Every month Byta’s founder, Marc Brown, sits down for an in-depth one-to-one Zoom conversation with someone who provides deep music industry insights and tips.
#HowWeListen Live: In Conversation is designed to deliver the knowledge to enable tomorrow’s artists and industry leaders to better manoeuvre their way through the music ecosystem.
This episode’s guest was Gourmet Délice, Music company Bonsound’s Co-founder and Managing director, his official title is Head of Business Development at Bonsound. Understanding and planning for multiple angles in an artist’s career can be a complicated affair. Marc and Gourmet discuss the juggling act that is running a music company that does far more than just release and distribute albums. What does it mean to work with artists from every angle of the music ecosystem? Gourmet’s two key pillars are making sure to keep it fun and sustainable by watching the numbers carefully.Sign up to Byta for free
Miss Part I? Head back to read here.
In part II (below), Gourmet Délice discusses how releasing records and managing bands ended up being a whole lot more. There was no plan, they just saw that the artists needed support on multiple fronts, so they rolled up their sleeves and got to work. Marc finds out about Gourmet’s unique way of measuring success and how he never really knew if the business would actually work out.
The following transcript has been edited for length and clarity.
Marc Brown: When you started, much of what you do now was out of reach. It seems like the world has caught up to Bonsound in a way. Today artists and people can go to different companies and get different things from them and make choices.
So when you got started, were you taking a management fee and a booking agency fee? How did that work?
Gourmet Délice: We started out as management. You do it yourself when you manage a band, and there’s no booking agency. Money in management is tricky because it can be hard to generate. Shows are the easiest money to make. That’s because you sometimes get paid even before you do a show, which helped us a lot.
Since we were managers first, we decided very early on that all of the contracts would be separate. So as managers, we’ll book the band. We put them on the road and produce the show – and when there is profit, we’ll take a cut. So, for example, I’m the manager at Bonsound, and there’s a separate booking agent and someone working with publishing. There are people that are doing that work that I’m not doing myself. We made separate departments early on, so we knew what each person was responsible for.
We had some acts that were released somewhere else, like on major labels. They began asking for a percentage of the merch, money on the live side etc., but they had nothing to offer except their reputation or name.
It doesn’t make sense to pay a commission to someone who isn’t involved in the actual process but still wants to take a cut for that service. So every artist you see on Bonsound only has a license for a specific time period, like 7 or 10 years. All of the artists are producers of their own stuff, and they own their own masters. So we’re just a service company in that sense.
We think the artist should be the sole proprietor of their music, even on the publishing side. I don’t think it makes sense for someone to pay an artist to record music, and then that person owns it forever because they had money when the artist had no money. This way of thinking was second nature for us since the people who started Bonsound were artists as well, who had songs and rights and didn’t want to let those things go, either.
Marc: I think many questions about business models come up because if you haven’t done what you do, it’s hard, as an artist, to understand. Did people think that being a manager who also makes bookings was innovative when you started? Did you see it as something really different?
Gourmet: When we started, we didn’t know any other companies who did that. I think it’s more of a thing in small markets. When you go to other countries, people tend to do that because there aren’t many companies, so it’s hard to make a living out of just one service. That’s the thing about managing and booking. The money comes in quickly, enabling you to develop the rest of your career. Although it’s all separate contracts and things like that, our thinking is that money comes in, and then we distribute it somewhere else. So the profit we make on bigger acts will help the smaller acts.
We realized after a few years that many people were offering multiple services, but they were working in different genres of music. Before Bonsound, I didn’t know of another company working with rock and roll or alternative, left-field stuff. I only knew about those bigger companies who worked with the more mainstream stuff.
There’s also something to be said about being in Quebec and Canada in general because we have Canadian grants.
Marc: Can you explain that? I think there are many people here who aren’t from Canada, so how does that work?
Gourmet: Briefly, you can get help on a provincial and federal level, but you have to apply and prove that you’re serious and have a plan. First, you go to the Arts Council, and you can apply for a grant to create the music. After that, you go to your provincial and federal associations to get money to help you create the masters. They also help you promote and tour your music.
There are different levels – for a company, at first, the grants are only available on a project by project basis, then, once you become a specific size, they’ll give you a grant for the whole year, and you allocate it accordingly. But at the beginning, you can do it on an individual project level, and it’s simple and complicated at the same time.
Marc: Going back to when you were doing these different things, both booking and managing – when you went to bands, did they think it was great that you could do so much, or were they sceptical?
Gourmet: It’s hard to say. It depended on the prior experience of the band. When we started working with DJ Champion – he was pretty seasoned in the business, with a few bad experiences. So he just handed the reins over to us because he trusted us. But some of the smaller or younger bands are weary and can be protective over their stuff – and that’s how I was when I was in a band.
Most artists have been told in webinars that they should never give away their rights, so people can be sceptical when we say that we also offer publishing. We can keep it short and easily set up an agreement for only two years – it depends on how they see it.
But going back to relationships – you never sign a deal by itself. You sign a deal with someone.
Marc: That’s super interesting.
Gourmet: Yeah! If you get along well with someone with the same vision and values, then it might make sense to sign a contract with whichever label it is, even if it’s a major one. When I signed this band to a major label, it was because there was a person behind it. Even though the deal wasn’t that good, the attitude and passion were still there. We may have compromised on some things, but we had a champion on the other end who would push like crazy for the band.
It’s sometimes more about that than it is about the music. You can hear an amazing band, but then you meet them, and they don’t have the same values as you do… Then other bands have good music, and you love their spirit and way of thinking. Music is great and all that, but it’s not the end of the world either. I’m not too starstruck – if someone isn’t cool, I don’t want to work with them.
Marc: This is another problem that a lot of people have. Before, there were no options, so you had to do everything yourself, but now there are tons of options, so how do you decide? The publishing thing is a really good example and what you’re saying makes complete sense.
What advice would you give artists and bands about choosing partners to work with? What steps do you take to decide if someone is suitable to work with?
Gourmet: You have to look at the deal closely. You also have to see who else they’re working with and check the references of the people they have worked with. For us, it’s really about value alignment and what they want to do. You have to work with people who know what they want. I’ve started to work with some young bands who will say that they want to tour the world, and then they go on tour and come back a month later, and they realize that isn’t what they want to do with their lives.
So it’s about finding what you want, but usually, you can only find that by doing things. That tends to be what I go for, especially with management…” do you know what you want to do?” It’s hard because everyone is different.
I often found myself in situations where I wanted it more than the band did. It can be tricky because usually there’s more than one person, so it’s like being in a relationship with five different artists. But even with a solo artist – it’s like, “do you know what you want”?
Marc: That’s exceptional insight. I’ve seen that everybody is different, starts from different places, and makes different music. I do encourage people to look around and see what other people have done, but ultimately you have to decide what path you want to take. As you said, you need to want it for yourself, and it’s sort of like everything else in life. I appreciate you saying that it starts with the artist because it’s true – for better or for worse.
Gourmet: Sometimes people think they want something, but they realize maybe it’s not for them. Or they compare themselves too much to other acts. I see that often – people want to be huge but may not be willing to do what it takes.
It’s hard to measure success because it’s so different for everyone. As you said, things change every week in music – there’s a new tool or a new way of doing things. Adaptation is really important too.
Sometimes we’re stuck with the idea that success is the number of streams or the money you make, but it’s not always like that. Happiness and fun are my favourite ways to measure success.
Marc: That is the key takeaway!
Oh, I also wanted to talk about accounting quickly – you said that’s the key to everything. I want to talk about how you view it because it is a business at the end of the day. You said that ensuring that everything is accounted for is a big thing in your company.
Gourmet: It kind of goes along with the fun things. You need to have fun, but “seriously”. If you want to be able to have fun for a long time, then money matters, and you need to make sure everything is accounted for. It has become central in our operation – out of 30 people, about 4 or 5 are just working the numbers.
You do have to take risks and chances, but always keep a solid amount of money in your operation because it’s the key to progressing. You need to make sure you have the means to continue.
Marc: Makes sense! Here is my last question: Did you know what you were doing at the start? Did you know that you’d get here?
Gourmet: Well, I’m the oldest of the three business partners. I was at a point in my life where it was like, either I continue and play in my band, working side jobs and playing small gigs, or I go for it 100% and see if it works. I had no idea it would get to this point, where I am a business partner. So like I said, the drive was to make a living doing something that I liked.
It was also something I knew how to do- I hadn’t been to university or done the usual path, so I was like “What am I going to do”? But I did know how to do this, so I wanted to use that experience and put it to use for other projects. It’s not like it was easy, every day is a challenge. A fun challenge, but that’s what keeps me going.
Marc: That’s brilliant. It’s funny how things work. We’re roughly the same age but I didn’t know anything about what you had done before. It’s inspiring to learn about how you can build something from nothing.
Thanks very much! This was a brilliant chat, Gourmet.
Gourmet: Thank you!
Miss part I? Read it here!