We sat down to chat with Laura Jones, who is the head of Little Underground Management, a producer management company based in New York. Her clients have produced and mixed records for everyone from Fallout Boy to The War On Drugs, Weezer to Animal Collective.
After moving from the UK to the US almost 3 years ago, the company has grown phenomenally. The roster has quadrupled in size, spawned 4 Grammy nominations, received several platinum and gold selling records, and worked on a multitude of critically acclaimed albums. Furthermore, she’s achieved this success within the niche genre of rock and alternative music.
Tell us a bit about how you landed into the world of music business. Did it happen by chance or were you intentionally pursuing this path?
I originally went to university to study modern languages but later dropped out to do a degree in Arts, Music & Entertainment Management at LIPA (The Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts, co-founded in 1996 by Sir Paul McCartney for those who don’t know). I didn’t know what I wanted to do, I just knew I wanted to work in music. The course was very practical, with a focus on real-life experience. During that time, I started managing a musician called Eugene McGuinness. We were both nearing the end of our studies and luckily met an A&R person from Domino Records who really liked his songs. Within 6 months he had signed to both label and publishing and that, as they say, was that. Suddenly I was managing a signed artist and that prompted me to start the original incarnation of my management company, Little Underground Management.
Safe to assume you’ve always been passionate about music then?
My Mom took me to a music festival when I was 12 years old and from then on all my free time was spent going to shows, record shopping, taping radio shows and making notes about all the new bands being played on them. I was definitely a bit of a nerd!
Ever since then, you’ve covered so many roles in this business and your clients have even won Grammys! We’re sure it has been an interesting journey. What are the most valuable lessons you’ve learned along the way?
I think PEOPLE and contacts are so important in this industry. It really is a ‘who you know’ business. To grow and develop you must have strong relationships with a wide range of people and have those people trust and believe in you. Remember to build your contacts, follow-up with everyone you meet and be gracious and respectful towards everyone - you never know when your paths will cross again!
Share with us a challenge(s) you are proud you overcame.
When I first started in artist management, I was 22 years old and looked like I was 12! So many people would disregard me and told me the job was too difficult and that I wouldn’t be able to succeed. I don’t think that anyone believed that this young female would survive the ferocity of the industry. That was the hardest thing to overcome; however, I just used it as ammunition to work even harder and prove them wrong. I would smile and be gracious, but it pushed me to fight even harder. Overcoming that is something I am proud of. I never gave in when people said I couldn’t do it.
Who are the people you’ve worked with that made an impact on you?
Laurence Bell from Domino Records. He was the opposite of what I just described. He was incredibly supportive during my early years as a manager and is a true inspiration. He started his label out of his bedroom, releasing albums out of passion, because he wanted people to hear great new music. Domino is now an international company, with offices all over the world and countless hit records but the basis of the company is still the same. I will always be grateful to him for giving me a chance and want Little Underground to exist on the same ethos - work on the music you love because you think everyone should hear it.
Tell us more about founding your own company, Little Underground Producer Management?
It was just a natural progression based on all my previous experiences in the UK. I ran Little Underground as an artist management company for 5 years on my own, before joining a producer management company for 4 years. I had always wanted to move to New York, and when the opportunity arose, the most natural progression seemed to be to take the producer management knowledge I had accumulated and fold it into Little Underground, to resuscitate it, and use the reputation and contacts I had previously created to then move forward.
What’s the best part about it?
I think the freedom is the best thing, but then maybe it’s also the hardest. Everything is in your own hands - how hard you work, how much you want to push things, the complete vision. You don’t have to run things ‘up the ladder’ to get approval. There’s no hiding behind anyone else. That’s daunting but also incredibly liberating.
Also, you have the unique privilege of having worked inside and outside of the USA. How has that impacted your skills and performance within the business?
Obviously, having worked in both places has helped me enormously with my network. I built strong connections in the UK and now have done the same here in the US. You can really get to know people and build more powerful relationships, something that rarely happens when you’re just visiting a country on a week long business trip. Also, it’s easy to become complacent and comfortable when things are going well. Re-building the business in the US forced me to come out from behind the comfort blanket, take risks again and have to learn about operating in a new market, pushing me to continually grow and develop and ultimately give a real strength and depth to the company.
What surprising twists and turns has your career in music taken?
Honestly, I never envisioned I’d be a record producer manager. I didn’t even know that was a job when i started! For me I thought doing anything but artist management would be a failure. It was how I started in the industry and how I always imagined it would be - i couldn’t give in to anything else. However, I grew up, learned more about the industry and also about what I wanted for my own life. Managing producers definitely suits my personality and skills better (I enjoy the creative a&r element that you don’t necessarily get when managing an artist) and now I wouldn’t want to do anything else.
In today’s over-crowded market, what do you think are the key ingredients for an artists/producer’s success?
As cheesy as it is and as many times as it’s been said, “just being true”. Being a genuine artist or producer and making music that comes naturally to you will always sound better than music that’s trying to fit into a mold or trying to be ‘a hit’. We all have to pay our bills and will sometimes compromise on taste for a pay day, but if you want a long-standing career you should always work on music you love and believe in, otherwise people will see right through it.
Any advice for young women trying to get their foot into this ever-changing industry?
Create your own opportunities. Don’t just rely on a job interview or a promotion to get the position you want - create it for yourself. Put on shows, make friends with local artists and help them however you can, DJ, volunteer on the local radio station. Immerse yourself in your local scene and be a part of it. The more people you know and the more people you’re impressing, the more likely good opportunities will come to you.
Anything else, you’d like to share with our readers?
It’s a difficult and daunting industry but don’t be afraid to ask questions. I used to be scared to admit that I didn’t know something and thought you needed to appear strong and confident at all times. However, that only held me back and stopped me from growing. Nobody, not even the top execs, can know everything. There’s absolutely no shame in just asking somebody for help or advice.
Thank you Laura! Keep rocking!