R Y A N
Nerve Artist Management
Interview by Michelle Sullivan
Photography Kirsten Sinclair
Ryan Hambsch is the real deal. A former manager at D.E.F Artist Management, he believes in meticulous planning, structure and now has his own shop - Nerve Artist Management - where he guides the careers of Booka Shade, Tiga, Azari and III, I Blame Coco and Big Black Delta.
A few weeks ago we had a solid conversation about Robyn, The Knife and rental suits.
If I were an artist I would want him to be my manager.
Let’s talk about Nerve. I am so happy that you started this business.
RH: We’ve been going for three years. I left D.E.F and started Nerve with my partner Oliver Sasse. He’s a manager. He’s managed Tiga for twelve years. When I was at D.E.F we signed Tiga’s publishing and that’s how I met Oliver. I knew that to do the kind of management company that I wanted to do, it would be really hard to do alone … and I thought he would be a good teammate.
Do you have plans to expand?
RH: The way we have set up Nerve is as a full service management company - for every aspect of an artist’s career to be independent. It’s a lot of people and a lot of overhead. It’s very hard to operate it just taking 20% commission, but I feel like that’s what we’ve set Nerve up to do - to work with artists who create their own thing - who have a strong idea and a strong sense of self, and so we can facilitate all aspects of their career. It can be completely independent of record deals, publishing deals and that they can have a career without those partnerships.
What are your thoughts on the management model?
RH: Yeah I think about this a lot. Some managers should be taking less than 20%, with their experience, and then some could be making an argument to take more. It’s like lawyers. Lawyers get paid no matter what. See – managers are the people in the pecking order that don’t get paid no matter what. The essence of management is that you become a partner with the band, the fifth member; you are intrinsically tied to their financial well-being. That’s the strength of the model. I think that’s why there is a future in management. Whereas labels are struggling to find that 360 model, that thing that works, and it seems to me that they are trying to take more from the artist. Like if you do a 360 deal with EMI, EMI’s trying to take a percentage of the live income from the artist, but what I wonder is why EMI isn’t trying to talk to the agents to get a share of their pie? The agents are the only ones in the whole thing who don’t have to put in any money and get paid from day one.
Here’s the way I look at it: You have to get rid of the fear of losing those safe guards, of getting paid no matter what, It makes it so that you have to work in a different way. I’m trying to work out how to say this right - An artist has to go all in. So if you want to be called a manager, then you have to go all in too. Managers shouldn’t be looking to other people to make it fair. I think it’s on the managers now to start the discourse and start saying with their experience why the models aren’t working for them.
Ultimately though, I do believe in these partnerships - both agent and manager - have an important place with artists careers if they are entered into at the right time.
Who keeps you accountable?
RH: We are very hard on ourselves yes. I think in a weird masochistic way there is a part of us that is driven by our own…
...need to please? (laughs)
RH: (laughs) yeah to please ourselves ya know? To be on point. That you’re meeting the responsibilities to which you’ve sold yourself and signed on for. Yeah - I’m the boss at Nerve, but ultimately the artists are my bosses, if they don’t want to work with us they can fire us. We don’t have ownership. That’s one other thing that management doesn’t have, ownership in anything.
Can we digress a little and revisit your work with Robyn. It was after the UK success of ‘With Every Heartbeat’ that I first met you. What you were doing with Robyn was so unique. What did you learn from that time?
RH: We did it before actually, the way we met Robyn was because we did it with the Knife. In 2006 I think and it was almost the exact situation. The Knife had started their own label – Rabbit Records – and they had released their record successfully in Sweden. With the Knife, this is something that I thought “OK – this is the first time we’re going to take something around to record labels and in the traditional way shop it”. So we shopped it. We went to everybody, from XL to the Majors, nobody liked it. People were like “What the fuck is this?” and Erik said “I think what we need to do is just put this team together and release the record ourselves.” At the time I didn’t really understand everything about what we were doing, but Erik had a real clear idea of this and ultimately we put together a team that released The Knife record… and it worked out.
What that taught me is that It’s one thing to shop a record, but if you go in and you don’t have any leverage with the record company. Then they’re like - “oh. You want us to do this for you?” Because it is a service, what the record company does: “you want us to spend our time marketing you?” You don’t have any leverage if you don’t have any success. You’re doing it under the false assumption that there’s an industry out there that has all these A&R guys who are waiting for great music to come through so they can put it out. That’s just not my experience of what the music industry is. So – we put this out and we were able to show the record companies. The next record we licensed onto EMI for certain territories. We licensed it onto Co-operative Music for other territories, you know, we found licensing deals.
So based on that experience – Robyn asked The Knife to produce a track for her, ‘Who’s That Girl’. That’s how we started to be aware of Robyn, she was already a pop star in Sweden, and we had nothing to do with that. She’d been through the major label thing and she was like “you know what. Screw it. I’m doing this myself. This is who I am and this is what I want”. She’s the best.
She started her own label Konichiwa Records, and she released the record in Sweden herself. She had sold a lot on her own in Sweden, but again – she couldn’t find any international partners, at which point she had heard from a guy named Martin Dodd about what we were doing at D.E.F. Martin and Erik go back years. Martin has his fingers in a lot of successful things. We kept saying, “Is this as good as we think it is”? It was un-deniable. The music was un-deniable so we decided - yes we’ll do it. We flew out to meet her and she was awesome.
She’s got the moves!
RH: But she’s been doing it forever. We were saying, “this makes sense. We have to work together.” We decided that instead of releasing the album all at once, we would release this small EP; just get it out there. It was called ‘Konichiwa Bitches’. We needed to see how many fans she had internationally just based on her activity in Sweden.
Then at the same time there was all the A&R (in the UK) at the majors circling around. We were like – “ yo, this is our plan. This is what we would like to do to release the record”. Then everyone said no, so again we were left in this situation where we said, “ok we have to do this ourselves”.
The UK labels were very UK centric. One of the A&R guys at one point said “you know I spoke to Radio 1 about this and they said ‘why would we support this when there are all these English girls doing exactly the same thing’”. So - “Wow. Again. Ok now we have to show people what this is”. We started looking at other territories. I knew Pav from Modular in Australia. Erik had a really good relationship with Konrad von Löhneysen at Ministry Of Sound in Germany .. We licensed the record to them. Martin Dodd was really supportive. We went #1 in the UK by ourselves, that was the most satisfying thing, setting that system up. Doing it. Not talking about it and having that moment with Robyn. The people at Radio 1, the people that said, “why would we support her?” - It was a good feeling. Straight away, the A&R guys who said no in the first place, did the deal. It worked a lot better then, that time around. When you make something real, you have leverage to deal with a multi-national corporation like Universal, responsibly.
Erik sounds like he has been a brilliant mentor to you?
Yeah. When I first came over to London - right out of college for 6 months - I got placed in a temp role with D.E.F when he was just managing Moby. This was ’99, right before Moby became this global superstar; I was just sitting there watching him work. All of a sudden Moby was getting a BRIT and Erik had to rent a suit.
He rented a suit?
RH: He didn’t have a suit! Why would he need a suit?!
Ryan, do you own a suit?
RH: I do
RH: I don’t know if it’s appropriate to wear at music functions. I’d probably look more like a real estate agent.
So he’s like “Do you wanna stay on”? I said - “no I wanna get back to LA … Fuck London. It’s cold. Rainy and I can’t surf!” But I just kept in touch with him over two years. Then he said “I’ll move you over, would you consider it?” I had no real experience at that time - none. But I just had a real desire to want to work in music. He took a gamble and he brought me over. He taught me to structure. I don’t know If he did it on purpose, but what I got from the experience is to see how meticulous planning and structure is the most important foundation that a manager can create in order for an artist to truly be creative.
So – how important? Incredibly important.
The hardest part about setting up Nerve was leaving D.E.F. I no longer work with those artists, but Eric and his team do a phenomenal job. It's fun to watch Robyn continue on her amazing journey and release great music, and i'm as excited as anyone about the new knife album. In fact, the other day an agent sent me an email asking If I could put in a good word with Eric, as he'd cut off a finger to work with The Knife. I said - "you probably could keep your finger If you offered to commission on the net."