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MD, Abbey Road

Digital-media expert Isabel Garvey, who joined the famed Abbey Road Studios as MD in 2014, has been responsible for implementing the largest investment in the space—backed by parent UMG—since it opened in 1931. That has seen the arrival of three new studio spaces, a retail store and digital production services, and the Abbey Road Institute, as well as Europe’s first music-technology incubator, Abbey Road Red.

Prior to joining Abbey Road, Garvey ran her own digital-media consultancy and previously spent five years as SVP Commercial Channels and Consumer Marketing at Warner Music. Before that she was VP Global Digital at 
EMI Music.

Those who’ve recorded music at Abbey Road this year include Nile Rodgers, The 1975, Noel Gallagher, George Ezra, Brockhampton, Jess Glynne, Lang Lang, and Sir Paul McCartney. Blockbuster film scores have been created at the space for Solo: A Star Wars Story, Avengers: Infinity War, Black Panther, the multi-award-winning The Shape of Water and the latest Fantastic Beasts film. “We’ve also been adding businesses to our music-tech incubator, Abbey Road Red, doing more research experiments with spatial audio and adding new remote studio services for the at-home music producer,” says Garvey. “Our aim is to stay innovative and relevant to music makers and artists today, so plenty more to come.”

From where she sits, what are the biggest challenges in today’s music business? “In my mind, the biggest challenge is learning to engage in growth again after years of disruption,” Garvey answers. “From our vantage point, in proximity to the creative process and technology, we see the next wave of technology coming, and it promises to enhance the creative process with exciting artist tools. We need to embrace this technology and help these businesses, and our artists, flourish.”

The most exciting thing about the music industry and its return to growth is the “renewed energy and investment in the creative 
process of young talent,” says Garvey. “I’m excited about the impact this will have on British music at home and abroad.”


Decca Records in the U.K. has expanded its team with the promotion of Tom Lewis to Vice President, A&R and Artist Strategy. In addition, Rachel Holmberg has joined from BBC as Head of A&R and Sam Mumford, formerly of Imagem, is now A&R Manager.

The new hires arrive after Decca’s recent success with Andrea Bocelli, Michael Ball & Alfie Boe and Royal Wedding cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason.

Lewis has worked at Universal for 15 years, first joining Universal Classics & Jazz as Label Manager for the jazz division after working at EMI. He was later promoted to Head of Consumer Marketing before moving into A&R as Head of A&R and then Senior Director of A&R and Artist Strategy.

When UCJ and Decca merged in 2009, Lewis established an A&R team that oversaw the signings of The Lumineers, Aurora, The Shires, Jeff Goldblum, Seal and the million-selling Michael Ball & Alfie Boe.

…Read more


Top CAA agent Emma Banks was awarded the prestigious Music Industry Trusts Award earlier in November to celebrate a 25-plus-year career working with some of the biggest acts in live music. Among the acts she reps are Katy Perry, Kylie Minogue, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Lorde, Muse, HAIM, Paramore, and Florence + the Machine, who saluted Banks on the win for her “strength, kindness, and intuition.” Banks is the first female executive to receive the honour, and the third female overall alongside artists Minogue and Annie Lennox. Past MITs winners include Rob Stringer, Sir Lucian Grainge, Ahmet Ertegun, Simon Cowell and Michael Eavis.

Banks started her live-music career promoting shows while at university—where she was studying her way towards a life in industrial food production. Live music was more exciting than baking bread and beans, and, after knocking on a few closed doors, she tried her luck by writing letters to agencies. One of those was Wasted Talent, where Chairman Ian Flooks gave her a chance. “He was a brave man, because [the letter] had a girl’s name on it, and it was a girl who didn’t want to do the typing,” Banks recalls. “Back then, I don’t know if there were any female agents in the U.K., so it was a leap of faith for him to employ me.”

Alongside now-CAA U.K. co-head Mike Greek, who had joined Wasted Talent six weeks earlier, Banks was then involved in building what became Helter Skelter into one of the biggest independent agencies in the world. In 2006, Banks and Greek set up CAA in Blighty at a time when no American agency had a base in England, and the London office has since gone from four employees in music to nearly 70. Tours Banks is looking forward to working on next year include Foals, Muse and Disturbed, while Kylie Minogue and Florence will continue to tour, and Norah Jones is set to play some more shows. “The mighty Tenacious D will be back, which is very exciting to me,” she adds. Up-and-coming acts repped by Banks include Stereo Honey, Áine Cahill, FEET, Becky Hill and Jessie Reyez.

Congratulations on the award. How do you feel about winning?
The MITs has a history of incredible winners who have been game-changers in their fields—people who have shaped the music industry as we know it. So to be on that list of people is phenomenal. When it gets pointed out that I’m the first female exec, and only the third female to be awarded, that is even more special. I’ve always just done my job, and being a woman hasn’t been what defines me, but I think it shows how times are changing. Now, the world can be your oyster regardless of what your sex is, or anything else about you.

Your career has spanned over 25 years—can you share some standout memories?
I knew that we had someone very special in Jeff Buckley when he came over for the first time in ’94 and played a series of tiny gigs in the U.K. It was the first time I’d ever been to a show where people were absolutely 100% silent; there was no sense that anybody was doing anything apart from standing transfixed. Chili Peppers selling out three nights in Hyde Park was a turning point within their career and also for me. They were the biggest shows that I’d ever been part of singlehandedly at that point, and for a band that I love dearly and respect, it was a wonderful thing to see and to be part of. Florence + the Machine headlining Glastonbury was a very emotional moment that meant a lot to everybody who was there. For somebody who stepped into a situation relatively last-minute and took it on, at no point did she ever come across as a second choice. It was clear that she was a phenomenal headliner for that festival.

Getting Marilyn Manson’s first London gig to actually happen was an important moment. We went to four or five venues that kept refusing to allow him to play. Vince Power—who owned the Town & Country Club at that point, which is now the Forum—was a brave man and said, “OK, you’re telling me that he’s not going to do anything illegal, and I trust you.” The show was amazing, and he didn’t do anything illegal; he was just the phenomenal performer that he is. That taught me that sometimes you have to stand up and fight and push for what you want and need to happen for your clients.

There are so many memories. I went to see Hozier for the first time at a little church in Dublin and realised there was something really special about him; he’s an artist who’s going to stand the test of time. With all your clients, you’re hoping that however you come to meet them and at whatever point in their careers, you become part of their team. So their highlights are my highlights—that’s how it works.

Who has inspired and supported you along the course of your career?
I have to thank all of the managers that have let me work with them, and all the artists who have allowed me to be their agent. Gail Colson, who I worked with at Wasted Talent early on in my career while she was managing The Pretenders, was incredibly helpful, kind and insightful. Through her, I met a lot of other incredible women in the music business, like Cathy Cremer [EMI], Harriet Brand [MTV], photographer Jill Furmanovsky and Caryn Tomlinson, who was at EMI. I had this amazing support network.

Being able to work on U2 back in the ’90s with Ian Flooks and meeting Paul McGuinness and all of the team around them was amazing. They were all incredibly kind and generous with their time, and helpful to somebody who was learning the ropes. I was given so much opportunity on that tour.

Then, I’ve had Mike Greek, who has been my rock through it all—and hopefully I’ve been that for him. Having a person you can bounce ideas off, one who tells you that you’re not crazy and occasionally tells you to go home, or have a day off, is a wonderful thing.

How has the role of an agent changed during your career?
Fundamentally, we still do the same thing, with a whole load of extra stuff added. What has made it much more time-consuming and trickier is that, with the Internet existing, the ability to have multiple on-sales and pre-sales, and the ever-constant fight or threat—whatever you call it—of secondary ticketing, especially for the artists who feel strongly about it. So trying to make sure tickets are sold at the face value they’ve determined and not a value that somebody else determines just because you can get that amount of money for it. Those things are more and more complicated.

Since I started, the world has become smaller. I remember when going to Portugal seemed crazy. It was in the early ’90s that U2 first went to Portugal and played in Lisbon, which might have been one of the first shows that Wasted Talent ever booked in that country. It seems ridiculous now, but people just weren’t doing that—all of Asia, South America and Eastern Europe was pretty much a closed book then; now we have tours that are going to every country in Eastern Europe. And while the economies are not so strong and people don’t earn quite so much money, so you have to be very careful with your ticket prices, there’s incredible opportunity for artists who are willing to put the time in and travel. You can find pockets of excitement about artists that you never knew existed, so the opportunity for your career to last that bit longer and for you not to overplay and cannibalise other markets is probably greater than it ever was.

What are the most important lessons you’ve learned about being an agent? What’s the mark of a good one?
I think what has made me reasonably successful is hard work, being tenacious, honest, straightforward and just wanting to do the very best. Also, understanding what it is that your client wants and what they need—sometimes maybe knowing what they need before they are even aware of it. Trying to have the forethought that, while in January you think that you’re still going to be going 100 miles an hour in September, you may need a break before then, because we are all human beings, and life on the road and doing promo is tough. We have a duty to the artists we work with not to run them into the ground, and sometimes saying no is the best thing you can do. You don’t want to do it too often, but you have to be able to say no as an agent. You have to make some tough decisions, you have to be prepared to disappoint people and you have to love what you do. I love what I do, I love the clients I work with and I care about them professionally and personally. I don’t want to ever lose that.

What are you looking for in new artists?
The magic. People who are able to write or perform songs and put themselves on a stage and pretty much lay themselves bare to everybody watching, and it doesn’t matter if it’s 50 people or 50,000. They are a rare breed. When I’m looking at artists, I need to see somebody who has got the talent, you want to hear a fantastic voice and it’s got to be a little bit different. They’ve got to be charismatic, and they’ve got to be prepared to put the work in. Ideally, they need to be able to take a little bit of constructive criticism, and I want them to want their career as much as I am going to want it for them. If I want it more than them, it’s probably not going to work. I can open the doors, but they have to walk through them.

You generally know pretty quickly when you meet people, although I’m not always right with the artists that I say no to or don’t pursue because I don’t get it. And I’m not always right with the artists I sign; they don’t all become hugely successful. Sometimes it’s a matter of timing, and sometimes that little seed of talent doesn’t germinate, and it doesn’t become what you wanted. That’s the business we’re in—there’s a high failure rate in media and entertainment. You just have to do the very best you can and hope you’re picking wisely, that your strike rate is pretty good and that the people you want to work with want to work with you.

How do you persuade artists and their managers to sign and stay with you?
I think it’s about relationships. I sign people and I keep them because we have a good, honest relationship through good and bad times. We’re all going to have ups and downs; every day isn’t going to be sunny and fabulous, and there are going to be some cloudy days and some thundery days, which are harder to get through. But if you’ve got someone’s back and you truly believe in them, that should be what it takes. Sometimes people think the grass is looking a lot greener somewhere else, and it’s always very easy to tell anybody all the things they should have done or could do, but I don’t think there are many agents who aren’t trying their hardest.

What advice would you give to a younger version of yourself 20 years ago?
Loosen up a bit! Don’t be worried about what other people think about you—which I think is good advice for anyone—as long as you’re a decent and honourable person. There’s always going to be someone who doesn’t like you, or someone who doesn’t fancy you, but I think we can all get a bit tied up in that.

I might have taken more holidays as well. I am the queen of looking back at August in October and going, “God it really wasn’t very busy then; I could have taken more time off.” But overall, I’m pretty happy with how it’s gone. I don’t really do regret; I don’t want to wallow in what might have been. Because it’s been pretty great, frankly, and here’s hoping it continues to be.

You’ve achieved a lot—are there any ambitions left?
Waking up every morning is an achievement at my age [laughs]. I just want to be better at what I do. I aspire to be better at time management but suspect that may be an impossibility for me. At some point, I do need to work out how to manage emails occasionally, because there are a lot of them. I’ve never gone through life with a list of achievements to tick off; what I’ve done is gone. Am I in a good place? Am I working as hard as I can? Is there something else I need to learn? I love the fact that I work with different artists, managers and genres of music, because I learn so much from each of them. I love the team that I work with at CAA because I learn so much from them as well. You need to take on board so many people’s opinions in this day and age.

Ultimately, my ambitions are that every new artist I’ve signed achieves what they want to achieve, and not every artist wants to be the biggest in the world. I learnt that with Jeff Buckley, who said early on, “I don’t think I’m ever going to want to play an arena.” He didn’t necessarily want to be the most enormous, but he wanted to be able to make his art and for people to listen to it and participate with him and the experience at live shows. What’s important to me is being able to deliver for the artists I work with.

As far as personal ambitions, one I could tick off is that I have some thoroughbred racehorses, and I really want to win a group race, which is a top-level horse race. It’s also something I don’t have to get fit for—they have to get fit for it, so that’s even better. I can just watch it.

And maybe take some more holidays…
Yes, maybe take some more holidays in times when no one will need me and I won’t miss out on anything. My FOMO is strong!

What advice would you give to someone who has aspirations to be an agent today?
The world is your oyster, but it’s not necessarily the easiest job to get into, and there’s a lot of agents around. The agent pool generally isn’t getting any smaller—not many people are retiring from the business, and more of them are joining it. There’s a lot of competition out there, so you have to know it’s something you really want to do, and you have to be prepared to work really hard.

People talk a lot about the so called “threat” of Live Nation and AEG, but I sell so many shows to those companies—they are not a threat; they are our partners. So don’t be scared of those things, but obviously you have to be aware of the touring deals they’re doing and how the business is changing in that respect.

Be open to change, go with the flow and learn every day. If you’re a young person and you want to do it, then you should do it, but do it because you love it, not because you think it’s an easy route to becoming a millionaire.


General Manager, Matador

Alex Keague-Davies joined Beggars label Matador as U.K. General Manager earlier in August after serving as international project manager at PIAS. In her new role, she leads a team that oversees artists and campaigns outside of Matador’s home in North America, covering strategy for each artist and the label as a whole. Projects this year include Interpol’s return with Marauder, which hit #6 on the U.K. charts. The band is currently on a European tour, which included two nights at London’s Royal Albert Hall in November.

Kurt Vile’s latest record, Bottle It In, has been “received amazingly well across the board, and rightfully so,” adds Keague-Davies, “and we’ve got so much more to come on this campaign through next year.” She also highlights the boygenius EP—a Julien Baker, Phoebe Bridgers and Lucy Dacus collaboration “that is both beautiful and inspiring”—and the arrival of a Steve Gunn album in January.

What challenges does Keague-Davies face while working in today’s independent sector? “It’s been said plenty of times, but we are in a time where there is so much music readily available to people, specifically so much new music, and so many ways to discover it,” she answers. “That has its huge advantages, of course, but the challenge is then how to stand out, how to be heard above all the noise, and then, perhaps most importantly, how to sustain that.

“The exciting thing is there are more ways to do this than ever before, and there’s opportunities to do it on a global scale, but the challenge of building and sustaining a fanbase is not always the easiest to navigate and needs careful attention for every artist and campaign.” Continuing to be “forward-thinking, adaptable and creative” is key to overcoming that challenge, she adds.

Aside from new music and artists, the thing that’s exciting right now in the wider business is the continued drive for inclusivity and diversity, according to Keague-Davies. “There’s a growing amount of support available. I’m personally happy to be a part of a few groups and networks specifically geared towards women which offer advice, support and mentoring, from those starting out to those who’ve been working in this industry for a long time, and I’d encourage as many women as possible to get involved.”


MD, Sony Music Ireland

Annette Donnelly is responsible for running Sony Music in Ireland, where she wears multiple hats to cover A&R, marketing, sales, promotions, legal, finance and HR, to name a few. Alongside her team, she works on global campaigns for international acts as well as locally signed artists. Formerly Sony Music U.K. MD, Donnelly was promoted into her role following the BMG merger.

This year, she’s been busy with the George Ezra campaign, which started with him playing new music in Dublin back in May 2017 at the Olympia Theatre, where Donnelly “knew immediately he had a hit record coming.” “Paradise” peaked at #5 on the Irish singles chart, while “Shotgun” spent 10 weeks at the top of the airplay charts and nine weeks at #1 on the Official Irish Singles Chart.

Can you give us an overview of the state of the Irish music market—what kind of genres and artists do well?The Irish music market feels like it is in a really good place right now. We had a few scary years awhile back when the physical market collapsed, Internet piracy was at its height and we had no legitimate streaming services here. Thankfully, now we have had a growing market for over five years. It is very streaming-led, with streaming now accounting for about 70% of the market. We also still have a healthy physical base, with excellent local independent retailers like Golden Discs and Tower Records keeping the record-store experience alive.

Irish people love a real mix of music. Genres that do really well here include urban and R&B, with Khalid and Travis Scott performing strongly. Being on the edge of Europe, there has always been a strong U.S. influence in the Irish music scene. Pop is obviously huge, with artists like Calvin Harris, Camilla Cabello, The Chainsmokers and P!nk all very popular. However, there is still a demand for Irish traditional/folk music, with our local artist Christy Moore having the fifth best-selling album in Ireland last year.

What is the most exciting thing about the music scene right now?
The fact that anything can break from any place or from any genre; it feels as if the possibilities are endless. For example, the amazing Spanish artist Rosalía, who is bringing a modern twist to flamenco. I saw her perform in New York in September and went again to see her in London recently, as she is so incredible. A number of years ago, her chances of being successful were probably confined to the Spanish-speaking markets, but now it feels as if she can become a global superstar. It’s the same when we’re looking at signing a local Irish act; in the past we would have to create a big story out of Ireland first and then try and break out of other territories bit by bit. With streaming services and global releases, a hit can come from anywhere and can reach fans across the globe immediately. It’s an exciting time to be in the industry.


Senior Director, HR Universal Music U.K.

Morna Cook has been Universal Music U.K.’s head honcho of HR since 2009, having worked at the company for 15 years. A champion of broadening opportunities for young people in the creative industries, Cook launched the first paid intern programme in the music industry in 2009, which earned recognition in the House of Commons, and UMUK was also the first record label to open its doors to apprentices. She was recognised for her pioneering work in last year’s Queen’s Birthday Honours, being awarded an MBE for services to the music industry and apprentices.

Cook is now playing a key role in improving the gender pay gap at Universal—the difference between the average hourly earnings for male and female employees—which was revealed to be 29.8% earlier this year. “We’re proud of the number of female leaders we have across the business, including two fantastic label presidents and a number of brilliant managing directors, but I’m clear that there’s still much more to do,” she says.

“We’ve ramped up our mentoring and development programmes, which complement our friendly-family policies, particularly for women embarking on and returning from maternity leave. We also know that bonuses paid to senior A&R staff influenced our gender pay gap. We’re tackling this head on by building on development plans to boost the number of women in our A&R teams.”

How will the “gap” improve in the coming years? “We’re working towards eradicating the gender pay gap entirely,” Cook replies. “It’s going to take time, but I am confident the steps we’re taking will effect change.”

From where Cook sits, the future of the British music industry is rosy. “I’m optimistic,” she confirms. “The brilliance of British music will continue to flourish and break new ground, not just because of the genius of our artists but also the incredibly talented staff who consistently go above and beyond to break records. The next generation of executives fills me with hope and excitement. Hundreds of interns have joined our family since we launched our industry-leading paid-intern scheme back in 2009, with the majority going on to secure permanent positions with us. Watching their careers develop, I have no doubt our industry is in safe hands.”


A&R Director, Island U.K.

Annie Christensen has worked her way up the ranks since joining Island U.K. as an intern in 2004, and was named A&R Director last year. The promotion arrived after success with co-signs Mumford & Sons, Ben Howard and Hozier, alongside newly named Island President Louis Bloom. Deals she’s secured alone include Spring King and Sigrid. When announcing her promotion, Bloom praised Christensen’s “great A&R, amazing taste and genuine passion for music.”

Working with Sigrid on all her releases and upcoming album “has been a fantastic experience,” says Christensen of her work this year. “She is such an amazing talent, it’s been very inspiring and rewarding to be part of her story.” In addition, Howard’s third album arrived earlier this year and hit #4 on the U.K.’s Official Albums Chart—an artist who “has such an uninhibited and unique approach to music-making,” she adds. The developing acts Christensen is excited about going into next year include pop artist Oli Fox and Norwegian producer Askjell.

The biggest challenge she faces in A&R today is dealing with reticence from artists who aren’t initially keen on joining a frontline record label, and persuading them to sign on the dotted line. “In these instances, I think it’s important to build trust with artists and managers, grow the relationship, educate them in the ways in which labels add value and hopefully do a deal at the right time,” she says, adding: “Developing new artists is always challenging and rewarding in equal measures. I think finding a sound and seeking out the best-suited collaborators for an act early on is a big part of the initial process.”

According to Christensen, the most exciting thing about British music right now is the urban scene. “When you see a fantastic talent like Dave shoot to #1, it’s incredible. The way he galvanised the scene was such a joy to watch.” The key to continued success for the U.K. music industry? To “produce culture-defining artists whose music has tons of character and personality,” she replies.


President, 4th Floor Creative, Sony Music U.K.

Earlier this year, after a decade and a half at First Access Entertainment, Cassandra Gracey joined Sony, where she’s leading its creative department, 4th Floor Creative, as President. At FAE, Gracey was EVP of U.K. and Europe, working with the likes of Sugababes, Conor Maynard, Iggy Azalea, Rita Ora and Ellie Goulding. Her new role oversees the branding, sync, insight, creative and digital departments at the major label. When announcing the hire, Jason Iley praised her “huge personality, determination and creative vision.”

This year, she’s been filming live concerts, including Camila Cabello’s Brixton and Mexico shows, creating bespoke clothing lines from scratch, and shooting, producing and editing multiple videos in-house for artists ranging from Little Mix to Au/Ra. Also, “There have been great campaigns delivered which utilised multiple teams across the department,” says Gracey, who highlights the Paloma Faith campaign with Skoda in conjunction with RCA. 4th Floor has also built photo and recording studios.

The ambition for 4FC is to “continue to amplify our artists’ stories in whatever format works for them and their audience,” says Gracey, who notes the challenge of always having to be “on” while competing with gaming, football and Instagram Stories for the audience’s attention. However, she says the key to success in the global streaming-led world “is continuing to do what we do best—developing and supporting artists that the world wants to listen to.”

Gracey concludes: “As much as I believe in the use of tools, analytics, data, insight—I still believe we need to couple them with trusting our guts. We are here because we know what we’re doing; we just have to have faith and remember it takes a moment to break an artist. British music is always evolving and always at the forefront of what represents Britain, and I feel fortunate to be working amongst it.”