The Hot Seat: Todd Wagstaff, Parker + Mr. French

Published in The Music Network

 

Parker + Mr French has engineered a deal with Universal Music Australia that allows its managed artists to stay independent, whilst working with one of the titans of the music industry. It flips the investment and reward model of the music business back in favour of artists, whilst energising the label and management team who support them.

The Sydney-based artist management firm has created a multi-tiered distribution pipeline, which feeds directly into the UMA machine, each tier offering different services by the label. The new arrangement represents the best of both worlds – P+F’s artists are in control of their destiny and the music major is exposed to minimal risk but still with the upside of creating a successful career.

Helmed by Todd Wagstaff and Jo Walker, P+F currently manages Gypsy and the Cat, Evermore, The Vines, Bluejuice and new projects Jagwar Ma and Danco. Gypsy and the Cat have just established their own label Alsatian Music that will opt in to the new pipeline, alongside Evermore who are also releasing independently.

How does the pipeline work?

The artists create and pay for their own assets: music, photos, videos, cover art. They’re accountable for whatever gets spent in marketing, which makes the process transparent. Importantly, the artist remains owner and decision-maker in their own copyrights. That removes much of the mystery and antagonism from the old-school record contract. And of course, the deal allows the artist to continue working with a large community to support their career. On the UMA side, I think it’s the best way for labels to react to the current circumstances of the business that has falling prices and sales. Labels have a choice now – they can make up for that decline with either reactionary 360 deals they’re not set up to facilitate, or they can take the cost out of the part they do really well and then get out there and do that part with some “risk free gusto”. I favour the latter solution.

What’s the motivation behind doing this?

Our artists, who largely write and produce their own music, wanted to step aside from that old-style agreement and come up with a new matrix where the artist, label and management efforts are all tied equally to their investment, efforts and success. Our artists that have previously sold records know all too well that a traditional deal might pay the artist on average about 15% of the wholesale price. Millions of dollars can come into the label from sales before even a modest asset creation budget is recouped. Under the new deal, the artist and their manager share more reasonably in the upside but they also need to work much harder. The artist needs to be across the business and has absolute approval on what’s done on their behalf in terms of marketing. This should bring a new transparency to their label relationship. That transparency then gives way to accountability by the artist, who gets a greater sense of how their efforts and actions translate to their ultimate success.

Is this an opt-in for artists?

Absolutely. It’s non-exclusive to the artists we manage, and it’s for Australia and New Zealand only. They maintain their rights for the rest for the world; they can do whatever international deal they want to do. International is a huge priority for us. I expect we’ll do international deals over the next 6-12 months. We will be releasing a combination of new artists and established artists through the system.

Universal of course is in the process of acquiring EMI.

Yeah, naturally we’ve had to consider the workload on the staff at Universal and EMI merger, and how it’s going to translate. There’s a lot of conversation going on that EMI’s offices are going to be largely maintained as stand alone marketing, promotion and A&R centres and they’re the resources I’m most concerned about. For the industry I hope that happens and EMI team stays intact and the corresponding teams at Universal are not too burdened. Past mergers have absorbed the market share back to where the main label started at and I assume they want to avoid that this time around.

What’s your mantra for getting involved with an act?

Encourage artists to make great music really. Great music carves its own path. Something we talk about often is that all artists start out somewhat imitating others, and that imitation gives way to influence and that gives way to originality, and then ultimately to their legacy. Our philosophy is to encourage people to move along that plain as boldly and as successfully as possible. And come up with a piece of art that is an expressive, original, interesting and brilliant. If they do that, then success will be kinetic around it.

What tips do you have for entry-level bands?

When I’m overseas trying to solicit the record label or heads of A&R to be involved in my artist, I have to present my artist as though they have a career and it’s growing and moving forward with its own momentum. That’s what a new artist here needs to do at a small level, when they’re trying to get the attention of a manager or agent. They can’t present themselves as someone who needs to have everything done for them. You have to get those basics done. That shows you have ambition and instinct. The songs show you have talent. When you have ambition and talent, I’m interested. It’s difficult without both.

 

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