Third from left – Riki Bleu at the BMI Awards 2014
Artist/Producer manager & Publishing A&R Riki Bleu sat on The Ultimate Seminar 2013 panel and contributed his advice and personal views about the music industry to hundreds of hungry creatives. I decided that I wanted to get more of an insight into his career and what further advise he could offer.
Mr Bleu gives us the lowdown on his courageous career from being head of pioneering music outlet Channel U to working with the likes of Labrinth, Emeli Sande and Naughty Boy, some of the biggest names in UK music to date.
Being an artist manager requires more than just organising the artist’s schedule, bookings, sitting through meetings and live PA’s. It involves being the researcher of record deals, the negotiator for the best terms, a shoulder to cry on as well as being given the cold shoulder. Not all decisions are going to be welcomed with open arms. You’ve got to be comfortable with playing the role of good cop as well as bad cop. Riki says that hard work, belief in your act and focus are the key qualities in being an artist manager.
Love: “Tell me how you started off in the music industry. What was your ‘thing’?”
Riki: “Wow, I used to be in an independent rap group. All you really had as outlets was Big Ted, Shorty Blitz and Tim Westwood for radio. There was no internet then. There was no MySpace’, Facebook. None of that was there. On my journey of trying to promote my own music, I met some guys who had just started a new channel called Channel U.
They played our video, I built up a rapport with them and they ended up offering me the job to help give them more content, basically. I ended up managing Channel U for four years.”
Love: “Tell me about your career transition through to the manager you are today.”
Riki: “ It was a long transition. Once I started working at Channel U, my first thought was that I was going to put my crew on the channel, not realising that by definition, as I was working there, people would never credit getting any love beyond the fact it’s ME picking the videos. People are gunna feel that you are self-promoting basically. From that point, I thought I would be of more benefit to the group as management. I started managing the group whilst I was working at the channel and I learnt so many different things and met so many different people during my time there, because the channel became so successful. It became a challenger for the likes of MTV Base. For youth culture in this country, it was actually the most important brand at one point. It was bigger than 1 Xtra at that point. There was a time when I was head at Channel U, and George Ergatoudis, who is now head of Radio 1, was head of 1 Xtra, whose number two at the time was Laura (Lukanz). We would meet up and have conversations about what we were doing, because Channel U and 1 Xtra were pioneering for independent UK urban music at that time. So, it wasn’t an immediate transition between artist and artist manager.
Love: “What followed on from Channel U?”
At Channel U, I became tired after a while; and I got bored of it because it wasn’t as progressive as maybe I would have liked it to be. There wasn’t much room for growth in my role. But then I met Tim Blacksmith who became like a mentor to me and my now business partner, whilst I was at Channel U and he brought me to a showcase of “The Brand New Heavies’. I will never forget this because it was the first showcase or music event that I went to where no one knew or cared whom Channel U or Riki Bleu were. I had never experienced that. We were poppin’! They just didn’t care. It didn’t matter in this world!
And so it opened my eyes up to this whole other world that is in existence that I knew nothing about. It was those times that Tim introduced me to what publishing was. He schooled me and gave me an education on the music business. I thought I knew the music business and I definitely didn’t.”
Love: “Mmmm, yup, it has so many layers…”
Riki: “Yeah. I also used to do talks at youth centres. I still do. I did one in a youth centre in Hackney with Kids at risk of drugs, gangs, guns etc. The music teacher was the same age as the kids. That music teacher was Labrinth. So, I got introduced to Labrinth’s music way back then. And I always had a thing with Tim where he said if I find any good music, I should let him know. I had probably sent him a lot of shit before, because I never really knew what a songwriter was. I would just send stuff. I had no barometer of what was good or bad, to be fair. It was all so new to me, I didn’t know.
When I heard Labrinth’s stuff, I knew it was good. It was CLEARLY very good. He had ‘Let The Sun Shine’ then. And so I sent that to Tim and it took ages for him to come back to me. And I knew it was probably because of the waste I had sent him before. Eventually, he heard it and was like ‘you know what, this is great. Lets meet the kid.’ We met him (Labrinth) and his manager Mark and, long story short, we ended up signing his publishing to Stella Songs/EMI. So it was the first thing that I did on this end of the business.
From that point onwards, I had my barometer for what I should be looking for. The next talented person I discovered was Naughty Boy…”
Love: “How did you find Naughty Boy?”
Riki: “On MySpace! A friend of mine who had met him gave me his number. I called him. I went to visit him at his home where he had his studio. Tim came with me. And we’ve have managed him since. So, discovering Naughty Boy led me to Emeli Sande. One thing leads to another and before you know it, you’re looking after ten, fifteen of the most talented people that are coming out of the UK. But it just happens, if you know what I mean, that one thing leads to another when you’re amongst it.”
Love: “How do you manage it? You’re schedule is hectic. How do you mentally manage the workload?”
Riki: “I try to always put the most important things first. So I’ve got a saying that I work towards. I can’t remember what book I read it in, but I’ve stuck with it:
“What’s most important can’t be at the mercy of what’s least important.” – Riki Bleu (but originally by someone else!)
So, I run my shit based upon what is most pressing, what is most important. And that’s how I try to deal with it. Beyond that, we’ve grown as a team as well. We’ve got some great people working with us as well, such as Ashley Sykes & Linda Maitland, who joined us maybe two years ago now. So we’ve expanded and grown as a team.”
Love: “Team work makes the dream work ey! Ok. Give me one particular obstacle that has been a huge learning curve for you.”
Riki: (Dead silence for about 10 seconds) “it’s an interesting question because, if I’m honest with you, everything I’ve ever done which has turned out good has been a solution to an existing problem.”
“You grow via the obstacles because you’ve got to find a solution to those obstacles. And by finding that solution, you bring about success.”
Riki: “So, I love problems, in that sense.”
Love: “You love solving them and learning from them.”
Love: “What three pieces of advice would you give to someone who is trying to get into artist management?”
Riki: “I would say…
- Be prepared to work hard.
- Work with people who you believe in. It’s important because it’s a long road. And you don’t want to be working with someone who you don’t truly believe in. You’re going to face so many different obstacles, so many ups and downs, you’re going to want to work with someone who you want to fight for. And therefore that will carry you threw the times that aren’t so great.
- Stay focused. Surround yourself with good people. That’s actually more important. THAT will help you to stay focused. A common mistake that a lot of people make is wanting to do everything themselves. I’m a great believer that it’s better to be part of a great team then to be good by yourself. I’ve been fortunate to have some really good people, great people teach me. And I’ve been able to learn from them. They’ve taught me things that have stood me in great stead. If I was out here NOW by myself as a 23 year old, making the choices I was making THEN, without any kind of guidance, then I wouldn’t have made the choices that I did make. I wouldn’t have had the patience, the vision to have necessarily done that. I probably would have done things very differently. Sometimes when you do things with a short-term objective, you only get short-term results. Whereas when you have a long-term objective, it sets you up for long-term results. And I’ve been fortunate enough, as I say, to work with people who are always thinking long-term and who have been through it. So they were able to pass that on to me.”
Love: “It involves a lot of patience as well…”
Riki: “100 %”
Love: “What qualities do you look for in an artist?”
Riki: “Talent, discipline, confidence, dedication.”
Love: “Who do you think is making waves on the UK music scene right now?”
Riki: “If we are talking urban music, the most exciting thing is Stormzy. Easily, hands down. And what’s exciting about him is, firstly, talent. Secondly, the consistency; he is putting out videos, what feels like, once every 5 days. There is always something new from this kid.”
Love: “Yup, I have seen his name all over social media.”
Riki: “That kind of discipline and consistency is what a lot of people lack. They put out one video every three months and wonder why the world has moved on. So, for me, Stormzy is the most exciting thing in urban UK music.
I’m just thinking about talent, period. Not someone that I am not involved with at all…”
Riki: “Who would I want to be involved with? (Riki ponders)… Ed Sheeran. I wish I was involved with Ed Sheeran. He’s brilliant. He clearly has a great mind, vision and work ethic alongside his musical talent.
Love: “He is brilliant. I didn’t gravitate towards him at first. But his album ‘Multiply’ is wicked.”
Riki: “Hmm, who else is poppin’ right now that is new… I can’t think. I’ll tell you who is poppin’, whose music hasn’t been released here yet, is Ty Dolla Sign. I’ve heard some of his songs and think he is going to be massive.”
Love: “Ok. Well, we will see if your prediction is accurate soon enough! What have been your main musical influences growing up and who do you admire in terms of artists and business figures?”
Riki: “Buju Banton is one of my favourite artist. Close second is Jay-Z. Bob Marley. Gregory Isaacs. Dennis Brown. You can probably see what my upbringing was by these.”
Love: “I can indeed. I saw this cool photo on Facebook. It had the faces of so many legendary artists who are no longer with us today, such as Bob Marley, Michael Jackson and about 10 others. Anyway, you had to choose one that you would want to see in concert again, if they were around. I chose Bob Marley…”
Riki: “… I would have chosen Michael Jackson. It’s a hard one. But I chose Michael Jackson purely because I never got to see him live. MJ is widely considered the best entertainer ever. So, I would have liked to see his show. Because I think his showmanship was on a higher level, if you get what I’m saying.”
Love: “Mmm, I get what you’re saying. There is nobody else like him out there. The reason I picked Bob Marley is because I have so many childhood memories that I can relate to with Bob Marley, although I do love MJ too. I would have loved to have been in that era when my parents were in their twenties. Experiencing that would have been amazing.
You mentioned Stormzy and that he is posting out video after video as well as the fact that you found Naughty Boy on Myspace. That brings me to the topic of social media and the impact it has had on the music industry compared to, like you said, you were doing your thing and you didn’t have all these outlets…”
Riki: “I think it just gives you more options.”
Love: “Do you think its positive?”
Riki: “Yeah, I think it is.”
Love: “Do you think there is a negative side to social media within the music industry?”
Riki: “The negatives are that things move quicker. We are in a society where the trend shifts very quickly. Peoples’ attention span is much shorter because you’ve got so many options and so many things hitting you. Before, you just had four channels on television. You never had as many options. You probably had your four or five favourite programmes that would probably clash with each other or you watched them one after the other and that was you. But now that you’ve got over a hundred channels and you can pause, record, fast forward and rewind, or go online and watch it NOW, you know, it’s just changed how you deal with content, ultimately. It’s for the better for the consumer because it means you’ve got more options, but it means that things don’t last as long. In my humble opinion, even a Michael Jackson or a Bob Marley wouldn’t sell as many records today as they did then, if they turned up today. Because the way things are set up, it’s hard. They would still be stars and they would still be amazing, don’t get me wrong. But the way that people digest music means that it would be more difficult to retain that level of attention the way they did during the period that they did.
You’ve got to remember as well, when you heard about this amazing kid called Michael Jackson, you may not have seen him for a year, but you’d have heard about it, coz you wouldn’t have a way of touching him, unless you were in America, at the beginning of that cycle. When he then arrived in the country and there’s like a thousand people waiting at the airport, that shit don’t happen no more because there isn’t that level of fame anymore. You can find them on social media immediately now. The mystic isn’t there anymore.”
Love: “I think that’s really quite sad, in a way. I really do.”
Riki: “It is sad. I don’t like that. But it is what it is.”
Love: “Is it what you know or who you know?”
Riki: “Honestly, I think it’s ultimately how good your product is. I guess the strength of your product is linked to what you know. If you are good at what you do and you’ve got a great product, it doesn’t matter who you know. They will find you. If you’re good, you will be found as long as your not hiding. I believe that. It just takes one person to hear that, who does know, who can connect a dot. But if you don’t have the talent, you can know everyone and it wont matter. I think it’s a universal law.
If tomorrow, I turn up with the technology to rival or to better Facebook, do you think it matters that I don’t have Five Million Pounds to start it? If I’m promoting it, someone will find me and fund it if the think it’s a good idea.”
Love: “I think that it’s great to have gatherings and networking events too though. The Ultimate Seminar is a prime example. Did you enjoy sitting as one of the panellists last year?”
Riki: “I always enjoy sharing my experiences with people who want to listen, I also think its important, I attended the then Urban Music Seminar two years in a row as an artist so to be speak at it which I did during my time at Channel U and now with you guys is a good experience.”
Striking a pose at The Ultimate Seminar 2013 – From left to right – Naughty Boy, Ted Cockle (President of Virgin Records), Kienda Hoji (Entertainment and media lawyer) and Riki Bleu
Love: “Have you got any other words of wisdom that you want to give to the budding artist managers out there? Maybe in terms of networking and breaking into the music industry?”
“Be prepared to be told ‘no’. Be prepared to be disappointed. Be prepared to go to that tenth ‘no’. That’s where you might find your ‘yes’. Nine ‘no’s later, you may find your ‘yes’. You’ve got to be able to keep going through that.” – Riki Bleu
Find Riki Bleu here:
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by: Love Lee | October 23, 2014 | News