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MNZ Interview: Temperate Island Talks 002: Cushla Aston

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 nominee Cushla Aston from Aston Road (Louis Baker, etc.)

How did you end up as an artist manager?

I stepped into the world of Artist Management about 11 years ago, without an intention to do so.

I had been living in London for just over a decade and when I came back to NZ I wanted a change of career. While in London I had met and become friends with a lot of NZ touring artists including Fat Freddy's Drop. Nicole Duckworth, long-time manager of Fat Freddy's Drop, invited me to move to Wellington and to come and work with them.

After 2.5 years with FFD I decided to try something new and by default started helping developing artists / friends with releases while I was deciding my next steps.

I never intended to start a Music Management business. I just wanted to help creative people take their art into the world. Then one day one of my clients told me that Management was what I was doing and so I may as well just lean into it.

I called the company Aston Road, because it is a road named after my father in the outback of Australia. My dad, Norman Aston (Ngati Maniapoto, Ngati Pikiao) was an artist; he passed away at 54, and was an incredibly talented sculptor. He spent the last 8 years of his life sculpting and looking for the colour (opal) in Coober Pedy. Dad didn’t have anyone beside him to turn his art into a way to survive and thrive. I tried to help when I was 13, putting portfolios together and applying for funding etc, but I was 13.

That’s the core and essence of where I come from, what Aston Rd is, it’s helping take artistic talents and help them pursue it full-time, sustainably.

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?

It’s always varied, and it depends what cycle the artist is in. If you’re in the recording cycle, it’s different from the releasing cycle, as well as the songwriting one.

So today we’re setting up a single to pitch, we’re doing some invoicing, tidying up the catalogue, and working on some new distribution logistics. We’re facilitating some songwriting, facilitating some conversation with collaborations, working on tour plans, etc.

Being a music manager is a responsibility for somebody’s career, and to ensure that we’re looking at big picture goals as well as what we’re doing day-to-day.

I’m only managing Louis Baker at the moment, having reduced from a roster of 4 artists to 1, purely because I got burnt out. I was the booking agent, manager, publisher, label services, tour manager etc .

There was one week where I had all the acts in Australia touring, and I had 32 shows in an 8 day period, and that was intense.

I also wanted to be able to help more people, as there aren’t many managers in NZ, and there’s a lot of artists. So I spend a lot of my time mentoring and coaching these days. I love this work.

How many projects do you usually have going on at the same time? This could include tour planning, album promotion, etc.

Again, it depends on what part of the cycle we’re at. I’m consistently looking at 12 month planning, and how to make each cycle sustainable. If we’re in the songwriting cycle, then I need to be looking at investment, funding, future touring, what’s happening with publishing, live shows etc. So, we’re always thinking about everything.

And when you’ve got a release on, you’re managing a lot more people, because you’re also managing the publicist, the distributor, the designer, the videographers, the lawyers, the accountants, the funding applications. There’s just so many different elements. That’s why I love the job. No two days are the same.

Plus, as Managers we have to keep on top of trends and how the business is changing. This week I’ve been learning about NFTs and I’m excited about the opportunity and also realise the time is right now.

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?

I love the process of how an idea becomes a tangible thing. And I love being a part of the growth and development of an artist. Plus you get to meet so many talented and inspired individuals, and not just the artists either, managers, production crew, session musicians, designers, lighting techs, stage designers, producers, writers etc.

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?

I created some projects for myself, so I’ve been busy working on these projects.

I’ve taken on some additional clients outside of management, so I’m currently producing 3 live shows, and I mentor. I’m going to be running my first ever course next year, which I recently got funding for, thanks to the NZ Music Commission Capability Funding. It’s a 7 module course for Wellington based self-managed independent artists serious about a career in music.

Other than that, I live 300m from the beach, so lots of walking, spending time with friends, checking in with whanau, and mostly staying off social media.

I’m really looking forward to seeing my Mum, family and best friend who are all in the Auckland region.

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

If you’re serious about having music as your main career then I suggest you learn about the business of music, even just the foundations. Understand how you can turn your art into a sustainable life. When I talk about sustainability I talk of mental, spiritual, whanau based, physical and financial sustainability.

Know that talent is not enough, drive, work ethic, a vision, being consistent, and knowing that perceived failure is part of the course and you can learn your best from the things that don’t work.

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?

1. Home, Land and Sea by Trinity Roots

2. Rainbow by Louis Baker

3. Don’t You Know Who I Am by Reb Fountain


Other Interviews By Danielle Hao-Aickin

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    Fred Again.. And Baby Keem
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