Working towards a fairer music industry

In Conversation With : Amber Chen

The story of Amber Chen’s route into the music industry takes place during one of the most difficult periods of recent history. Currently an assistant manager at Atlas Artists, Amber graduated in July 2020 during the current Coronavirus pandemic and many of the benefits of working in music were quickly snatched away. No more live shows, no awards ceremonies, no celebratory artist signing dinners. 

Thankfully, a supportive team at Atlas has helped to soften the blow at a time where many young people have been cut adrift. COVID-19 has put a roadblock in the way of numerous ambitions but Amber was fortunate enough to get her foot in the door just in the nick of time. 

We spoke to her about a turbulent first year in the job, the lessons companies can learn by putting faith in young people and advice for anyone looking to break into the industry right now. 

Artist Management

Firstly, tell us a bit about yourself and what you do.

I’m currently an assistant manager at Atlas Artists. I got the role in my final year of uni after I went to the annual BBC Introducing convention to see my friend Rachel Chinouriri play, who is an Atlas artist. She told me that her management company was hiring and so I met Ben who is one of the senior managers and got an interview. I’ve been working here for a year now. I internerned for three months and started just before lockdown.

Did you go to university and if so, what did you study?

I grew up in the US and then moved to the UK and went to ACM London. I started managing some bands there and graduated in July 2020. I didn’t get a graduation or anything because of the pandemic.

What was it like finishing uni during a pandemic?

It felt very underwhelming. I started my job in February so I was working on top of my degree, so by the end I wanted uni to be over and done with. I felt like I’d achieved a great thing in finishing uni but at the same time I couldn’t go out and celebrate it or see my friends or tutors. I don’t know if I’ll ever get a graduation. They haven’t told us anything, but it’s fine – I’ve just accepted it now and moved on.

What has it been like starting your career during a pandemic?

My start at Atlas wasn’t conventional – in my second week on the job I was at the BRITs celebrating Celeste’s rising star award. I was like “wow this is so cool!” and then a month later we were in lockdown. So I had a highlight very early on, but haven’t been able to do things like that since. It was really full on, I was there backstage for twelve hours and there were people that I’d only ever seen on TV. Suddenly I was there among them as part of my job, it felt so surreal. I’m really glad I got to do that before everything closed.

It’s been okay actually. As a team there’s only four of us and we’re really close knit – we’re always catching up and talking to each other so it makes working from home a lot easier. Some days it’s so busy I don’t even leave the house and feel like I’m sinking into my furniture! But other than that, it hasn’t been too bad.

Tell us about your current role at Atlas Artists. What does your day-to-day entail?

There’s lots of admin, organisation and communication. So writing emails and catching up with our artists. I manage the diary, so I’ll be checking over plans for the next week or so to make sure everyone knows what they need to do, where they’re going and that they have all the right information. Sometimes we have Zoom meetings or shoots that I might be on set for but everyday looks different and that’s what I love about the job. Every day is exciting. Even when I’m doing more mundane tasks like emails, it still feels productive and exciting to me.

Did you set out to become an artist manager or was it a case of applying for the jobs that were out there?

I started going to gigs on a regular basis when I was sixteen and began by helping out my friends' bands, but I never thought about doing it as a career. Originally I wanted to work in Fashion but after I started going to gigs and meeting bands, it kind of solidified that I wanted to get into the music industry. Then when I was at uni I started managing a band that went on a UK tour and it was horrendous! It was a successful tour, but I found it so stressful going up and down the country.

At that point I thought managing maybe wasn’t for me, but after I landed the internship I realised that there are different types of management. Tour management is a very different thing. Artist management is a lot about being empathetic, and taking care of artists. And that’s something that appeals to me – nurturing an artist and being a part of their journey. Mutually you want a certain level of success and I think that’s what makes the bond between an artist and manager really sacred.

Is there anything about your work that you wish you knew before you started the job?

I wish someone told me that patience is key. When I first started in the role I wanted to rush everything and be on top of everything, achieving big goals quickly. But being patient and learning at a slower pace allows you time to absorb everything properly. I’m only 21 so there’s so much time for me to grow and develop and I think it’s important to do that properly rather than trying to rush through everything. I definitely have more clearer and realistic ambitions now. I love working at Atlas and we’ve got a lot of exciting things coming up, so there’s a lot of opportunity for me to grow with the business and our artists. It’s definitely a place I want to stay and be able to move up in.

Has your company been supportive of new starters?

I definitely got very lucky with the team around me. They’re incredible mentors and are always there for me. If I have any questions, they fully support me which has been so nice, especially in a year when it’s been hard to get to know each other without being in the office together. We’ve been able to form a bond because actually we’ve now been through the shit of the pandemic together.

What do you think the music industry could do better to help young people like yourself get a foot in the door?

It’s kind of like a dog fight to get these internships, and for a lot of young people that’s how they get their first industry experiences. Even at the big labels who hire like twenty interns a year, it’s still so hard to get. Making internships more widely available and making sure that they’re paid is really important. People deserve to be paid fairly for the work that they’re doing. It’s also important for young people to have spaces where they can network and get to know each other because if we can create our own networks and our own experiences then we won’t have to rely on the big labels to provide them for us.

It’s so important to listen to young people’s ideas. Companies need to learn for their interns as much as the interns are there to learn. We’re the next generation of workers and we are the gatekeepers because everyone is trying to target a young audience. So listen to their ideas. Listen to how they want to consume music and how they want to see their artists.

Finally, what’s your advice to people applying for jobs in this difficult time.

It’s really really hard at the moment but the best advice I can give is to make your own work experience. If you go to university, talk to the people on your course. Make friends. Research tiny bands and go to those small live stream gigs that are on Facebook. You can still put yourself out there and continue to apply for jobs. Pester the people you’re trying to get work from. They’re busy people and they forget to reply, so they might give it to the person that has chased up five times because they can see they’re eager. Definitely be assertive and be yourself!