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A Day in the Life of a Music Manager: From Page to Stage

24 June 2021

A Day in the Life of a Music Manager: From Page to Stage

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The music industry is something of an institution. 

It’s one that’s seen numerous changes over the years. Streaming services have overtaken physical sales as the most popular format for music consumption. Social media platforms like YouTube and TikTok have become instrumental in giving aspiring musicians an online audience. More recently, the live music ban necessitated by the pandemic has prompted a slew of novel industry trends

It’s a constantly evolving field and notoriously tricky to break into. But beyond performance, there are plenty of different pathways you can try, each exciting, varied and creative in their own right. 

To get an idea of what a career in music can look like, we reached out to a professional who’s made his living coordinating live music from behind the scenes.

David Davies describes himself as ‘somewhere between a tour manager, a production manager and a creative director’. After several years working in production and lighting (including as a Production Executive for The Mercury Prize), David set up his own company, double d live. He is now responsible for designing and managing live shows for some of the biggest names in the business, including Skepta, J Hus, Sigrid and Sigala. 

According to David, it’s not always as glamorous as it seems. But, the exhilarating rush you get when you see a performance come to life never gets old…

Interested in gaining a unique, 360-degree experience of the music industry? David is just one of the amazing speakers on our Music Producer Programmes. Each is jam-packed with immersive career simulations, exclusive site visits and personalised career coaching, all designed to give you a more hands-on experience of the industry.

This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

What does a typical day in your working life look like?

There really isn’t a typical day in my industry. It completely depends on what I’m doing. 

Essentially, I create live music shows, I get them onto stages and screens. I work with various clients - artists, their managers, record labels etc. - to come up with concepts and then build that concept into a show. We do the budgeting and logistics, for example, how to fit everything we need into a truck or how to get to the venue on time.

The other side of the business is tour management. I go on tour with artists and look after the creative production side of things, as well as the day-to-day running. We also do the same for some corporate and broadcast events. 

When you’re on tour you know more what to expect of your day. It’s actually fairly monotonous. You wake up in the morning on a bus, the bus has gone from where it was yesterday to where it is today, you get out, the show gets built, you do a sound check, then there’s down time. When you’re looking after an artist they’ll often have press to do, so either they go and do interviews at TV stations or local media will come to the tour. Then you do the actual show. 

You’re building up to this 9 o'clock moment when there’s suddenly thousands of people in a room waiting to see a show you’ve been involved in creating. 

In terms of non-touring days, it varies massively, especially since the pandemic. I’m working in LA next month and in order to get into the US I have to quarantine in Mexico for 2 weeks. So I’m currently in Cabo - not a typical day!

I think one of the reasons the industry has attracted a certain type of person is that the routine in itself is not a routine. It’s so varied. 

What first inspired you to consider this as a career?

I started off in lighting. 

I’m privileged to be able to say that my grandmother paid for me to go to private school, which in many ways was a complete waste of her money because I was terrible at it! 

But the school had this incredible theatre. At 14, I was able to start learning the skills I now use in my professional life. 

I started off doing the lighting for school plays. I would draw lighting plots, come up with mood boards, budget shows and then pitch them to the drama teacher. I would get her feedback and do redesigns. That experience was invaluable: it taught me to take on feedback and accept criticism. 

We were very lucky that the theatre also had a jazz club. So, on Thursday evenings I was also able to light real jazz musicians. 

There is a unique freneticism of an audience in a venue that you don’t really get anywhere else. It’s addictive.

I think hunting for that feeling of abandon that an audience feels at a live show (a feeling that you get to enjoy by proxy) is what made me want to do this as a career.

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There is a unique freneticism of an audience in a venue that you don’t really get anywhere else. It’s addictive.

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What’s the best thing about your job?

I did a show for Skepta at Alexandra Palace which, at the time, was the biggest grime show ever. It was the year Skepta had won The Mercury Prize and I’d met his team because I used to present it.

There’s a line in the song Konnichiwa that goes ‘never knew that I was gonna pop, pop like 5th of November’, and in the track there’s the sound effect of a firework. The first pyro hit of the show was at that moment. 

There’s always this sense of adrenaline you get in the lead up to a moment like that, when you know you’re going to get a massive reaction from the crowd. It was timed perfectly and the crowd went mad. 

That’s the best thing about the job - curating an audience experience on behalf of an artist and seeing it pay off. It’s amazing to see the reaction. 

What’s the hardest thing?

The hours are really tough. 

You can regularly work days and days without a break, just a few hours of sleep here and there. 

Being away from loved ones is really hard, too. For me, the one positive thing about the pandemic was I was home for most of the year. I got to go to bed and wake up next to my partner every day. Now I'm travelling again, missing people and life events is difficult. 

It’s also quite difficult to be healthy. You fall into bad patterns. Everything is either feast or famine. There’s either nothing to eat or there’s so much food everywhere that you don’t stop eating. 

So working away and trying to stay healthy, fit and sane whilst you’re doing it, are the hardest things. 

What has been your biggest achievement since starting your career in live music management?

Being involved with The Mercury Prize was really exciting. 

I was part of the team that helped move it from being an independently-owned organisation to a part of the BPI. We moved it from the Round House to The Hammersmith Apollo and from Channel 4 to BBC music. I was involved in that process which was cool. 

But, I don’t know, biggest achievement? I’m still waiting for it, I guess. 

What are the perks/incentives, financial and otherwise, for a graduate looking to make their mark in your industry? 

It’s well paid, you can earn good money.

If you are sensible you can really set yourself up. If you start touring in your twenties and don’t pay rent on a flat you can put away a significant amount of money because you’re travelling and constantly working. This is pre-pandemic, obviously. 

And of course, the up-side of travelling a lot is that you do get to do cool stuff and work with fun people. We were in Japan for New Year, and even though we did work over that period, we were also paid to be in Japan for five days, you know? That was cool. 

I think one of the reasons the industry has attracted a certain type of person is that the routine in itself is not a routine. It’s so varied.

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How did you find your first 12 months in the field?

I always knew I wanted to work in music. But those opportunities weren’t forthcoming at first. I didn't have the contact base to get directly into the industry. So I skirted around it until I found a way in. You have to do that because, unfortunately, like a lot of creative industries, it is about who you know. I didn't know anybody in music. 

So I managed events: weddings, birthdays, bar mitzvahs. That was valuable experience. Even though they weren’t the music shows I’m putting on now, there was a show element to it, an audience experience to think about. I had to think about how to budget things etc. That really helped lay the groundwork for what I do now. 

I also did some lighting for TV, which is definitely a really good way to get into the industry. A lot of the people I met when I was a junior lighting person are now touring lighting designers that I bump into [on the scene]. That's how it works. It's bizarre that, for such a popular market, it's a surprisingly small industry. You see the same people everywhere. 

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What are your hobbies and interests outside of work?

I’m doing my skipper licence* and learning how to sail a boat. 

My hope is that next summer I'll have my licence so I can charter a yacht and sail it round the Greek islands. That’s the plan!

*The licence required for any boater who wants to profit commercially from sailing. 

Do you have any advice for young people thinking about pursuing a career in live music management?

Don’t listen if someone tells you to do a job for your portfolio, the exposure or the experience.

Unless it’s an accredited experience scheme, it won’t be worth your time. If they are bringing you onto their worksite there is something for you to do, which means they should have budgeted for you to be paid. If you do have to do it for free, make sure you’re getting travel and food recompensed (and you should never have to invoice for those things because you will pay tax on them). 

Also, have something as a backup that you don’t mind doing if it all goes wrong. 

This is an amazing industry and the UK is, or at least was, a world-leader in live music and touring. We’re at a really weird juncture now: no one really knows what’s going to happen after Brexit. We haven’t had to worry about it as much because of the pandemic, but we are already starting to see the cost of touring (visas etc.) going up.

Working in live music is an amazing thing to do, but it can be tough. If you want to do it, just be prepared! 

To find out more about David and his work, including his latest projects, take a look at his website, or follow him on Instagram

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