Music manager Ben Mawson on the industry’s new introspective era
The Tap Music cofounder and member manages some of the biggest names in the business, such as Dua Lipa and Lana Del Rey. Post pandemic and post BLM, he shares what it means to safeguard and support stars in this period of self-analysis
By Aleah Aberdeen Images courtesy of Tap Management Wednesday 26 August, 2020 Short read
Shortlisted for Manager of the Year at the 2020 Music Week Awards alongside partner Millett – having previously won – Mawson has received praise from outlets including Billboard and Variety. Lana Del Rey has publicly praised ‘principled’ Mawson, as well as Millett, for her career – they have looked after her since 2009. ‘[They] were able to see in me all of the things that people said were unmarketable, not pop enough and too abstract,’ Del Rey has said. ‘[Up until that point], my experience playing for labels was mostly the same. Every meeting ended with the question, “Where are the hits?” To which I would indignantly reply, “I’m sharing my life story!”’
With this year marking the 10th anniversary of Tap Music, there is a lot of success to look back on. Since its inception, the management company has expanded its operations to include record, digital and publishing divisions, and its offices have grown in Los Angeles, Germany, Berlin and Australia. As I said, Mawson’s success and skill is not up for debate.
‘To be a manager you’ve got to be passionate about your artists and what they do. For me, the voice is important, but it’s not only the voice,’ Mawson explains over the phone. When I push for the one key element that he looks for in an artist, his answer is ‘authenticity’. But that’s not the only thing he looks for, he is keen to press. Fostering talent and transforming artists into global stars comes with its responsibilities, too. ‘Our job is to also support and help facilitate different causes close to our artists’ heart,’ he explains, something he has been eager to offer his clients over the past decade.
Ben Mawson and Dua Lipa
Lana Del Rey
‘Obviously the world has changed dramatically this year, firstly with COVID-19, then with George Floyd’s terribly sad death,’ says Mawson, agreeing that his artists’ wellbeing has never been more in focus. We also have to understand that ‘racism comes in many different forms’ and does not operate on a singular level for everyone in the industry. ‘A lot of these forms of racism in the music industry I’m learning about further, myself now. I knew what racism was, but it’s a much deeper and more complicated concept than a lot of us realised,’ he adds. Many of Mawson’s clients publicly backed the BLM protests, joining peaceful marches themselves and vocally supporting its call for change. It’s opened up many more nuanced conversations that were being had before, but maybe not as loudly. For example, with colourism perpetuating the mainstream media to favour lighter artists, and the notion of blackness often being capitalised on as a musical trend, one-dimensional approaches to the issue are no longer making the cut. Mawson agrees: ‘This is a continuous learning journey for everyone in trying to understand what the problems are. It is an introspective, reckoning process,’ he explains, ‘for everyone’.
Representation in the music business is a pervasive issue and ‘recognised statistical problem’, Mawson notes, with only ‘20% of artists in the US billboards charts being women’ and 0% of CEOs across 11 UK music trade boards are Black women. ‘It’s not just about who runs the labels, it’s about who is in the studio, who is on the photoshoots and who has access to those spaces in the first place,’ he says. ‘Whenever we placed an advert for a role, we always had the same type of applicant from exactly the same background. We’ve now made an active decision to seek a broader range of applicants, not just for the sake of diversity, but for us as a company to be stronger.’ In doing so, structural causes of racial disparities and unconscious biases are being recognised and hopefully dismantled altogether. This should and will hopefully be the new norm for the industry.
'A lot of forms of racism in the music industry I’m learning about further, myself now. This is a continuous learning journey, an introspective, reckoning process for everyone’
With live shows being out of the equation for his artists, new social media like TikTok, Triller and the integration of the gaming world, is now becoming very important. ‘A lot of the best artists are compelling not just from their voice, but by creating a visual world around themselves, too,’ Mawson explains. Under his watch, animations alongside music were used to install a feeling of hope in a time of uncertainty, particularly with Lipa’s universally lauded album Future Nostalgia. ‘What does become hard, is the unpleasant pressure of social media and the anonymity it allows,’ he says. In this new age of activism and online personal branding, safeguarding artists and their mental health seems inherently necessary, granted they have their own autonomy.
For Mawson, this is a period of self-analysis. ‘I have no idea what the new normal is for the industry,’ he explains, when I say, of all people, he should have a hunch. ‘But it feels like everyone from the major labels down to the small independent ones is looking at themselves… and that’s gotta be a positive.’