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Words & Pics by Steve 'Habibi' Kelk

Jacob ‘Bourky’ Bourke & Steve Aryal Lees of L.A.B. Music Management

Anyone who has spent any time working in the music industry, in any capacity, knows that it is exactly that – an industry. Music, whether live or recorded, whether organic or electronic, is a product for sale and the artists are a brand and essentially their own trademark. Brand recognition, along with a quality product and shrewd marketing, is what keeps the customers buying.

The concept of artistic creativity, however, seems to be wholly at odds with the concept of a number-crunching, productivity-and-efficiency based business model designed to maximise profits and minimise expenses. The stereotypically cold-hearted, ultra-competitive approach to business can at times be anathema to the free-flowing, introspective and thoughtful creative personalities and creeds of artists, who necessarily rely on managers and labels to get their music and performances to the public and to put food on their table. Artists sometimes get burned in the process through a lack of understanding the business side of things in the absence of a manager, or through having a poor relationship with the manager they have.

The music industry has changed in recent times as well, with download and streaming technology advances making the live performance part of the operation so much more important in terms of generating revenue and fans. With the advancement of production technology and social media marketing allowing most anyone to produce and market music, the field is congested and sorting the wheat from the chaff can be daunting to punters. Standing out from the crowd is now even more difficult for artists competing to be heard over each other. There are a lot of great music artists out there for whom market penetration is proving elusive due to the sheer volume of product to choose from. The business relationship between artist and manager is now even more important than in times gone by, as new pressures and imperatives arise. Old strategies need to be reconsidered.

So what are emerging artists to consider when deciding on who will manage and direct them in this rapidly changing climate? What is needed to more effectively bridge the gap between creativity and commerce? How can greater confidence and stability in the business relationship between artist and manager be achieved? How can artists in regional and remote settings more effectively access the larger audiences in the capital centres?

Newcomers L.A.B. Music Management might have the answers to those questions, with a fresh approach and a sincere desire to help artists navigate this ever-evolving industry landscape.

With roots in both Darwin and Melbourne, the L.A.B. Management team of Steve Aryal Lees and Jacob ‘’Bourky” Bourke bring a combined 15 years of industry experience that brings an understanding of artists’ needs from regional Australia as well as those from major centres. Importantly, L.A.B. takes an wholistic approach to artist management that is not purely ‘business-oriented’ per se – the mental and social health of music artists are just as important as the performances, production and bottom line. The personal relationships fostered between the management team and the artists are of paramount importance, with mutual respect and shared vision highly valued. It is an altruistic paradigm but one that is also mutually beneficial. Yes, L.A.B. is a for-profit business but one whose founding principles determine that people come before profits, and where mentoring is a plank upon which success can be achieved and maintained. Being relatively young themselves, the team at L.A.B. is open to new ideas, flexible approaches and fresh challenges.

Although based in Melbourne, L.A.B. is true to its Territory origins and NT artists are firmly (albeit not exclusively) in their sights. Many in the NT scene will know Darwin-born and bred Steve from his time in bands gigging around Darwin, playing bass in Black Can Clan and guitar in At The Dakota before making the move to Melbourne to study music production at the Australian operation of the London-based Abbey Road Institute. Bourky has a background in festival and event management (including Splendor In The Grass, Ocean Rhythms and St Kilda Festival) and is currently completing a Bachelor of Entertainment Management at the Australian Institute of Music in Melbourne. Bourky has also tour-managed bands and currently manages Darwin-linked Melbourne band King River Rising.

“It’s a no-bullshit artist-industry relationship with goals and strategies by band and team”

L.A.B. uses engagement with artists to bring out their best. The wholistic approach encourages regular get-togethers and jamming, social interaction and brainstorming of ideas, with an emphasis on constant writing to keep the creative juices flowing and to maintain focus. If you area having a bad day, they want to hear about it and help where possible. If a band comes to them with five songs, they will be asked to write fifty more. It is a hands-on approach in a new age where young artists are to be treated as part of a team rather than just a client. L.A.B. works with a variety of industry professionals, such as record producers, tour managers, booking agents, photographers, videographers and graphic designers to grow their artists’ careers as well as their own. As Steve says: “It’s a no-bullshit artist-industry relationship with goals and strategies by band and team.”

It is no secret that the Northern Territory music scene is currently thriving, with several acts receiving national attention. There are new bands emerging and old bands undergoing a renaissance. Indigenous artists are finding their national voice. Some artists of course have decided to move interstate to follow their dreams – that in itself is nothing new. Several local management companies and labels have done and continue to do an outstanding job mentoring and promoting their artists as widely as possible. Having industry professionals in the cultural hub of Melbourne, who have an understanding of and an affiliation with the Northern Territory scene, can only be a good thing for NT artists seeking to broaden their horizons – it’s a bit like having family in another country with whom you can stay and who can show you the do’s and don’ts in a strange land and help you navigate unfamiliar territory.

L.A.B. is a resource that Territory artists and, indeed, their local managers, can consider when the time comes to spread their wings. For details on management contracts and pricing, L.A.B. can be contacted via their Facebook page:

Disclosure: This article contains input from L.A.B. Music Management. It is not paid content. Foldback Magazine is in the business of supporting and promoting Northern Territory music and considers every sincere effort to advance the cause of Territory musicians worthy of space on its pages, regardless of commercial interests. It has been written from a Territory perspective, in line with our philosophy.


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