‘Don’t mix friends and business’. That old axiom has probably featured at some point or another in most creative industry professionals’ catalogue of peer-supplied careers advice.
Such advice may have prevented a few major fallouts between old mates, but has also possibly prevented hundreds of potentially successful industry partnerships before they had the chance to get off the ground.
Then you get Terry Appiasei and Tion Wayne, who have torn up that adage and rewritten it into a thriving music business, based on hard work, trust, and, you guessed it: friendship.
Appiasei is founder of London-based Golden Boy Entertainment, manager of UK rap star Tion Wayne and rising UK rapper and singer Darkoo. He’s also an A&R consultant at Atlantic Records and Asylum Records UK.
At the time of writing, Atlantic signed Tion Wayne’s single IFTK (with La Roux) is in the UK Top 10. His UK chart history over the past three years includes six UK Top 10s, 14 UK Top 40s and a Top 10 album (No.5) with 2021’s Green With Envy.
Steering his success every step of the way has been Appiasei, whose own music career started at university, where he was planning events and building up a network of promoters and DJs.
Growing up with Tion Wayne in North London, he was front of the queue to hear the rapper’s early work, and after uni, Appiasei decided to take on management duties for his old friend full time.
“He was always sending me demos, trying to get my thoughts,” recalls Appiasei. “I automatically knew that my friend was very talented. I talked to Tion, I was like, ‘I might not know what I’m doing, but I believe in you’.
“Tion also believed in me. Being a close friend, he knew that I wasn’t just saying he was good at music for the sake of it. We started by putting out a couple of music videos. And then it really took off.”
One of the big first projects they worked on together as artist and manager came in 2014 when Tion Wayne independently released his Wayne’s World One mixtape, the first in his Wayne’s World trilogy.
The third, T Wayne’s World 3, was released by Virgin EMI in 2019 and made it into the UK Top 100 at No.62 Looking back at their early days, Appiasei notes that it “wasn’t really a professional setup back then”, adding: “I was [mainly] emailing DJs. It was really basic, but that laid the foundation.”
Appiasei tells Music Business Worldwide that the turning point was Tion Wayne’s 2015 single Can’t Go Broke featuring Afro B (Golden Boy Entertainment).
The Wayne‘s World 2 mixtape (Golden Boy Entertainment) followed in 2016, with Tion’s first Top 10 UK Singles Chart appearance arriving in early 2019 as a featured artist on the JAE5- produced Options by NSG.
Tion Wayne hit the Top 10 again in 2019 with his hit Keisha & Becky (Virgin EMI).
Appiasei explains that once Tion’s deal with Virgin ended, they signed a one-single deal with Atlantic for I Dunno [feat. Dutchavelli and Stormzy], which landed in the UK Singles Chart Top 10 at No.7.
After I Dunno’s Top 10 Singles Chart breakthrough that summer, Atlantic Records UK signed Tion Wayne to a long-term deal.
“Work ethic and belief. Those are the most important things.”
“They believed in Tion,” says Appiasei about Wayne’s relationship with Atlantic Records UK. “After [I Dunno’s] success it was like, ‘Okay, cool. Let’s look at doing a bit more’. It was a natural progression”.
With his Atlantic deal freshly inked, the beginning of last year saw Tion Wayne reach new commercial heights, scoring his first No.1 single via Body (Atlantic/GDS Records) with Russ Millions.
Body was the first ever drill track to hit No.1 on the UK Singles Chart. One of the previous highest-charting drill songs was Only You Freestyle by Headie One ft. Drake in 2020 at No.5.
Appiasei notes that it was “completely unconventional” for Body to become “one of the biggest songs to come out of the UK last year”, and that its success is indicative of the healthy creative and commercial positioning of rap in the UK at present.
Here, Golden Boy Entertainment’s Terry Appiasei details the dynamics of working professionally with his old friend Tion Wayne (real name Dennis Junior Odunwo), his approach to management, and his thoughts on coming up in the British music industry…
You and Tion Wayne grew up together. How do you strike a balance between your friendship and professional relationship?
Once you both have a common goal, it makes it easier.
There’s no better feeling than seeing your friends do well after seeing where you both came from. It allows everyone to know their role and always push for the same common factor.
Look, this is the music industry, we’re always going to have disagreements about releases, or music and structure, but ultimately, he knows that I’m not going to say anything to try to hinder his career, and vice versa.
What should an aspiring artist manager look for in an artist?
Managing artists is very time-consuming and it’s a lot of hard work. Fundamentally, the belief you have in an artist, people need to look at you and think you’re almost insane or stupid.
It wasn’t always all rosy with Tion. We’ve had some public issues in his career, but I always knew that, at a point, we will be on top. I heard it and I’ve seen it.
Not everyone believed in [Tion]. But if you do have that belief, you always know that the work is not in vain. Work ethic and belief. Those are the most important things.
How do you manage the expectations of an artist when they’re in the public eye like Tion?
You’ve just got to keep grounded. Tion hasn’t really changed. He’s still the same person.
It’s made it quite easy to manage, because the fame hasn’t got to him.
He’s still as hungry as ever, probably even hungrier now than he was before. I’ve been lucky in working with him and all the artists I work with, really.
What music executives, artists or managers have you looked to for advice, mentoring or inspiration over the years?
Austin [Daboh, Executive Vice President of Atlantic Records UK], Rich Castillo [former A&R Director, Atlantic Records UK], Ed Howard [Co-President of Atlantic Records UK] and Kevin Christian-Blair (A&R Director, Asylum Records UK).
And then, Lunic [Bourgess] at Dream Life, Patrick [Yabish] and Moe [Bah] at 2k Management, Tobe [Onwuka], Stormzy’s manager, as well as Nino Dornor [at GDS Records], Glenn Sonko [0207 Def Jam] and Davina Merchant [Downtown Publishing].
“We’re all learning. Even someone who’s been in the game 25 years still has to learn, because the music industry has adapted and changed.”
We all came through [in the industry] at around the same time. It’s always easy to bounce off each other.
We’re all learning. Even someone who’s been in the game 25 years still has to learn, because the music industry has adapted and changed.
We’re making mistakes together. It’s about sharing information as well.
That’s important, because artists aren’t going to be here forever. Even if you have a 10-year career as an artist, you’ve done amazingly well.
Is it getting harder or easier to come up as an executive now in the UK music industry?
I can speak for the black music space. Five or six years ago, there weren’t that many black music execs at the major labels.
Whilst they had their own challenges [at the time], coming through [then], might have been a bit easier, because, if you were able to do well and make a name for yourself, and were able to identify talent, that would help you in your career, because there were less A&Rs competing for the same sort of acts.
Now, due to the success of the black music scene over the past few years, there’s loads of execs who are [working] within the space.
“A&Rs are also getting younger now. They’re listening to different kinds of music, and they’re on TikTok, which we didn’t have when we were coming through.”
So by the time you’ve reached out to an artist, another five A&Rs have also done it.
A&Rs are also getting younger now. They’re listening to different kinds of music, and they’re on TikTok, which we didn’t have when we were coming through.
There are more opportunities now, but in terms of cutting through and making a name for yourself, it’s still possible, but it’s definitely becoming more concentrated, which means you’ve got to work that bit harder.
Could you describe your approach to management?
Every relationship and every artist is different.
Some artists might wake up and say they’re going to the studio. You don’t need to push them.
They’re going to send you new music weekly. You’ve got some other artists who might need a bit more time to put music together. But ultimately one thing I’ve realised is that the art comes from the artist.
That’s something that leads everything that I do.
I don’t want to be in a position where I’m saying, “Change this; change that”. Of course, we want the best final product, but in terms of the art and the art-making process, I leave that to the artist. Let the artist say what they want to say in their music and portray how they feel, man. The art needs to lead, and everything else follows.
Tion Wayne signed a long-term deal with Atlantic Records in 2020, what are the benefits of working within the major label system versus staying independent in 2022?
It depends on where you are in your career, those you’ve got around you and what you want to achieve.
We’ve got instances of independent artists such as Dave (pictured inset) or Central Cee who are doing exceptionally well.
But they’ve got very good teams around them.
And you’ve also got artists who are signed to majors like Tion, J Hus, and Stormzy, for example, who are also doing exceptionally well [in] their major [label deals]. I don’t think it’s a one-size-fits-all approach.
Everyone just needs to find what works for them.
“If you look at Body, which was Tion and Russ Millions’ UK No.1 last year, Atlantic did a great job of dialling it up into the right places.”
If you’re independent, for example, you can drop seven singles in a week if you really wanted to. No one’s going to say no to you. But at a major, that’s not happening.
You’ve got less control over things like the number of releases you can do. But you know that you’ve got a very powerful machine which can dial up records quite substantially.
If you look at Body, which was Tion and Russ Millions’ UK No.1 last year, Atlantic did a great job of dialling it up into the right places, quickly making calls and getting it to No.1 in Australia, New Zealand and Ireland. Gold in the United States.
All these things came into play because we were in an ecosystem that allowed these things to happen.
But again, that doesn’t mean you can’t also achieve success independently. Central Cee has a No.1 album. Dave has a No.1 single and a No.1 album.
Where are Tion Wayne’s biggest markets outside of the UK?
Australia is a big one. Europe is very big. Germany, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Scandinavia. It’s quite well-rounded.
There’s still a lot of growth to achieve.
Being in the UK black music scene, we might be behind artists in markets such as France, who have mega superstars within the black music space.
Across Europe, you’re seeing a lot of first generation West African immigrants who are popping up in markets that might not have been as predominant as the number of first generation immigrants in the UK for example, or France.
Now, in places like Italy, Spain, Portugal and Czech Republic for example, these communities are popping up.
That’s helping to spread the music across these places and because of that, we’re getting shows in these regions as well, which is just great. It helps push the scene and culture forward.
How have your strategies had to evolve compared to when you first started working with Tion?
When we first started there was a lot of freedom. We’d wake up and say, ‘Oh, let’s go shoot a video for this song and then have it up next week’. We’d drop one song today and then the next week we’d drop another. We had freedom to do whatever we wanted. At the time we were really on the ground. That really helped us to cater to those who liked our music.
And given the age that we were at the time, we were in the direct mix of the scene and the culture.
We were doing University shows for example, but we were at University ourselves.
We were seeing live reactions. Tion has had more mainstream success now, so as a result of that, it’s not the same as dropping music as often as we were before. Now there’s a bit more structure and control.
We’ve got to strategise what we’re aiming for, whether it’s big chart hits, or trying to do something that’s a bit more culturally relevant, just to keep his core fanbase happy.
We’ve grown up with our core fanbase, who are now at the age of buying festival tickets and for headline shows.
Artists like J Hus, Tion Wayne and Kojo Funds really [built fanbases] at shows.
Whereas now, a kid might drop a song in February, and could be doing festivals in the summer. But they automatically missed out the little steps that are essential to keeping your core fanbase happy and actually being in the mix with them.
Now, it’s almost like we’re expecting instant stardom, and we’re missing out on crucial steps that are going to give artists a long career.
What are your views on artists achieving instant stardom through TikTok, for example?
We can’t discredit or disregard the success of an artist no matter how they came up. Either way, their music is still being consumed by consumers.
So if you do have an instant hit on TikTok, it’s not a negative. If you’re an artist and you have a hit in any way, shape, or form, that’s a blessing. What artists need to realise is that it requires a lot of work after [the first hit] to ensure that the next one is a [also] hit.
“We can’t discredit or disregard the success of an artist no matter how they came up. Either way, their music is still being consumed by consumers.”
There’s a difference between a consumer of your music and someone who’s a fan of your music; someone who wakes up and types your name in Spotify, and listens to your songs from A to Z.
A consumer just goes on an editorial page and hears your song by chance. That conversion is important. You can’t disregard it.
Is breaking America a goal for you and Tion?
It would obviously be great to break America. Any market we can break is a blessing.
Ten to 15 years ago in the black music space in the UK, we relied quite heavily on America. We were a bit obsessive about it.
“It would obviously be great to break America. Any market we can break is a blessing.”
Now you can have a [career] in the UK and Europe and do amazingly well.
If America comes, it comes. It’s the biggest market in the world for music, so it’s definitely something we’d like to do, but it’s not going to be something we obsess over. When it’s time to go over there and kill it, we’ll be ready.
What are your predictions for UK rap commercially and creatively over the next two to five years?
It’s going to keep on taking over. The biggest artists in the UK are all working with rappers.
Rappers are doing their own thing. We’ve got our own ecosystem.
There’s still a lot of work and growth to be done, but if you look at the growth over the last five years, it’s been significant. Going forward, it’s only going to get bigger.
The data shows it, the charts show it, the fans show it, the festivals show it. It’s all pointing in one direction.
What advice would you give to a young manager starting out in the industry today?
Believe in your artists. Keep learning, keep networking, and keep working. Those are the four main points.
If you could change anything about the music industry what would it be and why?
I would give more UK Black women musicians opportunities. There’s a lot of talent. But there appears to be a ceiling as to how far they can get.
For whatever reason that might be, whether that’s institutional, or whether they’ve just been overlooked, they definitely deserve more of a level playing field to showcase their art and have the same amount of success as their male counterparts.
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