Member Spotlight #8: Laura Jones, Owner of Little Underground Management

Interview by Tara Gardner

Laura Jones is the head of Little Underground Management, a producer management company based in New York. Her clients have produced and mixed records for everyone from Fallout Boy to The War On Drugs, Weezer to Animal Collective.

After moving from the UK to the US almost 3 years ago, the company has grown phenomenally. The roster has quadrupled in size, spawned 4 Grammy nominations, received several platinum and gold selling records, and worked on a multitude of critically acclaimed albums. Furthermore, she’s achieved this success within the niche genre of rock and alternative music.

Laura Jones

Owner of Little Underground Management What lead you to a career in music?

Laura Jones: I spent my teenage years dreaming of working in music. I had zero artistic talent but dedicated my free time to record shopping, going to gigs etc. I started a degree in Modern Languages before someone told me about the Arts, Entertainment & Music Management course at the Liverpool Institute Of Performing Arts (LIPA — Paul McCartney’s school) so I promptly dropped everything, got my management degree and never looked back!

ssso: How is Little Underground structured and did you create it with any particular philosophy in mind?

LJ: Little Underground was originally supposed to be a record shop! A friend and I created the concept during our third year at University, but were both managing bands at the same time. 6 months after we graduated, one of my artists, Eugene McGuinness, signed to Domino Records and I suddenly became a real manager. I used the Little Underground name to make it sound like I had a real business and that I was a ‘real’ manager!
The company has changed over the years and now I only manage record producers and mixers. It is still just me, myself and I but the philosophy has always been the same. I very much believe in the ‘indie’ spirit, both musically and commercially, and want to support and nurture alternative, ‘outside the box’, talent that I love.

ssso: What is something you wish you would have known before starting your own management company or before starting your own company in general?

LJ: That it’s okay to ask for help! I spend first few years struggling to keep my head above water, trying to do everything alone. I was scared to ask questions as I didn’t want anyone to think I was weak or incapable. However, nobody can know everything and we shouldn’t be scared to be inquisitive when it’s for the greater good of the project and it’s the quickest and easiest way to grow and develop.

ssso: What prompted a move from the UK to the US? How has that impacted Little Underground — with how it operates or its success?

LJ: It was just a ‘now or never’ moment. I had been working in London for 7 years and felt ready for a new challenge. I had a successful producer client based in New York, who opened a lot of doors for me, and I thought it would be a great opportunity to conquer a new territory and expand the business…or at least try to!
I have always loved American alternative rock and thought I could probably do well in that market because I know the music so well.
I feel lucky that I now have strong relationships with the industry on both sides of the pond. I’ve had the chance to get to know people properly and develop real relationships, which is much different than when you just visit twice a year and take quick meetings.

ssso: You’ve stressed that building your network and maintaining industry relationships is very important. Do you have any networking tips or tricks? Where does someone start and what do you do to continue to meet new people?

LJ: I do think it’s important but it’s something I struggle with as much as the next person! I like to research people that I want to meet, then either cold email them or find someone that can introduce me. I keep lists of people I want to connect with in different cities and will try and coax people out to have coffee with me when I’m visiting.

ssso: Share a piece of advice you were given that really resonated with you.

LJ: When I was first starting out, another manager told me that I focused too much on working with bands/music that I loved and too little on their potential to succeed and make money. I didn’t want to hear it as that sounded like ’selling out’, but now I realise an artist needs commercial viability too, otherwise the business will be short-lived!
Another thing my Mum said to me is ‘what’s the worse that could happen? If it doesn’t work out then you can live at home again whilst we figure out plan b’! I’m so fortunate to have this support as it removes a lot of the fear out of taking big risks. It means failing wouldn’t be so terrible as living at home with my mum again would actually be quite nice… ;-)

ssso: Do you have any requirements or boxes that you like to check before you enter into an agreement to represent a producer? What do you look for in a client?

LJ: Besides talent and taste, I always want to believe that I can give a new client 100% and really boost their career. I never want to take a stab at something in the hope it might be a money earner or as an experiment. We’re dealing with people’s lives and careers and I feel responsible for that. If I can understand the vision the client has for their future and know that I have the knowledge and contacts to create that for them, I’m game!

ssso: Is there an aspect of the music business you would like to see change? What would you push for or do differently?

LJ: I would love to see a more integrated industry, with less disparity between the older executives and the new faces, between women and men, between different ethnicities. For me, the age issue in particular is a frustration (I also look like I’m 12!) as I think the industry doesn’t take you seriously until you’re much older and are part of the ‘in’ crowd. It’s difficult to have your voice heard or be offered opportunities that are usually reserved for the Executives closest allies. I’m working on a multi-faceted concept to create a community for both young and old, where everyone can be heard, for both industry figures as well as artists and producers. It’s called ‘Who’s Next?’ and that’s about as much as I can say right now!

ssso: What does good leadership look like?

LJ: Invisible! Everything should be so seamless you don’t notice them doing their job. Also good communication and the ability to be calm in any situation. I don’t like people who feel the need to throw their weight around to prove their point or win an argument. A good leader would be reasonable and have the ability to negotiate calmly, effectively and keep everyone happy.

ssso: What should we know about you or what you’re currently working on?

LJ: It’s been a great year for the company so far. One of my mixers, Claudius Mittendorfer, was nominated for 4 Grammy’s for his work with Panic! At The Disco, Weezer and Carla Morrison — the first nominations we’ve ever had! Other clients have been working on records for my favourite artists such as The War On Drugs, Dirty Projectors and Gang Gang Dance. Plus we’re working on debut album’s for rising stars, such as Half Waif and Brave Shores. I feel very lucky to work with such talented producers on such exciting artists!

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