Published in The Music Network
When Neil Finn returned home to New Zealand last year, he entrusted label veteran Mike Bradshaw to look after business. At the time, Bradshaw was leading Sony Music’s NZ company. But it was an offer too good to refuse.
Bradshaw and his partner Malcolm Black established Meniscus Media, which manages Crowded House, Neil Finn and Pajama Club. Bradshaw entered the record industry in 1981, joining EMI as a sales cadet. From 1988 to 1999, he served in various positions at CBS/Sony.
In 2002, Bradshaw was appointed GM of BMG and three years later was promoted to MD when the company’s recorded music division was merged with Sony Music.
Mike, can you give me a sense of what it’s like to manage a guy the calibre of Neil Finn?
I don’t like to call it an empire, but there’s an enormous amount of tentacles that go out into the world. There’s a huge logistical job to be done. There’s representation with legal which is based in LA, there’s accountants in Australia, UK and US. It’s been a massive learning experience. Plus we’ve recently signed a new publishing deal [with Kobalt Music Group]. It’s a full-time, seven-day- a-week job. It’s cyclical, obviously. With this Pajama Club record, you’ve got three time-zones all happening at the same time. My relationship with Neil goes way back. Perhaps as far back as the Mullanes. In 1986, I was Neil’s promo guy at EMI in NZ. I worked on the first Crowded House album.
What was the appeal of taking on management after so many years with major labels?
I have something of a history; I voluntarily leave about once every seven years. The last time I walked was in 1999, because no one was taking any notice of the Internet. It was a very frustrating time. The music business is, especially in the majors, a quick-changing place. I’m 48 years old and it was just my time to go. You need to have lots of energy and people are having to do more for less. It was really important for me to have my time and then move on. There’s nothing worse than someone who sticks around for too long. It coincided with Neil talking about having management based in NZ. It’s a much more day-to-day management relationship, rather than a business one. He’d never really had that before.
What skills did you bring to the table to manage a world-class artist?
Being able to deliver an understanding of the marketplace. And having a good set of ears. Also, the ability to be able to talk to people in a business that’s fairly unique, albeit getting smaller. Like any business, you tend to see things in a different light when you come into it for the first time. So, I see lots of opportunities for Neil and us moving forward. I’m using this opportunity to learn and try and absorb as much information as I can.
You’ve an extensive background with the majors, but Neil’s Pajama Club project is released through largely independently networks?
We wanted to put a clear line in the sand between what Neil has been doing, and what he is doing now. It’s about separating two different worlds. Neil lives in Auckland above his studio, which is a commercial enterprise. We went ahead and made the record, but it was really important for us to be able to put the band in a place where they were going to get some attention from people who really loved the music. It’s not to say the majors wouldn’t have loved it, but there’s only so much they can do with so many acts in a year. Coming from that system, I know they are short-staffed, and there’s more music than ever that they’re under pressure to succeed with. I’m not sure we might have got the priority that we required. The other half of the story is that it was an incredibly important learning process for us all that we wanted to go through. I’m dealing with press and retailers on a one-to-one basis. There’s no filter. Although it’s very work-heavy, it’s incredibly important to have those direct relationships with people.
What’s next for Neil?
There’s a Crowded House album which is about 40% finished. And they’ve been working with Nick Launay (Arcade Fire, Nick Cave), who’s got a pretty impressive record. I suspect that when this Pajama Club record reaches its natural conclusion, which might be at the end of the festival season next year, there’ll be a Crowded House record in late 2012. And in that period, Neil will start to work on his solo record, which he’s been really looking forward to getting out and demoing. It’s something which is very, very personal to him. It’s going to be a real cracker, that record.
You’ve had a great look at the major and indie label worlds. What are your thoughts on where they both sit on the landscape?
It’s really important that they work together as time goes on. There’s a symbiosis that can exist between them both. They shouldn’t be up against each other. They should be helping each other.