Alastair Burns

The 2016 NZ Music Manager Awards take place on Wednesday May 11th at The Tuning Fork in Auckland.

Up for the main prize of Manager Of The Year are Alastair Burns (Marlon Williams, Julia Jacklin), Ashley Page (Broods, Jarryd James, Joel Little, Alex Hope) and Scott Maclachlan (Sol3 Mio, Leisure, Thomston, Parson James).

We had the chance to fire some questions to Alastair Burns ahead of the awards.

Who was the first musical act that you managed and how did you become a music manager?

I would loosely say it was Matt Langley. I was probably more of a booking agent in terms of my role, but it was my first crack at thinking about an artists career holistically, and getting involved in the process of recording and releasing music.

That gave me a sense of what management was, and was another step in the progression towards this job. It started with performing, making compilation albums and promoting shows and tours, and gradually fine tuned over 10 years into working across the whole industry with a really small group of artists that I am 100% passionate about.

How were Marlon Williams & Julia Jacklin both brought to your attention?

Marlon was double booked on a show in Paekakariki with his band The Unfaithful Ways. I was touring Jordie Lane (and about to start managing him) and we all hung out that night. A year later Marlon joined myself and Jordie on another tour, and on the second show in Nelson I remember saying i'd like to manage him someday (as soon as possible). He was just so incredible in every way.

I found Julia online after seeing her name on a line up for my friends concert series in Adelaide. I messaged her about playing my Folk Club, and the next day we were having coffee and talking about her career. She was so composed on stage, lyrically stunning, and just had that magical presence every great artist seems to have. It was slow going though, it wasn't for another year that we finally got on the same page and realised we both wanted to work together.

You're up for Manager of the Year, how does it feel to be nominated for the main prize?

It is rather nice because while the music industry appreciate our work as a manager, no one else outside of it understands what our role is. So to family and friends who have been wondering what you're up to for years, it serves as some kind of barometer of progress.

Any up and comers we should keep an eye out for?

I am looking forward to seeing Liv Young take Aldous Harding to her rightful place as an international touring act/indie superstar. Wishing her the best for that ride.

What's the hardest part about being a manager in the music industry?

I think the hardest part is getting through the first phase of management. You are making no money, travelling all over the world to make things happen, flying on crap airlines, staying on couches, loaning money to poor artists, doing twice the work to research and then work every new territory or area of the industry, and the people you need to meet won't even respond to your email or meet for a coffee. You're also learning to run a business, and that part tends to be very neglected in the early stages.

It sounds miserable, but it's such a hard graft that you really develop your craft, and build the character to deal with all the challenges that keep arriving on your desk day in day out, even as things get better.

To be honest, I still feel like I have one leg in that first phase, but I am getting a feel for what it would be like to move beyond it.

What is the most rewarding part?

I'm still not quite there, but I expect it will be seeing an artist achieve creative autonomy & financial stability with their career. I want to see my acts buy house, have a family (if that's what they want), and make the music that represents where they are at. There are commercial realities but my big focus is to ride that balance so the artists are proud of their work and do it their own way.

Beyond this, it is working with incredible, inspiring people like Marlon and Julia.

If you could manage one person / band, either dead or alive, who would that be?

This might sound wrong but I think it would be someone incredible & personally troubled. I would have loved to try to manage them to avoid the pitfalls of their success (of course the likelihood is I could not have done any better and perhaps these guys didn't even want it in the first place). Top of this list is probably Elliott Smith.