Managers have always been an important part of the music industry, and in recent years, they’ve been getting more involved in the digital side of their artists’ careers.

Meanwhile, over in the world of YouTubers (and increasingly Instagrammers and Snapchatters too) managers are also playing a prominent role – and in some cases, are taking over from the multi-channel networks (MCNs) that were first to spot and sign up digital stars.

Sometimes these two adjacent worlds of management come together. For example, in May we interviewed musician Hannah Trigwell and her manager Bob James – he had lots to say about how building a musician’s audience on YouTube works.

More recently, one of the big management agencies in the online-influencer world, Gleam Futures – which counts British digital stars Zoella, Caspar Lee and Alfie Deyes among its roster – announced plans to launch a new music management company.

It’s called Stripped Bear Entertainment, and is a partnership between Gleam and another of its clients, YouTuber Marcus Butler. “The idea is to try and manage new music talent like we manage social talent,” said Gleam boss Dom Smales at the time. Music Ally had a chat with him to find out more.

“It’s been a good three years in the making. Marcus and I sat in a coffee shop or bar three years ago and threw this idea around: what if we could create a management company that does for musicians what Gleam does for digital-first talent?” said Smales.

That means finding an audience online, then growing with it to forge (hopefully) a long-term career. In a sense, YouTube and other social platforms is fulfilling the launchpad role that the small-venue circuit played for traditional music artists.

“The talent is in control: the talent being the main editor, the gatekeeper for that audience, rather than a record label or an editor or a commissioner,” continued Smales.

That’s the big thing driving this new media revolution: the talent have a lot more control over the relationship they have with their audience, and they want to build something long-term.”

The launch of Stripped Bear comes at a time when the music industry is engaged in a war of words with YouTube – including this week’s publication of Google’s latest piracy report, and subsequent “greenwash” criticism from music bodies.

What does Smales make of the conflict? He described it as “a lot of hoo-ha in the media” but acknowledged that both sides have points to make.

“Yes, there is an argument that all creative people and artists should be paid fairly for their creativity,” said Smales, although he went on to suggest that in 2016, new artists at the start of their careers take a more pragmatic approach to YouTube.

“You’ve got to see YouTube as a really positive thing, providing this enormous global audience that there’s an opportunity for you to connect with,” he said.

“Of course, you have to do the right deals at the beginning of your career in terms of publishing, live and other rights, but older artists built their careers without the existence of something like YouTube, and are now trying to reverse into the new rights pecking order that digital is creating.”

Smales said that Stripped Bear will be trying to build up the artists that it signs in a very organic way, and stressed that they do not have to be on YouTube already for the company to be interested in them: the firm will be out scouting for talent in venues across the UK rather than just mining YouTube.

“Obviously, we’re going to use social media to make them more popular, to introduce audiences to them,” he said. “But the guys we have signed – we’ll be able to announce who they are soon – aren’t cover artists. We’re encouraging them not to do covers: we’re keen to have them find their audience with their music.”

Stripped Bear is also happy to work with labels for those artists. “YouTube and digital media are not making record labels irrelevant at all, just like YouTube’s not making TV or cinema irrelevant,” said Smales.

“But we will be incubating the talent for longer, to put it in a better position by the time we have a conversation with a label. Gone are the days when the label can tell an artist ‘you need to be made famous, we can give you access to an audience like nobody else’.”

It seems likely that Stripped Bear will call upon Gleam’s roster of digital stars to help drive audiences towards its artists.

Co-founder Butler has 4.5 million YouTube subscribers, 3.2 million Instagram followers, 2.8 million Twitter followers and 1.6 million Facebook fans – obviously there is massive crossover between these communities – who he can promote Stripped Bear artists to. The stats are similar for other Gleam clients.

“We’re really excited about growing artists up from the very beginning, shining the massive spotlight on them that Marcus can do, and seeing what the audience ask for,” said Smales.

The audience is empowered like never before to pass judgement and talk about how it wants to consume that talent. There’s no blueprint that we’re going to follow religiously: we’re just going to focus on putting great music out and building an audience.”

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