‘Don’t sign things you don’t fully believe in. Otherwise you’ll have to fake it.’

MBW’s World’s Greatest Managers series profiles the best artist managers in the global business. In this feature, we meet Jamie Oborne, founder of All On Red (as well as the Dirty Hit record label), which is the management home of, among others, Jack Antonoff and The 1975. World’s Greatest Managers is supported by Centtrip, a specialist in intelligent treasury, payments and foreign exchange – created with the music industry and its needs in mind.

“A strong family is together forever – no matter what. A strong company, on the other hand, is more like a pro sports team.”

This is Netflix’s HR creed, with various versions of it attributed to the video streaming giant’s co-founder and Chairman, Reed Hastings. It rather dismantles the template record executive claim that each new artist signing is “now part of the Limetree Records/BCA/Interplanetary Music Group family”.

Reed Hastings is absolutely right, of course: a music company is not a real family. Real families care little for industry showcases or amplifying TikTok trends. You can’t drop real family members – unless you’re especially heartless – by blocking their number and asking your VP of A&R to send a curt email.

Raising a real family? That’s worry, it’s exasperation, it’s joy that makes your heart burst from your ribcage. It’s seeing potential in people like no one else can, and experiencing a physical sickness when they waste it.

All of which being true… you should hear Jamie Oborne when he says, self-knowingly, that certain artists signed to his management company, All On Red, are like “family” to him. Because Oborne speaks about some of these people – The 1975’s Matthew Healy most acutely; Jack Antonoff most effervescently – as if they’re blood fraternity, not clients.

“People sometimes say to me, ‘You’re a good salesman for your artists’,” explains Oborne. “The irony is that, in general terms, I’m actually a really shit salesman.” The solution to that shortcoming? “Don’t sign things you don’t fully believe in. Otherwise you’ll have to fake it.”

Last year, Oborne tells MBW, was the best ever – for management company All On Red and his record label, Dirty Hit – both commercially, and in terms of the enjoyment levels of the two companies’ shared proprietor.

Highlights included The 1975’s ‘At Their Very Best’ tour, which saw the band play 93 arena-sized dates across North America, South America, Europe, Asia, and Oceania, ending in August 2023. Just one month later, the band embarked on the ‘Still… At Their Very Best’ tour, adding another 60+ dates across Europe and North America.

Says Oborne: “The 1975 tour has been incredibly personally rewarding, watching that band be as brave and unflinching as I’ve ever seen them. You can’t not be inspired by the dedication they show and their commitment to their form. They are artists in the true sense of the word.”

Elsewhere, Jack Antonoff – by multiple measures, the most successful non-featured producer in the world – signed to All On Red as a management client in 2023, in addition to striking a JV deal with Dirty Hit to release the albums of Antonoff’s own band, Bleachers. (Bleachers’ first LP on Dirty Hit, a self-titled album, was released in March, with the NME calling it “a triumphant portrait of Antonoff’s talent”.) Antonoff’s work behind the desk with The 1975 on 2022’s chart-topping Being Funny In A Foreign Language seeded his relationship with Oborne. It also pre-dated Antonoff’s work on two of the most important records of the past decade: Taylor Swift’s Midnights and Lana Del Rey’s Did You Know That There’s a Tunnel Under Ocean Blvd.

In February, Antonoff won the Grammy for Producer of the Year for the third year in a row; two months beforehand, Antonoff told MBW that Oborne had “changed my life in just about every positive way”. Oborne volleys back similarly effusive praise: “Working with Jack is wonderful. Like all of my best management relationships, it’s a constant exchange of ideas and conversation. I’m very grateful for it.”

Oborne’s world since MBW last caught up with him hasn’t been without tumult, though. There was the small matter of Matthew Healy’s short-lived relationship with Taylor Swift last summer, for one thing – a story feasted upon by tabloids – while The 1975 frontman caused upset with his contribution to a podcast from puerile/absurdist American comic, Adam Friedland. Elsewhere, Dirty Hit has moved into a post-Wolf Alice era, after the band left the indie to sign a global deal with RCA/Sony Music in late 2022. (One suspects that Oborne remains pained by the nature of this split; he won’t be drawn on specifics, aside from a diplomatic: “It’s quite natural to feel deeply attached to stories that you helped build.”)

The active Dirty Hit roster, meanwhile, continues to blossom. Acclaimed records in recent months have arrived from acts like The Japanese House, Benjamin Francis Leftwich and beabadoobee – with Oborne calling new signing, Saya Gray, “ridiculously good”. Thanks to artists like this, Dirty Hit stands as one of the most important global distribution partners of Universal’s Virgin Music Group, a relationship that began with UMG/Ingrooves over a decade ago. (The 1975’s latest album was released fully independently around the globe. The band’s first four albums are licensed by Dirty Hit to UMG, though sources suggest they will begin reverting to Dirty Hit’s ownership within the next five or six years.)

Plenty to dig into then, as we sit down with Oborne for his first interview with us in six years…

How did All On Red’s management of Jack Antonoff come about?

Literally from the first day we met in person at Real World Studios [for The 1975 album in 2022] in Bath, we had a connection. As time developed, we talked more and more and became friends. I didn’t have any insight into Jack’s management situation changing, which doesn’t surprise me now as I’ve learned that Jack is an incredibly loyal person so he would never have mentioned it.

But by the middle of [2022] his previous situation had come to an end. He knew I very much admired what he’d done professionally, and he’d made clear that he admired what [Dirty Hit/All On Red] had achieved too. By October [2022], I had a feeling that he was about to ask me if I’d be interested in managing him. It was very organic. It was like all of the best things in my professional life – no agenda, completely unplanned, completely serendipitous.

Picture: Jordan Curtis Hughes

On the Bleachers [Dirty Hit] side of things, I saw Bleachers when they played Shepherd’s Bush Empire that September [2022]. I just went to support Jack, with no expectations. I was fucking blown away. I’ve never seen anything like it before. I saw one of the best bands on the planet live, and it left me flummoxed why no one had properly marketed it before. I felt passionate about signing Bleachers to Dirty Hit.

It benefited us that Jack had witnessed The 1975 campaign from inception to execution [for Being Funny In A Foreign Language] and was impressed. I don’t mean that in an egotistical way. Myself and Ed [Blow] believe that the best artist marketing campaigns have very defined visual and communicative ‘rules’. That’s something [Dirty Hit] is great at.

It’s interesting to hear you suggest that Jack’s signing was “serendipitous”. Another version of the story is that Dirty Hit is uncompromising in the artists it signs and the way you promote those artists – even though they’re not always the most obvious commercial hitmakers. By not compromising yourself, you ignore easy commercial wins, things are inevitably more of a slog, but you forge a clear identity. That identity then attracts talented people, including the most successful active producer in modern music…

It’s 100% true that there isn’t an artist on our label or our management company who isn’t there because we completely believe in them and their vision. But it’s funny: when Jack and I have conversations about the list of people who want to work with him, he comes back to the same thing: ‘I need to meet them in person, because I need to believe them.’

That’s that’s the biggest factor for him [in choosing the artists he works with]. Not what the numbers are. ‘Can we get them to Electric Lady? I need to make sure I believe what they’re saying.’

What do people get wrong about Jack Antonoff?

They probably think he’s a digital producer. Wrong. Wrong! He is so analog, it blew my mind. Also, people think he works on loads of stuff – wrong! He works on very little; it just so happens that a lot of it is massive. When I first experienced Jack in the studio with Matthew and George [of The 1975], I saw he had no ego, at all. So I don’t think people know who Jack really is; it’s just that some people have bought into some of the media around him [and his work with superstars like Taylor Swift], which is designed for clicks, frankly.

I’m excited by the idea of punching through the false ceiling of who people think he is. I think I’m a pretty good judge of creative talent at this point – that’s something I can say about myself without feeling too much of a ****! – and Jack is a powerful creative mind.

I’ve been insanely lucky to have worked with a few people I could describe that way. There was one night that sticks in my mind, when [The 1975] were making Being Funny…, where Matthew and Jack were sitting in a studio talking about how the new genre in music is ‘quality’. It’s such a nice way of explaining what I’m trying to describe.

How would you define yourself as a talent manager?

I’m emotionally invested in the artists I work with, which is why I have quite a small personal roster of management clients. If I don’t have an emotional connection with someone, I can’t do it.

I’m a manager who is very protective of my artists’ rights; I always want to make sure that they’re the main beneficiary of their work. That might mean some of the labels I’ve worked with over the years may describe me as stubborn; I would describe it as focused on the artist’s vision. Though I understand that some people might find it frustrating, it’s coming from a reasonable place. Whether it’s A&R or management, the artists I’m attracted to working with are right about what they do 90% of the time, or more. My job is to provide that final 10% and guide them to wherever their goal is, whether that be creative, financial, whatever.

“I’m not a shouter-manager. Life’s too short for that. I’d rather get my own way by being right than by shouting.”

I think most people would agree that I’m a rational person. I’m not, like, a shouter-manager. Life’s too short for that. I’d rather get my own way by being right than by shouting.

If I’m being honest, I think in the music industry, people sometimes get confused. They think it’s about their ego, whereas actually, it’s always about the artist’s ego, because that’s the very origin of why they create.

The 1975 have never been bigger globally, across all corners of the earth. And they have a solid ‘body of work’ to call on for live shows, which helps feed into a restless creativity in terms of staging, sets etc. But their touring schedule has really been something this past year and a half – I count over 150 dates since late 2022, each in support of the most recent album. How do you keep up with that sort of pace, both creatively and practically?

By holding on! I had a call from [Matthew Healy] this morning talking me through ideas for what he wants to do next musically. It’s really exciting, but I was saying to him, ‘You need to have a break.’ It’s difficult for me to talk about Matthew in an interview like this because I’m so protective of him. I have felt his pain over this past year.

Credit: Press

It sounds like you are constantly flitting between management, friendship and fraternity with this individual.

Yeah, but that’s what it’s like, though, isn’t it? I have genuine love for these people. They are part of my family, you know? That’s a great thing. And it seems to be a reciprocal thing.

I’m detecting quite a lot of general negativity in the music industry about artist development right now, especially in the UK. People say that in the TikTok age, in the age of masses of music being uploaded and created and spread across the internet, getting people to care about artists seems like an uphill battle.

It is harder than ever to develop a foundation for an artist to break from, that’s true, and there are a few reasons for it.

But speaking frankly, sometimes I feel the greatest enemy of artist development today, or the biggest pitfall of artist development today, is the artists themselves, and their lack of patience.

I’ll explain: culture, communication and media messages are so quick at the moment that I feel artists, even young artists, sometimes want to bypass [essential] stages of their development. But just because you can upload something to DistroKid, it doesn’t mean that you fucking should! Maybe your music isn’t good enough. Maybe you need to spend five years in a rehearsal room, getting good at your instrument and finding fluidity with your bandmates.

People are so trained for instant gratification now, they even want it in their artistic statement. I’d extend that to people who work in the music business – they often want something to work straight away, and don’t want to put the work in to make it happen. This isn’t me just being a boomer; it’s my personal experience. You’ve got to put in the 10,000 hours; I don’t know a way around it.

One of the biggest music industry headlines of recent months has been Los Angeles-based 10K Projects selling a 51% stake in its company to Warner Music Group for over USD $100 million. Throughout Dirty Hit’s existence, you’ve always been extremely proud of being fully independent, as exemplified by every record you’ve released via Ingrooves/Virgin Music Group, under which you’ve kept all rights – including The 1975’s latest album. Offers must have come in to buy Dirty Hit, or at least to buy a piece of it. Why haven’t you been tempted?

I’m a human being so the appeal [of oodles of money] is sometimes there and sometimes not. When I’m feeling really tired or embattled, it has its appeal! But my default thought on this is that I really love what I do. I truly feel like we’re building something of cultural importance, in our own way.

I love the autonomy we have, and I hope the artists who work with us believe in [the importance] of that autonomy too. It would be very difficult for me to put a price on that, or on the ambition I have for this label. The soul of what we do is the fact that we live and die by our own decisions.

“I suspect a lot of people who have sold their catalogs are going to find out that the reason someone wanted to pay so much money for them is because they’re worth more than that.”

On a purely business level, I suspect a lot of people who have sold their catalogs [in recent years] are going to find out that the reason someone wanted to pay so much money for them is because they’re worth more than that [figure].

I’m not talking about Elliot Grainge there, by the way. I know little about his label, but I met him once at his dad’s house in LA to watch an Arsenal game and he seemed like a lovely guy. From what I know, it sounds to me like [10K Projects] got an amazing deal.

Our usual final question, and I’m keen to see how your answer has changed from previous interviews: if you could change one thing about the music business, what would it be and why?

This question confuses me a bit, because I really believe we are all the architects of our own change. So I guess I’d change the false narrative that there are no choices.

It’s like when I see artists or managers moaning about having signed [modern-day] record deals and how they should be getting X or Y instead. And I tend to feel, ‘Well, then gamble on yourself,’ you know? Maybe don’t let your management company take a big advance because that’s how they are [commercially incentivized]. Maybe don’t blame the label who signed you – blame the lawyer who advised you to take the deal!

Don’t get me wrong: there are good deals and bad deals, and there are definitely still a few systems that exist to the detriment of artists. But they are usually based on old-fashioned business models that you can challenge by betting on yourself.

A specialist in intelligent treasury, payments and foreign exchange, Centtrip works with over 500 global artists helping them and their crew maximise their income and reduce touring costs with its award-winning multi-currency card and market-leading exchange rates. Centtrip also offers record labels, promoters, collection societies and publishers a more cost-effective way to send payments across the globe.Music Business Worldwide

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