At the Where’s The Music festival held in Norrköping early February 2017, we had a chance to sit down with music industry consultant Mark Bounds, from TIR music.
Mark has worked in the A&R departments of major labels. Now, he works with music education schools and production students. He informs those schools and students about the needs of the music industry of today. Mark has an encompassing advice program in the form of an artist health check list.
First, the artist should have a conception of him- or herself as an artist. Second, the artist should know who his or her audience is and how it is built up. Third, the artist should know where in music history he or she stands. Fourth, the artist should have a creative schedule. Fifth, the artist should know how to brand him- or herself and how to do market research.
Furthermore, Mark believes a manager is needed because of the many tasks artists face these days. Artists are easily overwhelmed by all these tasks and a good manager helps them. The right one should be picked on a per project basis. In general, a bad manager is better than none at all. A good manager has a strong and flexible character to deal with the various members of the team surrounding the artists. In addition, a good manager looks after the well-being of the artists.
Mark also has some observations regarding the role of women in the industry. According to Mark, their role is slowly increasing. The Abbey Road Institute has a scholarship that helps to push women forward. A quarter of producers are female and the industry has some excellent female producers already.
Would you please describe your background succinctly?
I worked as an A&R for major labels in the past (Sony, BMG), and now I work more with music business and production students, a consultancy work which is to sit in between education departments and the music industry. One of my aims is to inform education of the needs of the music industry.
Obviously artists can not have all the skills and knowledge from the beginning, how do you help them?
I believe that you have to work in a team with members having complementary skills to your skills, so I look after this being done. For instance, I work with artists who were picked for festivals, they might not have a label or a manager, and I make sure they know how to communicate at the festival. We talk on their release strategy at the festival, who they want to interact with at the festival.
What are the main challenges now for emerging artists?
It’s mainly access to resource and information – they have the right to ask questions. Also music education is very expensive – for music education at university you would have to borrow from 7K to 13K pounds in the UK, and many pursue a different path, because they do not want to incur this debt. I deliver a program which is called The Artist Health Checklist. It goes across all areas: what is your proposition as an artist, artist’s philosophy, your audience, its demographic, areas such as audio and sonic references, process of moving the songs through work stages, branding, and research. The goal for an aspiring artist is to move across all these areas in order to have success.
What is the female role in the industry right now and how is it evolving?
This role is slowly increasing, for instance I know there is a scholarship from Abbey Road Institute for women producers for a 12 months production skills program. Now only 25% of students might be women in production courses and there is still a lot work to be done for women to feel that they want and can learn production skills. There are now already amazing female producers in the industry. Still, there is a little issue that if a woman vocalist is doing production work on her songs it is still perceived unusual.
What would you say of a manager’s role within an artist’s team?
A right manager should be chosen for an artist case by case, and a wrong manager is worse than no manager at all. Taking on administration tasks can have a great impact on creativity of an artist. Increasingly artists are faced with many tasks that can mine their creativity and self-confidence. And these tasks force them to engage in the areas that might not be comfortable to engage in. Increasingly the right manager is important at the right time. But a manager is not there not to drag the band up the hill, the band has to do it themselves, and the passion, the desire and drive should come from the band. The manager has to match that and complement it. Often the good support structure makes major music companies invest more in a band that has a proven track record of the team with a network, more than into a band with a new manager.
As a manager, you have to have a very good psychological make-up to deal with various members of your team. You are not only managing the band, you are also managing all the external factors, such as the record company, the record plugger, the publisher, they will have different needs and requirements. The manager has to balance everybody’s requirements. General recommendation for the manager would be to look after the well-being of an artist, not to run them into the ground, and awareness of what the physiological and psychological effects are of the communication. Pressures are put on bands just to keep on going, and sometimes the manager should step in and say no, manager has the ultimate duty of care to the artist.
I know that you did some comparative work on sports psychology, please tell me more about it?
We can learn lessons from sports psychology, how they coach their coaches. I look at how high performance coaches coach high performance athletes. Anything can happen for the band onstage, and if they are trained in advance in how to deal with various situations, they can tackle it better in a stress situation of a performance. I think it would be great to educate a next generation of A&R executives based on what we learned from the sports coaches experience.
By Polina Aitkulova, a singer/songwriter known as Shell-i. A sea shell inspires her as a notion of infinity and femininity.