Brian Dubb reconceives music management and turns his vision into a thriving small business.
It was while watching a fellow performer at the 2007 Woodford Folk Festival, near Brisbane, that Brian Dubb realized he was working the wrong end of the right industry. Dubb had been pursuing his own career as an artist, and earlier that year he had released an indie album that he'd recorded in Australia and while backpacking in South Africa, the UK, Israel, and Chile. He'd gotten himself and the performer he was watching, a Chilean force of nature named Nano Stern, booked into the Festival. It was Stern's first performance in Australia, and he got a standing ovation.
"I watched him perform, and that was the moment I realized that really, naturally, I'm on the management and executive side, representing great artists, rather than hammering away as an average artist," Dubb says. "Much as I might have seen myself as an artist, my natural state was to be on the management side and running the business end of things."
It was not, however, a good time to launch a music management company. "The music business got very drunk on the CD bubble, then Napster came along, and the music industry basically crashed. I knew that the timing wasn't right," he says. For the next two years, he focused on other projects and limited his management activities to working with Stern, who was becoming a star in Chile and touring internationally.
Putting the Show on the Road
In 2009, he formally launched bdubb, which provides international musicians with global management, funding, and publishing services. Stern was his first client, and on the basis of their work together, Shane Howard approached him two years later to sign a management agreement. "We worked very well together, and we brought him back to national media attention," Dubb says. "Through him, I met other key people in the Australian music industry."
He went on to sign additional acts around the world--Inti-Illimani of Chile, Airileke of Papua, and Teatro Matita of Slovenia--and earlier this year signed with Blue King Brown. That was "really the moment," he says. "They're an established Australian act with huge credibility and integrity. They've done well in Japan, and they were touring around the world. When they agreed to work with me, I think that was the time I knew that really, this was going to happen."
Playing a New--and More Profitable--Tune
At the same time, he sees a welcome change in the music industry that creates the right kind of environment for the kinds of artists he wants to manage. "All the old rules are no longer applying," he says. "Not only has the digital age increased the number of outlets, but it's also opening up all the new territories of the world: China, India, Latin America, and Africa."
This is creating opportunities for smaller acts with niche audiences, such as Inti-Illimani, which has been recording and performing a mix of original compositions and Latin American folkloric music for 45 years. "They're still touring. They’'e still making a living. And everybody who works with them is doing quite well," Dubb says. "I think that's where the music business is going, and it's all going to be about quality and authenticity of the music and the performance. The entire basis of my business model and how it works is representing artists that have committed to the life of music, and when they perform live, it is an enormous experience for the fans."
'If You Don't Perform Well, You Don't Eat.'
At the same time, he's very conscious of the need for art and commerce to co-exist. To that end, he spent several months in late 2012 and early 2013 building a highly detailed spreadsheet to serve as "a tool to manage the investment risk in music." He requires all his artists to take a spreadsheet course and to review their books with him quarterly.
"They understand that this is their business that I'm running for them. And I really think this is something that's going to break the paradigm of the music business," he says. "I only work with people who have performed on the street, because they know the basics of business. If you perform well, you eat; if you don't perform well, you don't eat. It's that cruel, and it's that simple. I find that everybody I work with has busked, and everybody understands the basics of economics. I'm running the business for them; that's why they have me there. But it's their business. My business is the management business. Their business is an artist's business, and they get a guy like me to run it for them. I'm the CEO; they're the chairman."