Diane Wagg spoke to Record of the Day to reflect on her time as chair at the MMF

06 July 2018

It’s only when you look back that you see how far you’ve come – but what a difference four years has made. It’s been a privilege to chair the MMF during a time when the artist voice and power has flourished, and to see how much our management community has achieved. 

When I agreed to step up in July 2014, initially sharing the role with Stephen Budd, the recorded music business remained in a state of painful transition. There was growing acceptance that streaming and subscription would be core to our future, but a sense of trepidation remained. Global recorded revenues were locked into decline ($14.97bn that year, down 0.4% from 2013) and a lack of trust and transparency continued to hamper market development and agitate our music creators and managers.

Controversies boiled over on a variety of issues, from the structure of streaming licences, to artist payouts, and exclusive releases.

However, counter to these frustrations, a world of opportunity was opening up for artists. Driven by the immediacy of social media, and as a byproduct of the reduced label investment in early stage career development, new paths to market were arriving – epitomised by growth of the label services sector – that enabled artists to reach their audience while retaining control of their rights.

A decade after the hype of MySpace, the realities of what was then termed “disintermediation” appeared to be unfolding – with artists increasingly likely to operate as “rights partners” with labels and publishers as they were to cede outright ownership of their music for an upfront advance.

Fast forward to July 2018, and the likes of Jorja Smith, a self-releasing Brit Award winner with no apparent desire to sign a label deal, or superstars like Beyoncé & Jay-Z, empowered to release new music on their own terms, are symptomatic of changes at every level of the business.

At the same times as this fascinating transition, the recorded business is returning to growth (global revenues in 2017 were $17.3bn), streaming is driving more interest in live music, and the business overall is becoming far more artist-centric. From an MMF perspective, needless to say, these are all welcome developments.

That being said, throw in an uncertain backdrop of political and social change (Brexit, #MeToo, the widespread concerns around mental health) and there is arguably greater stress than ever on the role of the artist manager. We must assist, support and protect both the professional and personal aspects of our client’s careers. And increasingly, we must help fund them too.

These challenges were eloquently highlighted by Lana Del Rey at last year’s Artist & Manager Awards, when she stated the most valuable thing a manager and artist can share “is to be on the same page as each other for the most important things like principles, ethics and goals.”

The MMF, I believe, has reacted positively to this environment – ensuring we represent a greater diversity of our burgeoning membership and that our campaigning is relevant to their lives and livelihoods. It’s a continual process, and there’s still work to be done, but we’re making progress and we have much to be proud of.

Since 2014, our membership has swelled by 35% to around 520 UK-based managers. A third of current members are female, with a similar percentage aged under 30. Alongside our brilliant Chief Executive, Annabella Coldrick, and our equally brilliant General Manager, Fiona McGugan, changes to our governance are already paying dividends, with leading voices like Ellie Giles (Step Music Management), Claire Southwick (Primitive Music Management), Steven Braines (The Weird and the Wonderful), Tom Burris (ie:music) and Paul Crockford (Crockford Management) stepping up to becoming board members. Last week, they were joined by Lisa Ward (Red Light Management) and Rachael Bee (ILUVLIVE), two of the UK’s most respected executives.

As well as introducing new and alternative viewpoints and refreshing debate and discussion, such appointments are helping change the dynamic of music management. When the MMF celebrated our 25th anniversary in Manchester, the room wasn’t dominated by managers from yesteryear, it was populated with young people aged 21 and under, from every walk of life, all hungry for information. And it’s a reciprocal relationship. Those of us starting out in 1992 have much to learn from these young guns.

This feels like a healthy place to be. Music managers are an entrepreneurial and passionate breed, but our line of work can be an isolating occupation. Through the MMF we have a network based on cooperation, knowledge-sharing and support, and something we can build upon through our involvement in the newly-created European Music Managers Alliance.

Alongside this drive for inclusivity, groundbreaking initiatives such as Dissecting The Digital Dollar or our Music Manager’s Guide to Mental Health, or the FanFair Alliance campaign which was instigated by MMF members, have helped reposition where the MMF sits within the industry. By raising pertinent questions and seeking solutions it feels we no longer need to shout to make ourselves heard (though we can make a loud noise when we need to!) and there is a greater and more respectful understanding of our viewpoints, particularly at UK Music and in the board rooms of the major music corporations.

Under the guidance of our new Chair, Paul Craig, who has extensive experience working at a major label, and our new Vice Chair, Kwame Kwaten, who retains the sensibilities and perspective of a former artist, the MMF will continue to go from strength to strength.

As for me, I’m staying on the Board for another year and, neatly, just as I reclaim more time back, our Deluxxe artists, Cortney Dixon, Diives and Pandora Drive, are all gathering momentum and have exciting developments ahead. As ever, I’m always up for new adventures and collaborations and we’re also increasing our consultancy and mentorship service for new managers and artists.

But, four years ….. To reprise one of Annabella’s recent quotes, ‘the music business is changing, and the future will be different from the past’. For me, that future is bright. It will be repositioned upon the green shoots of collaboration, and a fairer and more transparent music industry. You may say that I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one!

Credit: Record of the Day

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