Gabby Chelmicka is an artist and event manager who has successfully worked in the music business for over 20 years. One of her more recognizable clients is an English singer-songwriter Robbie Williams, with whom she worked as a personal manager since 1996 into the 2000s. She is currently a freelance event manager in her native Bristol.
Gabby talked to us about the struggles artists and their managers go through as the musician's career progresses, she shared her views on artist mental health, as well as overall approach to artist management in the short- and long-term.
Hi, Gabby, it's a pleasure to be talking to you today. Let's start your story at the beginning – how did you find yourself in the business?
I started off on tour as a roadie, and from there I started to build my network.
I proved my value, I was really efficient. I reinvented their systems, and they said to me, “The next artist that walks through the doors is yours to manage.” And that was Robbie Williams. So, I was Robbie's personal manager for four years.
During that time, I had two children, two daughters, and felt I couldn't tour as much, so ended up as director at I Music, looking after a lot of the audio-visual events and special events. From then, I set up a label for Damien Hirst for a couple of years. More recently, I've been doing and running events in the UK around my hometown of Bristol. I worked at Glastonbury.
They're under increasing pressure to produce an album that is as good as or better than their last album.
So, I've had a bit of a portfolio career, I guess. And more recently I've been teaching the music business to degree students in Bristol.
Strategy is key for new artists
I think a manager's role is to manage an artist's expectations and teach your artist to be patient.
I believe that you need to build a really strong foundation if you want a long career in the music industry, and that strong foundation needs to be built through the constant creation of music, live shows, just constantly working towards your goal. And it's really important to have a strategy, a long-term strategy rather than short-term goals. But I think jump-starting a career is really difficult in this era; I think it's a case of building a really strong foundation.
I think we have to consider our artists as a business with multiple revenue streams and we have to maximize those revenue streams.
I think for managing emerging artists one of the challenges is how to stand out in a very, very overcrowded marketplace, so the world of social media is full of bands, full of music streaming platforms that have so much music on them… It's how to really stand out, how to raise your head above the parapet – that's a challenge for artists and their managers.
If you're managing more established artists, it's about keeping them healthy. Something that's become more evident recently is that an artist's mental health is really fragile, because they don't know where the next money is coming from, they're under increasing pressure to produce an album that is as good as or better than their last album. And if they don't produce that then they have to deal with the fallout that that brings. And that can really play havoc on an artist's mental health.
Securing multiple revenue streams from your music
When I talk to my students about income streams for emerging artists, I often refer to the rivers of pennies or the trickles of pennies that come in.
As a manager, I think we have to consider our artists as a business with multiple revenue streams. And we have to maximize those revenue streams. Obviously, you get small amounts of money from streaming income, small amounts of money from physical sales, from ticket sales, from merchandise. But it's all small amounts of money that can come in and can sustain a career, but it's up to a manager to be aware of those potential income streams.
Honing the live show
I think live is more important now than it's ever been. I mean, it's the one area of the music industry that hasn't really suffered the same demise as the recorded music sector. Certainly, in the UK the festival market is just going from strength to strength every year.
It's really important for artists to learn and perfect their live performance, and they should build their fan base in their hometown, practice, become better at what you do.
You only have to look at the income that comes in for the large artists – and you see how much income can be made from the live sector.
And it's a real challenge now, certainly in the UK, but I think across many areas in Europe and the US, is that small grassroots music venues are closing down, so it means the opportunities for emerging artists to play live are diminishing. This for me is a real challenge facing emerging artists.
Live music is really important, and you only have to look at the income that comes in for the large artists – and you see how much income can be made from the live sector. So, it's a really important part of an artist's career.
There aren't many opportunities for young people to play musical instruments in school so that talent pool that's coming through tends to be the more middle-class high-income families, because certainly in UK schools the opportunity to play instruments just aren't there anymore. I'd like to see more opportunities, not for teenagers but for really young people, young children to be able to pick up a musical instrument – play piano, play guitar.
The lower income families are finding it increasingly difficult to afford that… So what it means, is that the music that's emerging in the market now is becoming a little bit more homogenized as a lack of diversity which I think would impact the music industry in the future you.