The Hot Seat: Terry McBride

Published in The Music Network


Terry McBride is Canada’s definitive music industry networker. The entrepreneur is CEO of the aptly-named Nettwerk Music Group, a company he founded and operated from his bedroom back in 1984. Now, the business is an international empire with seven offices on both sides of the Atlantic and more than 130 staff on its books.

The Vancouver-based group’s assets include Nettwerk Management (Sarah McLachlan, Dido, Katherine Jenkins), Nettwerk Asia, music publisher Nettwerk One and recording division Nettwerk Records, which boasts sales upwards of 150 million units.
This year, McBride is revisiting the popular all-girl Lilith Fair, and he continues to oversee the development of Polyphonic, a venture which provides funding for artists and their management to run their own businesses. The exec will take a place on the speakers’ podium at the Music Matters conference May 26-28 in Hong Kong, where he will opine on future models of the music business. TMN caught up with him.

How is the Lilith tour shaping up?

It is up to 37 dates and we’ll go through about 100 artists in those shows. So you can only imagine the logistical nightmare that it is. We held Lilith in north America from 1997-1999 and when we ran it was the biggest-grossing festival tour in the world (taking almost US$53 million and raising US$10 million for charity). It obviously resonated. I’m actually surprised no-one took that concept and ran with it. Although they probably realised it’s a shit-load of work.

Why did it go back on shelf for so many years?

Because it was a shit-load of work. We’re not concert promoters. At a certain point, we were like ‘three years is more than long enough. We want to get our lives back’. It’s a great festival, it has great causes behind it and it’s going to have great music. There’s obviously great upside to it. We are hoping to bring Lilith to Australia in late September or October. We’re still working it out.

You don’t have an office in Australia. Is that on the cards?

We always looked at it. But we’ve got so much going here. We have to amplify things that we’re really good at. We have some great partnerships over there, but you’ve got to have the passion to go do it. And we just don’t the passion. It’s easier to work with local partners.

You launched Polyphonic in 2009 with former Mama Group co-CEO Adam Driscoll and Brian Message of ATC and Courtyard. Any news?

Polyphonic is a venture fund which invests in artists that we think have very smart business plans. The whole concept is to allow those artists to have the best services around them. It’s a very simple model, but it’s way, way too early to see the fruits of it.

The IFPI’s latest Recording Industry In Numbers handbook indicated 13 markets returned to growth in 2009, Australia being one of them. Do you see a real return to growth or was last year just a kink?

We will feel a bit more pain, definitely within North America. But we’re not far from the bottom. Although it’s been in recession now for 11 years, I’m actually quite optimistic about the business.

What sort of sophisticated branding partnerships do you see happening?

Where I come from, artists are brands. It’s really a matter of what verticals they feel comfortable with and how we can maximise them. Very smart management has to look at those alignments and understand how to market them. Each situation is unique. Have I seen anything out there that has blown me away, I can’t say I have.

In recent years, you’ve had Avril Lavigne and Barenaked Ladies leave your stable. What did you learn from those experiences?

Artists always leave. Probably 95% of all artists are not with the managers that they started with. It’s the nature of artists. Avril moves down to L.A., she wants an LA manager. In the case of the Barenaked Ladies, the band had a drug bust and one of the main singer-songwriters left. That was not what I signed on for. I tend to view the world differently. My sense is that managers don’t hang out with artists, even if the artists want them to. That’s because managers have to market artists from a world-wide point of view.

Have you identified areas of the music business you’d like to move in to?

Not really. You can get your fingers in so many things and completely forget about what really drives you and what you’re really passionate about. I’d rather spend a lot of my time clarifying things that I do well and the things that I love.

What are those things?

Music, management and creatively working with artists to market music. I just love doing that. But that’s just me. This is a whole company, not just me.

So what is the future direction of Nettwerk.

That changes everyday. It’s about being nimble, to release music that we love. To understand that the right answer kills all creativity and there’s no such thing as the right answer. To take those points of view, ditch the ego and just be really passionate about what we do.


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