The Profitable Musician | Laura Jones | Negotiation And Collaboration

 

Have you ever wondered about the magic that happens behind the scenes in the music industry? Join Laura Jones, the founder of Little Underground Management, as she pulls back the curtain and reveals the art of negotiation and collaboration. She’ll show you the delicate dance of negotiation to secure the best outcomes you need as a musician. Discover how to foster strong, collaborative relationships that fuel creative success in the industry. Laura also shares valuable insights into the different facets of the music business and how they work together. This show is a must-listen for anyone who wants to elevate their career in music, from aspiring music producers and managers to established artists looking to take their sound to the next level. Tune in and gain the tools and knowledge you need to thrive in the dynamic world of music!

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Building A Successful Music Career: The Art Of Negotiation & Collaboration With Laura Jones

I am excited to be here with Laura Jones from Little Underground Management. This is a management company that manages producers, engineers, and mixers. It’s a cool niche, and I know that it will provide some great information for you artists from seeing the other perspective as she manages the people who are helping you with your projects.

We’re going to be talking about how musicians should be in charge in the boardroom and how you can negotiate, collaborate, and all that great stuff. However, before we get into that, I would love to know, Laura, what is your backstory? How did you end up doing what you do now? How did you get involved in music and then get involved with managing producers and engineers?

Bree, thank you for having me on. It’s lovely to be talking to you. I started as an obsessive teenager. I’m from England. I grew up in this Britpop era and became completely obsessed with music, bands, and rock and roll. I spent most of my childhood going to shows and festivals, buying records, taping radio shows, and listening to the next cool thing that was coming out.

Not to date you, but what were your favorite bands?

I was a teenager during the Blur-Oasis rivalry and Britpop. I was always on the Blur side. I very much love Blur, The Verve, and those British bands coming out at that time. Equally, I loved American Alternative. Then came The Strokes and The White Stripes. I followed into music that way. Out of my obsession, I always knew I wanted to do something in music. I was not musical at all myself. I tried guitar lessons. I tried to play the piano. I tried to sing, but usually people would turn the microphone off so I knew that wasn’t my route into this world.

Someone told me about these courses that existed to learn the business side of the music industry, where you could go and study arts, music, and theater management. I decided that’s what I wanted to do and I ended up going to Paul McCartney’s University in Liverpool called LIPA, the Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts. I studied business there. During that time, it was very informative. I learned a lot. It was very practical and hands-on. I had lots of work experience at record labels and doing A&R for different festivals.

I started to put on my own show in Liverpool and one night, this guy came to play. His name was Eugene McGuinness. I thought he was brilliant. After the show, we sipped a few tequilas together, and I rather drunkenly said, “Do you want a manager?” He was like, “Yeah. You’re going to be my manager.” I said, “Yeah, why not?” Neither of us had any idea what that meant and I didn’t know what it meant to be a manager. I’m not sure he knew what it meant to be an artist but we graduated and moved to London. As we moved, he signed to Domino Records. That’s where the real-life proper music industry kicked in. I had to learn very quickly from there.

Managing Artists

You started out managing artists. How did you find that experience?

A lot of the gray hairs you see now are from that era. They came very early in life. It was such a fantastic time. I was so young. I got into managing a few different artists when we moved to London. From small to medium size sort of indie artists but it was fantastic. It was my dream. It was exciting. We traveled the world with them playing shows and festivals and dealing with these record labels that I’d grown up adoring like Domino.

It was thrilling but also, I was on my own. I didn’t have a management company. I didn’t have any support. I was learning as I went and artist management is incredibly full on. It’s not just managing the artist. It’s managing the label, the publisher, the PR person, the design team, and the video choreographer. There are so many people to take care of and their expectations to look after. With the artist at the center in Rooney, what they wanted was a lot. It was a lot at a young age, especially with no experience. It was a great experience, but ultimately, it led me to understand that it wasn’t what I wanted to do.

What did you love about it and what did you not love about it that made you decide to go a different direction and where did you go from there?

I loved the thrill of it. I loved being on the front line with the artists. I love seeing them grow, the success, and standing at the side of the stage where they’re playing in Fuji Rock or seeing all this hard work that we’d put in come to fruition. Also, seeing the album come out and hearing the songs on the radio. Being a part of that is such an honor, a privilege, and so exciting.

For me, it was also a lot of pressure. Also, probably self-imposed pressure of, “Are you good enough? Are you doing a good enough job feeling this person’s career is in your hands and being responsible?” I think it’s such a big responsibility especially then at a young age when I didn’t have a lot of experience. I suppose there were times when it felt like too much. I guess during that time, I met a woman and she managed record producers. She was looking for some day-to-day help. She said to me, “Why don’t you come and work for me and you can help with my day-to-day management? You can learn a little bit about the producer world or maybe I can help you out with the artist or I’ll give you some stability and structure that can help you in your business and what you are trying to do.”

I said, “Okay. That sounds like a good plan.” At that time, I had no idea too much about producers. I didn’t know that they had managers. I didn’t know what that job looked like but over the years of learning more and more about that side of things, I fell in love with that craft and with that side of things. I realized it was a little bit more in line with my personality and with how I wanted my life to be in terms of pace and balance, I suppose.

You’re probably not having to be at the shows, all that stuff, traveling, and that kind of thing as much.

Your day-to-day is very different and a little bit more manageable.

You’re lucky that you stumbled upon a mentor to help you get into that segment of the market because most people, as you said, wouldn’t even know that that segment of the market existed.

Yeah. Sandy was amazing. She taught me everything I know. It was so interesting to learn about this world. As I mentioned, my passion has always as a kid finding new artists and bands. Also, making these connections and then seeing how that could come into play within the context of a producer, not just as an A&R or a record label, but suddenly this idea that I could play with that, but in the role of a producer-manager which was exciting.

I’m curious having been an artist manager and then now being on the side of it, do you think that every artist needs a manager or do you think that artists can develop the skills to do a lot of what managers do?

I think both. There’s a point to which you can probably build your own momentum. I think it’s critical that you understand all the different facets that go into managing and that you have a good comprehension so that when you do have a manager, you already have that insight and knowledge. You’re also in control of your business because you have that depth of knowledge and understanding.

I agree with that. Do you feel like there is some kind of trigger point that you’re like, “At this point in your career you probably should have a manager?”

Probably when it all feels like too much or you feel perhaps out of your depth. These are things that feel scary to decide on my own without advice and fully knowing what this means. I think you can research on your own. You can build momentum on your own. You can get yourself so far. It’s like anything in life. You go so far on your own and then there’s a point at which it’s nice to have a team and people around you who can guide you and give you that other perspective based on their experience and their wisdom.

You can go so far on your own, but it's nice to have a team who can guide you and give you that other perspective based on their experience and wisdom. Share on X

It does help to have people who have been through it and have that other side perspective that you might not have as an artist. I think that is something that a manager can help with. I know you talk about musicians running the boardroom. What does that mean to you and what kind of skills do they need to have to do that?

I think there’s so much in this industry when things get taken out of the artist’s hands. It’s great to build this team, but then suddenly this team is making decisions and talking about you and your art and your craft in these boardrooms, perhaps without you even there and without even your perspective. I think that’s what’s scary to the point that we’re saying.

For an artist, I think it’s so important for them to understand what goes into managing. What does this contract mean? What does this look like? Also, to keep control and to accept the advice, to listen, and to know why you hired these people. To be able to trust, but also to know what’s going on within your business and your career.

I know you’re big on relationship-building and obviously, you have to have a good relationship with your manager. They have got to have a good relationship with the people that you guys are working with. However, do you feel like the artists should also develop relationships with everybody that they’re working with or do you think that they should just do their art and then the manager should develop all those relationships?

I think it should always be both. If someone’s out there in the world representing you and speaking on your behalf in whatever capacity, I think you want to know who they are, what they stand for, how they’re going to speak about you, and the way they carry themselves. I appreciate at the top level, those teams are sometimes so large and sprawling. You can’t know everybody, but I think you need to at least have relationships with the heads of those departments. It’s transparency. It’s knowing your own business and it’s knowing the people that are speaking on your behalf.

The Profitable Musician | Laura Jones | Negotiation And Collaboration

Negotiation And Collaboration: Know your own business. Know the people who are speaking on your behalf.

 

Sometimes there’s this adversarial relationship between the artist and the label. Do you feel like that should be a partnership? How can you develop more of a partnership feeling with your label, with your publisher, or with your A&R team? It’s like you’re doing this together instead of you wanting one thing and they wanting one thing and you have to compromise.

Be Your Authentic Self

I think that’s it. Know them, spend time with them, talk to them, share music, share ideas, be your authentic self, and get to know them as their authentic self so you can meet and understand each other. It’s definitely a challenge because it is business and I think there’s always that line of it is business so you can’t purely be friends and be there for the fun times and the laughs.

However, I think it’s important to know these people, be yourself around them, and make sure that they know you and what you’re about. That’s also going to help them as they build their career and know what they want, who they want to be, how they want to grow, and what their purpose is. Also, they can help you achieve that the more they know you.

Let’s talk about it from the producer side since that’s who you work directly with now. How do you empower producers or even people who produce their own music to advocate for themselves on recording projects because they’re working with artists? They’re working with labels, all these people, and all these fingers in the pie or whatever. How do you make sure that you’re advocating for yourself as a producer?

Again, I think it goes back to initially understanding what is your purpose. Where are you trying to go? Who do you want to be as a producer? Do you want to be a top-ten hit writer? Is that your mission or is your mission just to work on the most exciting new alternative music? Where are you going? What are we doing? I think that helps you advocate and make decisions on its own so then if a project comes in and it’s a five-piece guitar band that has got no money and they want to work with you.

If your mission is to be a top-ten songwriter, you’re probably going to say, “I don’t think that’s quite in line with what I want to do, so maybe let’s not take that work because it’s not in line with where I’m going.” However, if the producer’s mission is to make the best new alternative music and you love this band, maybe they’ve got some momentum and some interest. If you think you can help them, then maybe this is something that you’re saying yes to. For me, advocating for yourself is about having integrity and staying true to what you want to do, and where you want to go, and not forcing square pegs in round holes, I suppose.

The Profitable Musician | Laura Jones | Negotiation And Collaboration

Negotiation And Collaboration: Advocating for yourself is about having integrity and staying true to what you want to do and where you want to go.

 

I think that’s good because I was going to ask about art versus business and balancing that, but that makes sense. You have to balance your business needs with your artistic desires. As you said, if you love alternative music, you may be willing to take this project if they can only pay you in installments or whatever because you want to work with these people. You think they’re making amazing music versus looking at it going, “This isn’t the best business decision because I could be getting paid more or whatever.” That’s always a balancing act, right?

Yeah, exactly. Everybody needs to pay the bills and put food on the table so you can’t do every project because you love it and you believe in it. There are points where you also have to say, “We need to bring some money in this week so maybe it’s time to take the other job that’s not totally perfect.” I think all the time so long as you’re mindful of what you’re curating, who you’re working with, and the discography that you’re building. Also, if you’re always coming back to that and you’re working on that, I think that’s good. That’s my philosophy.

You mentioned the discography and that brings up another currency in this world, which is the metrics, the algorithm, and all of that stuff. How much do producers need to think about that when they’re picking projects? Do producers often have to help the artists build those numbers and stuff like that?

They’re not helping them build the numbers, but I do know of people in the studio who will break down songs that are having viral hits and be looking at the structure. They are trying to replicate that or replicate certain parts. They are creating songs specifically with the view of trying to create a viral hit like looking at all the ones before and seeing exactly how they break down and trying to replicate based on that.

Do you encourage producers to try to do that or does it depend on their goals?

My roster is not doing that. I think our tastes and mission are different, but everyone is different and everyone wants to achieve different things. Now, I think amongst the people that I work with, that’s not something we’re keeping in mind or focusing on. Maybe it’s old school, but still at the heart of what we do is creativity and trying to make music that’s in line with the vision that artists have and who they want to be. Also, not trying to for something because they think, “If we slip this line in or this, they’ll be more popular on TikTok.” If that happens after, then wonderful. How great for everybody but it’s never something that we’re going into the studio thinking about.

It can be very tempting though, right?

Yeah.

When you are working with a new producer and you’re thinking of signing them or you’ve just signed them, how do you know when they’re ready to do a big project or a more high-profile project?

Working With A Producer

Usually, the point at which I would start working with someone is probably that point when they’re ready to take on a bigger challenge. I would only get involved when there is some momentum when they’ve accrued some credits of people who are building a profile or who are getting some attention. That’s when I’d be able to come in and say, “I can see your taste and what you’ve built so far. I think I have the right contacts to be able to connect more dots for you and create the next stepping stones.” I think for me it’s an organic process.

It makes sense. Just like with artists. Artists have to go out there, build their social media up, their Spotify numbers, their show numbers, and all that before record labels or managers are going to take notice. That’s the world we live in and I’m sure that’s true about producers too because there is that ability to do so much production on your own without a manager just by connecting with other artists and getting a lot of projects under your belt.

It’s like artists. You have to build up your portfolio before you look for a manager. This has been interesting to talk about it from the artist’s perspective and then also, from the producer’s perspective. If anyone is reading and wants to get more information on your agency or maybe they want to work with one of your producers, how do they reach out to you online?

Build up your portfolio before you look for a manager. Share on X

My website is LittleUndergroundManagement.com. We’re on Instagram as well. It’s @Little_Underground_MGMT.

Go to their website. You get everything that you need on their website so that’s all you guys need. Thank you so much, Laura, for this insight into a part of the industry that we don’t often hear about.

It was lovely talking to you, Bree. Thanks so much for having me on.

 

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About Laura Jones

The Profitable Musician | Laura Jones | Negotiation And CollaborationLaura Jones is the founder of Little Underground Management, a Grammy award-winning producer management company. Her clients have had a hand in some of the most standout alternative projects of the last 10 years from top artists including David Bowie, Panic! At The Disco, A Tribe Called Quest, Weezer, and some of the most exciting ‘breakout’ records by The War On Drugs, Soccer Mommy, Solange, and Japanese Breakfast.

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