Heather Kolker, Manager of Of Monsters and Men, is easily one of the most dedicated and hard working people in the music industry today. With over twenty years of experience in the music industry, she’s assisted in boosting the careers of artists in various genres of pop and rock. Judging by the candor she presented in our conversations, and the remarkable work ethic she possesses, we wanted to know more about her background, as well as about the current climate of the music industry, itself. Icelandic Music Review was fortunate enough to be able to speak with her after a recent seminar hosted by Icelandic Music Export, and follow up with her via email with some questions.
1. Can you briefly describe your experience in the Seattle grunge scene of the late eighties, early nineties, and any similarities that you’ve encountered with the current scene in Reykjavík.
My first year of college was in 1989 at Lewis and Clark College in Portland Oregon. And by 1993 I was working for a concert promoter called Monqui Presents that was hosting so many amazing bands (local and national). Nirvana, Soundgarden, Pearl Jam, Smashing Pumpkins, some were still “small” at the time, and some were already “big” and some we got to witness the turning points from small to big. No one knew at the time that what was happening would be remembered as a “movement” in rock and roll but when all of these “local” bands started appearing on international magazine covers, it was clear that something was happening, and, if nothing else, it was a cool place to be!
In terms of similarities between the Pacific Northwest and Iceland, I suppose both are considered regions with strong and interesting music scenes. Maybe it’s the weather….?! There are various cities that go through a period of being under the spotlight for music. Brooklyn around 2008 was a big one. But I do find that Iceland is on the radar of ex-Icelanders more so than it was when I first started coming here in 2008 (whether it’s because of the economic crash, the volcanoes, or the music…probably all of it) people are definitely talking about it. Perhaps in a similar way that music put the PNW on the map for many people in the early 90s.
2. How do you feel about The Pirate Bay?
I believe that artists should be compensated fairly for the work that they do.
3. What do you think audiences most enjoy about Of Monsters and Men?
I would imagine the music!
4. What would you say are the main profit streams that bands can tap into these days? In other words, where is the money at in making music?
It really depends on the band and their level of success. Record sales are becoming lower on that list for most bands. Whereas touring, merchandising and licensing are increasingly important parts of the plan.
5. Was working in the music industry easier prior to the social media revolution we’ve experienced in the last ten years?
I wouldn’t say easier, but it was quite different. And in many ways, it can be seen as better. Before social media, bands really had to rely on record labels and their marketing and radio connections for exposure. Now a developing band has many more ways of creating and growing a fan base. Whether it’s Facebook, Soundcloud, Youtube, Instagram, Twitter, or catching the eyes and ears of the thousands of music oriented blogs out there – they have many more tools at their own fingertips, which can be a great thing for them.
6. What are A& R scouts looking for in an act?
Most major labels are looking for bands who can cross on to commercial radio. That being said, there are some indie labels who do not focus on radio but are looking for something that they think will be successful in other ways whether that is through touring or licensing – that kind of thing. But most labels agree that radio is a huge factor in exposure, which leads to record sales. And all labels want to sell albums – that is the business that they are in.
7. Are there any bands that you think would be comparable to OMAM in Iceland that have not yet been signed?
I wouldn’t compare bands as I don’t think that really makes sense to do. But I do think that there are many talented bands that could have bright futures (signed or not).
8. What kind of music do you enjoy listening to? Which artists have caught your ear over the years and haven’t left your collection?
There are too many to list. I like some of everything, really. I am not specific to a genre and my collection is big as I rarely cleanse and get rid of music – even if I’m not really listening to it anymore. But a few of the all time go-tos are The Smiths, Miles Davis, The Cure, Radiohead, Ella Fitzgerald, Fleetwood Mac, Patti Smith. More recent releases on solid rotation in my house are The National, Ben Howard, Alt-J, London Grammar, Arctic Monkeys.
9. Are record labels necessary to an artist anymore? Couldn’t an artist facilitate each aspect of their career themselves? A related question, what do you think OMAM’s motivation was for signing to a major label?
Different bands have different needs. And signing with a label – major or indie – doesn’t always make sense for every band. I would always advise a band to have no deal than a bad deal. That being said, most bands need money to tour. And when you are a new band from Iceland, you may need even more money to tour as you obviously have to fly every time you want to tour anywhere but Iceland. So, OMAM needed tour support from a label. That was a big factor. But as to why OMAM signed, we found a label that made sense in many ways for OMAM. They didn’t sign to Republic *because* it was a major, it was simply what we thought was the best situation overall.
A label (If it’s the right one) should be at the center of all of these different things, helping to streamline the plan on an international level.
But if a band does not have a label deal, there are ways to try and do it a bit more DIY . You can hire a radio team, marketing / PR people, a distributor or they could do a distribution-only deal. There are many options out there, it just really depends on where the band is at in their career and what their individual situation is / needs are.
10. Where do you see the current social media/digital paradigm shifting to?
I don’t think there is an end in sight for the digital world. In fact it seems quite limitless in the big picture – not just regarding music. Quite space-age really. So, yes, the potential seems extremely limitless for people as well as musicians.
11. Is it smarter to start playing in emerging markets over the tried-and-tested tour grounds of Europe and North America?
Touring North America and Europe is important because that is where most of the business is. And bands do tour other places often – but the demand needs to be there. OMAM made it to Australia 3 times on their last cycle, New Zealand, South America, Japan, Singapore, even Dubai. But, the reality is that it’s very expensive to tour and you need to be able to afford it and justify the costs. If the market is small, the fan base is likely small, so the shows will be small, so the income will be small, while the costs for the band to get there are likely high.
The agency she works with, Paradigm, can be reached here.