Working towards a fairer music industry

In Conversation With : Helena Watmuff

Candy Artists are one of the UK’s foremost independent agencies, specialising in artist management and live bookings. Their growing roster includes Grammy award winning Dry Cleaning, The Bug Club, BODEGA, Hinds and more. 

Helena Watmuff is one of the company’s Directors with a breadth of experience that encompasses agent and management roles, finance and sound engineering giving her a great perspective of the live industry as a whole.  

We spoke to Helena about her key mentors, supportive structures for young people and the day to day of running a business. 

Artist Manager

Did you go to University and if so, how did that prepare you for the working world?

I first went to BIMM in Brighton to do sound engineering and then went onto do a music business degree. The courses were pretty practical so I was lucky to have quite a few work experience placements built into my course, which helped to form a network early on. I also had a couple of amazing tutors who were absolute brains when it came to the industry, how it works, and ways in which it can be fairer.

What was your first job in the industry and how did that come about? 

My first job in music was working for a management company. It came via a work experience placement I’d done at university. I specifically did finance at the company to start off with, which sounds much duller than it was (the choices were finance or social media so you do the math). Being a management company, you are exposed to nearly every income stream an artist can receive, so it helped me to understand how income flows through this very confusing industry right from the start.  

You’ve had a foot in both camps, so can you answer the age old question for any young people starting out… what’s the difference between a manager and an agent?  

A manager is responsible for coordinating you and your team, in every single aspect of your campaign and touring. They manage the wider team as well as you to drive forward ideas, plans and conversations. Managers standard commission is 20% of your net income. That’s a very simplified version but overall, that’s what we do!

Agents are responsible for booking your shows. This includes negotiating ticket price, fee, show costs, announcement and on sale dates, support budgets etc, and if it’s a festival or an event, negotiating your slot, stage, and billing. It’s their job to make sure you’re playing in places where your fans are, and working with the label to ensure that fanbase is growing. Agents take 10% from your show fee before any costs aka gross.

Can you describe what sort of tasks you deal with day to day?

My role involves working across Candy both live and management, in terms of the wider business. I’m one of three directors and owners of the company so I handle any financials relating to both sides of our company, projections, cashflow, tour accounting, new business opportunities etc.

On the management side, day to day it’s a real mix. Today for example has been a call with a label to discuss getting giant album artwork cardboard cuts out into record stores, figuring out tour logistics and budgets with crew, checking on merch shipments, speaking to other managers about remixer work, and developing an event that’ll form part of an album release.

What are some of the core skills needed as an artist manager? 

Patience, being good with change, problem solving, and the ability to think on the spot and outside of the box.

What are some of the toughest aspects of working in the music industry?

Two things, pressure and people.

In terms of pressure, there’s a huge expectation to deliver. Whether it’s ticket sales or a festival slot, pressure is applied from a variety of different angles. It’s easy to forget sometimes we are talking to other human beings who are facing the same stresses we are to deliver, and that we are all on the same team. Be kind!

I’ve had some difficult and sad experiences with people I’ve come across which does make you question if it’s worth it.

Have you had any mentors or have you had to make your own way?

Yes, I’ve been lucky enough to have a few.

The first one was Sam Beckley who I worked with at my first industry job. He showed me the foundations of finance in music and was patient enough to show a 19-year-old how to use accounting software.

The next two were Lucy Graubart and Charlie Myatt, at different times but the same company, which is a live agency called 13 Artists. Lucy was head of finance, and I was her assistant. Without learning from her, I wouldn’t have been able to run my own business today. All the systems that she taught me, we applied when we started Candy.

Charlie is one of the owners and agents at 13 Artists. When I moved onto the booking team, his quirky and very full brain was an invaluable resource. He pushed you while allowing you freedom and autonomy which many agencies don’t grant to assistants.

How do you think the industry as a whole could be more supportive of young people in the early stages of their careers? 

I would say having a dedicated person you can speak to who isn’t your boss, is important. Candy is only a small company with 5 people in total, but we have a part time office manager who works as a sounding board for any problems our staff may have. If you have a happy team it translates into your business and how it’s going. It also means that your staff member has agony aunt of sorts which is vital for young people who may not always have that in other areas of life but may also not want to speak to their boss directly.

What advice would you give to your younger self at the start of your career journey?

It won’t matter in a week. Keep on rocking in the free world.

What have been some of your proudest moments to date? 

Starting a business with two of my closest friends.

Finally, what are you listening to at the moment?

Van Houten – I Let You
BODEGA – City Is Taken
Wunderhorse – Epilogue
RAYE – Escapism
Sam Evian – Rollin In