The first rule of Flight Club is… yeah, you can forget that.
Because plenty of people are talking about the management (+ publishing + records) company that is home to a roster of writers and producers that have worked with artists from Wizkid to Beyoncé – and the volume’s only going one way.
The Flight Club was founded by Samuel Ademosu 10 years ago, initially more as a modest favour to a friend than a multi-faceted music biz powerhouse.
And, whilst it was and is very much his baby, a UK exec who’s already made a lot of noise in his own right played a role of significant midwifery.
Ademosu recalls: “I had a friend who was a songwriter/artist [J Warner]. I thought he was amazing and I said I’d help him find a manager. But I didn’t know where to start, so I did some research, found some names, some email addresses and started reaching out.
“One of the people I got a reply from was an A&R at Island. I remember going to meet him, sitting in the Universal reception for the first time and seeing all those screens and videos and the names of all the labels; it was kind of mind-blowing to be honest.
“I go in, completely green, talking about my friend and asking if this A&R guy could help me find a manager. He listened to me and said, ‘I think you should be his manager’. I was like, ‘What? What are you talking about?!’ I was quite offended! ‘I’ve come all this way…’ [laughs].
“But he said, ‘No, the passion you have, the way you speak about this artist… I could help you find a manager who has other clients making them a million pounds a year, and your guy’s going to be an afterthought. You’ve got the bandwidth, why don’t you do it?’
“That was [Dave co-manager] Benny Scarrs. And, looking back, I totally get what he was saying. He was telling me that my passion and belief would do more for this artist than anything else; that those were the most important ingredients and I already had them.
“Maybe seven or eight years later I saw him in a studio and he said, ‘Explain to me how you got from that day in my office to here!’. We had a good laugh about it.”
Part of that journey from there to here was the decision to not just manage a friend, but form a company, The Flight Club, and establish a roster, concentrating initially on writers and producers. One of his earliest signings was P2J, who has gone on to work with Beyoncé, Wizkid and others.
Looking back, Ademosu says he always planned to create “an entity, a hub of creatives to put behind artists who rely on us”, and build a brand to emulate the three labels he most admires – Motown, Def Jam and XL.
From its base in South East London, The Flight Club hasn’t yet reached the levels of Ademosu’s holy trinity, but it has been involved in hits around the world, expanded into records and publishing (including a JV with Warner Chappell) and, 10 years after take-off, it’s still gaining altitude with attitude.
What would you say were the founding philosophies and core principles of the company?
We are artist-centric. We are here to facilitate whatever our clients’ dreams are. And we are purists, not in the sense of being snobs, but in the sense that art comes first and business second.
But we also believe that, if you’re good at what you do, whatever it is, then there should and will be fair financial gain at the end of the tunnel. When you’re really good at what you do, there always is – in the end.
It’s the same principle here. Not trying to make it too Kumbaya, but for the first 70% of our existence we made zero money. It’s only really been in the last few years that we can call it an actual business. Before then, it was run on passion.
When I started, I didn’t know anybody. People think I must have had contacts or a network, but the only person I got any advice from was Dumi Oburota, who created Disturbing London, because he’s from around where I’m from. He inspired me a lot.
So how did you go about extending your network and getting through the door?
Number one was developing talent. Make sure our clients are exceptional at what they do. So I’m not trying to sell them via a conversation; I’ve got proof.
Some artists think a manager’s job is to make them famous. At The Flight Club, I tell everyone very early on: me and you, we’re your manager, both of us manage you, in partnership. And if one of us in that transaction is making it difficult for the other one, there’s an issue.
Then, how we managed to actually grow was by taking a series of risks. We would go to Atlanta, New York and LA without knowing anyone, just looking for opportunities.
A lot of people told us we were wasting our time. And, to be honest, we might have been, that might have turned out to be true, but we did it so many times… I don’t know, the sheer determination of it, just the brazenness of it… We were knocking on doors.
And the reason we went to those places is because we weren’t really getting many opportunities here. There was a specific sound coming out of the UK urban scene at the time, and if you weren’t doing that, you couldn’t get a foot in the door.
What would you highlight as the most important projects so far in terms of moving you up levels?
I would say there have been three:
GoldLink, Diaspora . My guys exec produced that, and even us as managers, we were very hands-on with that. That project let people know that some guys from the UK could produce a project from start to finish and create a sound for an artist.
No. 2 would be Beyoncé, The Gift . Working so closely with Shani Gonzales [MD, Warner Chappell UK] and Steve Carless, who was Beyonce’s head of A&R, we got to learn a lot.
Working on projects with artists of that size, it’s very different, you get to see how forensic they are about the music, how they operate.
That opened so many doors – of course it did, it’s Beyoncé. But at the same time, it’s Beyoncé, attached to Disney, attached to Columbia, working with a film and a franchise that we’ve all grown up on. And it also heavily featured a sound that America hadn’t really taken into its psyche at that point, Afrobeats.
And the third would be Wizkid, Made In Lagos . That opened an untold amount of doors. But, more than that, it proved to us that our stubbornness, our determination and our will can always find a way.
There’s no boundary to what you can do. We didn’t think that we’d be working with some of the biggest artists in the world, or having meaningful discussions with some of the biggest label presidents around about the direction of a project or single choices, and them caring about what we have to say, but that’s where we are.
It’s come about because of some form of success, of course, because people believe in you more when you’ve done it. But you’ve got to do it first.
Starting out in the UK, how difficult was it to get international opportunities for producers and writers?
I wouldn’t say it’s easy. But everybody is looking for what’s next. It doesn’t matter how big you’ve been, or how big you are, you’re gonna be looking for what’s next. And that allows for opportunity.
There’s luck, as well – being in the right place at the right time, meeting the right person at the time. I don’t know if that’s luck, but whatever it is, you have to make the most of it when it happens.
Everyone knows the world has got smaller over the last 20 years, but I think, alongside that, people are more inquisitive now. People used to reject things more quickly, be that because of race, social class or where someone’s from, but now I think those things have become blurred.
People from very different backgrounds and social standings are all listening to all different types of music. Yes, at a show or a festival, you have standing tickets, executive boxes, VIP areas, etc. But everybody is still basically in the same place to see the same show and hear the same music. It’s a new type of energy and a new way of doing things.
Before, as a writer or producer, and I know this is an exaggeration, but if you didn’t have 40 years of No.1s behind you, you weren’t getting a chance with big artists. Now, someone can make something in their bedroom, send it out into the universe and it can take them anywhere.
Do you have plans to open offices in the US and beyond?
We definitely want to be in LA or New York, and I’d love to do something in West Africa. But that will be when the time is right and when it is necessary. It’s not something that we’re desperate to do just because.
You mentioned your expansion into records and publishing, part of that is being done in conjunction with Warner Chappell. What can you tell us about how that’s going?
Oh, wow, I’m so excited about this. We announced a JV with Warner Chappell last year, Flight Mode, working with Shani Gonzales and [Head of A&R] Amber Davis. We have an amazing relationship with them because they do publishing the way that it should be done – because they care.
A lot of artists and managers – everyone, really – bashes the majors. It’s quite easy to say, ‘My label didn’t do this, my publisher didn’t do that’. But our view is, if somebody puts a cheque in front of you, sometimes that’s enough. Let’s not dismiss that.
That’s somebody believing in you and funding you to pursue your dreams. It’s not, ‘Here’s a cheque. Oh, and here’s every opportunity under the sun as well.’ You’ve got to work; we want to work.
Whenever any of my clients have signed a deal, I’ve always given them all the same speech: this is the equivalent of you getting your apron at a supermarket on your first day; it’s time for you to start your shift.
This isn’t a scratch card, or a jackpot; it’s your cue to start working harder than ever.
What do you especially like and admire about the way Warner Chappell approach publishing in general and working with you in particular?
There’s a human touch. We discuss things, in real life, it’s not just an email: do you want to do this session? It’s much more a case of, we’ve identified these four things that can actually help your client, let’s all talk them through together.
Every single person that is creating music in the world, every writer and producer, wants to work with the biggest artists in the world. But why should they choose you? What’s the strategy? That’s what we talk to Warner about. So, maybe they already publish a certain artist’s favourite writers, well why don’t you start writing with them? Let’s get you on the radar, maybe you’ll get noticed… You’d be surprised how often that leads to a long-lasting relationship.
They’re honest as well. A lot of the deals that I signed in my youth, we were told certain things that weren’t realistic. I decided very early, on the other side of the table, as a publisher or manager, I would never do that. I would never say something to close a deal. If I don’t win a deal based on the truth then it wasn’t for me.
What are your plans on the record side of things?
We are actively signing things, we’ve put out a few projects and we’re really excited by that side of things. There’s a bit of doom and gloom around the records side of things at the moment, but I think what we have to do is genuinely be creative around how we deliver music.
Because we are on the ground, we feel the texture and the temperature of what’s actually happening at street level – and that’s our selling point.
We’re not saying we’re going to be the biggest and best label ever known to man, but we do have an energy that can match up with things that are happening and coming up.
We speak their language, we know the pressures they go through, we know the financial issues that they might be going through. We know how hard it is to get your ideas out when you don’t really have that many resources.
So, because we’ve lived that life, as a label it puts us in a good position to be able to help navigate the artists we sign.
Back on the management side, are you still looking to make signings?
We will always be in amongst it. But as you get older as a company, you tend to refine your remit and get a better understanding of what your role is in the marketplace. It has to be defined better.
For some companies, that might be different, they maybe just want what’s hot, or they just want to be in the game for the sake of it.
But for us, I feel like we’ve done over the 10,000 hours, and we’ve perfected our strategy for any given client or any given situation.
If somebody is coming into our system, they will get a unique, bespoke service. We can’t instantly plug and play with someone. And similarly, if we think a client is best suited elsewhere, we’re not gonna battle for them. It’s not a market share thing for us.
What can you tell us about some of the projects you have coming up this year?
I feel like this is going to be one of the biggest years we’ve ever had, and that’s saying a lot, coming off the last three years, which have been pretty monumental.
The things that are being planned this year are going to be as big if not bigger. Even though I can’t say anything too specific, I do feel like a lot of people are going to have a lot of music to enjoy this summer.
What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned on your journey so far?
That the music element is not the most important part; it’s the people, the psychological element. Managing a creative’s art is very different to managing a creative’s heart and mind, and I think that part has to be focused on more.
Because the art part is subjective. I can critique them from morning to night, which I used to do, even telling them something was no good, and they used to get really annoyed [laughs]. But I could be wrong, they could put it out and a million people might decide they were right and I was wrong.
“I look at what people did 20 years ago and see what I can learn; always be a student.”
So, for me, managing them in order to put them in the best possible position to create whatever they want to create is actually the most important thing; that’s number one.
I’d say the second thing is, as a manager, everyone says you’ve got to have loads of links and contacts. But The Flight Club has grown to where we are quite quietly; a lot of people still don’t even know what we look like.
So, I would say you don’t need loads of links, you need drive, passion and you need to do a lot of research. One thing I see from a lot of younger people who ask me for advice is that they don’t research.
Like, everything you’re asking me about is actually out there. I know you want to hear it from someone who you think has done it, but… Listen, I still research constantly now, I look at what other people are doing, what they’re achieving and how they’re doing it. I look at what people did 20, 30 years ago and see what I can learn from that; always be a student.
What’s been your proudest moment so far?
The Gift coming out was a proud moment. And the Wizkid show at Madison Square Garden last year, just watching the crowd react to the work of my producers and writers.
Obviously you see numbers on Apple and Spotify, but to see people actually singing their hearts out to music and lyrics that we were scrutinizing for hours and hours, day after day, month after month. That album was two years in the making, and to see people react like that…
The other thing I’m proud of is my team, because most of the people we’ve hired at this company have not come from labels or another management company. We’ve learned everything on the job together.
Now, watching them manage artists, sign deals and deliver amazing content. That’s something I learned and was able to pass on and then watch them go out and do it for themselves.
That’s important to me, because even now, when I go to labels or other companies and I see the interns or the new A&R guys, I always want to ask, ‘How did you get here? How do you even know about these jobs?’ Because to me it seemed impossible. That’s why I started the company.
What’s the one thing you would change about the business?
I would spend more time nurturing things. That is our USP, but because this business moves so fast, and there’s so much money on the table, it’s harder to spend as much time as I would like
I would love to go back to the old days of development, where you actually physically worked with an artist to get them into their best possible shape for as long as it takes. People are thrown away so quickly now, and I would like to change that.
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