Culture | Entertainment

Zak Biddu takes us backstage at UKNY Music

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Posted by , 12th September, 2017

UKNY Music is a specialist music agency with a difference. With access to the world’s best musicians and performers, UKNY Music offer a truly personal service to clients who want a once-in-a-lifetime performance – whether it’s at unique wedding venues, corporate events, festivals… the list goes on. Whatever the client’s demands, such as convincing David Guetta to fly out and perform at an event in Asia at the last minute, UKNY Music will pull out all the stops. We speak to UKNY Music founder and managing director Zak Biddu, the man who makes it all happen.

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Can you give us a brief overview of UKNY and the work that you do?
Predominantly, we have a set of relationships with most of the biggest artists and bands from all over the world and through this, we are able to book these acts and organise performances for corporate events, music festivals and even private parties, such as birthdays or weddings. We set up a huge variety of events, from big multi-national corporations and high net worth private parties to big music festivals, royal weddings and so on. There are so many one-off events out there that aren’t able to organise major performances because they just don’t have the connections in the music industry, and so clients utilise us, our access to so many artists and abilities to organise these performers and produce the impressive, one-of-a-kind shows that they are after.

How did you first get started in this industry? What made you go into it?
Well, my first job after university and travelling was a work experience position at Sony Music, literally just making cups of tea and sending faxes. That’s long how ago it was! And just from there, I worked my way slowly up the hierarchy and then left there after several years to become an artist manager. I was quite successful as a manager and partner at the company that represented quite a few well-known acts, such as Snow Patrol, The Verve and Ladyhawke. Because of all those relationships, I then spent a lot of time going to festivals, touring with my acts and going round the world with them. It was through this that I met a lot of other managers and artists. I also worked for Sir Paul McCartney and at DEF JAM for a year where Jay-Z was my superior and so working with everyone in America provided me with incredible relationships, which are all still used today when it comes to booking artists.

You’ve already mentioned some of the many performances you set up, such as festivals and private parties. Can you tell us more about the services you offer?
Really, UKNY do anything but the one thing we don’t do is ticketed concert touring, because there are other agencies out there that are set up to represent artists for their world-wide public touring. It’s a different skill set, which is more about ticket sales and stringing together show after show after show. Our expert team is more geared up to that one day situation, where we can convince an artist to maybe travel to the other side of the world for one show. With our relationships and direct communication we can very often convince them that this performance will be worth their while. That is really our specialist skill set, based on one day events and predominantly weddings, birthday parties, corporate shows and launch parties.

For example, we’ve just arranged a deal with The Prodigy, getting them to headline a brand new festival in Hong Kong. And because we have such a great relationship with the band, we were able to make it happen rather than if the promoter had gone direct or if another agency weren’t able to convince them. By coming to us, we’re able to give the client absolutely all the intel and then speak directly to the artists, persuading them that it was a good event to play at; the artists trust us.

This obviously also extends to private events as well and we just did something recently for Chopard in Sardinia, where the event was on Saturday and we got the call on Thursday. They wanted a big name for their luxury event and we were able to book a performance in about a five minute period – exactly the turnaround the client needed given the urgency. This fast-paced environment not only helps our clients tremendously, but really challenges us, allowing us to use our relationships and skills to the best of our ability.

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How do you first go about setting up these impressive performances?
Very rarely will a client phone up and say “Get me Rihanna,” for example. Normally, they first speak about their event with us (the people that live and breathe music!) so that we can guide them on which acts would best suit their event and audience. We then move onto the budgeting and costs of these performances, all the while speaking to various artists about their availability, working till we’re at the point where we can highlight both the right performer and budget for the event and then client can go “Yes, that’s what we want!” We make a firm offer to the artist and by that point, it’s a seamless process that we can bring together quite quickly. Beyond that, we then look after all contracts and accounting, whatever the client requires, such as hotels, security, travel and dressing rooms. We negotiate every scenario from the types of vehicles needed, any alcohol in the dressing rooms and also making sure the artists aren’t being too demanding, all to make sure the clients are being fairly treated!

How do you keep up with fast changing demands of your high-network clients?
To be honest, most of the performers that our clients come to us for are already established acts. It’s very rare that they would want something new that’s just got on the radio, since we’re better known for having relationships with bigger names. And when there are new people on the scene, a new act will at least have an established manager we know or whose clients we’ve worked with. It’s extremely unlikely a client wants a performer that we don’t have direct contacts with. As an example, there is currently a lot of interest in Dua Lipa (the British singer/songwriter with a recent number one hit), which is great because her manager also manages Lana Del Rey, and we’ve obviously worked with both for many years. Those relationships have now allowed us to start booking Dua Lipa. That’s often how it works – the top of the music industry is a relatively small table in which everybody knows everybody. In terms of keeping up with the demands? It’s not too difficult because we’re plugged into that elite area of the music industry.

As a company, we focus on brands of Britishness. Can you tell us more especially about the British performers you manage to book and their performances?
We work with so many, from relatively new British performers like Dua Lipa to Robbie Williams, probably as big a British act as they come! It’s really all performers from across the entire board like Gary Barlow, for example, as well as Rita Ora, Little Mix, Ellie Goulding, Tinie Tempah, Paloma Faith, Clean Bandit and Sting. In terms of the actual events, Robbie Williams is very popular with birthday parties whereas the likes of Gary Barlow and Olly Murs regularly do well at corporate events due to having so many big hits. Ultimately, at these type of shows, the clients want just as many hits as possible because the audiences at corporate parties are very often a relatively multi-age, multi-style crowd. It’s not like a gig with thousands of fans; with a popular performer, you can just play it safe. It’s more difficult with some of the bigger British acts, however, to book them for private parties. Artists like Coldplay and Ed Sheeran would do better in a touring environment with vast crowds – it’s hard for private individual to compete with the revenue that a stadium show would create. It’s why acts such as Gary Barlow, Little Mix and Jess Glynne do so well! British music is also especially relevant to us due to the fact we’re a London-based company. Despite spending some time in America, I grew up in the UK as did the rest of the team. Having grown up with the UK music industry around us, we naturally cultivated more relationships with British artists, attended more UK festivals and were then able to scout out the newest British talent as a result.

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What exactly does it take to pull off these impressive, high-scale performances?
As a team, we enjoy the challenge of a when a client goes “We want something completely spectacular, a once in a lifetime performance that the audience will never have seen before.” Those briefs really excite us. It’s relatively straightforward for us to just book an act and have the performance go ahead, so we quite like it when there’s a bit of a challenge there and when the client has both the budget and inclination to do something a little unique. For example, we once had Hugh Jackman perform with dancers and a huge British orchestra – a complete one-off performance in a Palace in Britain! For me, it was really a challenge to organise and negotiate a show like that. To convince Hugh to take time out of his busy schedule and commit to the rehearsals and the performance itself. It was very exciting and completely once in a lifetime – he will never do that show again. It’s so exciting and rewarding when we’re able to convince a performer to do a show which is really, on paper, not possible and when, perhaps, had anyone else have asked, they would have said no. It’s all about rising to that challenge and those demands.

Do you think you stand out from other traditional music booking agencies? If so, how?
I do yes, because where we’re different is in the fact that we really know our clients. We’ve worked with our clients for a long time and they trust us. By working hand in hand, we can ensure that every element of the performance is professionally organised and coordinated. Whereas other booking agencies may just give you a contract for the acts, we make sure that from that point onwards everything is arranged. So that you’re not just left in the lurch trying to fathom how to produce a Lady Gaga concert, for instance. We’re there every step of the way to make sure that everything is in place for the performance, and representatives of UKNY even attend events to fully make sure the artist is doing exactly what they’re supposed to. Clients can call me at any time with questions or requests, and we do our absolute upmost to action them immediately. We understand that the event can be the most important day of our client’s life perhaps, so we take it extremely seriously and ensure that every micro detail is taken care of so that they don’t stress. That personal touch adds to the relationship that we have with our clients and is very unique.

The big difference between us and most music agencies is that whilst they represent the artist, whereas we represent the event/client/company/families/people holding the event. We know all the artists, yes, but we represent the clients and get them the best deal in the situation.

Personally, what was one of the most enjoyable/rewarding performances you managed to pull off?
The Hugh Jackman one was pretty incredible. There are also ones where the artist hasn’t performed for a very long time and we’ve convinced them to do a show. We just did a show with Billy Joel who hadn’t performed in the UK for about 12 years at that point. We convinced him and his management to do the show, to travel, to commit to the rehearsals and arrangements – that was really rewarding. Big legendary acts like Billy are especially rewarding to organise, as they don’t necessarily need the money so you’ve really got to go that extra mile to convince them.

So many shows have their own element of remarkability. The first time I managed to convince David Guetta to do a show in Asia took a while. There have been a lot of difficult shows that a lot of people may not have been able to pull off.

What’s in the future for UKNY?
We’re not looking for lots more business because we like to be a very personal agency, and we need to have the capacity to give our clients that personal touch or contact that they need. We’re looking to constantly improve the quality of our services and performances, and grow in an organic fashion where we can still give our clients the personal time that they deserve.

Find out more at UKNY Music.

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