I can’t remember how I first came across Katie and NuMu. It may well have been simply through an MCD press email back in the days when she was learning her trade at Ireland’s biggest gig promoter, but I do know that her brand has seeped into my consciousness, and that can only be the sign of a good brand. While I haven’t always been into everything Katie’s promoted (but who could ever say they’ve been into everything anyone works on!), I’ve always felt like giving it a chance, because she always speaks positively and with such passion. In fact, it’s fairly typical of my experience of Katie that when I asked her to do ‘State of the Nation’ she answered my small selection of questions in such astonishing and fascinating details. Katie’s a manager and PR aficionado who gets stuck in to recording and mastering, and runs projects that are a far cry from music at all. This is easily the most in-depth of the series to date, and might take you twenty minutes to get through in full. If you’re into PR, start-ups or sheer passion for the Irish music industry, though, I’d highly recommend sticking with her!
NuMu is a brave move, particularly in an industry that’s notorious for having a difficult time financially over the last few years. How did it come about, and what’s got you to where you are now?
In 2010 I was living and studying, to obtain my journalism degree, in London. Like many in the industry I had friends in bands and watching their struggle, unaware of the music industry in full, I had decided to help as much as I could by introducing and then promoting these artists in London, again completely naive to the industry and even public relations! I had approached it all from a journalistic point of view. I was winging it, genuinely had no clue even writing my first music review at 20 (bearing in mind I had been writing for a number of years) basically music was something I enjoyed, not something I was involved with, and thanks to my lack of knowledge I fell into the deep end (didn’t voluntarily dive in). From here I became involved with the industry from online music sites and promoters to managers and labels, I had found something I adored – my new passion!
When I touched back on Irish soil, thanks to the growing recession there was a lack of opportunities available to me as a graduate, so this had originally inspired me to get thinking of how I can create a role for myself to keep me sane. NuMu and the idea behind it had not come along until I bagged an internship at MCD, which opened a whole new door for me. I adored working behind the scenes and my nose for journalism soon grew to become a nose for promotional opportunities.
There was also moments I would think “if only someone would start a new venture that could…” and swiftly ended my train of thought with “wait, why ‘someone’…when I can do it” It was from here that I wanted to create a brand to host certain events and work with musicians and overall talent so thought to use my own abbreviation for New Music which is “NuMu”.
There is a man by the name of Damien O’Donohue who worked at MCD, I remember he had called me to his office to discuss my internship and pointed out a number of skills I had that I wasn’t aware of. He told me to look into artist management as he felt I would do well in this field. I am sure O’Donohue has no idea of how much that chat inspired me – it was somewhat of a lightning bolt moment. Under NuMu, I started to organise events and gigs looking for the right “artist”. The ball started rolling and now I am proud to have two extremely hardworking and thriving bands under NuMu – Featuring X and Travis Oaks – who have helped our brand reach a wider audience.
NuMu is where it is today from genuine trial and error, and thanks to such a hard working team to whom I am forever grateful. NuMu helped me find and attract passionate people in similar circumstances as myself, those who want to make a change and not wait for it to happen. Without them NuMu wouldn’t be here. Our team merely love what they do and the best part is we truly believe in our clients and acts so either way we enjoy what we do. Many do not realise that a lot of us hold down day jobs and have worked on projects without payment to help us learn, grow and show what we are capable of. With the NuMu acts, we do not get paid for what we do as we selected these two acts and proudly represent them, which brings me to your point above where you mentioned financial difficulties.
At the time when NuMu was set up I had no intention of ever turning it into a legitimate business; one that generated revenue so the thought did not enter my head. That has stood to us, we are a company that can turn around fantastic and high quality work for little spend. Our spoken ethos is “Creativity is Currency”.
Of course we work hard to achieve fees and ensure no one is ever out of pocket; money is needed, but thanks to this exact attitude three years later we are starting to generate revenue which is a major bonus for us. Of course, we recycle the generated revenue back into the company to improve our services, we do this so that we can grow, and our clients can grow with goals of turning this into a full time position for the entire team. For the past eight months or so we have been in talks with many organisations that fund start-ups, we have also been contacted by investors, and our inboxes are filling with potential new clients. It is a slow process but we have time on our side and we save every penny to invest in certain areas of our company that will reduce our outgoings. For example this very moment I am shopping for solvent printers which will cut huge costs for us while creating promotional material for our clients.
We also work hard on NuMu herself. We are vigilant and careful to ensure we have an eye pleasing brand, we market and promote ourselves correctly reaching a high standard, and this instils confidence. We basically use our own brand as a case study to attract new potential clients.
Of course, we would not be here today without the help, advice and guidance of many industry professionals. There is a long list of people who have taken their time to assist us. Taking the advice and tailoring it to NuMu’s standards has helped us achieve a lot within a short three year span. We are very proud of all our achievements thus far and look forward to the many endeavours and success we have in front of us.
What do you look for in a band you might be interested in working with? How much of the decision is based on the music, and how much on the people?
This is a question we are asked a lot. But before I answer, it would be great to note that NuMu works with many projects not just music based ones. In terms of working with music; we are very selective in who we work with as it creates a quality within our brand, and today we have artists from all genres and locations engaging to work with us. We like to work with those who can see themselves as a potential business. I think this definitely segregates those who are looking for a team to do the work for them from those who want to use their talents to make a career. This is appealing, it shows who has genuine potential to achieve their goals whatever they may be.
The best way to describe our process; it is the same as applying for a job. At NuMu, your music is the first impression and always will be, we do not read or look at a thing without pressing play first. Music is just like a cover note. Further information and additional materials are welcome, once we enjoy the music we instantly want to know more, just like an attached CV. We have endless emails from acts looking for us to work with them and give overload of information, sometimes even forgetting to send us links to their music.
Also a personal dislike is when a band sends you what I call “bluff bios” full of misinformation to seem like they are achieving more than they are. You have to remember NuMu is abbreviated from the words “New Music” so if you have gained no media attention or have yet to release anything – that is equally appealing to us.
The final stage is, of course, the meeting. We have to be able to work together, this is very important. Due to us all running NuMu in-between our daytime roles, we need to build a strong rapport and there has to be trust there. We need to connect and jump on the same page instantly. If a band has goals we cannot achieve we won’t waste their time and vice versa if we have ideas and advice yet the band disagree – I guess we are not compatible. Again it is exactly like a job interview. You need to fit the role as do we.
What do you think of the current state of the Irish music scene?
Booming! No one can deny that Irish music is on the rise, with more Irish acts being signed sealed and delivered than ever before. The world is watching Ireland, I hear of some big Irish labels such as Universal have bigger budgets this year with the aim to sign more Irish acts. More outsourced A&R scouts are coming to Ireland and personally, our two acts have been welcomed by media, fans and industry professionals. We are a music-loving country, we are a bloody talented nation and although it does seem tough, I think the biggest issue is we are so small so there are only a certain amount of platforms to hit. This idea of “you need to leave Ireland to make it” is slowly diffusing, which is such good news to me as it saddens me to hear of our own talent leaving their hometown to make something of themselves. But hey, suppose you can say this is happening across all sectors and industries. I have lost majority my friends to Australia!
Fix the music industry for us in general… what’s the model we’ll be working under in the future, all being well?
I would be intrigued to live in a world where Irish radio would take on the same policy as the French. Radio stations in France are required to play at least 40% of their songs in French – by law! This is to keep up with and promote their own culture. I always wonder if this would change the industry for example; if more Irish acts, whether signed or independent, are played across the board merely to meet broadcasting requirements, would this help create a potential revenue stream for certain acts. Between royalties, content and obviously being played is promotion; will these acts have a chance to make money therefore investing said money into our own country. From travelling to accommodation to using Irish businesses for printing, CDs/T-shirts to hiring transport and equipment etc. it is an avenue where money can be recycled instead of it constantly filling the accounts of major labels and artists outside of Ireland who barely notice the money come in.
It wouldn’t “fix it” but it may help musicians to make money once you make something you can reinvest. I’ve seen it myself with NuMu, and we have gained more by reinvesting but we need the opportunity to make money.
You’re on record as not being a fan of ‘battle of the bands’ style contests. Do you find them exploitative, or are they just bad PR?
It’s a negative approach to something so beautiful. A battle is defined as ‘a lengthy and difficult conflict or struggle’. Music is unlimited and this idea of creating a competition within music just doesn’t work for me. You could attend a ‘battle of the bands’ and end up loving every band you watched play therefore go and buy all their music. Music is a preference and something very personal. And a personal taste is just that, it means something to you. So to put anyone in a situation where they have to select their favourite is something I would consider a tenuous approach. Also, I genuinely do not understand nor see the difference between a BOTB and say XFactor or these reality talent shows.
When NuMu started hosting events to scout new talent we called it “a showcase.” Sometimes we had an opportunity, such as recording, photography, PR consultancy etc. but we offered it to the act based on where they were in their career and who we felt needed it most. Not on how loud the clapping was or how many friends they brought.
It is the same feeling I have towards music snobbery, if I like a track or like a band I like them that’s it! I don’t care if you don’t but dissing my tastes or giving an unwanted opinion on why you think the band are not worthy of my attention is really none of my business. Music has always been there and what may be a cheesy pop track to someone could be a personal and life changing view to another.
So to end on a positive note, don’t battle and don’t look at fellow musicians as competition. Have a little more faith in the music lovers out there.
Do you think Irish music is given a fair shot within Ireland? In radio, magazines, on websites etc.?
Being honest, yes and no. Yes in the sense that there are many platforms to reach out to, ones that you will always receive a reply or an honest review and feedback etc. the pro of Ireland being so small is that it is easy to build a rapport if you put the effort in and genuinely pay attention to the finer details. Musicians who approach media without any knowledge or research are just plain rude. You hear of a lot of criticism towards the media and there is this naïve attitude towards it all, I used to have this same attitude. And then you realise that there are musicians out there who don’t put the effort in, I see it myself and it makes sense why there is a lack of faith when it comes to opening endless emails.
Musicians want these individuals to take time to listen to their music yet they don’t research if they play the genre. It baffles me when I hear such stories. Okay we are all human; mistakes happen and life is about learning but the information is out there. I wonder how someone like me can sit and gather info, research into certain aspects of the industry, pick up the phone to introduce myself and the company, ask questions, building my confidence and knowledge within the media to then set up a company to help spread the word of “new” yet there are musicians who don’t even try, and you cannot help but think do they really want success, if so how will they handle it they are unable to even research into an industry they want to be involved in.
And of course… No. I think it’s hard to break through that gatekeeper albeit a head of music, programme director or an editor etc. The media are there to provide mass communication, and sometimes the main decision makers and their personal tastes can prevent some amazing music from being heard. There should be no personal judgements towards it and think media should take some responsibility in providing fresh content suitable for their audience despite the workload involved or not. It is quite easy, if you have a well presented email to hit play and listen to a 3 minute track while finishing your current work or even researching the band. If you find yourself researching more into a band, surely there was something that encouraged you to do so and maybe your audience will see that too but you hear stories of the final decision ending with the main decision maker and sometimes not enough risks are taken. I remember when The Late Late show announced they were accepting submissions from Irish acts to perform and there was such a buzz online and many artists getting excited at the thought, yet all I could think about was…shouldn’t it always be this way? An Irish show taking on Irish acts should not get the music industry excited it should be a norm
Either way the opportunities are there and no one is being pushed away, you just have to push yourself through. Again this is the same for filmmakers, poets, actors, writers you name it. So my empathy does not only lie with the musicians, but also the media and the many talented entrepreneurs across the country.
Do we pay enough attention to new music, or are most of us a little stuck
Stuck is a great word to use. And answering this I am just that, stuck for words. My opinion on this is probably a little out there but I feel the issue lies with the younger generations who will one day be in our shoes. They are becoming really stuck when it comes to new music. For those who love music and are confident with their own tastes I think paying attention to new music is a second nature; you want more, you want new and you want it now. I mean Eleanor Rogers, the rhythm guitarist of Featuring X is one of the most music savvy people I have ever met and always has been. I started working with the girls when they were 15 years old and her knowledge of music was so admirable and refreshing. She breathes the stuff and is constantly ahead of the industry. She loves all genres, guilty pleasures, dark instrumental; you name it and to me that’s not stuck, that’s a young girl who delved into something that made her who she is. It’s her niche. I do wish I heard of more 15 years olds being confident enough to take this approach.
NuMu was founder of AAMS (All Ages Music Showcase) and the idea was to create all-ages gigs across many different communities to not only give local youths the opportunity to have a night out and to enjoy themselves, in a safe environment, but of course to also offer their peers a chance to play or to discover new music from those of the same age. Our main issue was finding venues to allow this showcase, which brings me to my point. When you are young and you have so many issues to deal with and the world’s realities are not important but how you are perceived is, there is this circle of trends; music being one of them. When you are naïve to new music and the idea yet surrounded by reality TV, talent shows, this idea of “overnight success is possible” (it isn’t) alongside commercial music played 24/7 does the thought of discovering new music even come into your head. I suppose I am finding this difficult to answer because within our circle of friends and colleagues new music is our business and to stop discovering would be the day NuMu fails.
Yet the influence of radio, and other cultures is drowning us a little so you have to find it yourself. that is down to commercialism, which has always existed but it’s harder to avoid, and I find new music won’t be introduced to you as easily as one hopes, and I think that’s why stuck is a great word. As in, you want it you have to go get it, yet with other products and brands; new ones are shoved in our faces each day. Maybe it is a case where music makes more money if there less choice out there, or the fact that if it isn’t a crowded market certain aspects of the industry can capitalise on it. Musicians are now perceived as brands because unlike years ago music is now also visual. You need an “image” you need a “music video” you need “appealing artwork” a “smart logo” etc. what happened to the days of aural judgement.
To conclude my point, youths are such a big market for an act and I remember when growing up we had endless options of attending gigs despite being under 18, and how varied the music was. It was cool to walk in and show your friends something they didn’t know and that’s what I worry about at this scale will it get worse or will we get bored of all listening to the same music, wearing the same styles, being that stereotype.
At NuMu we love quirky, and being an individual we appreciate those who do too because it is becoming harder to be you and be unique due to the fast evolving world around us and that tough cookie we call “society.”
Let’s look at the classic successful rising Irish band over the past few years, The Cast of Cheers. I’ve chosen them because they came from nowhere mightly fast. How does PR like that come about? Is it all quality, or was there something a bit smarter going on?
Also a fan of Cast of Cheers, I haven’t seen them since their last Academy 2 gig in the basement, woah! Again, being in the industry, I had heard through the grapevine many stories of how they achieved such success quite fast. And if those stories are true, something smarter was going on. But what does it matter really? You need to use what you can and what you have to be heard. At the end of the day no one is pinned down with a gun to your head saying you have to like this, you have to listen and love it. Again it’s a choice and why moan that there is a more of a choice out there despite how they got there. If you were given a chance to use some in your hand to progress you further you it burst no one and kudos – those who have gained real success are rule breakers, chancers and risk takers, others are just plain lucky – right time and right place. But there are people like me who do not have the patience to wait for opportunity to knock, I’d rather open every door possible than wait.
People will always criticise and complain. You will never achieve the love and like of everyone so don’t worry. I remember when The Original Rudeboys hit the scene and it took me a while to understand their sound as it was something unique and new to me. It was pop, rap, hip hop with an inner city accent. Being a Damien Dempsey fan, rap in an Irish accent wasn’t new to me. I love it, it fills me with pride, and I’m a sucker for the north Dublin accent no matter how harsh it is, it is a taste of home for me so to then hear them on our airwaves was fresh for my ears was and I appreciate them as an act.
Who cares how any act “makes it”, are they any different to those who work their butts off and go through the tedious process of say talents shows people love to complain about yet always watch, no one blames the act there because we see it is the act being exploited. So if you have the chance to honestly make a living using what you can – do it.
However I am a firm believer of never stepping on toes, there is enough room in this industry for those who deserve it. And stick to your heart never change who you are for any, promises, money, success etc. Stay loyal to yourself.
It’s sad that we still have to talk about this, but we do… What are your thoughts on women in music today? Do you ever find gender has any effect on your work?
Absolutely not! I was once asked to join an organisation that represents women in the industry and I declined due to my personal experience of never having an issue. I think the complete opposite, as the music industry holds a lot of women in power. The industry needs us, we are just way too good at multitasking! (laughs*) But on a serious note, I have had certain issues towards Featuring X as women and not them personally, the girls are very head strong but I have been advised on certain occasions to take a “sexier” approach with them. No doubt we if did take this approach maybe the girls will blow up overnight, but it’s not something we are interested in as it is not Featuring X. They are a confident, funny, lovable band with big personalities. Media love them and they have such a unique approach, why cover that up by removing more clothes or presenting them as some sort of sex symbol when they would not be comfortable doing so. I’ve even been accused of exploiting the girls, when their Wild Love video was released there were internet trolls who said their manager was taking young girls and making them as a set dressing like the Robert Palmer original video “Addicted to Love” but really we approached the video with some fun, play on words “Addicted to Wild Love” and the point of recreating this was the fact that these young girls actually play. We paid homage to Palmer’s what some may call sexist approach with a bit of fun and a private joke. At the time it hurt me to read such slatings but I suppose that is the motherly instinct in me. Overall when you are a confident woman, with your feet firmly on the ground and you find your place in the world, such things cannot knock you, maybe there are issues for other women in the industry but personally, I have never had any negative dealings. Thankfully.
What does NuMu have coming up in the next year or so?
Oh wow, we have some incredible work coming up. Some potential clients I cannot discuss at the moment. But what I can tell you is that we have our first international act coming over from Germany later this year, it is amazing to be able to branch out and find music that you feel would do well here in Ireland. The challenge is exciting and of course to work with labels, manager and bookers oversees is such a dream for me. Enter Metropolis are exceptionally good and I am such a fan so to work on them is a very enjoyable project.
Our two NuMu acts are about to push themselves further in the industry. We have Featuring X writing and recording like there is no tomorrow, while experimenting with their new sound. Featuring X were introduced at 16 / 17 years old, this year some of the girls are turning 19/20 and they are all in college now so of course expect some changes with their sound, it’s only inevitable as they grow older, learn more and experience life as students. Their sound reflects this change and I adore it, they make me very proud and know what they want out of band. I adore their slight change of direction and the songs are incredible with powerful interpretations for a very young band. So they have some releases coming out, as well as a special little something to help show who these girls are. We have some dates lined up in and outside Ireland, festival appearances and an Irish headline tour. We were hit with the unfortunate issues with a label. The girls were signed to Native Records in UK last summer, it was such an amazing achievement at such an early age of their career, but back in October the label stopped communicating with us, we have no idea what happened but all their online activity stopped, the phones won’t ring, emails unanswered so we were left in limbo after approving such big plans. It is unfortunate but it is a blessing in disguise as I believe that things happen for a reason and we learned some valuable lessons. Fool me once and all that jazz. Featuring X continue on as if it never happened they have a positive and productive approach to their work and we have an ethos some might cringe to; “no problems, only solutions” we stick to this and we continue to progress.
Travis Oaks, who were launched by NuMu only a year ago are off on a Scottish tour with Altered Sky this February. It is the first NuMu act to head oversees to show how we Irish can rock. This has been such a wonderful experience for the team. We have never planned a tour before and it was way too much fun and I have an itch for more. I’m now preparing a German tour in May for Travis Oaks and also enjoying this. Travis Oaks are one of my favourite live bands, each performance is incredible no matter how many times you have seen them. They are such an entertaining act and I need the world to at least have the chance to see them live. These four young lads, also in their early 20s put many to shame and in the last year alone our boys have gone from literally not having a clue about the day to day in in the industry to now calling the shots and giving us their briefs, timelines and ideas to work to. They now know what they want to do and they are making heads spin 360 while doing it. We have already confirmed some Irish festivals but this year is focusing on introducing Travis Oaks oversees; Germany will love them and the UK are already screaming for them. Everyone seems to be saying this lately but genuinely we are in talks with important people over in the UK and it’s looking good.
NuMu has also been confirmed as project manager for a very unique, nationwide campaign kicking off in April. Homelessness in Ireland is a growing issue. Here at NuMu we get behind and support projects that are close to our hearts. #CanYouSeeMeNow is an awareness campaign using art to highlight the levels of homelessness in Dublin, while aiming to restore identity to those who live on the streets. As the slogan says “I’m not homeless, I’m a person without a home.” More info will be available across NuMu sites. Stay tuned!
Also, Triptik Empire are currently recording in NuMu Productions studios seriously go check these guys out. Just do it, you will not be disappointed. I’m hoping we can get our hands on them to work with. If so, you will be hearing a lot more.
Q11. Finally, who should we be looking out for musically in 2015?
I would be a terrible manager if I didn’t plug our own; Featuring X and Travis Oaks
Winter King – an excellent band, I have them on repeat at the moment.
Jack Ryan – he is about to grab us all by the scruff of the neck.
Triptik Empire – something different and very refreshing for me.
Dem Fools – I’ve heard some of their new tunes and it’s a big thumbs up from me.
Alice Kiernan – This is our very own Tailor Swift (sorry Alice) she is an amazing writer, singer and performer, with a great attitude. If anyone is reading this beat me to it and sign up Alice while you still can.
State of the Nation is a blog project for 2015 focused on telling the story of the Irish music scene through interviews with some of its major players. Interviews are published weekly, and you can find a full index of all published to date here.