Working towards a fairer music industry

In Conversation With : Matt Harris

We caught up with Matt Harris, to chat about his career so far, from throwing parties at University to setting up his own record label, working for Rough Trade and now heading up the artist management arm of much loved festival End Of The Road.

Matt speaks about throwing himself in at the deep end, changing attitudes within the competitive landscape of the music industry, and how you can get noticed by starting your own projects. 

Artist Management

Can you tell us a bit about your role now and what that entails on a day-to-day basis.

I run the artist management arm of End of The Road Festival and I also oversee the label that we’ve just launched.

It’s a mixture of emails, calls and meetings. I deal with artists on every day logistics, so working with them on release and touring strategies, dealing with getting them merchandise, making sure their songs are registered properly. All of those little details.

In a broader sense, it depends on where the artist is at in their career. For example, we took on Golden Dregs and Modern Woman and an earlier stage so a lot of my work was about establishing them as a new band and getting people excited about them. Trying to get them slots on the right shows and festival bills and in front of record labels and press that make the decisions about who to invest in. 

What are your earliest memories of the ‘music industry’ and when did you start to think working in it could become a viable career choice?

I started putting on bands at a few parties when I moved to London for University. Through that I met my first boss who worked at Rough Trade Publishing because she wanted to sign one of the bands I was putting on. I didn’t know what music publishing was at the time, and I feel like a lot of people in the music industry still don’t really know what music publishing is! I asked if they did any internships and she said no because the team was just made up of two people, but then a couple of weeks later she emailed again asking if I wanted to scout for them. So I fell into it that way.

Once I left university I then picked up some work in sync to go alongside the Rough Trade work because it wasn’t completely full time.

Do you think picking up internships just from reaching out and emailing people still works?

I guess it depends on what area of the music industry you’re looking to get into. When I was starting out I didn’t really know what areas there were, and I didn’t even know what publishing was but I just wanted to get involved in any opportunities. I think it’s good to show that you’d be doing this stuff without prompting – I was doing some writing for small music websites and putting on parties. A lot of people I still see coming up the ranks now are people that have started off by doing things themselves, whether that’s running blogs or events. Those are the people you can usually tell are going to go far.

You mentioned that you moved to London for uni, what did you study?

I studied Photography, so nothing to do with music! As time went on my focus on my degree tailed off as I started to do more music related stuff. I grew up in a small town where live music wasn’t an accessible thing so moving to London for Uni was an opportunity to go to shows all the time and meet new people. That was definitely influential in me wanting to get into music.

Did you have any training for your work or was it a case of being thrown into the deep end?

I had little bits of help but in hindsight, I think if I was in my boss's position now I would try to give new starters a lot more support. I was given the basic outline and then a lot of stuff I just figured out myself. I started a small label when I was 21 and we got quite good press but I had no idea what I was doing when it came to the technical side like distribution. 

So although we had a good reputation and the bands did well, I lost quite a lot of money. It was through this that I started managing bands, and managing is a real case of figuring out what you’re doing as you go along. I made friends with people who were going through the same stages of their career that I could reach out to. At first you’re worried people might put up walls and not want to share information but actually everyone is in the same boat and so the majority of people want to help.

What does the End Of The Road team look like and how does End Of The Road festival tie in with your work on the label?

On the festival side there are three people full time and then two people part time. Then as it gets closer to the festival date the team expands with freelancers during the build up. The label was set up as a way to support new bands during the pandemic. When the pandemic hit, it wiped out opportunities for new artists who might have played the low level slots at festivals like ours. We wanted to use the Festival name as a way to help give those new artists that we really liked a leg up. A lot of the people that come to our festival aren’t just there for the big names and the headliners, they’re there to discover new music and their next favourite band. So we wanted to harness that discovering element into something tangible.

What have you got coming up for the rest of the year on the label?

We’ve recently released a new Modern Woman single called Ford and then we’re doing a compilation release that Simon (who runs the festival) has put together. It encompases a mixture of old gems and the newer stuff that we’re working on. We’re currently trying to figure out the next steps for the label and how it can be of use to artists. It takes a lot of work running both a festival and a label so we want to make sure we’re supporting the artists properly from both sides.

What advice would you give to a young person wanting to get involved in music?

Take every opportunity you can and show people that you’re invested in music. Internships are one thing, but unless they’re well paid then you need to be financially comfortable to be able to make them work. Whereas something like writing for music blogs is something you can do in your free time. You often get free tickets to gigs to review, and then you can use that as a chance to meet new people. So yeah, I think the best thing you can do is to start something yourself.

The industry can be incredibly competitive, have you noticed any changes in attitudes when it comes to that side of it?

I think there is definitely more of an effort from companies to diversify their staff and their rosters. There’s also a shift in how labels are doing business with artists – being more flexible and offering deals that work more in the artist’s favour. It’s been a very slow process and it can definitely be much better, but I think it’s going in the right direction.

Finally, what have been some of your highlights so far during your career?

Golden Dregs opening the Garden Stage at End Of The Road was a big highlight! 

Managing artists has also opened me up to work with big companies that I didn’t necessarily expect to ever work with, like Netflix and Apple. It’s been interesting having an insight into how those massive companies work as my whole career has been based on the independent side.