The one thing the NMO is not is a fan site – other than the fact that all its members are in the music business and should therefore, by definition, be fans of music, of course. The NMO is a bespoke website made by music people for other music people to use. Basically, it is the equivalent of me sitting in a pub with my A&R and agent friends and saying: “Have you heard of this band? You should.”
Who are the people behind The NMO?
There are three people involved on a daily basis, Sarah, Martin, and I, and then there are several very useful friends who act as kind of Ambassadors for the NMO. We love those guys.
What are your professional backgrounds?
I’ve been working in the music business for about 20 years as a concert promoter and artist manager for companies like the Mean Fiddler in London and Live Nation in Scandinavia, and I had my own artist management company working with a roster of successful Finnish artists. In 2009 I moved to Berlin and worked as a consultant for various events, artists and companies then joined the SSC Group in 2011. Sarah's background is in marketing and promotion and makes her the perfect person to oversee the everyday running of the NMO. Martin is a Dane living in Berlin who runs a label and writes occasionally for cool magazines. He gathers a lot of the content for the website and goes to a lot of gigs.
Why did you create The NMO? How did the idea emerge?
I don’t remember the exact moment that the notion of The NMO came to me – which is strange as I’m not particularly in the habit of coming up with good ideas too often – but I do know how the idea formulated. I’d been travelling around Scandinavia a lot, meeting fellow managers, agents, promoters, and labels and I found that the same conversation kept coming up with everyone I met. There was a level of frustration at how difficult it was to seriously penetrate territories outside our own markets. Even people who enjoyed a good level of international success found maintaining this success a problem. The reasons ranged from a lack of time, energy, resources, contacts, and, mainly, a lack of real presence in other markets. Everyone believed that they were constantly forced to underachieve because of this inability to be everywhere all the time. I was in the process of planning my relocation from Helsinki to Berlin and was being offered work by a lot of these companies to help them in the German market. I concluded that, rather than keep the few consultancy jobs I could handle to myself, I could set up this simple website and use this platform to gather all the artists, people, and companies that shared the same goals and frustrations and see if it helped get a few more balls rolling for everyone. That became The New Music Office. There is certainly a hint of altruism to this, as the NMO receives no income from any features or deals that spring from it's recommendations, but I prefer to think of it as simply a modern way of working. I don't need to make money from the NMO and that gives me a lot of freedom and pleasure from it. I benefit in other ways by the NMO growing into a useful place in the music business.
Another important aspect, which was not planned but is now a defined goal for us, is that we are becoming the common denominator between the showcase events that take place through the year. The NMO is the thing that fills the time between one event and the next so we are appealing for the community of people who travel around the conference circuit. That's why we are now planning to set up physical presence ourselves within some of these well known business events and are busy making relationships with some key industry events now. This all helps keep the NMO relevant and everyone well-informed and happy.
Who are the people on your mailing list?
95% of the members are people who work in the music business that I know personally to some degree. They are pre-dominantly decision-makers from all parts of the business – labels, promoters, agents, festival bookers, publishers, managers, journalists, bloggers, tastemakers. They have all been invited to join and they have signed up to the NMO by choice. We have now reached the stage where friends of friends are joining up and that's fine as long as we maintain the policy that we only include people that are interested and interesting.
How do you choose the artists you feature on the website?
On the basis that the artist is going to be of interest to any part of the NMO membership. As a promoter, I learned to make sure not to push my own personal taste towards people but to make sure to provide what people want. This year we have opened up the selection policy so more people suggest acts to feature, it's not just my opinion anymore.
How do you choose the “employees of the month”?
The Employee of the Month is a fun way of introducing people to each other. People take this in the right spirit too. It’s a bit of a laugh but it works because it helps put names to faces and encourages direct contact. Every Employee Of The Month receives a certificate so they have something to show for the honour. I know at least two people who have their certificates on their office wall!
Could you give us any examples of business that occurred for the bands you presented on The NMO?
When you look at the artists we already featured one or two years ago, such as Kellermensch, Rubik, Zebra & Snake, Iiris, Giana Factory, Team Me, Murmansk, My Heart Belongs To Cecilia Winter, Charter who all went on to become well-known on the circuit, you can see that The NMO was there at an early stage for these acts. We don't claim to 'discover' anyone. We are just one positive enforcer for these artists that might make a tiny but important difference for them.
The NMO team have lived in various countries (UK/France/Finland/Denmark/Germany) with very different music scenes. What lessons do you draw from that experience?
Mainly, I guess, to keep an open mind and to understand the most interesting new music does not necessarily come from UK (even though the Brits think it does) or the US (even though the Americans think it does). That even the smallest, most seemingly insignificant and "uncool" country somewhere on the outskirts of Europe can produce at least one great, great band or songwriter. Ewert & The Two Dragons from Estonia is the latest example of this.
The NMO is based in one of the most exciting European capitals, Berlin. Has this had any influence on you and your work?
The NMO concept is something that was designed in Scandinavia but it is certainly an idea that works because of its central European location. There is no doubt that the NMO benefits much more from being in Berlin rather than, for example, Helsinki as everything is far more accessible from here and we are central in the business too.
The NMO website has just been relaunched. What has changed? What are the new features?
It now feels more streamlined, boiled down to the most useful aspects. It’s not a professionally built site and that’s deliberate. It’s all handmade and it is more fun to be involved with it because of that. I feel that it adds to the charm of the idea but also underlines that all the baubles and whistles that could be added to the website would be just a distraction that would take away from the main point: to see and hear a new artist and, if you like it to be able to do something about it immediately by contacting the artist at the click of a button.
What are the plans for The NMO in 2012?
As well as a constant stream of acts featured through the website, we want to turn focus onto more physical networking possibilities too – so we will start The NMO Stammtisch in Berlin where every few weeks any NMO members who are in town can join us for a coffee and a croissant and chat together about what projects are going on. We’ll aim to expand this idea to the international events too, so we ‘ll plan to organise network brunches, dinners and showcases at some key industry events around Europe. We want people to see the NMO as a safe haven, a source of justification for being in the business.
(Paul was speaking to Vasilis Panagiotopoulos, as usual)