To say Ashley Page is on a roll is an understatement. The British-born, Auckland-based industry figure has been in a purple patch since he was working with artists such as Garbage at Mushroom / Infectious Records more than two decades ago.
Last year, Page took out the ‘Manager of the Year’ award in NZ for the second year in a row for his work with the artists Broods, Joel Little and Jarryd James. Earlier this month, Joel Little was behind three records in the Top 15 of the US Billboard 200. Meanwhile Broods are readying a two-month-long festival circuit in the US where they’ll perform alongside Jay-Z, Gorillaz, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Major Lazer and Weezer.
As the director of his own management firm Page One Management, and as the Managing Director of Dryden Street Records, his partnership with Universal Music, one would think Page has been riding a steady ascent to the top. But he wouldn’t be our July Manager of the Month if he didn’t have any battle scars to talk about.
In the short Q&A below, Page details his shift from working at one of the biggest corporations in the world (Warner Music) to becoming an entrepreneur, the blunt advice he received from Lyor Cohen, his best career blunder over a US deal, and more.
You’ve worked with some of the biggest names in music in the UK, and now New Zealand. Aside from its geographical handicap and sheer size, what are some of the differences you’ve noticed between the NZ and UK music industries?
It’s actually been a very blessed time to work in New Zealand music. The opportunities have never been greater to create a significant story in a smaller market, and take it to the world.
That said, it’s all on a shoe string budget which can be a handicap. I once had the opportunity to have breakfast with then Warner Music chairman, Lyor Cohen, at his house in NY. After breakfast he said, “let’s play some music” so I got to put on a couple of music video’s of new NZ signings I’d brought over. He simply turned and said, “I have one piece of advice for you… if you’re going to make these videos, spend some more f**king money on them”.
As an entrepreneur, did you face difficulties operating within a corporation before starting your own company?
I was incredibly proud to work at Warner Music. I’d always had aspirations of working for a major label, but never believed I would fit in. In fairness I probably never did fit in. That said, I absolutely loved the idea of being a part of such a big global team. I felt like I had a lot of power and connections. I thought I was working hard every day to help the NZ bands.
In hindsight I was very lazy and rested on the laurels of the greater teams’ work. I never really knew what work was until I had no money coming in and had to scrabble in the dirt to find a way to earn money to pay bills for myself and my artists. I have so much respect for any manager starting out. It is a tough, tough road.
I had a major label ask me recently if I would ever be interested in a return to A&R. I said, “I’d love to, but you’d never have me anymore”. I think I’ve been away too long and see the approach to helping artists from a different point of view.
It seems like all of your artists, Broods, Joel Little and Jarryd James, are achieving success in the globe’s most competitive music market, the US. Has their success made you feel more ambitious for yourself?
Absolutely. We’ve built our Page One and Dryden St family through baby steps of success and never assuming that things will continue, but at the same time being very conscious to continue growing and building.
You wear many hats in the industry: manager, label owner and music supervisor. Which hat suits you best personally?
I’ve always enjoyed the A&R process the most over the years. At present I’m enjoying the managerial side with our Producers, writers, and artists.
If you could, what advice would you give your younger self, who had just moved to New Zealand to work at Festival Mushroom Records and Flying Nun Records?
I actually always worked to the principle: ‘you can’t please everyone all of the time, so don’t even try’. It was always hard as a British ‘outsider’ coming in to a strong New Zealand culture such as Flying Nun. Having to learn and understand a National legacy and history, and yet at the same time try and put your own footprint on your signings. I will always be proud of what we achieved with The Mint Chicks and The Phoenix Foundation.
And what do you wish you knew already when you started Page One Management?
I wish I’d known what the end goal to starting a management company was going to be. Haha. Much like a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, it keeps moving away!
I also wish I’d given one iota of consideration to actually how you earn money from management before quitting my salary at Warner. Oh, and knowing that being self employed meant I’d never have another work-free holiday again. It’s been incredibly hard work every day for nearly a decade now, but the last few years have made everything worthwhile.
What the best career blunder you’ve ever made?
I’ve made too many to mention, but they’ve always been the best learning curves. I’d say the one that always sticks with me was when Kids Of 88’s US deal fell through. It was my first major label US deal after strong competition from labels. I felt like ‘the man’ and pretty bulletproof. Then the deal fell through and all competition fell away… all phones went quiet, and I felt very hollow. You only make that mistake of over-exuberance in management once. Something of a rite of passage.