The right vocal can take a good track and make it great, propelling it from the underground into a crossover smash. But finding the right singer can be far from easy. That’s where vocal artist manager Anna Russell comes in, pairing vocalists with some of today’s biggest acts including Armand Van Helden, Disclosure and Tiesto. We get the inside track on what it takes.
Place of work
Company owner and artist manager.
How long have you had the job?
My company, AR Artist Management, was set up in January of 2011, with the AR Vocal Agency being added just this summer. However, I had been working as an artist manager for a few years before that as one half of the management team for Groove Armada and Saint Saviour, amongst others.
Which artists and labels do you work with?
The company is still in its early stages but we’ve already completed projects for Kissy Sell Out, Bondax and James Yuill and we’re currently working on projects for artists including Armand Van Helden, Avicii, Tiesto, Bondax, Chicane, Norman Doray and John Dahlback, as well as labels like Axtone, Hospital Records and Sample Magic. In addition to our main service offering written and recorded toplines, AR also provides session vocalists for a wide variety of recording and live work. Vocalists on our roster have previously worked with The Prodigy, Basement Jaxx, Roisin Murphy, Maverick Sabre, Labrinth, Noisettes, Wretch 32 and Cee Lo Green, to name just a few.
Describe a typical working day
There’s no typical day, which is one of my favourite parts of my job. Working with a variety of artists and across lots of different projects means in one day you can be at the office, then a recording studio, then out at meetings, followed by a gig.
So how do you pair the perfect vocalist with any given topline?
Often the producer already has a vocal of a certain type or style in mind, and in those cases we’re then able to identify which of our roster would best deliver what the client is looking for. Other times, the client is keen for us to A&R projects and select the right vocal for them. It’s these jobs which creatively are the most enjoyable for us – where possible I like to try and place a vocal that isn’t the ‘obvious’ choice on a track, creating much more interesting collaborations. With a roster that’s now over 50-strong and continually growing we do feel we represent a real diversity of voices.
What’s the process for a typical project?
I’m sure every writer’s process is different. Obviously it’s key that they take into consideration the client’s wants and needs, which can sometimes be quite specific; however, I think it’s also important for them to bring their own musical knowledge, ideas and style to a project. We like to think of them more as collaborative projects than straightforward writing jobs, and always want it to be enjoyable for the topline writer.
Highs of the job
It’s a cliche but there’s nothing better than meeting and working with incredible songwriters, musicians and producers – including many that I was a fan of before working with them. There’s no bigger fan of the artists we manage than me, so being sent a new track by them or seeing them perform well will always be the highlight of any working week. On the vocal agency side, the highs come when one of our roster creates a topline that perfectly fits a track we’ve been given.
Lows of the job
Like any start up company there have been lots of challenges during these first 18 months of business, but working on something you have created and seeing it grow month on month is immeasurably rewarding.
How did you get your job?
Persistence and hard work. I always knew this was what I wanted to do so I’m not sure there’s much chance I’d have ever ended up elsewhere.
How would we get a job like yours?
I think the attributes needed include having a good ear for music, understanding what makes a strong topline, and having a good head for business. Being efficient and organised is important as there’s a lot of juggling involved in keeping everything we do at AR up in the air. Most importantly, loving what you do – artist management is not for the faint-hearted or work-shy.
Who are the people who’ve had the biggest influence on your career and why?
There are several who deserve some credit! First and foremost, my dad, who’s a jazz musician and my biggest supporter. One of my university lecturers who spotted the entrepreneur in me about 10 years ago and told me I’d be wasted as someone else’s employee. Andy Cato, Tom Findlay (Groove Armada) and Dan O’Neill who put their faith in me as an inexperienced junior manager – my years with them will always be the most formative of my career and I’m not sure I’ll ever work with a team quite as familial, not to mention excellent at what they do.
Artist management is not for the faint-hearted or work-shy
Finally, what are your three favourite vocal-led dance tracks?
Top of this list is an easy one! Armand Van Helden’s ‘U Don’t Know Me’, vocalled by Duane Harden. It was released in 1999 and is still one of my favourite ever dance tracks. From the same time, De’Lacy’s ‘Hideaway’ is also another classic soulful house vocal I love equally. Royksopp’s ‘The Girl and the Robot’ with Robyn on vocals is an incredible dance/pop track in my opinion – understated vocals but with a very powerful impact.
As a current example I think Disclosure are doing an amazing job with their vocals. Their productions leave lots of room for full vocals, but they manage to strike a delicate balance so that the tracks aren’t overpowered by the big voices they use. I couldn’t pick just three!