Five Questions With… Evan Newman
The Outside Music Label recently announced the promotion of longtime Managing Director Evan Newman to partner, a move that underscores the decade of success he has had in expanding the Canadian independent operation’s reach through his additional roles in management and A&R.
Newman now joins Outside Music partners Lloyd Nishimura and Cathy Pitt in guiding the company’s future, which, along with the label, includes its distribution, publishing and management divisions. Newman’s own management company, Middle Child Music, and label, Baudelaire, originally merged with Outside in 2007, bringing artists such as Matthew and Jill Barber and Justin Rutledge into the fold over time.
Wearing a multitude of hats has been Newman’s specialty from the moment he entered the business. In the early ‘00s he established the Toronto office of Richard Branson’s V2 label, becoming the Canadian point man for The White Stripes and others, while simultaneously managing an impressive stable of homegrown indie artists.
With the Outside Music Label currently boasting a roster that ranges from perennial alt-rock favourites The Besnard Lakes to opera star Measha Brueggergosman, it continues to demonstrate how diversification is increasingly becoming the model for growth in the modern music industry. Newman took some time to reflect on all of this, while also offering some sage advice.
How will your role at Outside change now with your new position?
When I first joined Outside, it was to start the management division. I kept poking my nose on the label side and eventually began overseeing the day-to-day operations. So, my role won’t change that much within the label; where it will change is growing the overall business. We’ve spent a lot of time developing the label outside of Canada, and we’re now at the point where we feel we can offer the same level of service in other markets as we do in Canada. I will look to further build the brand outside of Canada and continue to grow our business for the company and for our artists.
The biggest challenge for us now is the same issue that’s always lingered, which is finding the balance between art and commerce. Obviously, we want to be a company that makes money but we do not want it to be at the expense of compromising our musical tastes. We want to be able to work with music we feel passionate about, even if it doesn’t seem commercially viable, and challenge ourselves to conduct campaigns that find unique ways of generating revenue, all while maintaining the integrity of the artist and that of the company. We’ve managed to find a way to work with music we love and be able to keep the lights on, but this resolve is tested often.
You built your career concurrently as a manager and A&R rep. It seems the future of the industry is in combining a lot of those jobs. Do you agree?
I completely agree. With the artists that are on both the management and label roster, we’re able to really have a collaborative effort, with a vision and a cohesive plan. Nowadays, most artists have the wherewithal to be able to oversee a lot of what a manager would do, so you need a manager who’s well-versed in other sectors of the music business, whether it be as a publicist, an agent, a publisher, a lawyer, or a label. Most of the independent labels in this country are offering management services to artists on the label. Speaking strictly from a financial standpoint, with revenue from sales of recorded music finding a new floor, a company must be able to access alternate revenue streams.
What are some upcoming projects you’re excited about?
The new album from The Weather Station is one of the best albums I’ve heard in some time. It’s a self-produced effort from principal member Tamara Lindeman and it’s been great watching her evolve as an artist and a songwriter. I can’t wait for people to hear this. We’ve recently begun a collaboration with the indie label Hand Drawn Dracula, where we team up for certain releases. The next one is the new album from Beliefs. It’s a dark and intense record that sounds like a cross between Sonic Youth and Portishead, or a danceable My Bloody Valentine. Jill Barber is writing some of her best songs to date and we’re getting her into the studio soon. I think people will be really surprised by her new songs, she’s having a lot of fun right now exploring new sounds.
What’s the album that had the biggest impact on you?
The album that had the biggest impact on me was Ryan Adams’ Heartbreaker. In my opinion it set the standard for the current day singer/songwriter. Most of the music I was listening to at the time was recorded before I was born, and Heartbreaker was the first album that I was able to deem a classic for my time. It showed that an artist can make an album with an acoustic guitar and voice and have it not sound like a folk record.
What’s your best advice for young artists and budding managers right now?
Hone your craft. The music scene is incredibly saturated right now. A “buzz band” is becoming an archaic term because the cycle is so short that most bands can no longer achieve buzz status. Artists need to be really good at what they do. Take a micro approach to your band—if you’re in Eastern or Southern Ontario, you have the 401 with six to eight viable markets all within a few hours’ drive. Keep going up and down that highway playing as many shows as possible, building your fan base and being the best live band possible. Don’t take no for an answer, unless you hear it all the time, in which case, maybe music isn’t for you. I have turned down many artists in my time and a few have gone on to huge things. I make a point of telling artists that it’s only my opinion that your music doesn’t work for what we’re doing, and that the next person you contact could be your biggest champion.
For managers, a good lesson I learned was that if your band has five members, always ask for six meals when submitting the hospitality rider to a promoter. That way, when the band’s on stage, you can enjoy a nice quiet dinner.