Today we talk with Colin Johnson, the mind behind Maven Artists. Maven Artists has had a stellar year in the indie dance scene overlooking on-the-rise talent such as Jamie Prado, Champagne Drip, and securing them places at festivals like Mysteryland and Splash House in 2016 . We had an opportunity to hear about his experiences working behind the curtain in the music industry in this week's edition of Music Monday.
Who are you and what's your connection to the music industry?
Hi. I'm Colin Johnson, Artist Manager at Maven Artists. I currently represent Champagne Drip, Jamie Prado, SPL, and Atlantic Connection. Artist management is just one of my passions that I am able to pursue in the industry; I'm also a DJ and a promoter, both of which I've been doing since 1999.
Can you tell us a little bit about Maven Artists and what made you interested in becoming a part of the "behind-the-scenes" side of things so to speak?
Maven Artists is essentially a one-man operation right now, but my artists have been keeping me very busy and I'll be adding support staff soon to help me keep up with the growth. I love the word 'maven.' By definition, it means "a trusted expert in a particular field, who seeks to pass knowledge on to others." I've been a music nerd for as long as I can remember. My first real job was working at a record store at age 17, and I was an on-air DJ at a college radio station as well. I also started playing guitar in high school, which was my real entry way into live performance. I was essentially a rock 'n' roll purist when I was in high school in Carmel, California, but when I moved to Los Angeles in 1995 to attend UCLA, I really started embracing 'urban' music more.
I'm definitely one of those people who are shaped by their environments, so moving to a big city really changed my perspective. Electronic music and hip-hop just made more sense to me [after I moved]. I was fortunate enough to have been brought into the Los Angeles rave scene in the mid-90s, back when it was something you really had to be "brought into." I fell in love with the culture, started DJing, and throwing small underground events. After a close friend in the rave scene of mine passed away, I left Los Angeles, moving to Seattle in 2002, thinking I had effectively retired from music.
After 2 years away from music, I started my first real band, an electronic/indie rock project called Mercir. As Mercir carved its way thru the Seattle scene, I started working as a talent buyer at my favorite venue in town, Chop Suey. Mercir ended up closing up shop after a great run, but I continued to make a name for myself in the Seattle club scene, putting on some amazing events in that city during my time there from 2002 to 2008. I'm proud of the small part I played in that city's vibrant music community.
As a promoter I used to hear from artists, "You really take care of us. You should work as an agent or manager. You really 'get' us." I moved to Los Angeles in 2009 with my eyes set on working more directly with the artists and started as a booking agent for a boutique agency, handling some awesome artists during my tenure as an agent. I steered their careers in a positive direction as much as any agent could possibly do.
I felt somewhat limited in what I could do as an agent and, after working for years in the industry building relationships with publicists, labels, agents, managers, bloggers, and more, I finally felt qualified to take on the role of manager. Over the past 5 years, arguably the most unpredictable 5 years in the history of the music industry, I've helped my artists navigate through all of the insanity.
Respecting the integrity of the art is my priority, but I always try and find an intersection where the art side and business side work together in harmony. So, back to your initial question, I became interested in working behind-the-scenes because I want to use my talents and business intuition to champion artistic integrity in the music industry.
How have you personally grown over the past year? How have you been stoking the fires of that growth? Where do you see yourself going in the months ahead? Where do you think Maven is going?
A little over a year ago, I parted ways with another management company and brought a few artists with me to launch Maven Artists as a solo venture. Starting up your own company from the ground up is always nerve-racking. But, then again, it's never really "from the ground up" when you take all your experience, and relationships, from previous ventures with you and build a foundation around solid principles and business ethics.
I've always worked well others, but doing so while being my own boss has been the most rewarding experience. My artists have challenged me to be a better manager and, in turn, I think I've challenged them to be better artists. It's a true handshake between business and art and when each side respects each other's input into that process, great things happen. I'm currently in conversation with another really gifted artist, whom I can't name yet, who I'll be bringing into the fold. My goal is to build a musically diverse team in which the main common thread is quality. I despise the cooker-cutter approach that some labels and management companies take, where they sign a ton of artists that all sound the same and try to run each artist through the same channels and, in a sense, create internal competition. I suppose the model allows for opportunities to trickle down to up and coming artists, but I really enjoy finding the unique niche each artist fits into and encourage them to think outside of boxes. To find their own voice.
Any goals that you've made for yourself in 2016?
That's a great question as it's ALWAYS good to ask yourselves these questions from time to time to be sure you're actually on the path that you want to be on. My artists' live touring schedules are really picking up right now, and my goal is for them to get on as many stages as possible as we continue to build awareness. Champagne Drip and Jamie Prado specifically have received a ton of positive press this year which really set the stage for them to take their show on the road. It's really rewarding to see the response from their fans.
What tip do you have for young professionals or artists who are interested in getting involved in the music industry?
I think one important piece of advice would be don't let yourself be too easily discouraged. I've had a lot of ups and downs over the past 15 years in the industry and people will inevitably let you down. So self-reliance is a must. Trends come and go, and there are a lot of short-sighted people that hop on bandwagons who don't have the foresight to invest in, or value, the right relationships.
I have a little saying that I try to live by when it comes to music: "timeless & timely". I'm only interested in working with career-minded artists who are making music that will outlive genre trends, fair-weather fans, and even technological changes in the industry. At the same time, the music needs to have an impact in the present and should be very aware of the current musical landscape. So I'd advise young professionals who are looking to make a career out of music to focus on things that will have lasting musical value. And with the artists themselves, I'd caution them to not give in to the temptation of taking shortcuts, even as they see their friends advance in the short term by taking them.
Colin Johnson also supplied us with a playlist that spans the entire musical spectrum. You can check out his curated playlist below.