THE FAMOUS ELSEWHERE MANAGER QUESTIONNAIRE: Alastair Burns

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THE FAMOUS ELSEWHERE MANAGER QUESTIONNAIRE: Alastair Burns

With the annual Music Managers Awards just about on us (Wednesday May 9 at Auckland's Tuning Fork) we have been profiling some of those who are helping steer the career of the artists they manage (or self-steer in the case of Nick Atkinson of Hopetoun Brown).

One of the big awards on the night is that for NZ Music Commission International Achievement which see Julie Foa'i (Te Vaka, Opetai Foa'i and Olivia Foa'i) up against Niel de Jong (Alien Weaponry) and Alastair Burns.

It's in the nature of what managers do that their names might not be that well known (we exempt the likes of larger than life characters like Colonel Tom Parker who guided Elvis and Peter Grant who built a wall around Led Zeppelin) and so who is Alastair Burns?

Once we say some names you will see why he is up there with the other internationals; he looks after Marlon Williams, Australian singer Julia Jacklin, Canada's the Weather Station and Phantastic Ferniture (Jacklin and band).

So he is a busy man with frequent flyer miles, but not so busy that he didn't make time to pen some fascinating answers to our Famous Elsewhere Manager Questionnaire . . .


What three pieces of advice would you give anyone aspiring to be a manager?

Number one is to work with artists that you truly believe in artistically and that you envision working with long term. The moment you start justifying working with an artist because they could do good business, or have lots of buzz around them, you’re going off track in my opinion.

Work out what you do well and love, and what you do poorly and avoid. Then get someone else to do the latter. I am learning this very slowly but I’m pretty sure it’s a good philosophy.

Care about your own health and happiness and the wellbeing of the artists and all the people involved in the artists business above all else. The financial pressures in particular are pretty immense for 99% of touring and recording artists, and it is hard to reconcile those pressures with the wellbeing of all the people involved. At the end of the day, no achievement is worth risking health and happiness for.

Ever thought, 'This is a mug's game, I wish I'd listened to my parents'!

My parents have never questioned my career choices so I have been fortunate in that respect. It definitely feels like you’re on a hiding to nothing doing this job at times, and it often feels like the most incredible job in the world. My takeaway from the last six months is just to value friends, family and relationships above all else, and then you can keep a perspective on those tougher days.

What is the most constantly irritating part of your job as a manager?

It is just so admin heavy. I adore music, and working with creative people, and the process of taking a person’s music and their vision for a career and trying to make it a reality. The amount of to do lists and emails it takes to get there can make you feel disconnected from the big picture. Then someone sends you an amazing new album they just made, and you’re back!

Management: is it an art or an arm-wrestle?

I enjoy working with artists where I can flex my creative muscle a little, and share my thoughts, but at the end of the day know they have the conviction to make a decision they can stand by. As time goes by, I have less and less desire to push an artist in any one direction, and that means less arm-wrestling. I definitely want to have a voice though and that always leaves potential for conflict if opinions differ.

The three songs (by you, your artist, or by others) you would love everyone to hear . . .

My song of the year is Warren Zevon’s Keep Me In Your Heart (by no means a new song I know). That has gone straight to the top of my funeral playlist (he wrote it just before passing away for his family so it feels appropriate)

I am really excited for people to hear Julia Jacklin’s new songs. She has a song called Body that is mind-blowing. So subtle, and so powerful.

I have been loving Mary Glenn’s EP. It won’t be for everyone, but for those in need of a good wallow, it doesn’t get more sad and beautiful. Great bike riding music.

The New Zealand venue you or your people most enjoy playing would be . . .? And why.

The venue I have the most history with is The Wine Cellar in Auckland. I have The Weather Station playing there in May and I’m stoked to keep up my history of everyone I have ever worked with playing there or in Whammy Bar (including myself). Rohan never seems to age, and his contribution to the NZ scene is invaluable.

The best book on music or management you have read is . . .

Jazz Summers book Big Life is so entertaining. Not a great example for the modern manager but inspiring nonetheless.

If you could have a conversation about their life with any international manager it would be . . . 

Paul McGuiness (U2) and Jon Landau (Bruce Springsteen) come to mind because both worked with their acts for so long, and like me, focused very closely on a small roster that they truly believed in. Jon Silva is the other one, as his roster is insane, from Nirvana to Foo Fighter, to Ryan Adams, Norah Jones and Nine Inch Nails. I know you said one, but there are three.

The last CD or vinyl album you bought was . . . (And your most recent downloads include . . .)

I think the last vinyl was Elliott Smith’s XO. It’s stuck in London, and yet to be opened.

11d3f449_174f_490c_8ed5_fc601793b8eeWhat is the importance to you of the Music Managers Forum?

Management is a lonely gig, especially in the early years when you tend to be working on your own and struggling to get by (something not just reserved for early years). So being part of a community of managers who go through the same experiences and lean on each other is often the thing that keeps your head above the water.

When you go on tour what three things can you not do without?

I more go on business trips than tour, as it’s very hard to get work done if you’re in a van and following the tour schedule. My three essentials for travel are noise cancelling headphones, laptop and phone.

What has been the most absurd or funny situation you have found yourself in as a manager?

I had a pretty memorable 48 hours late last year. I was setting up the announce for Marlon’s new album and a huge 50+ date world tour, and was in London for Julia’s show at Shepherds Bush. I started the day with a phone call in which my girlfriend of 4 years broke it off, and then had to sit there working all day on the to get all the pre-order and ticketing and social media set up, while trying to process what had just happened. Julia’s gig the next night was great and I was a mess. Definitely more absurd than funny.

Ever woken up in a strange town and for a while not remembered where you were?

I think this one is reserved for the artists

And finally, what do you as a manager bring to an artist which you believe can be your unique contribution?

I think my biggest contribution is believing in what they can achieve and having the ambition to reach for it. The best artists I have met are very self-aware, and have a healthy mix of self-doubt, inner confidence and ambition. If we work together well, I think my belief in them, helps them reach beyond that doubt, tap into that confidence, and then we feed off each other’s ambition for what can be achieved.

For more on the Music Managers Forum and the awards see here.


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