‘We take a great deal of pride in pushing individual and collective boundaries.’

L-R: Sumit Bothra, Alex Bruford, Despina Tsatsas

ATC is a prime example of the multi-faceted nature of music businesses today.

Founded 20 years ago as a management company, it’s since grown to encompass a live agency, services provider, live streaming business, an artist partnerships venture and a newly launched experiences arm.

The new divisions and disciplines arrived in response to the evolving needs of managers as the digital revolution took place.

The founding tenets of ATC’s founders and co-Chairmen of the business, Craig Newman and Brian Message, centred on the idea that artist managers would be stronger when operating under the same roof.

Today, ATC MD Sumit Bothra describes the company as consisting of a cohesive group of execs who share knowledge and support.

“ATC management is not simply a collection of artist managers autonomously and independently working under the same roof,” he says.

“It’s a collection of managers that are diverse across age, gender, genres and backgrounds with varied perspectives, which we share freely amongst each other. We’ve worked hard to create an environment that houses specialists outside of purely artist management, and we strive towards delivering on collaboration and providing immediate added benefit to any manager and artist who chooses to work with us.”

ATC, which remains independent, has four offices around the world, including its HQ in London, as well as bases in Los Angeles, New York and Copenhagen. In 2021, it floated on the Aquis Stock Exchange, raised £4.2m, and subsequently launched ATC Experiences, led by Despina Tsatsas, and live streaming platform, Driift.

Alongside the evolution of its services, ATC’s artist roster has diversified from predominantly indie rock acts (like PJ Harvey, Nick Cave and Fink). Today, it also reps house/hip-hop act Yaeji, Ghanaian singer and Interscope signing Amaarae, producer/DJ Avalon Emerson and electronic act Jacques Greene. Other artists to have recently joined the fold, alongside their managers, include the Hives and Black Country, New Road.

They all exist alongside a robust composer, producer and songwriter roster, which was launched during lockdown. On the live agency side (which delivers over 6,000 shows per year), key acts include Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Sleaford Mods, Fontaines DC and The Lumineers.

This year, ATC is working on new campaigns from PJ Harvey, Amaarae, Katie Melua, Black Country, New Road and The Goa Express, amongst others.

Here, we chat to Bothra, Tsatsas and ATC Live CEO Alex Bruford about company culture, the impact of the IPO, their biggest challenges and much more besides.

There are a lot of management companies these days that have branched out into what might once have been deemed ‘non-traditional’ areas of management. What makes ATC unique in that environment?

Sumit Bothra: The culture. There’s a shared culture at ATC, on both sides of the Atlantic and across all of the business, that’s very artist- and person-centric. The way we encourage collaboration is quite different, that’s certainly what I gather from speaking to other managers and organisations that do varied things.

We have regular meetings with our transatlantic colleagues, we have a robust A&R process. We have weekly internal meetings, we do a yearly retreat. We’re hyper-communicative with each other. No one here is off limits to a conversation with anyone else in the organisation.

One of the other things that makes this company special is the fact that it recognises itself as an ever-evolving organism. No one at ATC is ever left on an island and everyone, managers and artists alike, are encouraged to input on the company’s curation and development so that it can respond to their growing needs.

This manifests itself in many ways, whether that be through regular social gatherings, professional development and training, the hires of specialist personnel, or improvements to our physical environment.

How does that culture have an impact on what you’re able to deliver for artists?

Despina Tsatsas: ATC is an independent business that has grown in all these different ways and, coming in as a total outsider over the last few months, I can see that there’s a lot of integrity. What we deliver for artists is very authentic — no one’s driving them to do activities they don’t want to do.

When you’re talking to managers with a view to bringing them into ATC, what are you looking for?

SB: At its core, the culture here is collaborative, emotionally generous, commercially minded and brave. We take a great deal of pride in our work and in pushing individual and collective boundaries.

“At its core, the culture here is collaborative, emotionally generous, commercially minded and brave.”

I’m always attracted to managers, as well as artists, that have an entrepreneurial flair, but also those that see the value in collaborative work and in sharing their knowledge for the greater good.

That’s a hallmark of any executive at our company — they tend to be built that way. And they’re quite selfless in their endeavours, which I think is a very special thing.

It can be difficult to make money from recorded music alone these days. How does ATC’s structure empower artists to move beyond the traditional
income streams?

SB: Over the last few years, artists have developed TV scripts, written and published books, undertaken commission-based projects, collaborated with brands, launched a crowdfunded game, opened a shop, undertaken thousands of live events, created virtual instrument libraries, and launched their own rights businesses.

DT: With ATC Experience, part of the invitation from Craig and Brian was about being as ambitious as possible about finding different opportunities for artists across performing arts, visual arts, and
the online world-building that is increasingly existing for them to inhabit and create within.

Part of the strength of our new division is an answer to that question: how can we have robust service teams for artists, no matter what idea they have, so that we can keep that inside ATC, rather than having to immediately go outside the business when someone has a beautiful idea about a different format of work?

That’s how we’re approaching the idea of resilience, building in a really challenging and competitive environment, and a touring and recording cycle, which takes its toll on artists in lots of different ways.

Alex Bruford: On the live agency side, we’re more involved in the long-term strategic planning for the acts than we’ve ever been.

When artists break, they break so quickly now – and get offered so much – that if they are not given some guidance as to what to say yes or no to, they will say yes to everything and six months down the line, they’ll be on the road and realise they can’t do it all.

We work closely with managers, in-house and externally, to try and make sure that we’re predicting what’s going to happen to the artist down the line, and to make sure they’re doing the right shows at the right time and saying yes to the right opportunities, leaving them a career path that is not going to have them burnt out halfway along it.

“You need to be thinking about their live career, their audience development and their well-being.”

SB: The strategic input is crucial. It’s also one of the beautiful things about having all of these services under the same roof.Because, as a manager, when you’re giving strategic input and advice to an artist, you have to be thinking about all of the different pieces of the puzzle.

You need to be thinking about their live career, their audience development, their own health and maintaining their well-being. You need to be thinking about yourself and making sure you’ve got a good balance as well.

At the same time, you’re thinking about building strong businesses, future-proofing those businesses, and paying attention to how that artist is going to continue to innovate in the future.

Despina, where do you see the most exciting opportunities in the experiences area, both from an engagement and monetary perspective?

DT: The notion of what a piece of work is is going to change. The explosion of home entertainment, combined with the explosion of the immersive economy, means there’s an expectation from our audiences to have these incredibly fulfilling, rich, immersive experiences.

That puts pressure on the cultural distributor and the artist to make sure that what they’re generating feels quite visceral.

When I think about the opportunity, I think, where are those artists who are interested in making pieces of work that interact with each other and create visceral power?

In the way that you might feel when you hear a song that absolutely transforms you, what does that look like when it’s mapped onto a physical space? How can we use projection or technology to make an audience really feel it – and also feel like they can actively engage with it?

Hardware and software is developing and there’s going to be way more of what they call ‘presence’ in virtual and AR worlds. So you’re going to be able to touch and feel stuff, you won’t just be an avatar with no legs. That’s where I see the most exciting creative opportunities.

From a financial perspective, my goal is that artists are not just remunerated when their work is distributed or filtered, but also to originate work.

I’m interested in the people in the sector who want to build partnerships with us to commission artists to make original works that can sit across many different formats.

What kind of people or companies might they be?

DT: They might be people with real estate opportunities, those who have, for example, large-scale projection mapped venues that want licensable content from artists with integrity and who bring their own audience. Or an artist that has something to say.

There are so many ATC artists, writing and recording records, that have the most beautiful in-built narratives. The question is: who is going to be clever on the real estate and the financing side and meet us as a house that has some really collaborative, creative artists?

SB: Also, in VR and AR, companies that are developing the software and hardware are going to have an increased need and demand for exceptional content. That’s going to be a pretty big area of opportunity for us.

DT: Absolutely. Radiohead created a joint venture with Epic and built the most beautiful art experience. That was something which had all of the values of Radiohead’s extraordinary albums refracted into a different form that was just thrilling
for audiences.

I’m not saying that every artist has the same capability, but we know that there are certain tech partners, real estate partners and financiers that are interested in this [area].

Alex, what’s the role of an agent in 2023? And has that changed over the last few years alongside the huge challenges the live industry has gone through?

AB: Our primary focus is building artists’ live touring profiles for the long-term and how we do that has changed quite a bit over the last few years.

Rather than just booking shows, we try to be an integral member of the team and continue to engage with management to add value wherever possible. That could be on long-term strategic planning, offering local market advice to label, PR and partners, it could be bringing new corporate opportunities to the table, tour marketing oversight, helping the artist understand and grow their digital audience, or providing experiential opportunities for them.

The role has changed a lot. Although the core focus is still on building touring careers, how we do that is much more involved than it used to be.

I’m hearing that it’s really challenging right now to build a career as a new live act, which is partly due to Brexit and the lasting impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. How are you finding the market for new acts?

AB: It’s harder than ever. Partly for the reasons you stated, partly because of the sheer volume of new artists and new music that is out there.

For a lot of new acts, it’s not even about trying to make money, it’s just about covering costs, or making a loss they can afford to cover. But I think it comes down to timing and strategy. When you open the door, you’ve got to be ready to go. The artists we work with that have become successful are the ones that are able to keep up that momentum of releases and touring.

Some of our artists have been recording multiple records at the same time so, when they finish the tour, they can release another record immediately. Others have been able to keep up that creative pace. There’s the challenge of going away for two or three years to write your next record, and if you come back, people don’t remember who you are.

On the agency side, we’re trying to liaise closely with artists to make sure that the releases and touring strategy line up. So, even though their first tour is going to cost money, we are able to light fires across multiple markets that will enable them to come back and hopefully break even on their next tour and start building
their career.

We always try to build markets simultaneously. We don’t know if the artist is going to be big in the Netherlands, Spain or Germany first. So, rather than just focusing on the UK, we’ll build them across as many markets as we can – and if you get success in any of them, that can be your bridgehead to coming to Europe, Asia, Australia or Latin America.

Sumit, as you know, with your involvement with ATC as well as MMF, there’s been a huge debate over the last couple of years on the economics of streaming and whether the market is truly working for creators. What’s your perspective on that whole debate?

SB: One of the main issues is that the streaming economy benefits the creator community unevenly. It’s not a binary conversation as to whether the streaming economy is simply good or bad.

There are some amazing positives, like the fact that there are more artists than ever before generating millions of streams per month. Artists with catalogues are seeing a huge benefit from the streaming economy, with catalogue now accounting for 86% of all streams through the DSPs.

However, one example of a sector of the community that isn’t benefiting as much is the songwriting community, which we know has grown about 73% over the last 10 years. Yet, only 2% of the songwriting community here in the UK earns more than £50,000 a year. We also know that 94% of the PRS membership earned less than £10,000 in 2019.

Having said that, the world is getting smaller. Half of UK streaming income comes from outside of the UK. So Alex’s point about paying attention to international markets is really important. We do the same thing with the artists that we represent. We take a global view and treat a fan in any part of the world with the same amount of respect as we do a fan here in the UK. We always encourage our artists and managers to be thinking globally at
all times.

We know that there are supply chain issues as well, especially amongst the PROs, but we also know that a great deal of investment is going into trying to fix some of those issues and deliver greater transparency for the rightsholders and creators.

Also, the streaming economy has grown from 26% of all listenership in the UK to over 47% and we know that radio is, unfortunately, declining in that respect. So it presents a great opportunity, it’s just uneven. The system needs constant improvement. We need to be paying attention to those that are at the thin edge of the stick and make sure that we try and breathe a more democratised landscape into the streaming economy so that it’s fairer for all.

I think there have been great strides towards trying to address it, but it’s going to be a long journey.

Do you have any suggestions or potential solutions?

SB: We need greater transparency on the inner workings of this system; we need to review and improve contracts that pre-date streaming technology; we need innovation to improve rights databases and the supply chain; and we need the creators or their representatives at the table to input on technological improvements that lead to a fairer distribution of wealth.

Government intervention can, of course, also be helpful to encourage advancement and urgency on these conversations and to enshrine certain outcomes or recommendations into law, as we see in many other countries around the world.

ATC floated on the Aquis Stock Exchange in 2021. What impact has the IPO had on the company and the way in which you operate?

SB: On the UK management side specifically, it’s allowed us to make some new hires, including in creative/A&R, to better serve our writer and producer roster. We’re exploring strategic partnerships with others because we now have the ability
to invest.

We’ve created an artist development fund on the management side, which has been most recently successfully deployed for one of our younger artists, Izzi De-Rosa. The development fund allows our managers to be more effective and respond to momentum.

The IPO has also raised the capital that’s allowed the creation of Despina’s company, ATC Experience, and it’s allowed us to invest heavily in the corporate team, which is the backbone of operating and securing the financial health of those in
the company.

It facilitated the creation of the New York office, and last year we welcomed five new managers and support staff into
the company.

It’s allowed us to invest in our space here at the ATC London headquarters in Camden, which has been of huge benefit, especially as most of our managers, agents and corporate personnel are in this building at least three to four days a week.

DT: It also enabled us to continue being independent, to set our own course and to allow those [who founded the company] to continue to set the identity and the business and have the ability to invest in new business areas as and when opportunities arise.

It brought in support from institutional shareholders who have good knowledge about the sector and who can also invest in developing complementary business areas. It certainly feels like an act of resilience and [an effort] to try and enshrine the future of ATC.

This article originally appeared in the latest (Q1 2023) issue of MBW’s premium quarterly publication, Music Business UK, which is out now.

MBUK is available via an annual subscription through here.

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