Five Things I Know: Lorrae McKenna of Our Golden Friend

Independent label and artist management company Our Golden Friend – home of RVG, Good Morning, Poppongene and Chitra – turns five this year. Co-founder Lorrae McKenna talks to NME about managing artists, partnering a major label and more

Managing an artist at the start of their career? Give them space

You have to allow newer artists space and time to understand themselves as an artist/creative/musician, what it is that they’re trying to create and project, and just support them in that process rather than tell them exactly what it is they need to be doing.

With artists who are new to the industry, I provide ideas, thoughts, experience and knowledge that they can then take or leave. At the end of the day, the final decisions are made by them. It sets the tone and helps them better understand the industry. The music industry is a machine, and it can be daunting for new artists. That’s when a manager can do their best work.

Lorrae McKenna Our Golden Friend
Lorrae McKenna. Credit: Press

Artist-manager relationships do end, and that’s OK

The artist-manager relationship is really personal, and as with any relationship, they don’t always work out. It can be hard to get to that point and realise, “Oh, this isn’t the relationship that I thought it was gonna be when we first started working together.” It’s hard to acknowledge, especially when you’ve invested a lot of time and energy into supporting someone’s creative growth.

I’ve been through a few artist-manager relationships where I had to learn to remove my emotions from certain situations. Ultimately, an artist-manager relationship is a business relationship. But you’re working so closely together that it does become quite personal, even if you intend it not to be. I’ve learnt to protect myself from not getting too emotionally invested, but it’s not always that easy. Artists are people, and they can say things in the heat of the moment that make you stop and think, “Wow, do they realise there’s actually a person on the other side of this!”

“Anyone who can manage bands and not get emotionally attached to them, I’d love to meet that person”

For me, management is deeply emotional. Anyone who can manage bands and not get emotionally attached to them, I’d love to meet that person, because I don’t know if that necessarily exists. With experience, I’ve learnt to find better ways to deal with different personalities and the emotional situations that can unfold.

Don’t put bounds on how artists deal with unprecedented crises – like a pandemic

Some artists have seen this period as an opportunity to be really productive and write new records. On the other hand, there are also some for whom performing on stage is their lifeblood, the thing that gives them worth and purpose. To have that taken away from you in a very short amount of time is devastating – to not have the one thing that lets you emotionally express yourself and provides you with your stability.

It’s been important to give my artists the emotional support and the space they need in this period, allowing each artist to deal with it differently without putting any bounds on what they should or shouldn’t be doing. Just allowing them to understand what their life looks and feels like now. I check in with everyone regularly to make sure that they’re doing OK, because not being able to perform is for some literally like losing their job.

Poppongene, Our Golden Friend
Poppongene. Credit: Press

A major label can provide opportunities, but don’t give up creative control

The label side of Our Golden Friend has a partnership with Universal Music via Island Records and Caroline International. Partnering a major label took some initial grappling and unpacking for me as I was cautious not to lose the independence of Our Golden Friend.

On the flipside, the opportunity with Universal allowed me to provide opportunities to artists that may not have been available to them otherwise. There has been a longstanding line in the sand between indies and majors, and earlier in my career I felt differently than I do now – my ethos now is one of pushing for my artists and their success above all else. That meant embracing and making the most of an opportunity while retaining control over creative decisions.

Going into the partnership, I knew that it would be on my terms. Thankfully, Universal was receptive to this. And that’s an empowering feeling as an independent: to retain control over your label but have the security of being backed by a major. You need to strike that balance without losing your power in the process.

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