After speaking at our recent music panel in LA, we met up with Andrew Kwan to learn more about his journey and insights in the music space.
He touches on working for Live Nation, what to look for in artists managers, paying for Spotify playlist placement, and much more.
Thanks for taking the time to chat with us. To start off, how did your involvement in the music space begin?
I started a YouTube channel when I was in middle school – and it was awful. It was just… bad. It was the time when YouTube was still an emerging platform and independent artists were doing covers and making money – at least much more decently than today. At the time, I thought I could do the same thing, but I never had professional music training, never been able to play an instrument, nor did I truly have a vision as an artist; I simply enjoyed singing. I had done choir a little bit, but that’s about it.
I remember telling my dad one day that I wanted to be a singer. His response: “Yeah.. you’re not doing that.” I was like, “Alright cool, I’m not going to do that then.”
In high school, I told him I wanted to study music in college – or maybe music theory or music business. Again, he was like, “Yeah… you’re not going to do that. Who actually makes money off music?” So, I had given up my music dreams by the time I started college.
During college, I had explored a lot of random things. I was admitted as a philosophy major, switched to psychobiology, business economics/accounting, communications, sociology, psychology, and eventually ended up in political science (I hated it). Aside from psychology, I never truly felt passionate about any of the major studies offered at UCLA. I was in more or less a limbo, as most college students tend to be when trying to figure out who you’re “supposed to be” at eighteen years old.
One day, I happened to be building these playlists for some friends of mine because I love helping people discover new music. I’ve always felt like I had a good ear for getting a taste or a sense of people’s music tastes, and in turn suggesting a similar but new song – almost like a “human Pandora,” as I’d call myself. This kind of transpired into a project I started called vibez.o, a music photography channel. Well, I quickly learned that I was actually a horrible photographer and eventually gave that up eventually – but it did lead to couple interviews with music companies.
Honestly, I’ve been pretty lucky with employment throughout my whole life. I probably applied to only four internships that summer and got two interviews, one being with Create Music Group, which is now like a mammoth in the music industry. And they took a chance on me. I had no music industry experience except this very apparent enthusiasm that I had for music and this passion that I was pouring into this music photography channel, and they gave me a shot.
I really enjoyed my internship there, as it was my first experience in the music industry. I was doing everything from helping out in shoots for music videos, helping create Spotify audio ads, figuring out PR campaigns – just a bunch of stuff. And that’s when I learned that the music industry is very different from most industries.
I was interning 40 hours a week on a stipend of $500 a month while taking summer classes, so naturally, I had to work three (and a half) other part time jobs on top of my full-time internship to make ends meet.
On Sunday nights, I would spend six to eight hours at this frozen yogurt machine shop from like 8 pm to 4 am. I was also working for DoorDash, Postmates, Uber, and one-off freelance writing and marketing projects. Really, I was doing a bunch of stuff just to be able to do this internship.
At the end of the day, I think it really helped me get a foot in the door. From there, I interned with Sony Music, where my supervisor became both a good friend and mentor of mine. It was really interesting how I got there; I actually received an unsolicited call from him one day randomly, where he asked, “Are you Andrew Kwan? I’m Todd. I found your resume in this stack for Sony Music.”
Apparently, he called me because he found my resume in a general folder of Sony resumes and wanted to offer me an internship position with him. After graduating from UCLA that year, I was offered my first full-time position with Live Nation as a marketing coordinator. And since, I’ve expanded my career into other fields of music, including artist management, PR, and consulting.
What is your role like at Live Nation?
It’s interesting because whenever people think of Live Nation, they think of tickets and touring. Yeah, most of their revenue comes from that division, but I work in a very different department at Live Nation under the Media and Sponsorship division.
I started out as a marketing coordinator where I was overseeing social media, looking at different trends, and providing basic reports and insights on how our editorial and digital could improve and optimize our content strategy. That eventually evolved into working with sponsors like Pennzoil, Chevy, Starbucks, CarMax, T.J. Maxx, and a lot of other massive brands and helping them build their brand awareness within their niche in the music community.
So that was really cool. Over time, I became more involved with the video side of our business, began overseeing the post-production process, the publishing process and syndication process for our in-house videos. For most people who don’t know about content syndication, that’s when there is a content creator who will publish their content on YouTube or Facebook and they partner with other media companies or media brands to magnify the exposure they get.
So let’s say Live Nation has their own video concept and we partner with Rolling Stone, and now every time they happen to have an article that pops up about KISS and their final tour that they’re doing, if we have a video, they’ll also place and feature our video in their article. And from there we generate pre-roll monetization on videos and we do a revenue share between both media partners. And so that’s kind of content syndication in a nutshell.
So now my job involves doing a lot of heavy analytics to a lot of editorial stuff, to a role where I’m doing a lot of business development with other media companies and product managing our whole video syndication network.
With your focus on business development, how would you say this has helped you with your artist management company?
You know, something that I think is overlooked a lot is lead generation.
I worked in a sales and marketing boutique consulting firm and it helped me develop a really good process for lead generation with a high success rate.
So lead generation has been extremely helpful for both Live Nation’s syndication process and my artist management. As an artist manager, you’re overseeing every single thing that an artist has to do, from setting up sessions, setting up shows, setting up distribution for your music.
When deals come in through email, whether that’s a licensing deal or an opportunity to perform for a showcase, the manager is the go-to person for those things. You’ve got to do a risk assessment and see if this is worth your time. But at the same time, sometimes you have to be that unpaid intern where you’re running and grabbing coffee, or getting lunch for the artists when they’re in a session.
As an artist manager you become so close with them in a very different way than you would with other friends just because you kind of need to know their insecurities, you need to know what they’re not into, the types of causes that they would support, the type of aesthetic, branding and communities they want to be promoted to. It’s all a balancing act.
How much of your day-to-day would you say is online vs. offline?
It’s a mix. I’m actually going to do a shout out to this Facebook group called Artist Managers Connect which has absolutely been my number one resource.
That group actually has a lot of people in LA, so I’m regularly meeting with people from that group in general. They’ve just established a reputation where everyone shares feedback and insights on how to grow together. There are a lot of people with a lot of knowledge.
There’s also LinkedIn. I always find people who I can connect with. There have been plenty of people who I have now collaborated with who I can truly call my friends who I met online.
So I would say it’s a good mix. A lot of it is online and meeting people at networking events. I can’t stress how important networking is when you’re in the music industry.
What would you say has been the most rewarding experience for you as an artist manager so far?
It’s been really rewarding to see my artists’ catalog grow from literally zero outputs to now amassing millions. I think collectively, my roster is over 5M streams globally.
One of my clients, HOAX, recently broke 1M streams on Spotify with their debut single “Beach House” and that’s been a cool experience. The Millennial Club, another one of my clients, will have exceeded 1M streams of their debut single by the time this interview goes live as well.
Honestly though, at the end of day, I really think those are all just vanity metrics. It’s all just for clout. It definitely matters in terms of getting an agent or brand deals, but the most important thing really is growing your audience.
It’s been really rewarding to see them grow as people, as well as their sounds and music style developing and maturing.
I really want to give a shout out to all of my clients because their music has matured so much and we have so much music that’s so different from what we’ve been putting out that I think a lot of our existing fans are going to be really shocked by it. I mean, truly, I think it’s even revolutionary and very different from anything that’s out there. But yeah, that’s really rewarding for sure.
You mentioned HOAX being one of them. How many artists in total are you managing?
I currently manage three artists. One of them is HOAX, our whole brand is called “empathy pop” – we’re currently working on a project called b?, which explores the dichotomy of truly “being” vs transactional “doing.” People describe their sound in a number of ways: indie / indie pop / indie rock / bedroom pop / alternative R&B. They’re honestly all of them, but they’re also much more than that.
I also manage a band called The Millennial Club. They are more indie pop/R&B, but have a really dreamy vibe and a lot of really smooth jazz elements to their sound. They recently released their debut EP, She’s So Insane – it’s a bop.
And I also manage an electric producer called TYDPOOL. His music ranges from future bass to trap to techno house music. He’s also a genius pianist who’s actually writing music with a lot of people, and I’m really excited to watch him blossom.
Aside from artist management, I also have a couple clients that I work with regularly on consulting, digital strategy, and PR efforts under my sister company, Romantic PR.
With your experience being able to work with different artists across different genres, what are some common mistakes you see new artists make?
Yeah, that’s a great question. One thing that I definitely think all artists need to be very wary of is paying for playlists. In other words payola.
When radio was the most dominant form of listening music, everybody was paying to be on the radio. Now that has kind of evolved into this whole music ecosystem of paying for placements on playlists. It’s like, for top five to top ten features you pay x amount, and if you want just the top hundred, it’s this amount.
I even got emails myself while pitching Spotify playlists, where they’re like, “I charge labels like a thousand bucks, but since you’re an independent artist, I’ll do like $650.”
I’m like, “Are you shitting me?” I’m not even going to make anything close to $650 from these efforts.
It doesn’t make sense. So that’s definitely one thing that artists should be wary of. It’s a really easy approach for artists to pay 10 dollars here or 20 dollars there, but how sustainable is that?
And the truth is, there are all the major labels and even independent labels that have a big budget and are paying for placements on playlists just to upkeep their monthly listener numbers and have steady traffic of streams coming in, but when you’re solely independent and you’re paying with your own money that you’re earning – that is not sustainable.
Think about it, you’re paying like $200 a month just to gain a couple of streams, is that really worth it? Is that really going to benefit you long-term and help you build a fanbase? It’s just not sustainable. And on Spotify’s end, they definitely know when these streams are fake or inorganic because they’re going to come from a lot of countries where there’s not a real significant music audience. Again, this is not contributing to your career overall; it’s temporary vanity.
I’m sure Spotify is flagging artists who do this and it’s probably hurting them in the long run. Have you seen this to be the case?
Yeah, you’ve touched on a good point. Spotify does flag these playlists and there’s been cases of artists and songs being taken down. And that definitely affects your algorithm on Spotify.
When should an artist be looking to hire a music manager?
That’s a really good question. There’s really no cookie cutter answer for that.
I have a couple artists who wanted me to manage them, and quite frankly, I don’t have the time and it’s not going to benefit the artists if you’re spreading yourself thin.
The reason I say that is because I’ve had artists who tried to convince me even though I told them I don’t have time, and that’s just not a good approach because you don’t want someone being your manager if they can’t commit.
Being an artist manager is honestly a very long term-investment. For most artists as they develop, it takes years and years, anywhere between 3-10 years to even be a mid-tier artist.
There’s no overnight success. G-Eazy for instance, said it in his music that he was rapping for 12 years before he got mainstream attention.
So it’s a very long term investment. And I have met my fair share of both good managers and transactional managers, for lack of a better word.
I think it’s very standard nowadays for artists and managers to have a trial period, somewhere between 30 to 90 days or like six months. There’s no standard but that’s a good timeline to see how you work together. In my personal opinion, if you can’t even be friends with your clients, it’s not going to be a good relationship.
A lot of times you’re a personal manager, a shoulder to cry on, a lot of times you have to be stronger in stressful or risky situations where it’s like, “Shit, we can get into legal trouble for this.”
So you have to be able to tolerate that and that means liking that person.
And I think something that both artists and managers need to realize starting out or not, is that as an artist manager you’re not the CEO, the artist is the CEO and the ones who make the calls.
Even against your best judgment, if your client thinks that what they think has a 10% chance of succeeding and they still want to do that because it’s their gut to do that, you have to do it. And there’s been plenty of times where that was the case and I highly suggested against what my client thought they should do and they turned out to be right.
Something that’s repeatedly said a lot in the industry is you need to let an artist manager come to you.
I have a particular friend who is an artist who gets really frustrated because she’s looking for a manager and what I would tell her is you need to let them come to you because by going to someone, you’re establishing your interest in them but that does not mean they have established an interest in you.
Someone who will stay up til 6 am for you just because they think because they need to. So in the person you choose, you better hope that they’re going to put you before themselves.
Being a manager is a very selfless role. Again, people need to remember the artist is the CEO – you need to help the artist achieve their vision as an artist.
What is one piece of advice you would give someone that’s independent, someone who doesn’t have a team and is doing it by themselves?
My general advice for any artist is to focus on building your fanbase. That’s really the most important part of any business. You can have a Facebook video post that has like three million views and 1000 comments, but what are you going to do with that audience at the end of the day?
What is the next level of intimacy or relationship with that customer or consumer? Are you going to be able to maintain that relationship and monetize it? I know artists really hate to think of themselves as a business when it comes to music – but you’re a business. Think about it as a business.
Connect with Andrew and follow his journey here: @the.akwan