Start small, think big, do it right, study the data, love what you do. And always look after your people.
These are foundations on which Nettwerk Music Group CEO Terry McBride built an international empire which has sold more than 170 million albums and today boasts offices in London, Hamburg, Boston, Los Angeles, New York and headquarters in Vancouver, Canada.
McBride’s entry into the industry was like countless others. The Canadian entrepreneur started out running the show from his bedroom back in 1984.
Thirty-five years on. Nettwerk is a diversified, independent group which includes music publishing and artist management activities and the territory’s biggest independent record label.
Nettwerk has a strong Aussie connection. Its roster features 17 acts from the land Down Under, including Xavier Rudd, Angus & Julia Stone, John Butler Trio, Boy & Bear, Hermitude, Japanese Wallpaper, Jack River and Mallrat.
In 2003, McBride became the youngest-ever recipient of the Special Achievement Award at Canada’s Junos, the equivalent of Australia’s ARIA Awards, for his work with Avril Lavigne, Coldplay, Sarah Mclachlan and many others, with organisers acknowledging the exec at the time as one of Canada’s “foremost artist managers and visionaries.”
He’s a two-time recipient of the Pollstar Manager of Year and, in 2008, he co-authored a paper on the millennial generation, titled ‘Meet The Millennials: Fans, Brands And the Cultural Community,’ for the University of Westminster in London.
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McBride is also a yoga enthusiast and co-founder of YYoga, a fitness and wellness company which currently boasts 12 locations in Canada.
TIO caught up with the Nettwerk Music Group co-founder ahead of his visit to Brisbane for BIGSOUND next month, where he will give a keynote address.
Terry, you’ve signed so many Australian artists over the years. Are you looking to get some business done while you’re in the country?
I’m not coming at it from that context. Obviously we have deep relationships within the Aussie artist community. We’re also putting on a showcase. It’s a great opportunity to meet up with folks I would normally see in London or L.A. or on their way to SXSW.
I tend to get to Australia at least once a year. I’m not going there with any band in mind that I’m going to sign. That’s not how I go about things.
You’re lined up for a keynote speech. What will you talk about?
I really want to drive home a point because I see constantly with so many Aussie artists that they’re all working with their hands tied behind their back when it comes to wanting Triple J (exposure). I get that for the domestic marketplace… but it’s not a sign of the overall marketplace.
To have one player in one marketplace and in a way dictating worldwide strategy I just don’t think it’s smart. I want to lay out for a lot of people how we at Nettwerk view the digital community and the world and how it’s borderless. Now there are a number of Aussie artists signed to Nettwerk doing phenomenally well outside of Australia. And they’re not beholden to any support from Triple J.
It’s important that Apple and Spotify and even Amazon and Triple J begin to understand that there’s a huge movement of success of Aussie artists who they have nothing to do with inside their own country, and they need to start paying attention to it.
Some of it might be a bit controversial. There might be some people in the audience who don’t like what I have to say, but I have the data to support it.
Who are some of those Aussie acts you speak of?
If you go back five years ago, no one knew of Paper Kites. Their success was international, then it came back home. The exact same thing happened with Hollow Coves, with Harrison Storm and I could reel off half a dozen others to have amazing international success without necessarily any Triple J support at home.
Growing up in Australia not so long ago. we felt so isolated. But those boundaries have been removed. Over time there have been so many artists who probably deserved international success, but didn’t get it, acts like The Church, Midnight Oil, Cold Chisel. We live in a time when there’s no reason for a band to not crash through borders.
There are no physical borders. I mean, it used to be that artists broke out of cities. Whether it was the grunge scene out of Seattle or something happening in New York, Talking Heads and that whole generation. Now, those same communities are not breaking out of cities and not breaking out of countries. They’re forming communities and communities are borderless.
Canada and Australia have a lot in common. We tend to get on well and we have many similarities. We’re massive countries, largely uninhabited, we speak the same language, we don’t always get on with our neighbours and we like rough sports. Canada seems to get away so many artists. It’s incredible how successful the Canadian music industry has been over the past 50 years. Are there lessons to take away?
That’s an interesting perspective. To have a southern neighbour (the United States) right there is helpful. A lot of the more long-term successful Canadian artists were successful elsewhere before they were successful at home. And I would say that might be the case for the future of Aussie artists, to have success at home, long-term success, they need to break another market first.
It’s interesting, I view the business industry in the Aussie music business as a bit more worldly and sophisticated than the Canadian music business community, which might sound odd, but you have programs that are focused on doing business (like Sounds Australia), where many of ours have been focused on creative and as such there hasn’t been that business underpinning inside our industry.
Many of the successful Canadian artists are managed by Americans. That’s just because our government funding has been targeted differently to your government funding. A lot of your planning has been focused on the business side and I honestly think that has helped you.
The Australian industry and some creators here are keen to see content quotas applied to playlists. It hasn’t been figured out yet but it’s been a hot topic of conversation. Is it a good idea?
I think it’s a terrible idea. A playlist on a streaming service is not limited to that country. Terrestrial radio is, playlists aren’t. Some of the best playlists in the world, the consumption pattern comes from five or six countries, not just one.
If you start putting quotas in, what’s going to happen is some of the most popular playlists might become popular in Australia but nowhere else. And that is plainly stupid.
I don’t agree with quotas even within Canadian radio. Radio here, and I have a lot of friends who own radio stations here, because of the CRTC regulations treat it as a maximum amount of Canadian music being played, not a minimum amount.
It’s been swung back on its head. Initially it might have been helpful but now it’s a detriment. To try and apply that to playlists, which are more community and mood based, people just aren’t thinking right. Or they don’t understand how the ecosystem works. Algorithms don’t work on cultural identity.
That would be an interesting thread for your keynote.
You should ask that question from the audience and I’ll answer it. No one has asked me that, I’m happy to point out how the algorithms work. You will very quickly see that that would be a detriment to Aussie music.
And definitely to having an artist graduate through various communities to the bigger international ones, you’d talk about just tying an artist’s hand behind their back to having any form of international success. It’s stupid.
I can understand that if you didn’t know how that works, you’d think it was a good idea. The minute you see how it works you’d realise it’s not such a good idea.
How’s business going at Nettwerk?
We’re doing phenomenally well. We are really focussing in on our communities and how we sign artist and build artist on a worldwide basis.
What part of the industry do you get the most satisfaction from?
I was very happy to stop being an artist manager in 2008. And just focussing on my initial love which is the music, versus the dramas that created the music. Obviously we still do artist management but my focus has been on what I call the retirement strategy for all my artist managers, because they don’t own anything.
If they get fired tomorrow, because it happens to every manager at some point, all they’ve got in value is a sunset clause. All (our) managers are also shareholders withinside the mother company where we’re building tremendous value.
I think artists underestimate and labels underestimate how much value a good manager can bring to the table.
They definitely see it when a manager can destroy (a project0. A really good manager can make or break an artist’s career.
I recall 2008 was also around the time you published your book on millennials.
Absolutely. That was my trigger. I was kinda writing my own future when I was writing that. Because I was putting forward things that I believed in. That ended my days of management, writing that.
My final question is on something close to your heart. Yoga. I wonder how yoga has shaped you as a person and an executive.
For one, I’m a much nicer person after I’ve done a yoga class. And I make a point of doing it at noon Monday through Friday, when I’m in town. The simple fact is if I’m a much nicer and chilled person, that has a ripple effect on everyone around me. It also adds clarity and a great sense of perspective.
I think people can go down fire drill after fire drill and realise at the end of the day, if you didn’t answer any of your emails that day, it’s amazing there’s a 90% chance the fires put themselves out.
Nettwerk Music Group’s Terry McBride will be delivering a keynote at BIGSOUND in Brisbane next month. Tickets are available here.