Chris O’Brien and Northlane’s Josh Smith launch new management biz
Music industry veteran Chris O’Brien and Northlane co-founder Joshua Smith this morning unveiled their new management company Open Door.
The name of the company alludes to its business creed – keep artists in the know with what’s going with their careers, a reminder that the sky is the limit for what they can achieve.
O’Brien started in the music industry in the late ‘90s managing acts as The Mavis’s, Area 7 and Bodyjar.
He then worked with KMW Productions on international artists as Korn, Paramore, The Offspring, Megadeth, Eels, Nine Inch Nails and Deftones.
In 2007 he was appointed general manager of Soundwave festival, and later Vans Warped Tour and Harvest Festival.
Three years ago he joined Destroy All Lines as the touring boss and helped create Good Things Festival.
Aside from performing around the world with ARIA chart-topping Northlane, Smith also managed the band, in addition to running music-supply retail business Boutique Sounds.
O’Brien tells TMN, “I’ve always had a love for artist development and working with some younger acts that needed a hand.
“(Promotion) took over my life there for a long period of time. But I’ve always had a burning passion for artist management.”
Artist management has changed since the ‘90s when music consumption moved from physical to digital.
“I’d say more independent now than ever,” he suggests.
“Back then if you’re not getting triple j to play you, you’re in trouble.
“If you’re not selling physical albums you’re in trouble. Which was really hard to develop back then.
“Whereas now, in the age of streaming, there’s a lot more access to music.
“So the ball’s back in the artists’ court and they don’t need record labels like they used to.
“Bands can set up home studios and record music themselves and own their own rights and a lot of them are setting up their own independent labels.
“Managers aren’t looking necessarily for label deals and such anymore.
“The smart artists that are really good at selling merchandise and creating different income streams help facilitate recordings and getting on the road.”
Looking at this year’s BIGSOUND having a theme of “the artist as the CEO”, O’Brien opines that the advent of Tash Sultana co-creating her own agency using experienced agents to help her, will become more common.
“There’s not a huge amount of agencies in Australia. The ones that are, are incredibly triple j focused,” O’Brien says.
“So I think there’s certainly room for that.
“But it’s a difficult job being an agent as well. There’s not a lot of great agents in Australia, [just] a number of them.
“You need a very specific skillset, and the ones that are successful find success are obviously the cream of the crop.”
As for the partnership with Smith, O’Brien was a long time fan of Northlane, and took note when he took over management of the band.
O’Brien recounts: “I was just watching from afar the job he was doing with them, how he turned that band around and how successful they’d become in Australia and overseas.
“We had them on Good Things festival last year on the main stage, and the live show had gone to a different level and I thought the songwriting was on a different level.
“Josh reached out a few times and we just had a few informal chats about the industry and the band and where things were at.”
Three months ago came the decision to formalise it into a company – an interesting combination of a recording and touring artist with an experienced industry figure.
“We can offer a completely different perspective from the way we manage our artists which is really exciting for us.”
Smith’s skills provide advice to the other artists about recording, production, digital, songwriting and on-the-road experiences both in Australia and abroad.
In the meantime, O’Brien will be using his skills “dealing with everything from labels to publishing companies and booking agents and setting up deals worldwide and kicking down a few doors that bands might not be able to do themselves.”
Initially, Open Door was just merging their respective acts, but the word went around and other acts reached out to the duo.
O’Brien says: “Always open for unsolicited demos! I love it! I set aside three hours every Sunday night and just listen to new music that comes my way and I absolutely love it.”
With the current Taylor Swift controversy throwing a bright spotlight on some of the systematic failings of the record business, TMN asks what advice he and Smith would offer their management clients over deals.
“I’d certainly keeping as much control as you possibly can, keeping your music to you. We want to give them as much creative control as we can possibly get.
“Because that’s what gets lost in the music industry a lot.
“This is people’s livelihoods, it’s their career, so they want this to be a success.
“They’re working part-time jobs, or working at cafés or a K-Mart or a Target which a few of my bands do.
“They want to make (the music) a go, this is what they want to do for the rest of their lives.
“So, we’re the guardians for that, so we need to make sure that we give the bands the best opportunity possible to make money out of this.. and not be making everyone else money out of this.”