Raw Power’s Craig Jennings and Matt Ash on U.S. Expansion, Growing Business in the Face of Falling Sales
The pair address how the last fifteen years have dramatically affected their jobs, and the business of breaking bands.
Formed in 2006 by music industry veteran Craig Jennings alongside Iron Maiden’s long-term manager Rod Smallwood and fellow Sanctuary Group founder Andy Taylor, U.K.-based management company Raw Power Management has enjoyed a bumper few years.
In February, California metalcore quintet Of Mice and Men scored their highest ever entry on the Billboard 200 chart when Restoring Force (Rise Records) entered at No. 4. Another of its acts, British metalcore act Bring Me the Horizon has sold over 300,000 copies worldwide of its acclaimed 2013 studio set Sempiternal (RCA/Epitaph), which won album of the year at the inaugural Alternative Press Music Awards this summer.
Other acts on Raw Power’s roster of predominantly rock and metal acts include Bullet For My Valentine, Young Guns, Modestep, Funeral for a Friend, Miss May I, Gallows, Cancer Bats, Don Broco, Mallory Knox and its latest signing Atreyu, while the company also runs its own music publishing division, Raw Power Music (in partnership with BMG Rights), and label imprint Search and Destroy Records.
In summer 2011, Raw Power opened its first U.S. office, located in Los Angeles and headed by Matt Ash, former international marketing director of Atticus Clothing. Speaking exclusively to Billboard, Ash joins Raw Power founder and CEO Craig Jennings to discuss the health of the current rock scene and how the company has successfully grown its international presence as record sales decline. “It feels like we’re just getting started,” says an ever-optimistic Ash.
As a U.K.-based company, what fuelled the decision to open a U.S. office in 2011?
Craig Jennings: We were finding that when we met U.S. acts the fact that we didn’t have anybody on the ground [in North America] was a real stumbling block. Since Matt opened our office in 2011 we have steadily built the business to the point that now we feel ready to go up a notch. We’ve got 14 records due to come out in the next 8 months and from the company’s point of view, this year is shaping up to be our biggest yet. I feel that in 2014 we have gone truly global.
Matt Ash: Of Mice and Men were the first U.S. band that we picked up in autumn of 2011. Since then we have signed Miss May I, Sleepwave from Florida and Atreyu from Southern California, which is a big signing for us. One of the things that has attracted these bands to Raw Power is our reach as a management company. A lot of American bands when they go to Europe it sometimes feels like a token effort, but because our base is in the U.K they get the best of both worlds -- a strong American base, but also a base in Europe that can really push them forward in territories that maybe haven’t had as much time spent on them before. That definitely seems to be attractive to artists when they talk to us.
How has the company’s expansion impacted on business?
Jennings: Last year was our biggest ever year and we’re having another strong one this year. Revenues from purely musical sales on publishing and records are definitely down, but we are finding that if we build the acts in the right way then they will grow through the merchandise and the live side of things and their revenue streams will grow accordingly. There is a still a strong business out there. I don’t adhere to all the doom and gloom. I still believe that we can build big arena level artists. Bring Me The Horizon’s U.S. tour sold in excess of 85,000 tickets and we have the band playing Wembley Arena in December, where we have already sold 10,000 tickets. When you see those sort of numbers you have got to be feeling confident.
As revenues from record sales fall and labels have less money to invest, do you find yourself taking a larger hand in A&R and other aspects of the business that would not traditionally be the preserve of artist managers?
Jennings: A&R is something that we have got more involved in in the last few years, certainly. You do find a lot of situations now where managers are signing bands to direct to labels and not necessarily to A&R men. As a management company we have always been very hands-on with our acts and I think it’s the nature of managers to be control freaks. But, of course, as time has gone on and revenue streams have become more divergent, certainly it’s become more important than ever to get stuck in and be right in the center of everything.
Ash: It is a declining situation in regards to sales. It’s reflected in our numbers and affects everybody, but labels for us are still a key part of what we do. Bring Me The Horizon last week passed 200,000 sales in the U.S, which in 2014 is probably the equivalent of 500,000 sales 10/15 years ago. Of course, that does affect label’s budgets and it affects marketing and everything else. But that’s even more reason why touring strategically and making money through other means such as endorsements, brands, merchandise and syncs is more important than it ever has been.
The majority of Raw Power’s roster is heavy rock acts. Does that limit the amount of sync and branding opportunities that are available to your artists?
Ash: Something that I find in the rock world is that you really need to make third parties aware of justhow strong the reach of these bands are. Because a lot of this music is not particularly mainstream and it’s not on the radio or TV one of the biggest challenges that we have is actually making people realize just how popular this genre is. Many of our bands have millions of followers on social media and that’s a very powerful thing for companies to tap into, which I think is often not the perception.
Craig, you have worked in artist management for over 30 years now. What are the biggest differences between when you started out and now?
Jennings: The whole thing was simpler in the days of no email and no mobile phones, definitely. You made your records. Records sold a lot and that’s where the vast majority of revenue was coming in from. Now merchandise and live are very much the core income for our bands. There’s an argument that the industry is failing to deliver enough top-line records and that’s something that we are really trying hard to do at Raw Power. I think there’s probably been too much mediocrity out there and while we all accept the record sales are down, you will still find records every now and then that do buck the trend.
While record sales are significantly down there’s presumably far less wastage and overspending than there was, say, 20 years ago?
Jennings: Definitely. It became almost the norm to be spending inordinate amounts on records and videos and everything else. There was a lot of wastage. Nowadays we make videos for between £10,000 ($16,000) to £15,000 ($25,000) for key artists on major labels. But 15 years ago it was nothing to be spending £100,000 ($160,000) on a video and £400,000 ($650,000) on an album. People just lost sight of keeping a lid on costs. If anything [the fall in revenues] has made everybody be a bit more frugal in their house keeping.
What’s your view on the health of the current rock scene?
Jennings: It’s in great health. I’ve be doing this 30 years-plus and I’ve hardly ever had my records on [BBC] Radio 1. In the last 10 years we have had so much love from Radio 1. I can’t speak highly enough of what they have brought to the table for us. We are also seeing really strong ticket numbers in America and great merch, especially in the U.S. Last year we did $6.3 million of business in [retail chain] Hot Topic alone, which was 25% of Bravado’s merchandise turnover in that particular shop last year. That’s up from the previous year of $1.1 million in merch sales. We’re seeing a lot of areas that make us feel very enthusiastic about where things are going.
Has the emergence of new and previously untapped markets had a big impact on business?
Jennings: Certainly from a live perspective. I still feel that a lot of these markets don’t have the infrastructure of the Western recorded market just yet. But we’re finding that Latin America is starting to be good. Russia is starting to open us. I don’t know what’s going to happen with the conflict over there, but certainly the live side of things has been very strong for us with bands like Bring Me The Horizon playing to 4,000 people a night.
Ash: On the live side of things one of the main emerging markets for our bands is South East Asia and places like the Philippines and Indonesia. Bring Me The Horizon can go and play to 4,000 people in Jakarta, for example. Closer to home, places like Poland are actually outselling markets such as Spain and Italy when it comes to physical albums sales for our bands. One market that is finally starting to come through on the live front, especially when it comes to real offers financially, is Russia. Bring Me The Horizon have been offered a 10-date tour of Russia, which is something that previously would have been unthinkable.
Your joint venture partnership with Sony Music for the label imprint Search and Destroy Records recently came to an end. Will the label continue?
Jennings: We are currently in advanced discussions with a new global partner for the label and we will be in a position to announce a new agreement next month.
What are the short and long term goals for Raw Power going forward?
Ash: Short term, making sure all of our acts are fully serviced in every aspect of their campaigns and strategizing to make sure that everything is hitting at the right time. Longer term, we have ambitions to expand. We are looking at opening representation for our company in Australia and Germany, as well as further expanding in the U.S. It’s a key market for us and it really feels like we’re just getting going here, to be honest. So we’re looking at expanding our roster of U.S. acts and building our presence in other parts of the U.S. -- New York being an obvious place for us.