Published in The Music Network
Cutting his teeth in music as a freelance journalist at the age of just 17, Roberts went on to edit the British music website Drowned In Sound. Later, the Brit shifted into artist management, first as a talent scout at London-based Big Life Management, home of La Roux, Klaxons, Richard Ashcroft and Dananananaykroyd.
Now, at just 25-years-of-age, Roberts has risen through the ranks to become a frontline artist manager at Big Life, working alongside the notorious artist manager Jazz Summers. He also heads up the company’s digital activities and runs the associated online PR and strategy firm, Work It Media.
Colin, if I had a dollar from every band who asked me how to get a manager, I’d be rich. What’s the answer?
Great songs. The beauty of the digitally-connected world we live in and the way music is distributed means within five seconds of me hearing about a great band, I can be listening to them. I can message that band. If you have great songs, people will find you quicker than ever. Everyone in music talks. The way to get a great manager is to be a great band. You will be found. It’s not as though you need to send a tape and hope.
Are you actively looking for bands?
What tools do you use?
Word of mouth, probably more than anything else. It’s still the biggest way the industry finds out about anything. I get probably 20 emails a day from bands looking for managers. I can’t listen to every link, otherwise I wouldn’t be able to manage the bands I already do look after. If someone I respect tells me about a band, that’s the start of a process. I’ll immediately then go to MySpace or Facebook or wherever the band’s music is being hosted. Obviously, to get to that stage as a band, you have to be making great songs.
What do you make of the Australian market?
Australia is a really exciting country because you take rock a lot more seriously than Britain. I like rock and I love working with rock.
There’s no school for artist managers, but is there solid mentoring support?
There’s a lot of support among the younger artist managers; we’re all in it, trying to become successful. It’s about learning on the job, seeing the trials and tribulations of looking after certain artists and the stress that can brings. There’s no rocket science to it. You have just to do the right thing by the artist, and everyone wins. The job of an artist manager is changing.
You’re now involved in setting up labels and publishing companies.
We’ve been at the forefront of doing that.When Futureheads left 679 Recordings, we put the money in and did it ourselves. We released that record out of Big Life, it was promoted by the pluggers we paid, everything was centralised. Our job is evolving, but it’s still very much about making sure the artist’s best wishes are represented. That will never change. What’s best for the artist isn’t necessarily now about doing a massive record deal. Maybe, it’s pooling everything with one core group of people who care about your band more than anyone else ever will, and who are prepared to invest a little bit of money, and put out a record. Putting out a record has never been easier. Selling them is harder.
Would you suggest your artists pursue a 360-degree deal?
It makes sense in certain circumstances. When you’re a Robbie Williams or Korn, who have done gigantic advance deals that take money from live and merch and other areas, fair enough. If the music company is going to take 20% and actively help your live show, then great. But they’re got to put something in. I can’t see the sense of giving up those profits from live or merch if you could have done it equally well by your existing methods.
Will the four major labels still be doing their thing in five years from now?
Yes, but in a different way. They’re changing and they’ve got to change. I’m not one of these people who has a big problem with the majors. They have a purpose to serve and with the right artists — the big pop acts — there’s noone better to work with than a major label. They invest in the right places, they know how to do it and they sell more records than anyone else. That’s partly because they have more money than everyone else, but they do have a plus. Whether there will be four, three or two majors, I don’t know. But they will still exist.