Sometime in 2012, Kurt Bailey fell in love with Gang of Youths. All those magical qualities were present and obvious. As the band took the stage at Hibernian House in Surry Hills, they ruled a room of 100 as though it was a full arena. Its frontman David Le’aupepe, bursting with charisma, leading a band with songs and character and verve. That night Gang of Youths was the opening act. Top billing went to an outfit Bailey performed with. With the best seat in the house, Bailey spotted the future.
Soon after, he informed his bandmates of his plans to cross to the other side. With an all-body plunge, Bailey embarked on a career in artist management. With Gang of Youths by his side.
This was a deep-end dive for a budding entrepreneur who once interned at EMI but never truly cut his teeth at a music company.
“Starting my own business was my first taste of working in the music industry,” Bailey tells TIO from his base in Sydney. “I’ve always been gung ho about doing my own thing.”
Fast forward five years, and things have moved on. Gang Of Youths have the #1 record in Australia with second album Go Farther in Lightness. The band no longer open the bill for others in inner-city Sydney. When they play, their name is typically splashed out in the largest font. They currently call London home. Though they’re still guided by Bailey, who’s no longer a novice in the business of music.
Bailey, who has spent time in New York, manages Gang of Youths through his fully-fledged Mirror Music Group company, whose roster includes Middle Kids, now based in the U.S., Sloan Peterson, Brightness, Fountaineer and Clea. He’s admittedly anxious right now, but not because of the 24/7 nature of artist management. When Bailey chats to TIO, the ARIA Album chart results were just hours away from release.
“It’s always pretty intense,” Bailey laughs. “You don’t’ want it to be too consumed just thinking numbers but it’s always in the back of your mind.”
Bailey and his wards have a measuring stick for chart success. Last August, the Gang released a six-track EP Let Me Be Clear, which peaked at No. 2 on the ARIA Albums Chart. A year-and-a-half before that, ‘The Positions’ debuted at No. 5 and earned the rockers five ARIA Awards nominations. Go Farther In Lightness marks the band’s most commercially successful release to date.
Bailey won’t lose sleep over ticking sales and streams. His energies are pumped into Mirror Music Group, under which his management and label, Mirror Records, operate. Its a growing business inspired by his mentor John Watson’s ventures in management and record labels (with John Watson Management and Eleven: A Music Company), as well as fellow artist manager Todd Wagstaff and Sony Music A&R exec Paul Harris.
With Mirror Music staff in Sydney, Brisbane, L.A. In time, Bailey plans to hire in London and in months ahead he’s looking at bringing in managers who can look over the acts and bring others into the stable.
“I want to make sure I’m constantly investing in younger managers like Watson invested in me early on. It’s really important for me to try identify not just great artists but also great managers.”
It’s early days, but Bailey has certainly shown a knack at identifying talent. He’s eschewed metrics and gone with instinct. And it’s served him well. “I grew up with country music and being around a lot of music that was focused on real instruments and really good songwriting. I don’t look for the latest scene band, I don’t really care if it’s not on-trend. I pick bands which I can identify an important songwriter.
“I don’t check Hype Machine charts or care about analytics maybe as much as I should. It sounds clichéd, but good songwriting will stand the test of time over any current sound or trend. I want to sign bands that I’m drawn to because of who they are and their songwriter ability and how well they can play, not because their streams aren’t going crazy or whatever.”
That attitude was a driving force behind Bailey starting the label. Frustrated with knocking on labels’ doors on behalf of his artists for sometimes the vaguest whiff of support, Bailey took his own route. Bailey’s Mirror Records now has global reach, through a deal struck in recent months with distributor Believe. Not all his management acts release their projects through the affiliated label (Gang of Youths and Middle Kids have separate recording deals), but the option is there.
“I just love being able to be involved as much as possible in the creative vision of an artist. While you can do that as a manager, sometimes it can get lost with certain labels involved,” he tells TIO. “Having a one-stop-shop for the acts I’ve signed to the label really helps with the flow of communication, execution of ideas and releases.”
In time, the company will add more services. Maybe publishing. Most likely, he admits, will be the launch of a touring company and promoting company. Whatever, it’s about fleshing out the careers of his artists.
“I really like the model of a lot of the American management companies where they do have inbuilt radio teams and promo teams, different layers that lie within a label,” he enthuses. “What I want to do is build a lot of those services and teams into my management company over time. Just so we can super-serve those artists.”
Bailey is thinking big, thinking global. He relocated to New York to make contacts, build bridges and learn from some of the best.
“I figured I’m young it’d be a really good thing and would benefit the careers of my artists,” he said of the move. “What we’re building here is something that I could be proud of and my artists could be proud of. I don’t think I’ve really broken a band properly internationally yet, but I have the ambition.”