INTERVIEW: Artist Manager Olly Rowland

As someone who has been in the industry in more than one field, from a touring and full time manager to a stuntman – how were you actually drawn into this world?

When I was 14 I was watching James Bond at home with my dad, and we got talking about the stunts and from that day on I decided being a stuntman would be an awesome job. My dad took me to a talk by a well established Stunt-coordinator Vic Armstrong in London, and that was me sold. When I finished school and all of my friends were going to university, I started training full time to be a stuntman, I had my mind set on it. Since 2007 I’ve worked in the film industry and loved it. I loved working for myself and knowing that If I didn’t want to take a job I didn’t have to, and I could choose my own work schedule.

After finishing work on season 4 of Game of Thrones, my best mates band were going on tour, and asked If I wanted to come along. I ended up driving their tour van and helping them load in and out, sell mer- chandise etc. I started implementing things to make their lives easier where I saw issues, such as sched- uling and making day sheets, making sure promoters paid them their money before we left the venues etc, and just making sure they put on the best show they could with as little expenditure as possible. I natural- ly took the position of a tour manager, before I even knew what that job even was.

I really enjoyed the budgeting and organisation of logistics, and ground my teeth with them for a couple of years while still working as a stuntman. I then got some jobs as a department coordinator on film sets, looking after the stunt and/or horse departments, which required a lot of the same skills as tour managing, and eventually I started my own touring/production company that specialised in just that.

How would you say each of these experiences in these different fields helps you with your other work?

There are so many skills that are transferable from tour management to film set department coordinator that both of these jobs were very easy to jump between. The same applies from the production standpoint, I have a great understanding of live music production, some of which can be applied to the film industry, and also working as an adventure cameraman, my technical knowledge of filming also helps with filming, whether its on major films or music videos/content creation for artists that I’m working with.

It also helps me when looking at budgets from contractors for example, to know if someone is trying to take advantage and over charge me for a project I’m working on with an artist. If it’s anything to do with filming, I know what’s involved in the filming process, and what it should cost, which then in turn helps me save money, and make more money for my artist.

It’s already hard to help build the career of someone who is just starting – would you say it’s much easier of a job to work with already established names or rather the opposite?

I think it’s a bit of both actually. With a new artist you have a clean slate to work with, you can steer them in any direction that you see fit, and as they have little experience behind the scenes of the music industry, they will be much more open to taking your suggestions and opportunities you present to them, however it takes a good network and knocking on a lot of doors to make things happen.

With an already established artist, it’s much easier to get doors to open, however they can be set in their ways and not necessarily be open to new ideas or adapting with current trends, which as a manager can occasionally feel like having one hand tied behind your back. Whereas new artists will usually be open to all suggestions and give you the freedom as a manager to bring in opportunities which you envision will work well for them.

You get to work with artists from different genres – does that request you to take on a different approach for each or would you say there’s a formula?

I look at each artist as a brand, so there’s no set formula as everyone is different. If I’m looking for brands to partner with an artist, I need to make sure the artist’s brand marries up with them. For example, If I have an established artist who’s been in the industry for 30 years, dresses in beautiful suits and wears nice watches and accessories, I’d be looking to partner them with high end clothing/alcohol/watch companies. Whereas If I have a younger, new rock band, I’d lean towards wanting to partner them with newer contemporary clothing lines, energy drinks and more mainstream alcohol brands. Each scenario is different and you can’t necessarily utilise the same contacts you have with multiple artists if they don’t fit together.

The same applies with live touring, I’m not necessarily going to put an adult contemporary singer with an older fan base, in a standing capacity only theatre/arena, as the audience doesn’t necessarily want to be stood up for 90 minutes, where as a younger rock band with a young audience who want to jump around would be much better suited to that performance space.

In a time where more and more artists seem to take on the DIY approach – what would you say a manager brings to the table and what would you say is the need of one in this era?

I love the DIY approach coming through from new artists. One in particular who are good friends of mine, are ‘Kovic’. UK based, they’ve been through a few different management teams, none of which were particularly successful. Once they took everything into their own hands, self taught social media marketing and kept their overheads down by keeping unnecessary ‘team members’ out, they really started to build up a following, make good money on their streaming, merch and touring, and can show fantastic growth.

A common mistake now is assuming as an artist, once you have a manager, or a booking agent, or a record label, is that you’ve made it, and those people will make you a success. But they forget the commissions and money that come out of each one of those team members. Don’t get me wrong, there is absolutely a time when a manager/agent/publicist is needed, but as an artist you can self grow to a substantial place without needing to spend money on extra help. Once you get to the point where your self man- aging is getting in the way of your creation of new content, then its at that point I would suggest looking for help in management, bringing in someone either as a day to day to take over what you have already done, or an established manager who can take what you’ve done, and grow it to the next level and beyond, leaving the artist to create the content necessary for continued growth.

Social media has become a double edged sword for everybody, especially thanks to our current “cancel culture” – what’s the role of a manager in this situation?

There’s definitely some careful navigation to be done through the murky waters of “cancel culture” and social media in the current climate. I like to take the Ricky Gervais approach of being unapologetic for who you are to a certain point. Obviously if you in the past have made a racist or homophobic comment that you never apologised for, then that needs to be addressed. How ever what I don’t agree with is if an artist had made a comment years previously, apologised for it at the time, but then having it brought up again and forced to cancel a show or apologise for a second time, I can’t get on board with that, and would encourage artists and their management teams to stay strong. Once you show a chink in your armour, thats when “cancel culture” jumps on you and tears you down. Ricky Gervais is a great example, by showing that he just doesn’t care what anyone says or does about him or his views, he gets left alone as its a hopeless task to try and take him down.

What advice would you give to aspiring artists that are seeking to start a career in their respective art field?

Don’t be driven by money. If you have that as your primary aim, you won’t succeed. On top of that, don’t let a ‘suit’ change your creative direction, if they try and make you change your music style or content, then you’ve got the wrong team on board. And by far, my most important piece of advice for a new artist is research what each job role in an artist’s team is, and ask yourself if you would be able to do it yourself to a certain point, especially when starting out.

What about those wanting to become managers? What would you recommend?

Speaking for myself, my success is based on having an understanding and experience in the majority of jobs that would be involved in looking after an artist. If you have a solid understanding of live touring, then you know when you’re budgeting, or being handed budgets, if they are inflated or realistic. The same applies to PR, marketing, recording etc. I feel that if you were to go straight to ‘being an artist manager’, without an understanding of the majority of roles surrounding the progression of an artist, then you’re doomed from the start.

What else is happening next in your world?

I’ve been collaborating on some projects with CTK management who have offices in both Nashville and London, and will be joining their team full time in 2021 which I’m incredibly excited about. These guys manage Dolly Parton, KC and the Sunshine band, Seether, Kenny G, Meatloaf amongst others, and I love how they work, so am very much looking forward to getting started with them as an artist manager on their incredible team. 

About RJ Frometa

Head Honcho, Editor in Chief and writer here on VENTS. I don't like walking on the beach, but I love playing the guitar and geeking out about music. I am also a movie maniac and 6 hours sleeper.

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