Whilst in NYC, SlantedPress grabbed a chat with the lovely Brad Oldham— Music manager at Vector MGMT, industry veteran and alternative music guru who manages the likes of artists such as Kings of Leon, Manchester Orchestra and Phosphorescent. Oldham talks about how it all started, his involvement with radio, Sony/RCA , and gives advice for budding artists on how to get signed.
So Brad, how did it all begin?
Oldham tells me he started out making a name for himself in college radio, to which he got a job working in a small market station called ‘Channel Z’ in Augusta, Georgia— the first outlet in alternative rock for the area. However, when asked if someone liked what he was doing on radio and got him his next breakthrough job with Sony, he quickly responds “No! Unfortunately they sold the station to a bigger conglomerate turning the format of the station into ‘The Golden Hits of the 70’s’...so I was out of a job.” Unemployed, he went onto telling me his experience being a substitute teacher whilst living with his parents in Washington DC, exclaiming “I was playing kids West Side Story six times a day on VCR till the bell rang!”.
After numerous attempts to get back into radio, his breakthrough came when a position opened in a Sony Music branch in Maryland, where he got “ringing endorsement” from a band called Emmet Swimming, whom he was close to, and whom to this day he fondly credits for getting his foot in the record label door. Now, 21 years later, with 11 years experience at Sony, doing marketing for RCA, management at Vector— that foot, as I'm sure we all can agree, has swung the door wide open.
“I started working with Kings of Leon before they were even called Kings of Leon.”
Still called The Followills, Oldham was involved in KoL’s career “super super early on” as he attests, being one of his first bands to manage at Vector. Oldham commends the Brits for adopting KoL as one of our own, with KoL’s reputation in the UK right from the start already strong with their first EP’s ‘Holy Roller Novocaine’ and ‘What I Saw’ soaring in indie charts before the states ever caught on— a fact I was very quietly smug about.
With talk about their rising success, I proceeded to probe Oldham why KoL’s southern blues origins became more closely inclined to an arena-rock sound and whether management was responsible for that.
“Nathan and Caleb were very strategic about how they wanted their sound, they hadn’t really been affected by A&R and we just generally let them be themselves, creatively and musically; letting them write the songs they wanted to write. There is a lot of trust in the artists to know what’s best for them.”
I was determined to find out whether labels pressure bands to produce a certain sound for commercial success to which Oldham just simply said “Well nobody knows how to make Kings of Leon records better than Kings of Leon!” Make of that what you will folks. He was not budging.
SlantedPress asked what Oldham and labels looked for when signing new artists. His response was immediate. “Good streaming numbers comparative to other newer or baby artists, and/or touring numbers in their fan base, especially in their hometown. You want to look at stuff that is already developed to some degree and not completely brand new.” He goes on to say that some artists they've signed already have lawyers!
“Having the skill-set is priority number one, having the songs, performing, practicing.” Oldham advises new artists to practice and hone their craft, recalling recently watching the Bob Marley documentary film ‘Marley’ and being amazed at how long The Wailers would practice before actually doing live shows saying “What bands nowadays actually practice for a year or two before they play live?”. Oldham goes on to advocate that once you’ve honed your craft to the best of your ability and get out there and gig, and develop your live act as much as possible then naturally you will garner a following which would attract the bigger labels.
Funnily enough, the interview draws to a close with Oldham basically admitting he has no musical ability whatsoever, joking “I used to play a bit of keyboard but that’s it”. Well be it musically inept, Oldham is still a sound guy and I thank him for his insight. I’m leaving out the end bits where questions like “Brad, if you were a chord what would it be?” etc. were asked because who wants to know that stuff?
Check out Oldham’s band of the moment Manchester Orchestra here:
It's unfair to leave out the talented singer song-writer Phosphorescent with his new single:
(FYI, he said C-chord!)