"I may not be living the dream I had for myself 10 years ago, but I love my job and watching this new wave of talent."
Elisa is a musician, artist manager and entrepreneur.
Here she tells her story to The Manifesto.
Photography by Damian Weilers.
I started learning the clarinet when I was 8-years-old and since then music has been a massive part of my life. By the age of 15, I was performing with the Kent Youth Orchestra, playing incredible shows at The Royal Albert Hall and Royal Festival Hall. By 17 I was performing weekly concerts, and even had a solo performance at Canterbury Cathedral - I loved performing so much. I knew that I had found what I wanted to do with my life - to be a concert clarinettist . I was lucky to have really supportive tutors, and in my final year of school, they helped me prepare for the annual entrance auditions at the music colleges around the country.
Getting into a BMus program is not an easy task. Competition is fierce, open to international talent, and the colleges (worth their salt) demand a grade eight distinction in your instrument as a minimum requirement. That’s just to get an audition! l was fortunate enough to audition at four schools - Royal Collage, Royal Academy, Birmingham Conservatoire and Trinity College. I was offered a place at three of them, and ultimately decided on Birmingham Conservatoire. Only four clarinettists were offered a place that year, and I was one of them. The opportunity to study under the tuition of Colin Parr was just so incredible; he’s the Principal Clarinettist of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra!
My time at music college was intense and relentless. Days generally consisted of 9 hour rehearsals in various ensembles, together with extensive solo lessons. It was 2004 and I had come home for the Christmas holidays. I went to visit my previous tutor - Grenville Hancox - for a rehearsal, as we often did clarinet duets together for various functions. On that day, my life changed. The muscles in my jaw collapsed suddenly during the rehearsal, and I could hardly speak, let alone play. What was happening? I immediately went to see my doctor and dentist, each of whom sent me home prescribing a diet of ‘soft food only’ and rest.
As I started my second year of college, my condition deteriorated and I could hardly keep up with my peers. As things got worse, It was my Dad who started digging around on the internet. He found Patrick Grossman, a doctor who specialises in Temporomandibular Joint Dysfunction (TMJ). I made the trip to Harley Street to see Patrick, and not long after I was diagnosed with degenerative bone disease in my jaw. Explained simply, I didn’t have any cartilage over my jaw joints and the bone was wearing away against my skull.
My diagnosis brought my music career to a very abrupt end. I was 22-years-old and it was a really difficult time for me to understand. Patrick was shocked that I was even able to play in my condition. Either way, the treatment that I was about to undertake meant that I had to stop playing the clarinet completely. After receiving the news, I stayed in Birmingham for a few months to cancel my University course and tie up loose ends. I had decided to move back home to Kent, as I had to go into London every month for treatment and this made it more manageable. I was at a real loss on how to continue working in music. I had put all my eggs in one basket (as they say), focusing all my energy on this one instrument. On my final day in Birmingham and before heading home I called my mum: “Mum, what do I do now?” Her advice has stayed with me to this day, she said “Elisa, follow your heart and whatever you choose to do , just hit the ground running.”
My treatment began in 2005 and slowly we worked toward my surgery, which would happen the following year, and involve them cutting open the sides of my head and re-attaching cartilage to my jaw. I would then wear a splint for another year, and then braces. Just wonderful right?
It’s not always that we listen to our Mothers, but that day in Birmingham stayed with me. In September of 2005 I contacted some friends who found me some work as a runner at The Barbican Theatre. I underwent surgery to my jaw the following January, and knew that once I was able to, I needed to get back into work. A few months later I landed a job as a radio plugger, promoting bands to regional radio stations. I made the move to south east London and continued with my treatment.
In early 2007 I was sent to Dublin to meet a band that we were promoting, and it was there I met Serena Wilson. We hit it off immediately and she offered my a job at Nile-On - her online PR agency. I jumped at the opportunity, and ended up working with incredible artists such as Laura Marling, We are Scientists, The Kooks and Maps. A year later, I was head hunted by Kat Fell and Charlie Lycett at Lucid PR. They had started an online division to accompany their radio department, and asked me to come on board to manage their digital campaigns. I accepted the role, and while we did primarily work with major label artists, I was also able to work with new bands, which was something that I was very passionate about. I spent four years at Lucid and learned invaluable lessons. I developed a detailed understanding of the process involved in releasing a record, and how to adapt with a constantly changing industry. You can never replicate the success of another artists campaign, it's important to stay fresh and creative, and encourage your clients to do the same.
It was through working with some very talented managers, that I began to feel as though management was my calling. The best advice I was given was to not to manage for the sake of it, but to find artists that I truly loved - 'If you don’t love their music how do you expect anyone else to?’
It was in early 2012 that I met Lyla Foy. A mutual friend had passed along my details, and after meeting for a coffee she sent me some music for her side project ‘WALL’. I instantly loved her track ‘No Secrets’ and we met up again to discuss working together. I decided this was it. I thought about my Mum’s words and I decided to take a leap of faith. So I started my own business, and I called it Aimi Management. My roster consists of two artists - Lyla Foy and PINS. I am fortunate to have a great investor in my company, which has allowed me time to structure my vision, and also to develop the artists. Naturally there are always challenges, and I’ve needed to learn important business basics - such as running my accounts and negotiating contracts.
Lyla signed to Sub Pop Records and we released her debut album ‘Mirrors the Sky' in March. PINS signed to Bella Union, and we are releasing their debut album ‘Girls Like Us’, with a limited edition heart shaped vinyl for Record Store Day 2014.
After 4 years of treatment and successful surgery, I am able to play again for short amounts of time. It’s a great feeling although I am definitely not as good as I once was! I may not be living the dream I had for myself 10 years ago, but I love my job and watching this new wave of talent. Perhaps the lesson is that when you set your mind to it, anything is achievable, you just have to have faith.