How to nurture creative talent

Mark Roach, manager of top Kiwi music acts, shares his tips on keeping talent creative and comfortable

Mark Roach, manager of top Kiwi music acts, shares his tips on keeping talent creative and comfortable

Letting talent blossom article

Idealog July/August 2006, page 90. Picture by Alistair Guthrie

Mark Roach is a cornerstone figure in the local music scene. Once a singer/songwriter who played in support of Billy Bragg, Roach formed an independent record label and, as so often happens, found himself acting as surrogate manager for the bands he was listing.

Fortunately there was as much fun to be had backstage as out front, so Roach spent the next ten years with his company Muse Entertainment managing a number of acts including Damien Binder, Splitter and Lucid 3.

In 2001 Roach and Ben Howe from Arch Hill Recordings co-founded Independent Music New Zealand to provide a voice for the interests of New Zealand’s independent recording labels and distributors. He also runs the local branch of The International Music Managers’ Forum, a global group that advocates on behalf of artist rights and runs professional development seminars.

He’s also the current licensing and business development manager for Phonographic Performances New Zealand representing over 960 member labels, with over a million registered recordings. And since April last year Roach has been a music reviewer on the popular Radio Live show The Jam.

So Roach has the business side under control. But how does he keep his artists creative and comfortable? Here are Mark Roach’s rules:

Empathy is useful

Creatives can be difficult at times and creative egos in general have a certain volatility about them. Any artist is in the business of taking something that’s personal to them and putting it out in the public arena. It helps if you can empathise with this—my onstage experiences have really helped me have an understanding of the pressures performing artists are under.

Managing talent is a funny business; it’s hard to be emotionally distant from the people you are working with. As a manager you are part confessor, psychologist and counsellor. You don’t have to love the talent you are working with, or be their best mate—but you do at least have to like them. And it helps to understand a little of their psyche or have some idea of what motivates them or affects them.

Don’t do a Brian Epstein

Epstein discovered the Beatles and guided them to stardom. Before his death—which, if reports are to be believed, was suicide due to an unrequited love for Lennon—he was considered a band member who was just not on the stage. One management truism says ‘don’t become the fifth Beatle’. It’s very easy to get lost in the private universe of the artist, but if you lose sight of what you are doing you are not actually going to be of much use to the band.

It’s important not to be a groupie. You might think the band’s act is great, but you have to gauge the audience’s reaction. The artists can be in the moment, but you need to be able to step back and ask yourself: is this business as successful as we think it is? What are we competing with? How can we make it better?

Keep your distance

Your job is to provide structure, and that involves letting the artists go away and do what they do. As a band manager I never get involved in the creative side of things; I have to trust they know what are doing on the creative side and they trust me with the business stuff. That said, you do need to provide critical feedback where appropriate. In music management you look upon the artist as a business; you’re constantly aware of branding opportunities and ways to keep their name in the media.

Back your artists up

The UK lifetime achievement award for music managers is called the Peter Grant Award, after Led Zeppelin’s manager. He’s still highly regarded in the industry for his professionalism and for always going into bat for his band. Grant was very focused on his artists, had a very clear vision for them and never accepted second best for them. Grant was a very big guy who, so the story goes, sometimes took a baseball bat into meetings and threaten people to get the deal he wanted. Possibly not the best approach—but in his case very effective!

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