Formerly a Label Manager at [PIAS]’ London office, Rachael moved to Berlin to take the position of !K7’s Head of Sales and Marketing for their in-house releases and priority Label Services campaigns, with responsibility for international marketing and project management. She is now head of Artist Management for the Group, bringing in new clients and representing her own roster, and oversees a team of day-to-day managers and the long-term strategy for their respective clients – including Tricky and Mykki Blanco.
AD: We first met when you were living in London, assisting an artist manager. You then became a label manager at [PIAS] before moving to Berlin to return to artist management. What prompted the move, and is there anything specific you far prefer about managing artists than working with them at a remove as a label manager?
RP: In the back of my mind I think I knew all along that I ultimately wanted to return to management; that the more experience I garnered from other areas of the industry the better a manager I’d become. So I spent a short stint at a booking agency, a longer stint as a label manager in distribution, and my first job at !K7 in Berlin was heading up marketing for the label. I hugely enjoyed working with my labels at [PIAS] and for a while I appreciated a break from the responsibility for an artist or release. But then I missed that challenge and responsibility, and wanted again to be in the middle of it all. I think being back on the side of the artist, being the root of everything the rest of this sorry industry stems from, is so much more rewarding and gives much more freedom – and in some sense power – to change what is otherwise stagnating creatively within the industry. And let’s be honest; there’s definitely some power-hungry desire for ultimate control on my part in all of this. I realised too that I want to work with artists with something to say, with an agenda, whatever that may be. Management is a joy and a privilege in that sense; being able to see the workings of the artist, to help in myriad areas of their career and their art, and the challenge to make it work for them in whichever aims they have.
AD: What are the main professional differences between London and Berlin?
RP: Berlin is certainly a smaller industry. There’s perhaps less of a sense of competition, and more of an intuition to share contacts, experiences or advice. In some ways the pace is slower, but perhaps that’s on a personal level. I go out less which means I actually eat more proper meals instead of just having a beer and a packet of crisps at shows four nights a week. More broadly, I think Germany has a better-established industry in terms of being spread across the country, as opposed to focusing it all in one city. That goes for both the spread of genres and the various facets of the industry. There are times where I miss the scale and importance of London’s music business, but never the pace. I also now enjoy a more objective view on whatever ‘buzz’ is coming out of the UK musically and the chance and impetus to think more internationally. It’s nice to be away from at least some of the gossip and to just hear the music without the rest of the business swirling around it. I don’t know many people in London who can truly say they’re capable of that on the ground.
AD: You’re keen to speak about some of the traditional (or frustratingly old-fashioned) methods we employ in
the industry when we’re promoting artists and their art. Can you give us an idea of what shape your dissatisfaction takes?
RP: I’m fed up wasting a whole load of money on sub-par music videos (with some caveats). I’m fed up of how expensive promo teams are (with further caveats), of the laziness on the part of music media (very few caveats here). After a certain point, I really can’t stand timelines – or at least I can’t stand the never-ending rigmarole of announcement > stream > video > remix > repeat. I think it’s uninspiring for everyone involved and I’d really like to know if fans and audiences feel the same. I’d love to see a more flexible and creative approach to release campaigns that doesn’t start and end with ‘mysterious’ murals popping up in Brooklyn; campaigns which also allow the media to have more fun, allowing audiences to be intrigued and engaged. My fear is that the everlasting and most traditional bones of our industry won’t be able to see past cold, hard press results and numbers, and won’t be willing to adapt along with the shift into something altogether far more exciting.
AD: I saw you at Reeperbahn Festival in Hamburg a few days ago and we attended a panel on gender equality in the music industry. What one significant event would you like to see take place to help bring about change more quickly? For me it’s to have the heads of the major independent labels, booking agencies and promotions companies (all middle-aged or old white men) come out publically as one voice, acknowledge the issue and pledge to make changes to address it.
RP: That would certainly be a nice start. But then the question turns to what pledge we would then expect from them as a collective voice? I’m similarly bored of the same panels, the ones which spend valuable time pointing out or even having to justify the idea that there are problems with diversity within the industry. But I assume you mean that you don’t want to have the conversation any more because you want the problem to be solved, and the conversation to be redundant. I actually don’t think these discussions should vanish from our agenda; they should be evolving more quickly and intelligently. I don’t have one definitive answer for how to resolve these issues which is why I’d rather see a more developed and dynamic discussion emerge; one pointing to the solution instead of debating the existence of the problem.
On the part of industry inclusion, we have to stop talking about the diversity issue as purely to do with there not being enough women at the top, and instead start considering diversity of ethnic background, class background, sexuality, and non-gender-binary identity. But moreover, I think we’re looking inwards too much here. We are promoters and booking agents, marketing to an audience in a bid to win them as fans and to sell them tickets. We are invested in the wellbeing of our artists: so why are we not spending more time focusing on live shows and studios being safer spaces? Our treatment of any singular incident has largely been reactionary and has done little to overturn the root of the problem. As an industry we need to put far more energy into resolving this. Finally, and this may prove an unpopular opinion, but I’m also pretty sick of talking about middle-aged white men’s feelings in all of this: how they feel about being in the minority in attendance at these panels, how they feel they’re being condescended to for receiving a pat on the back for attending, or perhaps how they feel they deserve a pat on the back that isn’t being offered. It’s embarrassing, and it concerns me how much the irony of it is wasted on half the panel’s audience or contributors.
AD: Your roster at !K7 includes Mykki Blanco and Tricky, two artists who are open about issues around being public artistic figures. To what extent do you think the industry takes our artists’ mental and physical health seriously, and to what extent do you think it’s equipped to help if and when it does decide to take it seriously?
RP: We’ll never be forcing an artist to travel to play a show, or to commit to any kind of engagement that they don’t want to, or feel incapable of carrying out. That’s just common sense to me. We actively try our best to develop a better understanding of our artists’ limits and to pre-empt them, or otherwise to voice our concerns upfront about the artist’s workload if it seems to be stacking up too much. In terms of the demands of always being ‘switched on’, or engaged online via social media, I think that the industry is starting to wake up to the issues this causes for artists, though sometimes I wonder if the fans are. I do think fans are becoming more accepting of show cancellations when an artist speaks out about either their mental or physical health affecting their ability to tour, so some headway has been made there. It seems to me that the more society is switched on to these issues, the more obvious it becomes that the demands placed on an artist could be too much for them. We ought to be guiding the tolerance and acceptance that artists need to be able to switch off, or to cancel an engagement when needed, and in turn allow the artist the room and confidence to speak out sooner when they do feel the need for a break.
AD. It’s your first time in Kristiansand and at Sørveiv Festival and Conference. What are you most looking forward to, and do you have any preconceived notions about what to expect?
RP: I really hope there’s going to be a hearty dose of disagreements throughout the conference, which I especially look forward to, and I’m also looking forward to their being a broad international view on issues, from the delegates and speakers involved. Plus, I’ve been informed that the hotel has a really great breakfast.³
¹ Blanco is HIV Positive and spoke in depth to Fader about this, touring and health, and the US Health System
² Tricky has always spoken openly about his upbringing and how it informed his music and adult life
³ This seems to be a rumour I started. I don’t remember it being that good