Photo: Debra O’Connor
In celebration of International Women’s Day, Daphne Bugler chats to Music Manager SANDRA MARCY about her life, her career, jazz music, and being a woman in the music business.
As an artist manager, agent and former PR, Sandra Marcy has handled press for clients such as Earth, Wind & Fire and Tina Turner, and has worked with other world-renowned musicians, actors and a US President. She has now turned to jazz music where she entertains good relations with bloggers, mainstream press and radio stations including the BBC radio network.
Sandra has a passion for bringing jazz music to a wider audience, and has recently worked with Live Nation presenting a sold-out show in London. She is an inspiring woman working in what is still a male-dominated industry who spoke candidly to me about her life, career and experiences.
LondonJazz News: What inspired you to become a music manager?
Sandra Marcy: I began my career working in PR for a well-known hotel in London. That gave me exposure to the teams required behind the scenes to keep world-class musicians, actors and politicians at the top of their game and I was fascinated by it. Years later I had the privilege
of meeting Keith Harris (Stevie Wonder’s long-time manager, among so many other roles in the music business) and he encouraged me to take the first step.
LJN: There must be moments when its incredibly exciting to be working with such talented artists, is there anyone, in particular, you have really enjoyed working with?
SM: The musician I’m working with right now, electric bass player Shez Raja, really is fearless! But for me the artistry doesn’t begin and end with the music – to support his upcoming release we’ve commissioned photography, remixes and videos – the creativity and passion of all the artists involved in this project is really quite special.
LJN: Why did you move to working with jazz artists? How do you perceive the jazz scene to be doing at the moment?
SM: I was brought up listening to jazz from the age of around four, so it was always my first musical language. When I started out in music PR/management seven years ago I could see jazz artists in the UK struggling to get to grips with the fall in CD sales, the rise in streaming and the need to constantly be releasing new music and knew I could help them understand the changing music industry landscape. That’s beginning to change, I think. This is an incredibly exciting time to be involved in jazz – we have some great improvisers such as Shabaka Hutchings successfully representing the best of British jazz on international stages.
LJN: You must experience setbacks all the time, how do you manage to stay motivated to keep going in this industry? Have you ever contemplated changing careers?
SM: I’m still a newcomer to music management – only seven years in so no, I’m not contemplating changing any time soon!
As to how I keep motivated – first and foremost a belief in the music. For me to represent an artist I have to put my own reputation on the line so I have to genuinely love the music and believe in the artist’s long-term commitment.
The Music Managers Forum has had a key role in both educating me and keeping me motivated. I’m a member of the UK branch, and their learning, mentoring and networking opportunities have helped me build my own network and get to know other managers who face similar challenges, albeit in other music genres. Over the last year I’ve been privileged to have been mentored by the MMF’s vice-chair, which has been a priceless learning opportunity. I meet with him every month and knowing that we have to sit down and review progress together certainly keeps me motivated
LJN: How do you cope with stress in a high-pressure job?
SM: I garden. No music, no radio, no phone… out there in my wilderness I’m unreachable. There’s something about being out in the open air, getting your hands dirty and achieving something – no matter how small – that puts things into perspective and reminds you to take a break from what is often an all-consuming job.
LJN: In the wake of the problems the #MeToo movement exposed in the film industry, do you feel the music industry has many of the same problems? Have you ever felt prejudiced against because you were a woman? Do you think it is harder to succeed in music management as a woman?
SM: Janelle Monae and Kesha brought the #MeToo movement to the 60th annual Grammy Awards in 2018 and I think we’re just starting to see the first high-profile cases come to light, with music industry executives accused alongside performers. There’s no doubt that the music industry is predominantly male-oriented, but I can’t say I’ve ever felt any prejudice towards me personally.
Last year we saw 45 UK festivals sign up to KeyChange, an initiative from the PRS Foundation encouraging festivals to achieve a 50-50 gender balance by 2022 (source: BBC News). While I applaud festivals for committing to balance their programming of both male and female artists I’d like to see a music industry where talent, rather than gender (whether artist, agent, manager, record label…), is the focus.
I think it’s a challenge being a music manager in today’s fast-moving industry regardless of gender. The Music Managers Forum’s female membership has increased to 35% in the last five years and the board currently comprises of a third women, with the aim to increase this to 50% through board elections over the next few years.
LJN: What advice would you give young women hoping to pursue a career in the music industry?
SM: Find others – individuals and organisations – who can support you. Organisations such as Brighter Sound are doing great things to support, inspire and showcase women in music across the North of England. I was invited to the launch of Both Sides Now, their three-year programme for young and emerging female artists and industry professionals. The programme features residencies, commissions, training and apprenticeships, alongside national and international showcases, and is a great introduction to the industry with the aim of bridging the gap in access, opportunity and career progression.
LJN: What do you wish you had known yourself when you started in this job?
SM: I learned this really quickly – know your role and your limitations. Artist management can be a tricky job as it touches on all aspects of an artist’s career – recording, touring, merchandise, publishing, publicity, profile building – in a fast-moving environment. Know your strengths and acknowledge when you need expert help – the services of a good PR, booking agent, music lawyer or specialist accountant often have unseen benefits due to their networks, which will complement and enlarge your own networks.
Daphne Bugler is a Freelance Journalist in London and can be found at @daphnemb96