‘We are looking towards Ed and Taylor right now as the inspiration.’

Picture: David O'Donohue

MBW’s World’s Greatest Managers series profiles the best artist managers in the global business. In the last of 2023’s profiles, we meet Drew Simmons, manager of Noah Kahan, the biggest breakthrough artist of the last 12 months. 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.

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When Drew Simmons first found Noah Kahan on SoundCloud, he was convinced he’d discovered someone special. Only one problem: the feeling was not mutual.

“Noah really didn’t have any concept of what the music industry was,” laughs Simmons. “He didn’t think I was real – he thought I was catfishing him.”

So, Simmons drove hundreds of miles to Kahan’s rural Vermont home in order to convince the musician that, not only was he real, but that he was the manager to help the nascent singer-songwriter take on the world.

The fact that, right now, Kahan is the hottest breakthrough act on the planet shows that Simmons succeeded in his mission. But, although there was less than a year between Kahan supporting Amos Lee at Red Rocks, and selling out the storied venue in his own right in July, this was no overnight viral success. Kahan’s rise has been an old-fashioned story of artist development, albeit one in which he reversed the traditional alternative-to-pop direction of travel.

Because Kahan actually started his recording career making mainstream pop music, his obvious songwriting prowess made him a good fit for collaborations with top hitmakers such as Joel Little and Julia Michaels.

He had some success too. Hurt Somebody was big in Australia in 2018 (“We joked about how inconvenient it was for a kid from Vermont to have his first hit on the other side of the world,” laughs Simmons. “But he learned how to travel, tour and go do it”). But it wasn’t until Kahan went for a radical alt-folk overhaul of his sound on 2022’s Stick Season album that things really started moving.

Since then, the title track has become a global smash, gone platinum and been covered by Olivia Rodrigo and Maisie Peters; the album has gone Top 10 on both sides of the Atlantic; he’s collaborated with everyone from Post Malone to Zach Bryan to Kacey Musgraves; he’s sold 600,000 tickets for his North American tour; and he’s even raised $2 million for his own mental health initiative, The Busyhead Project.

No wonder Kahan is up for both the 2024 Best New Artist Grammy and Pollstar’s New Headliner of the Year prize.

“It’s the dream combination of commercial success and artistic respect from the community,” says Simmons. “That means the world to Noah.”

Simmons’ own success has also been of the slowburn variety. Growing up an obsessive music fan in Buffalo, New York, he had no obvious way into the music industry until he realized singer-songwriter Ani DiFranco ran her own Righteous Babe operation out of the city. He blagged an internship there and then, when at Northeastern University in Boston, he worked security, did production work and anything else that would get him into gigs for free.

He graduated to managing local artists from his dorm room and then took a job at Mark Kates’ Fenway Recordings management company, helping out with the likes of Doves, Mission Of Burma and The Cribs.

Simmons aspired to move to New York and his friend Steve Bursky – who’d also cut his management teeth from a university dorm room – told him that James Brown’s management team (with whom Bursky shared an office) were looking for someone.

Simmons spent 18 months working for the Godfather of Soul until Brown passed away in 2006, then joined Red Light Management on his own mission to fill the vacancy for hardest-working man in showbiz. As Coran Capshaw built his empire, Simmons helped steer rockers OAR to huge live success before finding, signing and breaking another rock band, Young The Giant.

In 2011, Simmons became a partner in Bursky’s Foundations Music (Brian Winton and Max Gredinger are also partners), a management company which also has boutique publishing and masters operations. He carried on managing Young The Giant until 2023 and, as well as Kahan, now looks after COIN, Dayglow (with co-manager Ryan Langlois) and writer-producers Gabe Simon (who produced Stick Season and has worked with the likes of Dua Lipa and Lana Del Rey) and PVRIS producer Carrie K (with co-manager Emily Harlan).

“My mentality is that the artist has to be fulfilled. We have to try and find the most rewarding path for their career as possible.”

Foundations – whose roster also includes Foy Vance, Laufey and Samia – now has 20 staff between its New York and Nashville offices and has forged a reputation for building artists from the ground up.

“My mentality is that the artist has to be fulfilled,” says Simmons. “We have to try and find the most rewarding path for their career as possible. I’m interested in developing touring artists that are around for decades – and it’s really rare to be able to do that over and over again in your career…”

Rare it might be, but Simmons seems to be making a habit of it. Time for him to settle down in his Nashville office, ignore the buzz of lawn work outside the window and talk MBW through how he does it…


Yes, because with each step of the way, he’s grown and evolved. You change most between the ages of 18 and 26 and the maturity he’s able to gain from that eight-year process is really what put him in the position to write these songs, have this perspective, understand what he wants to do and align his ambition with his music.

A lot of artists don’t get that opportunity; they get thrown right into the quick ascent of the global music industry and they aren’t prepared for it. They don’t have the live show ready or are incapable of following it up, so it’s been the perfect eight years of development for him, even if people are seeing it as an overnight sensation!


Well, I didn’t think him shedding the pop songwriting, introducing banjos and mandolins and making a very time-specific, place-specific album about New England would be the catapult!

We’ve talked about making this album for four years now, so it was just a matter of him getting to that place where it felt like the right time to make it. But I told him when he was 18 years old, ‘You’re going to have a songwriting career, no matter what happens’, because he’s a gifted lyricist and a natural songwriter.


It was a classic scenario of following the artist’s instinct. We have got amazing pop songs that we have not put out, because it didn’t feel like they were substantial enough.

He has an unbelievable ability to communicate very specifically in lyrics that put you in a place and time and the pop structure wasn’t the right forum for that.

It was really him being like, ‘This is where I want to go in my career’ and me and his team being like, ‘Yeah, these folk songs are as good, if not much better than the pop stuff, because it feels very authentic to you, it’s telling your own story’. It’s following the artist’s intuition, but he happened to back it up with incredible songs so it was very easy to do!


I was stepping into the periphery of the global icon business, and what a stratosphere that was to witness!

About a year and a half into that, Mr Brown passed away and the last thing I did was help plan his memorial at the Apollo Theater in Harlem. I was the youngest person there and it was a unique experience. I just wish I could have had more time being around that level of operation.


Working with [songwriters and producers] is a lot more administrative. They’re writing songs and creating IP; a lot more opportunity comes out of it as a result, but you have less control over how that’s released to the world – you hand over the baby for someone else to raise.

“I love connecting people to creative opportunities, being able to put a producer and a writer with another great writer or a great artist, get on something early, take some bets on things.”

But I love connecting people to creative opportunities, being able to put a producer and a writer with another great writer or a great artist, get on something early, take some bets on things…

And managing writer-producers allows me to be part of every conversation – every label, every A&R, other managers. When you’re an artist manager, you typically stay in your artist’s world. But with writer-producers you are constantly in everyone else’s world and that’s really rewarding. Also, there’s no touring, very little press – managing writer-producers is a little less chaotic!


(Laughs) Well, I definitely thought they should work together and I’d had that thought for a while, but the crossroads of their careers came at a good time.

Neither of them had made a folk record before, so that part was risky! But we were already prepared to take a risk in changing Noah’s sound, so it was more about creating a great environment.

We had tried making Stick Season the song with an incredible producer in Nashville, who’s had a lot of success, but the experience was a bit too [similar] to what Noah had experienced in the pop space.

Noah was seeking something more natural and organic and Gabe is an incredible confidante and collaborator; he’s kind of a therapist of a producer. So, him going up there in the middle of the woods with Noah and having a blast, recording songs with no expectation for either of them, was the perfect raw experience that the album needed.


[Laughs] With a lack of sleep, extra wrinkles and lot of work! No, we have an incredible team and I very much respect the fact that every artist needs a global infrastructure and the job of the manager is to be the voice for the artist but, at the same time, quarterback and direct a team globally.

It requires the ‘it takes a village’ mentality of raising an artist. The hardest time the management community has had with this is post-pandemic, because the world unnaturally stopped and, for a business that relies historically on album cycles and for artists to ebb and flow, it was really hard on managers, because all their artists came back, out of necessity, at the exact same time.

It’s starting to fall back into a more natural cadence but the ever-present, always-on mentality of both song releases and social media presence now does make it harder to have the ebbs and flows of on- and off-cycle, because your artist needs to remain relevant and active to a certain degree, whether they’re writing and recording, or touring and performing. That does make it a challenge.


Publicists always laugh and say, ‘Artists want everything under the sun – until they can get it, and then they all say no!’

It is about saying ‘no’ a lot more now, being more strategic in the movements of the artist, what they’re participating in and what that says to the artist and consumer communities.

But the approach doesn’t really change the manager-to-artist relationship. There’s a greater volume and frequency to our communication, the stakes are higher and the global attention is greater, but the developmental approach still requires budgeting, planning, strategy, calling the agents, the tour being aligned with the label… That perfect storm mentality applies to each stage of a career.

The good thing is, you’re not waiting on responses from emails for as long, you’re getting answers on phone calls, artists are saying yes. That makes the job easier and more fun; it’s less of a sales job, it becomes more creative.


It’s a very unique dynamic. I’m a coach to them, I’m friends with them, I’m parental to them in some ways… You have to be all things. You have to be able to relate to your artist, you have to be able to have a good time with them and you have to be able to tell them, at times, why you think they’re wrong and develop that respect with each other so they can hear that information, even if no one else is willing to say it to them!

“It’s always fun playing the good cop and the bad cop in that relationship, and it’s why management is so incredibly complex.”

It’s always fun playing the good cop and the bad cop in that relationship, and it’s why management is so incredibly complex. But having that friendly rapport is essential to the day-to-day manager-artist existence.

Hopefully, they see you fight for them every day and that you have their back; you’re pushing for their vision, even if it’s compromising your own vision as a manager sometimes. Then they’re probably more willing to hear from you why you think they’re wrong sometimes.

But the most important part of that is acknowledging that I’m wrong sometimes too. I don’t shy away from saying, ‘I don’t know the answer to this question’ or ‘Let’s get a specialist involved’. You do swallow your pride a lot in this role, but there are also so many things that Noah’s doing right now that have been beneficial to his business that I could never have dreamed up in any marketing meeting.

He tweets hilarious things at times and you’re like, ‘Oh man, if we’d have tried to come up with that in a boardroom, it would be a comedy of errors’. And that’s what’s making him appreciated by his audience, because he’s one of them. Sometimes, you just have to let the artist be the artist.


Artists having more control over their art, their IP. The business has made strides towards artists having leverage and power; that’s a great result of the streaming era. Having distribution options and more licensing arrangements moves the dial closer to a true partnership.

But it applies to everything from collection of royalties in publishing and masters, to ticketing and combating the secondary market, to selling T-shirts… All the layers of business that go into creating opportunity for an artist.

For example, Live Nation just announced they’re going to waive merchandise fees in their [club] venues. That is going to be a massive injection for the development of touring artists in clubs and small theaters. That margin is what keeps them alive.

Credit: Brian Friedman/Shutterstock

Well, we are looking towards Ed [Sheeran] and Taylor [Swift] right now as the inspiration. That changed eight months ago, I started realizing I had to start paying more attention to Ed and Taylor; what they do and how they do it, because that’s the next step.

We sold out two nights at [Boston] Fenway Park in an hour and that is quite mind-boggling, same with [New York] Madison Square Garden: two nights in under an hour.

The next step is stadiums, but it’s got to happen in a way that feels like the fan experience is kept in mind. It’s not just about going as big as you possibly can, it’s about going there when warranted. And it seems like we probably are going there in 2025.

But the fact that songwriting in general seems to be winning in 2023 is a really encouraging moment, and hopefully a good indicator for what’s to come in the next five to 10 years.

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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