Marty Nolan serves in both management and marketing capacities for Red Light Management and ATO Records as an artist manager and A&R/product manager, working and having worked with a list of artists including Dave Matthews Band, Phish and Trey Anastasio, Ben Harper, My Morning Jacket, Robert Randolph & the Family Band, and Dawes among others. Prior to his tenure at Red Light, Marty founded his own company, and managed/co-managed independent rock phenomenon acts, The Samples and Dispatch, among additional clients, and was a marketing consultant for several major and independent record labels. Marty has also been involved with festival marketing initiatives on behalf of sister company, Starr Hill Presents, and serves in an advisory capacity to several music technology based companies. He is based out of the New York office.
What inspired you to want to be a manager?
It always starts with a passion for music, and that moment where you realize that you could actually do this for a living.
Although I was accepted into school for architecture, I found out there was a music industry program during orientation and quickly enrolled. After one semester, I transferred into the business school. I had several marketing co-ops in strategic planning, market research, new product development, etc. All my friends were working for companies like Gillette and Kraft, and I couldn't care less about shaving products or macaroni and cheese…but I realized that I loved the analytical, strategic, and creative components of building something that I was really passionate about.
For me, with music and artist management, you have a multi-dimensional relationship with the brand. The brand in this case is a living and breathing entity that creates something intangible, providing real personal meaning and value. Obviously the artist writes and performs the music, but you are involved in helping to create and shape a career. You build a team of friends and partners around an artist to help complement and execute their vision and goals, which for me, is extremely rewarding and exciting.
What was your first industry job and how did you get it?
I was fortunate to land a job as a college rep with Universal during my first semester at school in Boston. I heard that Universal was hiring in several cities, (not including Boston), so I called the head of college marketing to see what opportunities might be available. A few days later I was on a train to interview at one of the distribution branches outside of the city, and was offered a position that I held until I graduated (thanks Chris Clancy!).
What determines your desire to work with an artist?
I feel like I use the word compelling often, for good reason. You can objectively say that a song may be fundamentally well written, or that an artist knows how to technically sing or play, but the degree to which they land hooks, and can resonate emotionally with an audience, is the determining factor.
Obviously other personal and professional factors carry weight as well, but when it comes to desire, it stops and starts with that elementary component. You need to feel like you are in on something amazing and be inspired to want to spread the gospel to anyone and everyone, turning over every rock in that process.
In your opinion, what makes a great artist “great”?
To answer this from a creative standpoint, having the courage of their convictions to not only create amazing material with a bold vision and unique point of view, but to pull it off and execute it with supreme confidence and skill. To the extent that the original stamp that you put on it makes the music bulletproof to criticism and demands objective respect because it is so undeniably special.
To be in that elite category requires the ability to do deliver consistently and raise the bar by contributing to that legacy of greatness…acknowledge influences but create something completely your own. You don’t need novelty, you don’t need to be iconic, you need to be able to affect people and compel them in a powerful manner.
To answer this from a professional standpoint, which is of equal importance now more than ever, artists have to possess a passion to not only live and breathe music/creativity, but to match that with the work ethic and discipline necessary for any level of success. The great ones are driven.
What is your greatest professional challenge today?
One of the first things that comes to mind is the challenges faced with developing new artists. Generally speaking, artists no longer have the luxury of taking the time necessary that was once afforded to them to hone their craft and develop a profile and meaningful fan base over the course of several album cycles with the belief and support of a label behind them. The clock is ticking before the first album is released, and the stakes are so high that the signings are extremely marginal and selective. We are fortunate to have several great label partners for our clients, but it has become increasingly difficult to put together resources early on as it relates to touring, press, etc. that are so vital to an artist’s development.
How did your business transform over the last several years?
When I started working at Red Light, there were a handful of us operating out of Coran Capshaw’s (founder) home outside of Charlottesville, VA in 2004. Since that time, the company has expanded with offices in New York, Los Angeles, Nashville, London, Denver, and Atlanta…and has also developed a more eclectic and diverse group of artists in multiple genres. We also have an unparalleled suite of resources available to our artists in the multiple entities that Coran has developed including ATO & TBD Records (record label), Musictoday (ticketing, merchandising, fan clubs), Star Hill Presents (festival promotion), Green Light (strategic marketing and content), New Era (sponsorship), District Music (licensing), etc. Today, Red Light is the largest privately held management company in the business.
Where do you see this business 5-10 years from now?
Artists will be making more revenue (share/volume) from the direct-to-fan model, and developing stronger relationships with their fan-base in the process. Traditional retail will continue to give way to digital, with that component of consumption shifting to subscription versus album sales. Technology and social networking platforms will evolve to help further create trusted channels for discovery, and help filter worthy content from the overwhelming noise and traffic. The role of the manager will only become that much more important as artists need to navigate their way through an ever changing landscape presenting new opportunities and challenges at each turn.
What is the best advice you have received over the years as a manager?
Challenge your artists to deliver their absolute best. In this current climate, it is so insanely competitive on every level that good won’t cut it. Word of mouth is often the tipping point in a successful campaign. The music and all of the other supporting elements need to be special for good reason. Seek objective feedback to put your best foot forward and make the most of opportunities. Quality control is worth its weight in gold. Despite your best efforts, every project is still subject to varying degrees of timing, luck, and politics…so make sure you do everything within your power to stack the deck in your artist’s favor as best you can before pulling the trigger.
What would you tell a new manager coming into the business today?
When I was 20 years old, I was thrown into rock and roll boot camp and began managing a band that had sold a million albums independently. Needless to say, I was thoroughly in over my head. There was a group of managers in Boston that met once a month with different guest speakers, headed by Tim Collins (longtime manager of Aerosmith), that took me in under their wing and helped provide invaluable perspective and advice that I couldn’t have received from anywhere else at the time. Attend panels, read interviews, and just benefit as much as you can from other people’s experience and lessons learned.
Develop your critical thinking skills and absorb every bit of relevant information that you can, with an emphasis on marketing. At the same time, learn the craft and be proficient enough to have credibility and know what you are talking about when it comes to creative input on music, and even further, art/photography direction.
Above all do right by your artists and take care of their fans. Be extremely selective about who you work with and commit yourself to their success. You make a reputation for yourself based on your taste, your work, and how you treat people.