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Diane Dunkley: keeping it real


SEEKING TO “bring back the essence of real music,” RM2 Music describes itself as an agency with a difference.

Formed in 2010 by businesswoman Diane Dunkley, the company manages British soul singer Don-E and US singer-songwriter Leon Ware, and also encouraging new talents.

Driven by her passion for music, Dunkley put a career in the corporate world behind her to start RM2 Music. She also won the 2013 Precious Award for Business of the Year.

Here, she talks about launching her business, a lack of originality in the music industry and her desire for more people to support British soul music.

Why did you decide to launch RM2 Music?
It has always been my dream to work in the music industry. A chance discussion with Prince’s then backing singer back in 2001 led to myself and friend Kiran Sharma hosting his first solo show in the UK at The Jazz Café.
From this experience, [entertainment company] KIKIT was formed.
I helped Kiran build the business to the point where it was looking after Prince. During the formative years I was beginning to work with artists I had grown up listening to and also making contact with artists who were out of the limelight.
KIKIT was starting to do big things and I reached a point where I had to decide if I continue on the journey which had slightly moved away from what I wanted to do within the industry, or go off and start my own business so I could do exactly what I wanted to do, which was a lot more grass roots and more hands on with the artist by moving into management. So in May 2010 I formed RM2 Music and I was then in a position to do exactly what I wanted to.

FAMOUS FRIENDS: Diane Dunkley with music star Leon Ware

Was it hard starting the business and how hard is it to run the company on a day-to-day basis?
To be honest, on forming the business I was still figuring out what I wanted it to look like. The day after I registered the company, I received a call from Carl McIntosh of Loose Ends fame for a meeting to discuss his plans about coming back into the industry and he was looking to build a management team so he became my first client. Once some of the artists I’d worked with in the past heard I had started RM2 Music, they wanted to come on board; two of those artists being Leon Ware and Mint Condition, whom I’m proud to say I still work with.
The company has grown by word of mouth so it wasn’t hard to start, however, maintaining the business has been the tough bit. It’s not the easiest of industries to be in either and for a majority of the time it has just been me. I now have support, which is a great relief as carrying it on my own while trying to grow was getting more and more difficult.

You describe the company as the “go to agency for real talent and real music”. Does that suggest you think there’s a lack of real talent in the mainstream music scene?
I wouldn’t say lack of talent, but lack of originality. Trying to find a good station in the car is getting harder and harder. They all sound the same, playing the same records. Don’t get me wrong, I love pop music. I grew up in the 80s and what I loved about that era was the variety.
Now it seems once there is a formula that works it gets copied over and over again. At RM2 Music we’re all about the artists and nurturing their art. It is not the easiest, quickest route, but we’re all about building longevity and a sustainable career.

ALL SMILES: Dunkley with singer Annie Lennox

Why do you think British soul music fails to get the recognition it deserves in the UK mainstream charts?
It is not fully supported by us. We have this mentality that if it’s not American, it’s not quality. Also the industry doesn’t fully support UK soul acts. A promoter is happy to pay for an American act, fly them over, put them in a hotel and have them play prestigious venues, but very rarely consider UK artists for similar packages. The ironic thing is American artists look to our artists as the originators of neo-soul.
I work with an act that has sold over 80 million records worldwide, earned Grammy and Billboard awards and Queens Honours – the type of headlines that flash up on the screen when Robbie Williams appears on The X-Factor. I’m now going to tell you they are black and British! The British Collective is made up of Don-E, Junior Giscombe, Leee John, Noel McKoy and Omar and that is just a taster of what these five have achieved – yet it’s not celebrated.
It makes me very sad and I think once we start celebrating and recognising ourselves, then we can ask the mainstream to.

What are your future hopes for RM2 Music?
I want RM2 Music to be a premium booking agency and music management company, specialising in black music, providing quality artists and entertainment, ranging from established artists to fresh new talents. I want to work with venues and promoters across the UK and Europe and I want the company to be an industry model of good practice in booking and promoting shows.

What else is in the pipeline?
Keep an eye out for The British Collective. The album is coming soon with live dates to follow.

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