Lucas Keller: My Manifesto – Music Business Worldwide

Lucas Keller: My Manifesto – Music Business Worldwide


When Lucas Keller moved to L.A in 2009, having reduce his music business tooth in Chicago, he had desires of creating it massive.

In the top, he did simply that: Keller’s Milk & Honey is at the moment one of many world’s pre-eminent songwriter, producer and DJ administration firms, repping expertise that’s created/co-created world hits for everybody from BTS to Lewis Capaldi, Ed Sheeran, Doja Cat, Selena Gomez and Dua Lipa.

Milk & Honey’s songwriter/producer roster contains expertise together with Jenna Andrews, Oak Felder, Jamie Hartman, J.White Did It, Stuart Price, Sir Nolan, David Hodges and lots of extra. In addition, Milk & Honey additionally represents Triple-A sporting stars, and it hasn’t been overlooked of the music catalog acquisition goldrush, both: Keller just lately advised the Los Angeles Business Journal that his shoppers have offered over $100 million in publishing belongings over the previous two years.

But 12 years in the past at LAX, contemporary off that aircraft from Illinois, none of this was precisely mapped out. Keller started a 4-12 months stint working at The Collective, a big-scale L.A expertise enterprise that introduced collectively swathes of entrepreneurial younger managers beneath one roof.

There, Keller was sandwiched between the places of work of Linkin Parks’ supervisor and Enrique Iglesias’s supervisor. Despite taking care of expertise as majestic as Jimmy Cliff and different legacy artists, Keller struggled to search out skilled fulfilment being a cog in another person’s machine.

Yet, crucially, he says he wouldn’t have been capable of construct Milk & Honey and its spectacular roster of writers/producers with out placing his time in at The Collective.

“You learn so much of what to do, and also what not to do by working for other people along the way,” he says. This truth informs the primary of Keller’s 5 factors on his Manifesto for change within the music business.

Each of those factors is a rallying cry for the enterprise to shake up prehistoric practices and to quash injustices that threaten the longer term prosperity of artists and songwriters. Keller based Milk & Honey in 2014, working initially from a desk in his then small condo in Hollywood.

Today the corporate employs 28 folks globally, throughout places of work in L.A, New York, Nashville, Dallas, London, Amsterdam, and Sydney. Wisconsin-raised Keller’s perspective on the business is a novel one. And, as his 5-level Manifesto is about to show, the person doesn’t maintain his tongue. Over to Lucas…


1) An absence of govt mentorship – inflicting a tradition of Gmail entrepreneurs

There are lots of people with actual companies working across the business at the moment who’ve made it massive with one consumer, a laptop computer and a Gmail account. But after I discuss to those younger executives, none of them appear to have any heroes on the enterprise facet of issues.

They all have music heroes, however no one has actually studied the historical past of the music business. Do these guys know who Ahmet Ertegun is, or David Geffen, Jon Landau, Clarence Avant, Miles Copeland? Do they give the impression of being as much as them?

Maybe a few of them know who Irving Azoff is as a result of he’s nonetheless working. But I imagine to actually love and respect the material of this enterprise, you need to be taught the historical past of this enterprise. Maybe I’m an oldster earlier than my time [Keller is 37].

“There are a lot of people with real businesses running around the industry today who’ve made it big with one client, a laptop and a Gmail account. But when I talk to these young executives, none of them seem to have any heroes on the business side of things.”

But it simply seems like there’s this tradition of managers, particularly in L.A, that began breaking one act, they don’t actually have any coaching, and it might get tedious. I can’t let you know the quantity of conferences I’ve sat in with ‘meaningful’ managers or executives and I’m sorry, however they’re simply not that spectacular in a room. Maybe that’s as a result of they had been by no means really taught how you can promote something. Someone as soon as stated to me, ‘Keller, I think you just wish you were alive in the ‘70s and ‘80s music business,’ and possibly they’re proper.

But what I do know for positive is that with the tales and the historical past of these bygone days… there have been way more spectacular conferences and executives! Perhaps to be a superb supervisor at the moment you solely actually have to grasp digital and never fear a lot about ‘performing’. But I let you know this: that makes you lackluster to be round.

I don’t blame these guys for that; what’s at fault is the whole lack of mentoring for brand new music enterprise guys coming by means of. Some of my finest mentors had been folks I used to be one workplace over from or guys that permit me sit on their sofa, simply listening to their telephone calls. And I positively discovered what to not do from a few of the folks I’ve labored with down the years.

That’s mentorship too; in the event you’ve labored with people who find themselves bullies, and even colleagues or shoppers who had been sophisticated to take care of, you may be taught an enormous quantity from these experiences on how you can carry your self once you arrange your individual store. We have to have executives keen to ship the elevator again down. I keep in mind the primary time Linkin Park’s then-supervisor [Rob McDermott] – who I used to work for – sat down with me and stated, ‘No Lucas, you’ve obtained all of it unsuitable.

You’re going to name each single pageant [booker] 90 days after their festivals shut, and also you’re going to work in reverse on a 24 month plan.’ As quickly as I sat down and wrote that out, it actually helped me create plans for the bands and artists I used to be managing, and I nonetheless use it as a system at the moment. Any consumer at my firm has a 24 month plan.

Too many managers are reactive as an alternative of being proactive. I believe we’re in a bit extra of a egocentric enterprise now; individuals are simply centered on their very own shit. So for somebody to sit down down and say, ‘Okay, I’m going to assist this youthful govt…’, it’s way more of a uncommon factor.


2) Putting all of it in the midst of the desk

You have this disproportionate scenario the place the artists and labels are taking way more than the publishers and songwriters from streaming. That’s completely out of whack, and it’s one thing the place I actually respect the campaigning that Merck [Mercuriadis] is doing for songwriters being on the desk when their very own offers are made.

The massive factor for me is that we additionally have to get all folks to the desk, and determine, ‘Okay, how can we all share in this?’ Because it’s not simply songwriters who’re pissed off. In the US, a document label would be the first to let you know, ‘Wait, we spent all this money on radio promo, but we don’t get any share of your ASCAP and BMI checks?’

[In the States, radio plays result in a payment for songwriters via their PROs, but – unlike in Europe – artists get no performance royalties from such a broadcast.] So it’s like, effectively, okay, let’s have a dialog about it. Those [songwriter] checks usually are not small – BMI and ASCAP pay out over a billion {dollars} yearly. But if we’re going to speak about sharing that with the labels, then let’s even have a dialog about what revenues are coming of their facet that my shoppers deserve a reduce of.

“There’s got to be a better way for everybody to share, where the labels don’t feel ripped off and neither do we.”

There’s these imperfect programs which were occurring for years, and it’s like: Why does this [model] have to live on? I’ve one consumer who believes that if we don’t get songwriters on the desk with the labels, and we don’t begin to share our royalties with them [and vice-versa] within the subsequent few years, then a rebalancing of the economics of this enterprise won’t ever occur.

I believe that’s correct. There’s obtained to be a greater manner for everyone to share, the place the labels don’t really feel ripped off and neither will we. While I’m with regards to ‘imperfect systems’, by the way in which, the dwell enterprise is on one other degree.

If you take a look at a few of these outdated guidelines, these granular particulars of, say, how you agree a live performance, the again-finish promoter revenue and bills, simply the nuanced manner that world works, you suppose: These guidelines most likely return to vaudeville or one thing, or the very early days of touring. And you’re like, Who created this shit?

The ‘age old’ brokers gouge the promoters, after which promoters lie on the settlement sheets; these items wants fixing. The music business wants to start out being much less egocentric and work as a crew, and actually share, with transparency.


3) ‘No conflict, no interest.’

For some time there, it appeared like practically each senior label individual I handled within the US had a facet publishing firm, or another facet hustle. And I used to be at all times amazed, as a result of I used to be like: how is the enterprise permitting this to occur? It’s primarily labels, however not simply labels: I keep in mind sitting down with one senior man at a big publishing firm, and realizing that the entire publishing executives reporting to him had been additionally managing writers and producers on the facet.

We’ve all gotten used to that form of factor, but it surely’s an actual slippery slope, and barely results in favor of the writers and artists. The executives get motivated to suppose like: ‘Hmm, how do I get my people on this record?’ which turns into dangerous for the [writer] neighborhood. Also, someway these execs appear to have this skill to skirt each unique employment settlement in California! But the true factor to the touch on right here, which no one ever needs to the touch on – and I’m not afraid to say – is the three main music publishing CEOs. They have nice salaries, good titles, however every of them additionally wears a pair of golden handcuffs.

“I don’t know how they’re advocating for us our songwriters when the major publishers are owned by the companies who benefit from [the recorded side of the music industry] getting the majority of the money.”

I don’t know the way they’re advocating for us our songwriters when the main publishers are owned by the businesses who profit from [the recorded side of the music industry] getting nearly all of the cash. The three heads of the largest publishers needs to be the loudest folks within the enterprise combating for songwriters to be paid extra, and so they’re not as a result of everyone needs to maintain their job.

There’s different particular issues that get irritating in that dynamic: I’ve had songwriters make data with a serious writer, and the artist [performing on the record] can also be signed to that very same writer.

Then there’s some cut up dispute, and the writer calls me or my crew to attempt to muscle us as a result of the opposite author they’ve – the artist – is an even bigger consumer for them than we’re. And I’m like: ‘Huh? Are you our publisher? Or are you someone else’s writer?’ In so some ways, so many instances, folks on this business are conflicted. As a rule, at Milk & Honey we attempt to keep as unconflicted as a administration firm as attainable.

That’s robust as you develop, however we imagine there’s an moral obligation there. We’ve created publishing ventures with just a few of our larger songwriters and producers, and that enables us as an organization to personal [shares of] publishing belongings. We offered a kind of publishing belongings earlier this 12 months, and had been each a supervisor and a writer in that case – which is a battle if ever I heard one! So we didn’t take fee as a supervisor, and attempt to maintain issues as pure as attainable.


4) Too a lot music… and 45 flavors of label companies firms

One day, after I was bored, I wrote down all of the distribution and artist/label companies firms I may consider and I obtained to about 45. That might be all the pieces from the straightforward turnkey, ‘we upload your songs’ guys, all the way in which to firms who say they provide all of the companies of a serious document label. You know what I consider these firms? Booooring!

This entire sensationalist: ‘You’ve been getting robbed by the majors, we’re going to provide you 85%! We’re going to allow you to maintain your copyrights! We do 50/50 internet offers!’ Wow, these guys do all the pieces! Except that one factor: really breaking artists. I really like the mannequin, I actually do – we’re simply not breaking stars in these programs. Let me be clear: I believe it’s nice {that a} very beneath-celebrated a part of our business – the profitable artists who don’t belong on frontline main document labels – have choices within the market and companions to work with. I keep in mind getting a name from Jeff Price the month he began TuneCore; it was a tremendous idea.

This concept that distribution can change into a reasonably-priced commodity for no fee could be very thrilling. What I’m not enthusiastic about is label companies firms hiring loads of nice workers, then signing manner too many issues and changing into firms which are all about combination, the place there isn’t any service.

“There’s always an artist that wants the big advance, and there’s always a manager that wants their commission. And as we all know, major labels would much sooner give you extra money than really bend on the royalty rate.”

It’s change into a bloated and uninteresting enterprise. It’s a unbelievable enterprise for the proprietor, and it may be good in the event you’re a really proactive administration firm keen to take action a lot of the work. But the actual fact is, these companies firms usually aren’t nice for the artist or the supervisor; as a result of when [the services company] is taking such a slim slice of the revenues, they should scale, in order that they signal a whole bunch of artists, in some instances 1000’s of artists, and that mannequin – ‘we have 300 lackluster clients stuck in the middle of the business!’ – could be very not often the place you wish to end up.

The firm which may win in that area, and there are extra of them being born daily, is the one that claims: ‘We’re going to have 10 or 20 artists, not 300; we’re going to remain boutique, we’re going to focus and spend correctly on the artists we do signal, and we’re going to interrupt stars.’ One good thing the [services] firms have achieved is to place continued stress on the majors to do extra aggressive offers. But there’s a little bit of a fable occurring there too.

Yes, Taylor Swift has a sweetheart take care of Universal Music Group, however [young artists] are nonetheless going into these main firms and signing 16 or 17 level royalty offers at the moment.

There’s extra leverage in these negotiations than there was, positively, and I’m grateful for it. But with each one of many only a few unbiased artists that does break at the moment, you watch them like: ‘They’re gonna keep unbiased! They’re gonna keep unbiased! Oh wait… they signed to a serious.’ Because in some unspecified time in the future, it’s at all times concerning the cash.

I don’t see an entire lot of change in that paradigm coming. There’s at all times an artist that desires the massive advance, and there’s at all times a supervisor that desires their fee. And as everyone knows, main labels would a lot sooner offer you more money than actually bend on the royalty price.


5) Songwriters are crying out for a frontrunner

The lack of group and management within the songwriter neighborhood at the moment retains inflicting all these fragmented teams, these fragmented actions, who’re all advocating for his or her particular calls for moderately than actually banding collectively. And then these fragments individually go up in opposition to the majors.

The majors can’t take these teams significantly in the event that they’re not united. It’s an enormous enterprise, however I’m obsessed with the truth that all of us – songwriters, songwriter representatives – want to return collectively as one, and solely then go in and have these tough conversations with the main music firms.

Simply said, songwriters have to receives a commission extra, and shouldn’t be seen to date down the worth chain. There are [legal] points round songwriters unionizing in California particularly, however there are nonetheless methods we may come collectively.

“There are some great people in the US songwriting community who are really collaborative, and then there are others who I think are really lazy, and/or just focused on their day job.”

But it wants to incorporate everyone; I’ve heard too many conversations that go, ‘I tried to bring everyone together but these 20 people didn’t present up…’ We’ve had it as an organization; we symbolize loads of songwriters and loads of producers, and there have been instances after I haven’t gotten the decision a couple of sure songwriter situation as a result of folks have tagged me as a ‘producer manager’ and go, ‘You can’t advocate for the songwriters in the event you’re additionally advocating for producers.’ Bullshit. I’m advocating for equity.

There are some nice folks within the US songwriting neighborhood who’re actually collaborative, after which there are others who I believe are actually lazy, and/or simply centered on their day job. We want the neighborhood as an entire to take this significantly earlier than it’s too late. This is the great thing about the Hollywood [film & TV] Writers’ Guild.

In L.A final 12 months, simply on a random Tuesday, you learn: ‘Writers all fire their agents.’ And you’re like, wow, that is actually highly effective! And then everybody got here again to the desk and made a greater deal for Hollywood’s writers. In music, no one on this area, singularly, is highly effective sufficient to go up in opposition to the majors. But collectively? If the majors discover out their hits are going to run dry? No extra massive songs? That’s a distinct dialog. It’s a levy that may quickly break, I do imagineMusic Business Worldwide

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