture strategy, creative solutions to things, what direction are we taking this? How can we market this is a different way? That sort of stuff, and I just get people around me that are really good with the detail. That said, there is an incredible amount of detail and your always playing catch up, making sure your productions right, working with budgets, running facebook adds for a tour, sending out press releases …. we’ve started doing a bit of in house P.R. So it’s just like, anything and everything.
It’s important that you recognise what your strengths are, and it’s important to get people to help you out with the stuff that isn’t your forte.
What are you working on at the moment?
At the moment I’ve got Will in L.A doing a writing trip for LANKS. So his publisher and I are teeing up sessions with writers. We are organising things like studio hire over there, making sure his schedule is all good, been listening to the songs which come out of it which is awesome. So he is doing that while we are also promoting his national tour, which is a 13 date national tour in August. So we are mid-way in the campaign for that. We’ve got a single coming out for LANKS in a couple of weeks time, so we are servicing another single from the record, to radio, and are going to do some content around that, so we are setting up the P.R for the single… As well as Ghosting, i’ve just started working with him, he’s just released a tune a couple of days ago, so I sent out some P.R for that, just doing some follow ups. And for the tour we’ve got the marketing side cooking along, I’m working on the production, making sure we’ve got merchandise for the tour, delegating things like booking flights and accomodation to our tour manager… So yeah, it’s crazy!
Where did you learn all of this?
I guess learning by doing. Asking lots of advice from people, having lots of coffees. I follow what people do… Early on I would go on someones socials like Holly Holly or who ever is on cycle at the time, and I would pull up their socials and when their music was released, and I would actually mud map their timeline. I would do it with a whole bunch of artists, and learn the cycles. And then I would ask opinions, you know, I have some really awesome friends that became friends through asking advice and reaching out to them. Like Tom Fraiser, who manages all the Pieater guys, Big Scary, Airling, and I would follow what he was doing with his bands and then ask him for opinions on things. I did that with a bunch of people. Just being a real sponge and watching what people do.
In the music industry, networking is so important. What is the best way to get to know people?
I’m not the greatest networker. I’ve recently started doing a lot more of it. I was doing more of it when LANKS wasn’t signed, and I was reaching out to a lot of people because we were talking to labels and publishers, and there was a lot more of that necessity to network. There is always a necessity to network, but I guess I wasn’t aware of it until recently. I’ve started networking a lot more. I love gadgets and I love structures around things so I have a CRM (Customer Relationship Management). It’s a thing where you set yourself tasks for reaching out to people, and you set yourself tasks. [for example] Oh i’ve gotta ask that person to catch up for coffee next time i’m in Sydney, so you set yourself a task to ask them at a certain point, when it’s closer to your trip to Sydney. I just like having a bit of structure around things. It reminds me to reach out to this person or, follow up with this person. It’s actually a tool called HubSpot and it’s free. It’s got an app on the phone, but I use it on the computer. So networking is really important, because you can do all this great stuff, but it people don’t know about it, it gets a bit lost.
I think, as a manager there is value in both Beta C sort of work, us reaching out consumers, to fans, and we’ve been quite good at that I think. And then there is the Beta B, where you’re building relationships with industry. Because that helps you with things like festival slots, signing with partners like publishers or labels.
I think people in the music industry are great at promoting each other. So the more you have a foothold within the industry, the more the reach of the community helps you out…there is that sort of organic growth when you do have good relationships within the industry.
So I think that networking is great. But that said, also there is a value in sitting down and doing the work on making sure you reach fans as well. So I think it is striking a balance between the two. I’ve always been more fans focuses, which is probably a good thing, but I’m sort of re shifting back to make sure that I have strong relationships, especially with media. I think as an artist you need to have strong relationships with the people who are promoting your work.
What are some of the challenges of the job?
Artis managing is not an easy thing. It’s not an easy road. You don’t choose to be an artist manager, maybe you do for the big bucks? But working with an artist is not because their going to give me heaps of money, it’s because I believe in their music. And sometimes you might believe in their music so much, but it takes a bit longer for other people to get around it, or for the reward of actually having a solid income. It’s hard managing artists and just taking a commission based on that. So I think the money side of things, you really just hustle for whatever money you can get from extra things, be it admin, or working at a bar or, what ever works. I guess that’s been a challenge.
This is a really personal thing but, mental health has always been a challenge for me… some artists have struggles with mental health, it’s a bit of an epidemic. And maybe because I am a musician and I come from that creative background, where it’s quite prevalent within my family… I have had this enormous journey with dealing with my own mental health over the years, and the lack of job security has been a challenge at times, and it feeds into that thing of self care and not feeling like you have enough money to look after yourself, but it’s also meant that I’ve become quite resilient. I guess that’s been a challenge, but a challenge that i have enjoyed working on, which is an odd thing to say.
I’ve surrounded myself with great people, but also we’re all on the same journey with our lives and our music and what we do. And so i’ve got awesome support structures and I hope I provide just as musch support to my mates and other people in the music industry, and ousted the industry. Mental health is a big thing that I think we all need to talk about more.
What about perks?
I guess some perks, I hardly… well no, I do pay for tickets to shows, because I think it’s really good to support the music industry [laughs]. But it’s easy to get into shows. And you know, when I was just sitting here before when you were recording some other stuff, I was listening to some new LANKS demos that were sent over from LA overnight. And I was like “this is just awesome!” I get to listen to great music, and it’s part of a job!
It’s just the most creative industry to work in… I cant think of anything more exciting… You’ve got this drive to be involved in bringing great art to peoples ears… Having a purpose makes everything else feel insignificant.
How long did you spend in the music industry before landing a management role?
It was interesting because I saw this on your instagram on the way here, and I was talking to my partner Sal about it and she said, ‘you should talk to Elise about that thing of the role of artist management and how there are different types of managers.’ I think weather you are creative a role or applying for a role, understanding the different types of roles you can have and which roles you are suited to, is really good and important. I started from the start with a green artist and I was a green manager. We built this from nothing, as you said, and now I am working with an emerging artist, an artist who is doing some interesting stuff, and I am the artist manager and making all the decisions and the strategy. But then you could apply for a job at a management company and you’re the day-to-day manager, and I feel like that’s a very different role.
Why I do this freelance and run my own company is because I’m not really interested in being a day-to-day manager. Purely because it’s not my strength. I’m much better with the bigger picture stuff. Down the line I will get a day-to-day manager to work for me, because I will eventually need that. But I probably could have applied for a bunch of jobs, but I decided not to because it wasn’t where I wanted to go. But there are other personalities that really suit things like tour management, or marketing and promo. You are really just recognising what is the best opportunity for you in the music industry. And that might not be a manager it might be a publicist or, you know, there are a lot of different roles. And you can create it yourself, which is awesome and a roller-coster [laughs] or you can apply for a job to be a day-to-day manager at a bigger company. But I always found that I didn’t like the look of that job, so I was like ‘i’m just gonna work 2 days a week admin, outside of music, so I can build my own artist management career. Rather than work full time for someone else.’
What are the main things musicians should look out for when signing with a label or publisher?
Take your time. You can release music without having a label. And you don’t even need to have a label these days. And I guess recognise what your skill sets are, and what you need. So do you need more money? That’s a reason to sign with a label. But you also want a team, and then you need to ask is that team the right team? Then you’ve got things like major labels, you’ve got indies, or you can stay in dependent. You’ve got really great services like AWAL or Ditto who are aggregators / digital distributors. They will do pitching for play listing on Spotify or Apple or any other DSP’s. So you don’t need a label to be doing that pitching. I guess that’s on the label side, you’ve just got to work out what you need, and how those people would fit in.
And on a publishing side, you know, managing a songwriter, our publisher has been just awesome on really adding extra man-power in terms of opening up opportunity. Will’s over in LA right now and we’ve really worked as a team to land a whole bunch of writing sessions. And they network on your behalf, they’ve been fantastic. And they’ve also been really good with sync, you know, finding placements on TV shows. There are artists that play modest shows and do small tours and don’t really have enormous things happening on an artist side but have a fantastic, lucrative and fulfilling publishing side of their business, where they can make, as Jamie said, “six figures” on publishing without really selling more than a couple of hundred tickets to a show.
So I would just get to know all the different publishers. Do they have a good sync team? Do they have a strong A&R team? Do you have a good rapport with their A&R people? Because that’s probably one of the most important relationships. And again you can take your time. There’s no rush. You want a good partner. And I think a philosophy of mine is, don’t wait for a publisher! You as a manager should be reaching out to many people to organise sessions with your artist. And when the publisher comes along, they can be doing it as well, but you don’t stop. Just do it. And publishers will start sniffing when you start getting features on certain songs, they’ll find you. That’s such a cliché, but they will, if things are happening. We got noticed when I started organising some vocal features with other producers for LANKS, and all the publishers had a conversation. Native Tongue had been around from the start and we took three years to sign, from the first meeting.