MMF and FAC on Artist & Manager Awards, Brexit and future of the industry

Headliner has spoken to MMF (Music Managers Forum) CEO Annabella Coldrick and FAC (Featured Artists Coalition) CEO David Martin about the triumphant return of the Artist & Manager Awards, the “insurmountable barriers” Brexit is currently causing the industry, and how artists and managers have been coping with Covid.

On Thursday, November 18, the Artist & Manager Awards 2021 returned to London’s Bloomsbury Big Top as an in-person ceremony after last year’s all-digital affair.

Honouring the industry’s finest artists, managers and achievements, the ceremony saw Elton John and David Furnish receive the Artist & Manager Partnership Award in recognition of their work to support the sector, particularly new artists, as well as their campaigning for government to provide greater support for touring acts in light of Brexit.

Other award winners announced ahead of the ceremony included Little Simz (Artist of the Year), Amy Morgan (Manager of the Year), The Black Music Coalition (Industry Champions), Grace Ladoja MBE (Entrepreneur Award), Mogwai (Pioneer Award) and Karma Artists (Writer/Producer Manager Award).

Hosted by Capital FM's Roman Kemp, the evening also featured performances from Wes Nelson & Hardy Caprio, The Anchoress and Lucy McWilliams. 

Commenting after the Awards, Coldrick, and Martin said: “Coming together again with friends and colleagues feels such a hugely positive and symbolic step forward. Tonight’s Awards was about celebrating music, talent, innovation and camaraderie across the artist and management community - whether that’s individuals at the start of their careers, survivors and legends, or those still standing after decades.”

Here, the pair speak to Headliner about the biggest challenges facing the artist and manager community, why the live industry is still nowhere near its pre-pandemic state and why this year’s Artist & Manager Awards was one for the ages…

It’s been a busy period for the MMF and FAC. How have things been for you both in the lead up to the awards?

AC: The awards are so exciting and such a big thing for both our organisations. We’re not for profit, so they are hugely important in so many ways and they really do celebrate our industry. So it’s a huge event that takes about four months of planning, but then all the other work doesn’t stop. There is the Select Committee inquiry, there’s lots of stuff we’re doing on the impact of Brexit on touring, there’s lots of exciting things happening but nothing else has slowed down!

DM: It felt like over the course of the pandemic all these things were brought to the forefront when people had a bit more time, but now things are starting to open up and that other stuff hasn’t stopped, so it’s a double whammy of work, but it’s all very exciting!

How did it feel to be back in-person with the awards?

DM: As organisations, and from the perspective of our members as artists and managers, it’s another stage in hopefully getting back to whatever normal is going to look like. It’s quite symbolic this year, and quite emotional to see all these people in a room.

AC: I was asked the other day, ‘How many of your members have gone under in the past two year’? Most of our members are very small businesses – whether artists or managers, many are set up as limited companies and they are also reliant on touring, so when that stopped we had a lot of people who lost all of their income. 

But they kept working and it was really hard, and we found it hard because we were trying to support those people. And we were also trying to support each other; there was a real sense of community. Everyone was sharing knowledge from all over the world – lots of people were having to take out loans or apply for emergency funding. So, this is a celebration of the survival of all those businesses because none of them stopped!

How have managers fared during this time? There has been a big focus on the impact of Covid on touring, live events etc. but the story of managers during this time perhaps hasn’t received as much media attention. And has this period brought artists and managers even closer together?

AC: Yes, it has. There is that realisation that we’re all in it together. Some artists were great at talking about their crew and their teams, including live crew and management teams. Some management companies let some staff go, but the staff that went tended to also manage artists, so a lot of them kept working with their artists and supporting them.

We’ve had some great support from within the industry and from some of the larger managers. We launched something called The Rebuild Fund, because we acknowledged there were some amazing support schemes for artists but there was nothing for our membership who fell between the gaps. 

We actually spent the first few months saying we shouldn’t have to launch something bespoke, but we did end up having to step in and we have some big managers who put money in, which was incredible, even though they themselves lost quite a bit. 

The PPL helped out and Help Musicians helped administer it for us. The BRIT Trust also put some money in. It was still a drop in the ocean – we have 1,200 members and we helped about 88 businesses – but it was still good to be able to help those 88 get through it.

DM: There were well documented cases of artists being very altruistic to help the wider sector. Niall Horan did a huge streamed concert for crew; lots of artists supported production crew and their teams. The sector came together more than ever before – promoters who are dogged rivals were sharing advice, it was quite unprecedented. The whole sector realised it would need to work together to get through this.

With people’s day-to-day lives starting to resemble some kind of normality, with society largely opened up, is there a lack of understanding around just how far away the music industry remains from its pre-pandemic state?

DM: Yes, that was always going to be a risk and there is a long road back to recovery. Lots of businesses took on debt. Some people are still reluctant to be in venues, so we’re not back to full capacity. Then we have the joy of Brexit on top of all that. We’re not even back to full capacity on international touring, but as it is starting to open up we’re seeing the impact of those added barriers as well.

People say, ‘Why didn’t the music industry tell us these things were going to happen’? We did, and we were called project fear Annabella Coldrick

AC: There is a really weird context to touring at the moment. No after show parties, no one is talking to anyone, you basically come off the stage and go straight back to the hotel. It’s a really weird environment and everyone is aware of the risks.

If the tour ends early there is going to be a huge loss. Putting on our awards, which is a huge event at a huge cost for just one night, really makes me appreciate the massive risk with these tours. It’s amazing that shows are happening again but also terrifying for those bearing the risk.

DM: The other thing is that the fee offers for tours is lower now because of the risk. Everybody is taking on risk and that pushes down the fees. Some offers are below what they were in 2019 and this all contributes to the challenge of getting back to where we were.

Also, the last two years of the talent pipeline has potentially been really stunted. The energy that it has taken for artists to get the point of their first tour, only to have it taken away is a real problem. We’re concerned about that pipeline, but our members are incredibly innovative. There have been new ways for artists to engage their audiences, livestreaming being an obvious one, NFTs as well. There has been so much innovation.

AC: There are artists who have broken through during Covid that have been amazing. Arlo Parks has been a complete sensation, Griff has been rising during the pandemic. They have been able to release incredible music without having the usual channels available to them.

A major talking point for the industry has been the DCMS inquiry. How involved have you both been in that and what have been your observations?

DM: Both our organisations have been very involved. We submitted evidence; we were right at the centre. We published the white paper ahead of the government response. It’s really central to what we do. From before I arrived, the organisations have been driving this agenda for a very long time. 

A lot of the things being discussed, like transparency around royalties, were campaigned for by the FAC and MMF for many years. In fact, the FAC was largely set up to campaign on things like streaming and the potential for inequity.

AC: We started the Digital Dollar project in 2015, which was artists and managers trying to get their head around the fact that streaming was becoming the dominant source of recorded income. We were trying to understand the royalty statements and the terms of the deals. 

Those campaigns were quite positive, but also in 2015-16, we were actively involved with the FAC, MU and Ivors to push for UK music to have a code of practice around transparency and streaming, making sure people knew how they were being paid. That completely died a death despite the huge amounts of effort from everyone involved – eventually it was scuppered by a lack of willingness on the rightsholders’ side to reach a deal

At that point we were getting increasingly frustrated so we founded something called the Council of Music Makers. I remember writing the first manifesto, and in that we said we wanted to see a parliamentary inquiry and government roundtables where the industry is told it can’t just ignore these issues. 

Now we need to see that the industry is willing to step up and come to some agreement on best practice, and if they don’t, the threat of legislation is very much there. We will absolutely push for the legislation io the industry cannot step up and accept the issues.

Is there anything that your organisations have been able to do to prepare your memberships for Brexit? Or are the challenges facing international touring in the EU here to stay for the long-term?

AC: Some people are still saying, ‘Why didn’t the music industry tell us these things were going to happen’? We did, and we were called ‘project fear’. I did loads of interviews and podcasts saying, 'If we have a no deal Brexit – which is essentially what we’ve got – we’ll have issues with how many stops trucks can make, visa issues, we’ll have problems with merch, carnets', and every time we raised this with government they just said, ‘it’ll be fine, don’t worry about it’. For music we have a no deal Brexit.

DM: The pandemic and Brexit have been lightbulb moments for UK government ministers, when they’ve realised exactly what we meant. Ultimately, they don’t understand our industry very well. I think they understand the severity of the problems now, but we are getting daily reports from members telling us about the problems they are facing, and for many they are tour-ending. I can’t overstate how serious this is. We’ve seen British bands pulling out of festivals like Primavera in Barcelona due to the extra costs – these are insurmountable barriers.

AC: They are giving the fishing industry a load of money to help adjust to the changes – we’ve had nothing, no support. They keep saying we have the Culture Recovery Fund, but that’s nothing to do with touring. That’s just about surviving Covid, which many of our members didn’t even see any of. 

I had an email from one of our members, who is starting a tour that was originally planned before this – it’s the same dates, same venues etc – and there are now additional costs somewhere in the region of an extra £10,000-£30,000. This tour will now either make small losses or massive loss. Before it may have broken even or made a small amount of profit.

Turning our attention back to the awards, Elton John and David Furnish were honoured with the Artist & Manager Partnership Award. What makes them such deserving winners of this accolade?

AC: They are amazing. They are a campaigning force, as well as Elton being an iconic artist the two of them together have taken the lead on things like the AIDS Foundation and really standing up for causes they believe in. Elton’s support for younger artists has been incredible.

DM: Elton and David have been championing and working with young artists throughout the pandemic and you hear some brutal and forceful language about Brexit – not how it affects him but how it affects the rest of the community. The work they have been doing is amazing and vital for the sector.

Photo of Elton John and David Furnish by John Marshall

I can’t overstate how serious this is: We’ve seen British bands pulling out of festivals due to the extra costs – these are insurmountable barriers David Martin