Tony Perrin is an artist manager of some 40 years standing in the music business, he is currently part of the artist management team at Big Life Management, which was founded in 1986 by Jazz Summers and Tim Parry.
Originally from Manchester, Tony moved to Sheffield as a student in 1977. He started out managing Sheffield post-punk band Artery, incidentally he also painted the artwork for Artery’s 1982 debut album Oceans. Soon afterwards he hooked up with a young Jarvis Cocker during the birth of PULP – Tony also created the artwork for PULP’s 1983 debut album It. Tony’s tenure with PULP was short-lived, although he continued to learn his trade as Artery manager until their split in 1985.
December 1985 saw a gear-change in Tony’s career, and life, when he got involved with Gothic rock band The Mission. In 1986 he made the move to London where he continued to manage the band for the next 6 years, an experience he describes as “pretty much full-on mayhem”.
He worked exclusively with The Mission and All About Eve before joining Big Life Management for the first time in 1994. In 1995 he started managing the then hotly tipped new band Embrace after stumbling across their demo tape, a year later they released their first single All You Good Good People followed by the chart-topping debut album, The Good Will Out in 1998.
Tony left Big Life in 2000 to set up Coalition Management with Tim Vigon and Rob Partridge, where he helped kick start and shape the careers of bands such as Bloc Party, The Streets, The Zutons and The Music. Returning to the Big Life fold in 2015 where he continues to manage Bloc Party, Embrace and The Zutons amongst others.
I know that Tony likes to keep out of the spotlight, so I was grateful that he gave his time to speak to me and be a part of the series.
As a manager, what does your job entail?
Fundamentally the answer to that question is ‘anything and everything’, whatever needs doing basically. A manager is essentially a fixer. If there’s a problem to be sorted, you’re the guy who needs to find the solution. If there’s an idea that needs implementing, you’re the guy who figures out how to do it. And if there isn’t an idea, it’s your job to come up with one.
Are you a personal manager, business manager or both?
I’m a personal manager, but obviously, the business side of things is central to what I do most of the time.
Can you remember when and how did you make the step into becoming a manager?
Long story short, it was 1979 and New Wave was in full effect, I was a student at Sheffield Polytechnic. It was a time when everybody was forming make-believe bands that never got much further than people’s bedsits. I was no different from anyone else, except my make-believe band got just far enough for me to realise my talents lay on the organisational side of things, rather than the musical side!
But I fell in love with being involved in music, so I packed in my degree and started working for a Sheffield record label, and from there I went on to manage a couple of local bands.
Who was your first client and what lessons did you learn during that time?
The first band I managed was a Sheffield band called Artery, they didn’t get much further than recording a couple of John Peel sessions, but they were famously the band that inspired Jarvis Cocker to want to be in a band, so Pulp were the second band I managed, around the time that Jarvis was just leaving school.
Not that I can lay any claim to Pulp’s success, that happened about 15 years after I stopped managing them!
I guess I learned a lot from the experience in those early years, you learn from everything you do in every walk of life, your successes and your failures. It’s impossible to quantify though really.
Do you have any advice for anyone interested in managing bands or artists?
- If you don’t already know it, the first thing you need to do is look up the definition of ‘fiduciary duty’, and don’t go any further until you’ve got your head around that concept.
- Only work with artists whose music you’re excited by.
- Never work with an artist just because you think they’re going to be successful (they won’t be).
- Never work with an artist who isn’t at least as ambitious for themselves as you are for them.
Are you constantly looking out for new artists to work with?
No. I feel like it’s a really big commitment to take on any artist. It’s not something I’ve ever done lightly, and I’m at the stage in my career where I’m not really looking to do it again. If it happens, it happens and that’s great, but it’s not something I’m actively looking for.
What mistakes do you think upcoming bands or artist make when looking for representation?
I think that’s impossible for me to answer, I’ve never been on that side of the fence. All I would say to any artist looking at appointing a manager is take your time, do your research, and always ask for a trial period. Others may disagree but I think any manager worth their salt would work with an artist on a trial basis if they really believe in themselves and want the job.
What’s your favourite aspect of the job?
I guess it’s the satisfaction of seeing ideas through to fruition. Often times that will involve figuring stuff out that you didn’t necessarily know when you set out trying to do something. You’re generally learning the whole time with this job.
In management, you’re fairly central to most things that an artist does. You may delegate along the way, but still, a lot of what goes on crosses your desk. I think that’s where it helps if you’re a hands-on kind of person, especially in the early stages.
As things develop and the artists you work with are becoming more successful, the ability to delegate becomes more important.
What do you feel is the biggest misconception people have of managers?
When I started out managers had a very bad reputation, they were generally regarded as dodgy characters looking out for themselves (and most of them were). To the point that I was kind of embarrassed to call myself a manager in the early days.
Thankfully things have changed, the business has cleaned up and managers these days are generally pretty professional I reckon, and do the best job they can for their clients.
When an artist is presented with the opportunity to sign with a label, what factors do the management team have to take into consideration?
Blimey, that’s an essay question in itself!
There are too many factors to go in to here, but at the end of the day it comes down to how much do you believe them when they look you in the eye and tell you that your artist is the greatest, and they going to make them successful.
I always think the manager’s job is to get enough momentum going for the artist before signing to a label, so you’re basically passing them the ball six yards out from goal, with an empty net, and saying ‘there you go, stick that in the net – and don’t fuck it up!’
It doesn’t always work out that way though.
Is there anything you wish you could change within the industry?
Probably the biggest change for the worse that I’ve seen in my time is the decline of artist development coming from labels. Back in the day, you’d see artists becoming successful on their second or third album for a label, that never happens these days. So if I could change anything I’d encourage a bit more long-term thinking and artist development. Sadly I don’t see it happening though, certainly not from the major labels. Maybe with some of the independents, you can still find it.
In regards to photography, do you consider live photography an important marketing asset?
Absolutely, it’s massively important! So much of popular music is about image and photography is the embodiment of that. It’s impossible to think of any classic artist without at least one iconic photograph of them springing to mind. I challenge you to try!
Do you ever check out a photographers work before granting them access to a client or show?
Yes, always. Everybody has an iPhone and a live photoblog these days! And they all want to be on the guestlist with a ‘plus one’ and a photo pass. Fair play to them, I like a good blagger as much as anybody does, but some people do take the piss!
Do you pay attention to photographs of your clients that appear online?
Again, every single person at a gig these days has a camera, so it’s impossible to control or keep track of.
In your opinion, what makes a great live photo?
There’s a great Sky Arts documentary series on at the moment called Icon: Music Through The Lens, with many of the greatest music photographers talking about their craft. I forget who it was, but one of them said a great live photo is about capturing ‘the moment’ – a split second either side and you haven’t got the photo. I guess that’s what it’s about, and probably the best live photographers have that instinct that tells them when ‘the moment’ is about to happen.
What do you think creates or breaks relationships between a photographer and artists?
I’m not a photographer (or an artist) so I wouldn’t really know, but I’d have thought that trust was probably a key ingredient. That and the ability to make the artist look good – artists generally like to look good in their photos! If you don’t have the ability to do that you’re probably not going to get very far as a music photographer.
I once met David Bailey on a shoot and he was the most tactile person I’ve ever met. At the time it seemed quite odd, but in retrospect, I think it’s probably a technique he employs to put people at ease when he’s photographing them, not that he was photographing me.
I’ve witnessed other top photographers at work who take on a completely different approach, some are quite confrontational in the way they deal with artists.
I’m sure every photographer has their own techniques that they employ to get the best results out of the situation.
In a world gone mad, how do you feel 2020 will change the music landscape?
I think it’s probably accelerated changes that were already in the pipeline to some extent, it’s probably sped-up the demise of the physical music retail side of things. It’s obviously decimated the live side of the business, in a way that it isn’t really clear yet how things will recover. A lot depends on how effective they are at rolling out the Covid vaccines, but I think it’s going to take a year or two at least for the live business to get back on its feet, and we may be feeling the impact for a lot longer than that.
If you could manage one band in history, who would it be and why?
Talking Heads, just because they’re my favourite band of all time. And also because I think David Byrne is an incredible artist, not just for his musical talent, but also because he has an amazing ability to come up with a genius idea and execute it to perfection. If you watch their Stop Making Sense concert film it’s just phenomenal in its creativity and execution. I saw him on his recent American Utopia tour and it was probably the best gig I’ve ever seen, and this is a guy 40-odd years into his career! I can’t think of another artist who comes close, in terms of the effort and attention to detail he puts into his art.
David, if you’re reading, give me a call!
BIG LIFE MANAGEMENT