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Mike Malak, Tommas Arnby launch Special Projects

Mike Malak (Wasserman Music, Coldpress Music) and Tommas Arnby (Locomotion) are joining forces on a new company dedicated to artist and producer/songwriter development.

Malak has been in the agency business for 15 years, working with artists including Billie Eilish, Girl in Red and Denzel Curry. He launched Coldpress, a record label and publishing company, two and a half years ago with the intent of partnering with artists to build their careers.

Arnby, an entrepreneur and former Sony Music A&R exec, started Locomotion 13 years ago and is said to have been instrumental in Yungblud’s trajectory to arena artist, with two number-one albums behind him.

Having worked together over the last two years on various projects, the pair say now is the time to cement their relationship and look to the future with their current crop of talent and wider industry goals.

Malak says: “I’ve always been passionate about A&R and artist development. Working with incredible artists early on and seeing the growth and journey is truly the most rewarding part of the job. With that in mind, I wanted to take it one step further and really work with artists and producers from the inception.

“Spending over a year at the amazing Eastcote Studios during the pandemic working out of the Locomotion office, it felt as though Tommas and I had similar visions and work ethics so naturally several projects came together. This exciting step is now just formalising how we work together and grow as a team.”

Arnby adds: “Artist development has been my biggest focus and passion throughout most of my career. Mike has the same fire as well as the ambition to build global careers. I’m thrilled to take our partnership to the next level and together help our roster of artists and songwriters truly capitalise on their talent and to build audiences around the world!”

The goal is to create a space for artists and producers to feel nurtured and supported so they can do what they do best”

The Special Projects team is completed by Sam Cantlon, who will be focusing on the producer roster and day-to-day management of Nieve Ella – a 19-year-old artist from Albrighton who has gained support from BBC Introducing and Radio 1.

In addition, Sophia Gee joins Special Projects from Prolifica Management and will be day to day on artist Hannah Grae – a 20-year-old Welsh artist who recently signed with Atlantic Records.

The Special Projects producer roster includes Matias Tellez, who has worked with artists such as Girl in Red, Aurora and Sigrid, and Luke Grieve, who has cuts on records such as ‘Clash’ by Dave & Stormzy and ‘Roadside’ by Mahalia & AJ Tracey and worked with developing artists such as Henjila and Oliver Keane.

Finally, Rob Brinkmann has been developing projects from Hannah Grae and working with Daisy Brain.

Of the vision for the company, Malak says: “The goal is to create a space for artists and producers to feel nurtured and supported so they can do what they do best. Leveraging as many quality relationships as we can and having full faith in our team to implement.

“Between the incredible physical space at Eastcote and our brilliant team, we want them to go against the grain of the industry quick wins and play the long game to build careers we are really proud of. The roster will remain boutique in size to ensure all get full-time from our team. As we look to expand and join forces with strategic partners in the industry, Special Projects will release music and make further key hires in order to build a truly self-sufficient entity.”

Arnby adds: “I really believe in our ability to build a business that truly supports talent, giving our artists time to evolve and grow and with emphasis on authenticity and amazing music rather than looking at what’s working or not working out there. Our mission statement of identifying, empowering and breaking more UK talent globally directly supports that mindset.”


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‘The future is bright’: Tech leaders talk monetising virtual shows

The heads of some of the industry’s most inventive companies starred in the most recent IQ Focus panel, appropriately called The Innovators, which discussed the flurry of innovation going on behind the scenes during the ongoing halt in concert touring.

Dice’s UK managing director, Amy Oldham, began by speaking on the importance of “identifying the value” in new platforms and innovations. “In the beginning [of the pandemic], there was a lot of noise and a lot of not-very-good-quality shows,” she explained.

“Lewis [Capaldi] is a great example” of what the industry should be working towards, she added. “We did his show exclusively a few weeks ago. He did an acoustic set of the first album, and it actually felt like being on a night out – you had people taking photos of themselves hugging the TV saying it’s the best £5 they ever spent.”

Tommas Arnby of Locomotion Entertainment said his client, Yungblud – whose Yungblud Show Live (described as a “rock-and-roll version of Jimmy Kimmel”) was one of the early highlights of the livestreaming boom – was supposed to be “doing five sold-out Kentish Town Forums” in London this week, and his online presence is “about how to recreate that” live experience.

“In the very beginning these bedroom and kitchen performances played an important role,” but now people expect a more polished experience, said Ben Samuels, MelodyVR’s president and GM in North America. “What we’re doing is investing a lot to ensure these shows look and feel fantastic. […] They should be the best thing to actually being on stage or in the front row of a real show. So production values have been crucial to us.”

“Artists have to feel comfortable and confident about charging for their content”

Sheri Bryant, president of online ‘social VR’ platform Sansar, said a virtual concert should be looked as “additive; it’s not going to replace the live performance”.

Oldham – who revealed that Dice is now selling tickets in at least 113 countries following the launch of its livestreaming platform, Dice TV – agreed that while everyone on the panel is doing a great job keeping fans engaged while touring is on hold, “one thing we haven’t nailed is giving artists confidence that just because they’re doing something on a stream doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be charging.

“All the movie studios are shut, and yet we don’t see them dropping films online and saying, ‘Just pay what you fancy!’ Artists have to feel comfortable and confident about charging for their content.”

Chair Mike Malak, from Paradigm Talent Agency, compared charging for online video content to the transition in the recording business from fans pirating music to (legally) streaming it, noting that “we all grew up watching free YouTube videos”.

Bryant said Sansar wants “everyone to be able to experience” the platform, suggesting offering both a free tier and a “VIP experience” that could include perks for those who’ve paid, such as meet and greets with an artist or special powers inside its virtual world.

“The most important thing for us is to show agents and managers that people had a great time,” said Prajit Gopal, CEO of livestreaming platform Looped. “That’s always been really important – going back to them and showing them,‘Here’s the reaction, and this is why you should be charging for it.’”

“Imagine if this happened 20, 30, 40 years ago – it would have been catastrophic”

With talk turning to sponsorship in virtual events, Oldham warned that “sometimes you can oversaturate an artist by doing too many partnerships”. However, Bryant said the music industry has much to learn from the wider entertainment business when it comes to getting its talent out there.

“Look at how the YouTube stars, the Twitch streamers got big: through hard work and with lots of exposure,” she said. “If you’re good and you’re getting out there, you’ll see that growth. I don’t think people should be precious about exposure – you want to be across as many platforms as possible, because you never know when one of them will see a big spike [in traffic].”

The discussion ended on a positive note, with Samuels highlighting how fortunate the live music business is to have all this technology at its disposal at such a difficult time.

“Imagine if this [coronavirus] happened 20, 30, 40 years ago – it would have been catastrophic,” he said. “In a weird way, we’re lucky this happened now, with all these platforms that can continue to bring high-quality content to fans and enable artists to still make a living.”

Arnby agreed: “All these choices, all these ways to connect… The future is very bright.”

The Innovation Session is available to watch back on YouTube or Facebook now.

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Innovators take the virtual stage for IQ Focus panel

Following last week’s The Venue’s Venue: Building Back session, IQ’s popular Focus series of virtual panels turns this Thursday to the flurry of innovation going on behind the scenes during the halt in concert touring.

The Innovation Session will feature insights from a who’s who of music-industry freethinkers and groundbreakers, who’ll discuss with the new ideas and green shoots that are rising from the current situation.

Joining chair Mike Malak, senior agent at Paradigm London, are Sheri Bryant, president of virtual world builder Sansar; Tommas Arnby, CEO of Locomotion Entertainment (Yungblud); Amy Oldham, managing director UK of ticketer-turned-livestreamer Dice; Ben Samuels, North America president of virtual-reality pioneer MelodyVR; and Prajit Gopal, CEO of celebrity video-chat/streaming service Looped.

Expect discussions on livestreaming, 3D venues, tipping, videogaming, virtual worlds and much more.

The Innovation Session will be streamed live this Thursday, 21 May, at 16.00 BST/17.00 CET.

Get an automatic reminder when the live stream starts at Facebook or YouTube.

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