After a whirlwind twelve-month stint of couch surfing to fulfil her dream of starting her new business in Amsterdam, thirty-year-old South African artist manager Sarah Jane Nicholson is anxious to finally plant her roots firmly in the European scene as an aficionado of African music. At her usual ‘walk and talk’ pace she recounts her travels back in 2018 to start a new chapter in the young Firestarter’s life that began with obstacles, trial and error but constant perseverance.
Since founding her first agency in 2010, the manager turned label owner and global speaker has been a consistent fire starter, negotiating licences with Armada Music, Spinnin’ Records, Universal (Africa), Warner Music (Africa) and Sony Music (Africa) whilst securing live exposure for acts under her management at Roskilde, SZIGET, Tomorrowland Unite, Ultra, Coachella, Global Citizen, Fusion Festival, Primavera, MIDEM, SXSW, ADE, Canada Indie Week, M for Montreal and Music Matters Singapore.
As an accomplished speaker and conference facilitator, Nicholson frequently shares her expertise at events around the world. Offering insights on a broad range of industry operations – including business opportunities for managers, artists, publishers, agents and labels seeking to expand into Africa, as well as the possibilities for Africa-Europe talent exchange and more – she heads up the South African division of Women In Music and is the Managing Director of Paradise Africa Distribution.
Tell us a bit about yourself and how your journey into the entertainment and music industry began.
Operating with a deep-rooted understanding of the market on both sides of the equator, I am the Managing Director of Paradise Africa Distribution, an affiliate of the global company Paradise Worldwide – a tech power team with headquarters in Berlin and offices around the world that specialises in protection and independent rights collection. We are committed to developing African music on a worldwide scale, providing a new age model for independent artists and labels, breaking down the traditional management model in lieu of an evolved approach to the music business, authentically tailored to the artist’s needs.
The first artist I managed were my brothers’ best friends Locnville. I was writing my final thesis at Vega at the time when I helped them shoot their first music video in my parents’ home who were away on holiday in Greece. I had learnt how to make films from my time at AFDA, we pushed it to MTV who were looking for HD content at the time. Sun In My Pocket was an overnight success and soon after this we were touring Europe while signed to Sony/Jive.
What does your job entail?
This is the thing about being an artist manager – it’s more than just managing. Sometimes I don’t know what role I am in. A&R, putting collaborations together, publishing, finding songwriters, creatively directing the aesthetic of the project. Doing it all! You become this multi-talented creative and wear all these hats, I love it!
What is the key to developing an artist?
When it comes to developing an artist, you have to really give everything to making it a success. I’m not saying it’s me on the stage, obviously it’s the artist, they’ve got the talent, but if you don’t have that person with the connection capital to develop the brand and who will invest time and energy into it, then you will still be sitting in the field with your talent for the rest of your life.
With your deep understanding of the African music industry, how are you working to bring Africa’s music to the world?
Fuelled by a passion to see Africa take its place in the global music scene, I am currently working with several partners to bring Africa Rising Music Conference (ARMC) to life which takes place in 25 & 25th May 2022 in collaboration with Dutch Music Export Office. This is a conference showcase format with a focus on building bridges between top tier African music executives and the worldwide marketplace, blazing the way for other global stake holders to invest in the rich, diverse and relatively untapped markets Africa offers.
Who are some of the artists you have worked with?
Locnville, Mi Casa, Cara Frew, Black Coffee, GoodLuck, Chiano Sky, PJ Powers, Zakes Bantwini and Moonchild Sanelly to name a few.
6. What advice can you give someone who wants to get into artist management?
You can’t study to be an artist manager. Experience is the key here, you’ve just got to go through the knocks, get knocked down and get back up again. Up until 2019 I felt like I had constantly been making mistakes and getting up again. I threw myself into this business like I throw myself into everything in life. Not knowing what management was at the time and looking back now, I was super naive, it’s been a long journey and I’ve really grown a lot.
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