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MNZ Interview: Temperate Island Talks 001: Paula Yeoman & Nicole Thomas

14 Dec 2021 // An interview by Danielle Hao-Aickin

Today we introduce Muzic.net.nz's brand new interview series, Temperate Island Talks with Danielle Hao-Aickin. Kicking off the series, Dani speaks to NZ Music Manager of the Year nominees Paula Yeoman and Nicole Thomas from NicNak Media (Theia, TOI, Paige, Abby Wolfe and Nganeko etc.)

How did you end up as an artist manager?

Paula (pictured): To be honest I kind of fell into it, as I’m sure so many managers do. Nicole and I both left our jobs in the corporate world to set up our own music company, which was primarily specialising in PR (at that stage). But of course one advantage of doing PR for local artists, is that you come across some fantastic talent. And that’s exactly what happened - we were asked to do some PR for this incredible new artist from Christchurch, who we now all know as Theia. I quickly realised that music management was much more my forte than PR, so I pretty much threw myself into that side of things and six years down the line, here we are.

Nicole: I had left Warner Music to start an independent publicity company with Paula - NicNak Media. One of the first artists we worked with was Theia, who came to us via "the audience" platform that existed at the time for new and emerging acts. It quickly emerged she was very special and amazingly talented. Ashley Page, who was running “the audience” encouraged me to take the plunge into management. It was scary as I had a label background and knew PR but I didn’t really know anything about management… but I was passionate and really believed in Theia and wanted to do what I could to help her get underway. Things snowballed and thankfully Paula stepped in as full-time manager as it definitely became a full-time job. Paula still works with me on the PR side of things and I still work with Paula on the management side of things, but it helps that each of us are able to focus primarily on one role, while acting as support in the other. Both roles keep us both very busy.

What does being a music manager mean to you? Such as what does it entail, and what does your day-to-day life look like?

Paula: Work takes up such a massive part of our lives and having worked in the media for many years, which I did really love but was also quite exhausted by, it was important to me once I left the 9 to 5 world, that I found something I really loved. I really do love music management. It is hard work - probably one of the most challenging roles I’ve ever had. But when you genuinely love what you’re doing, it really doesn’t feel like a job. And for me that’s really important. Working with incredible artists and working alongside them to realise their dreams and visions is such a privilege. Also, as we are all fully aware, there are some major challenges we collectively face in the music industry - namely massive gender disparities, which continue to severely impact the growth and development of female, BIPOC and LGBTQ+ artists in Aotearoa. So, I do see it as my responsibility to challenge this. It is incredibly frustrating and tiresome and quite often we feel like we’re fighting s*** up hill. But the quality of music being made by disenfranchised artists in the local industry is second to none and we refuse to accept the ‘second class treatment’ they often receive. So in a way, that’s what drives us. What does day-to-day look like? Basically chaos. Haha.

Nicole (pictured): Ha ha - as Paula says, chaos! A juggling octopus with many, many balls in the air at any one time. Managing a few acts and they are all at different stages of their journey. I love being a music manager, I love the acts we work with and think they are all incredibly talented. I always want to represent them in the best possible way and will always fight for them. Paula and I have a motto, “never give up.” No matter how things look stacked against you or obstacles that come your way, if we stick together as a team and stay positive and focused we will get through it. We love what we do and as long as the artist is happy and creating music they are passionate about, then that is what matters.

Day to day is so varied depending on release cycles, touring, what is happening for the artist at the time. Might be liaising with independent PR or record label for media schedules, or running a timeline and calendar to ensure the artist is across all things happening but also not becoming too overwhelmed. Paula and I are transparent with the acts we manage, we have constant conversations with them, to and fro, making sure they are across the “business” side of what they do. Also lots of motivational chats and making sure they are OK, not overwhelmed, and generally keeping an eye out for their well-being.

So I understand you’ve been in the management business for a while now. What is it about the work that inspires you to stay?

Paula: Each of the artists we work with, and their music, inspires us to stay. They are all so talented in their own ways and we are so proud of all their achievements. We are often so busy; we don’t take stock of all the good things that are happening. So it’s really good to step back at the end of the year and reflect on all the wonderful things they’ve achieved. It’s bloody impressive. And then what’s exciting is knowing that each of them also have amazing projects they’re about to unveil. It helps that all of the artists we manage are all such great people, who we absolutely enjoy spending time with and knowing.

Nicole: The artists!! We love them and we believe in them. Paula and I both bring different skill sets to the table. Keeping positive in a hard and sometimes toxic industry is extremely challenging. Despite all the challenges, we are determined to try and be positive role models and offer security, safety and compassion to the artists we work with. We want them to flourish without worrying about all the daily dramas and stress of the industry. Easier said than done of course, but the drive to really fight for them and help them keeps us inspired to stay.

If you could give one piece of advice to independent artists in Aotearoa, what would it be?

Paula: Know who you are as an artist. What do you stand for? What makes you and your music stand out from the crowd? Know who your audience is and go where they are. Stop worrying about those who aren’t interested in you or don’t care. Find your people!

Nicole: For artists just starting out, it is good to try and get an understanding of the music business - join MMF, they offer incredible mentoring sessions with people from all different areas in the music industry. Ask questions and try and learn as much as you can about the basics - how do you get a song on Spotify. How do you get a song on the radio. Do some of the groundwork first to learn about music as a business; as once things start to fly then it really does become a business and that is when it is a good time to get a trusted team around you. So they can look after the business side while you focus on the creative side.

The industry is hard and can be brutal. It is important you work with people you feel you can trust and that believe in you and your music. People that treat you as a human, not as a commodity. People that listen to you and can advise you. Sure you might not agree on everything but the trust level is important and feeling safe.

What have you been doing in lockdown to stay sane? And what is the first you’re gonna do after we’re out of it?

Paula: Work work work! It keeps us sane. The artists we manage all have new music on the way in 2022 and some really exciting shows here in NZ and in Australia (COVID permitting), so we’ve been flat out making sure that these projects remain on track despite the challenges posed by lockdown. Happy to say that Theia, Te Kaahu, Paige, Nganeko and TOI all have AMAZING new songs/albums up their sleeves. We’re so proud of them all.

Nicole: I was quite fortunate to be in Dunedin during the recent lockdown, so was able to do a lot of things those in Auckland were unable to. Am very grateful. Continued working, all the artists we work with are creating incredible music so is super exciting to see how they have flourished and handled all the obstacles and the constant changing music environment.

If you were stuck on a desert island, and could choose 3 NZ songs to listen to for the rest of your life, which songs would they be at this very moment?

Paula:

E Ipo - Prince Tui Teka

E Hine E - Te Kaahu

Bathe In The River - The Mt Raskil Preservation Society

Nicole:

She Has To Be Loved - Jenny Morris

Andrew - Fur Patrol

Maxine - Sharon O'Neill

 

Other Interviews By Danielle Hao-Aickin

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