Tony Ward is the founder of Man On The Ground – a Hong Kong-based music and entertainment consultancy firm. Before launching Man On The Ground, Tony spent over 15 years in New York in executive marketing positions at Sony Music, BMG, Arista Records, EMI Records and Sanctuary Management. Tony managed marketing campaigns for many successful artists, including, Santana, Sarah McLachlan, Patti Smith, Eurythmics, Beth Orton and Spiritualized. For the past three years, he’s served as the Program Director for Music Matters, Asia Pacific’s annual premiere music industry event. Tony shared with us his valuable insight on the future of music and the breaking of acts.
RL: How did you get started in the music business?
TW: I’ve been a music fanatic my whole life and didn’t think of much else growing up. Then, in the 80s, I worked at my college radio station in the US. I always loved the music from the UK – especially from the then indie label, Virgin Records. So when I graduated, I decided to move to London and was determined to get a job in the music business. I actually managed to land a job at Virgin Records in London and worked there for a few years.
RL: What led to the creation of Man On The Ground?
TW: When moving to Asia, I immediately recognized that many western artists or entertainment companies now view Asia as an opportunity market for expansion and growth, and are in need of someone to help them navigate the nuances of the industry here. Many from the west see Asia as a big question mark and need assistance making connections, launching a product or service, or help with career guidance.
RL: Tell us about your role in Music Matters? What led you to take the position as Program Director?
TW: Several weeks after moving to Hong Kong, I was introduced to Jasper Donat, who is President of Music Matters. He was looking for someone with industry experience to design the conference program and secure guest speakers. We hit it off. The conference has grown to be the premiere industry event for Asia. My role at Music Matters is to create the panel topics, locate appropriate panel and keynote speakers and write the program. I also work on the festival side of the conference – Music Matters Live.
RL: What was your most successful marketing campaign for an artist?
TW: In the mid-90s, I was in New York at EMI Records and worked with a band called the Fun Lovin’ Criminals. They were an amazing live band with incredible personalities and charisma. We felt they were perfect for the UK and European markets, so we focused on breaking the band in that region and committed to this by taking the band there again and again. Over the course of a year, they went from playing small clubs to huge festivals across Europe and still have a large following in the UK today. So the philosophy of having a band return repeatedly to a market worked and I still believe in it to this day. I also worked on Santana’s Supernatural album, which sold 25 million albums around the world – so that was pretty cool as well.
RL: Who has been your favourite artist to work with? Why?
TW: Without a doubt it was Patti Smith and we worked on several albums together. It sounds like a cliche, but she is a true artist – musician, painter, poet, writer, and photographer. In 2007, she was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and in 2010, she won the National Book Award for her book Just Kids. Not many artists can say that.
RL: How do you think social media has affected the breaking of acts?
TW: It has obviously become important in breaking an artist from many angles – for example, many artists are now discovered on YouTube and labels troll the internet looking for talent – so there is an additional avenue for discovery. When used effectively, artists can open a very useful line of communication and commerce with their fans through social media. But in the end, it’s still about the music and playing live. If you don’t have that expertise, it doesn’t matter how many Facebook fans you have in the long run.
RL: Where do you see the future of music heading?
TW: I think it’s looking up from where it’s been going over the past 10 years, particularly for the independent, self-sufficient artist – but in different ways from how we’ve gauged success in the past. As an artist, it will be more about creating your own network of fans and marketing and selling directly to them. And it will continue to be about the live side of the business and having a global perspective.
RL: What is your advice for indie artists everywhere who are hoping to take their careers to the next level?
TW: Work very hard on being an incredible live act and always work to hone your live craft. Take your time and don’t try to skip any steps. Also, try to travel to the various music industry conventions and events around the world. It’s not cheap, but you will learn a great deal, perhaps make new and important connections, and understand how the industry works from a global perspective. Look for every opportunity out there for international festival performance slots- there are opportunities for indie artists. You can even try to utilize the crowd-funding options that exist today to help fund the trip. There are also so many on-line tools that indie artists can utilize to grow their fanbase – from selling and streaming music, studying analytics, creating and selling merch, raising funds, and getting your music distributed digitally around the world. Study the tools that are at your disposal.
Tony Ward lives in Hong Kong and continues to dispense great marketing advice.
Man On The Ground Official Website: www.manontheground.asia