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So you want to be in…music management

MEN IN BLACK: Zeon (left) with Wretch 32

HE MANAGES one of the biggest UK artists right now, so Zeon Richards - the manager of north London rapper Wretch 32 – knows a thing or two about pressure and effective artist management.

Here, the founder and managing director of Xyzee Music talks to Dionne Grant about 4am wake up calls, embracing change and offers advice on successful artist management.

Give me a typical day in your life…
I wake up at 4am, go through my to-do list, catch up with emails and try to plan my day.

When does the planning stop and your actual day start?
Normally my meetings start at 10am – I probably have four or five a day. Obviously people are now actually replying to my emails so it makes it easier (laughs). It’s an impossible task, but I try to respond to all of my emails and calls that come in. It’s quite a balancing act.

For those who don’t know, what is it that you do?
Essentially, I manage music artists. I manage (UK rapper) Wretch 32, soul singer Jacob Banks, UK singer Kyra and the talented George The Poet.

What made you want to get involved in artist management?
I never wanted to be a manager. Wretch and I grew up together and I just wanted my friend to do well. I was always helping him out, basically things you would do for a friend. I eventually got a job doing something else after I graduated, but was still helping him out. After six months in the job I realised that that it wasn’t for me. I felt like I should be pursuing music. It was the first time in five or six years that I put myself out there to say, ‘I’m a manager!’

Before people used to say, ‘you can manage Wretch’ and I would say, ‘no, I’m just his friend.’ The first call I made (in a manager capacity) was to (1Xtra DJ) Twin B. I had known him for years and seen him around, but during my first conversation with him, he said ‘I want to sign him (Wretch).’ It was a bit of a shock, but also a blessing.

What did you study at university?
I studied operations management and HR, but I always found it hard to get jobs because from the time I was 18 Wretch already had videos out there. On my CV I would be saying, ‘I’ve plugged Wretch on MTV and I’ve managed to get him editorial in papers.’ It almost sounded too good to be true. People would say, ‘why are you applying for a job in this industry? You should be working in music!’ But in my head, there were no jobs for black people in music. At the time I never ever saw it was possible.


GROWTH: Zeon and Wretch 32 have been friends since early childhood. He says their working relationship started from just wanting to see his friend 'do well'

What makes your job unique?
No two days are the same. You create your own workload. No one can sit there and tell you that you’ve got to get up at 9am and you’ve got to get to that meeting because you’re in control. You’re running your own business. It has to be said that management is one of the most demanding and high-pressured jobs out there. It’s not like a chocolate bar, where you have twenty of them and one of them isn’t doing so well so you can get rid of it, people are trusting their lives and career to you - that’s pressure! Every day that something’s not happening for them, it feels like a time bomb.

How do you deal with that pressure?
That’s why I wake up at 4am! (laughs) At least that way I know that I’ve done all that I can, which to some extent puts my nerves at rest. If I was being lax, it wouldn’t sit very well with me. I never got involved in music for money. I wanted to be a part of something and create some sort of legacy to put black people and music to the forefront. The day I lose that, I might as well step out of the game I think.

How has your role changed over the years?
It has been very weird. It’s weird when I walk down the street and people recognise Wretch because for me, that’s just Jermaine. Our mums went school together, we’re all from the same area and on Wednesdays we all play football together with the same set of friends we have done for years – nothing has changed. I feel responsibility to protect him. I feel like he has had to take one for the team to now be the known face. I can walk down the street any day of the week and no one bothers me, but for him, by following his career (and ensuring that I have one too), he now has all eyes on him.

What kind of hurdles have you had to overcome?
There was no blue print. Imagine, we’d get called to attend a meeting and we didn’t know what we were supposed to do once we got there. We would just go and hear what other people had to say. It takes a while for you to get enough confidence to say what you want from the meeting. No matter who calls you and what they put on the table, you have to be able to say what you want out of it. It took a long time to get that sort of confidence.

What’s the best thing about your job?
Control. You’re building something, so you’re in control. You’re creating a legacy - not in a boastful way. It’s something that in 10 or 15 years from now, you can turn to your kids and say ‘I was a part of the start of this.’

I remember seeing George The Poet in action. It’s like I was seeing Wretch 32 being reincarnated. I was like ‘this kid is special!’ I sent a video to Wretch and he was like, ‘you better work with this boy! This is bigger than money, our kids need to grow up and listen to this guy. I don’t care how much this costs, we need to make it happen!’ For me, if we can all maintain the mantra that it’s not only about money and that we’re trying to make a difference then I think we’ll keep going. It’s about passion. Money will always come, but you have to keep that passion.


TALENT: Zeon says that one of his biggest achievements to date is getting his act George The Poet a date at London's Royal Albert Hall

How big is your team now?
I have three people that work with me, but with Wretch there’s obviously a bigger team – there’s a lot of stuff that’s outsourced. With Wretch at first it kind of shocked me that so many emails can come through and it scared me to work with anyone else. It takes a long time to be able to delegate stuff and feel comfortable doing that – that’s something I’m still trying to do.

How are you doing?
(Laughs) Not bad, I’m getting better at it. I need to get to a stage where an email or call doesn’t have to come to me first and place where I can trust in that person’s decision. For me, it’s a necessity and it has to happen. That’s what the business calls for.

What excites you most about your job?
I like having the perception that I’m the underdog. When you get to a certain stage, from outside in, it looks like you’re high. If you put yourself around people that are always doing better than you, it makes you want to do better.

For instance, I told George The Poet that he’s going to do a show at The Royal Albert Hall. To some that’s an impossible goal, but we’re going to make it happen. We had a meeting earlier this year and they’re going to give us a show at The Royal Albert Hall. It’s always about aiming high. In my head it’s feeling like you always have something to do. It’s about trying to create epic moments. We’re doing ok, but on a scale of one to 10, we’re about a two or a three. We have so much more to do.

I think from the conversations I’m having, the next 12 months are going to surprise a lot of people in terms of what black people on a whole are able to achieve - not only in music, but in entertainment too. If you look at films, it’s becoming quite normal to see a black film in the cinema, but if you notice, it’s only the local urban cinemas taking the films. In terms of comedy, comedians are starting to get their own shows. I think the next 12 months we’re going to make big steps. If you remember when you were in school, how many black people did you know that owned a business – aside from black food shops? The next generation’s wave is going to be crazy. Their dreams are going to be so high and their determination rock solid that more doors will open.


EXPANDING THE ROSTER: UK singer Kyra is also on Zeon's musical roster of acts

What advice would you give those who want to venture into the world of artist management?
I think only work with someone if in your heart you 100 percent believe in them. Realistically, no one is ever going to believe at first. There will probably be 99 out of 100 people that are not going see what you see, so that initial passion has to drive you.

I would say that you have to really want it. If you don’t want it, people can see it. There are times where Wretch and I have had just two hours sleep but have been running up and down the country doing promo. In our head, we have no choice but to do this, we don’t want the life we once had. We have to make this happen. Unless you have that ruthless mentality whereby it’s this or nothing, it’ll be hard for you.

What has been your biggest achievement to date within your career?
To be honest, the biggest problem I have is that I don’t take breaks, so I haven’t had the chance to sit back and take it all in. For me, the biggest achievement was walking into The Royal Albert Hall and making them want to do a show with George The Poet. Now that may sound silly because Wretch has achieved so much, but getting George a date in that venue was big for me.

I’ll give you a joke, I went to Victoria train station and told the cab driver that I needed to go to The Royal Albert Hall and the guy said to me, ‘are you sure you don’t mean the Jamaican Embassy?’ That’s what the guy said to me (laughs). We have got a lot to do.

But in addition, one of my biggest achievements to date is Wretch 32 reaching number one in the charts with Don’t Go.

Do you remember where you were when you found out Wretch had made it to number one?
We had just got off a flight and were in Pizza Hut. It’s weird because it’s never really just me and him. We were sitting there and then we got the message through, it took us by surprise.

What are three things you can’t live without?
My Blackberry, my missus -who is my support - and my friends.

Where will you be in ten years?
I think we would have all built big companies and be doing much more than one thing. We’re all going to be in a position where we’re doing well. We’ll all have multi-national companies – our equivilent of Roc Nation (record label and management company owned by rapper Jay Z).

For more information about Zeon Richards or his acts, visit www.xyzee-music.co.uk

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