Keith Harris began working in the record industry back in 1974. The first record company for which he worked was a small independent UK label called Transatlantic records. The label represented mainly British folk musicians but also distributed the Blue Note and Milestone Jazz labels. In 1976 he joined EMI Records where he initially worked for several in-house EMI labels in the promotions department. These labels included Rocket where he worked on the Elton John album ‘Blue Moves’, Fantasy, Ariola and EMI International. He then joined Motown, which was an EMI licensed label.
He worked for Motown for two years ending up as General Manager for the label. During this period at the label he worked with artists such as Marvin Gaye, Diana Ross, Smokey Robinson, The Commodores, Rick James, The Supremes, Thelma Houston and Stevie Wonder. He left Motown in 1978 and moved to Los Angeles to work with Stevie Wonder and became operations manager for Stevie’s companies. On his return to the UK in 1982 he formed his own management company and has been involved in the management of various UK based artists since. He has managed Junior Giscombe, Junior Tucker, Paul Johnson, & Omar.
Keith managed Lynden David Hall until his recent death, and still represents Stevie Wonder. He is a Senior Fellow of the University of Westminster school of music film and fashion. He is a former Chairman of the MMF, the Chairman of Musictank and he is also the chairman of the African and Caribbean Music Circuit, a music touring organisation funded by the Arts Council of England. He is also a Fellow of the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts (FRSA). Keith is now Director of Performer Affairs at PPL.
Keith, you’ve worked with and for legendary labels like Blue Note, Milestone, Motown – do you miss anything about the way these older labels functioned, as compared to today?
Probably the biggest thing that I miss about the way that the older labels operated is the fact that they were able to develop acts over a period of time. Too much pressure is placed on new artists now to have a hit first time. If they don’t the label will move on to a new act. That causes everybody to play very safe so it is hard for new acts to be creative.
Of all the artists you’ve managed, who has been your favourite, and why?
I would of course have to say Stevie Wonder, we have had a more than 30 year working relationship, and he is just the most incredibly talent. If you like music how could you not enjoy the privilege of being able to work with an artist of that stature?
What’s the secret of being a good artist manager?
I don’t think that there is any secret to being a good manager it is fairly obvious. Work hard, be honest, and try to treat people fairly. Management is mainly about good communication.
What are the biggest challenges facing artist management companies in the digital era?
Managers face the same challenges as the rest of the business, how can you help the artist to make a living in the new climate. Everything is very unpredictable and the pace of change is extremely rapid, so trying to stay up with developments is really difficult.
You hold various esteemed roles and Fellowships today – what can you tell us about those?
The “esteemed roles” that you talk about are really just a factor of getting older and hanging in there. It is nice to get recognition, but I don’t think that you should read too much into any of it, it often sounds more impressive than the reality.
What will you talking about at YAIC?
I will be chairing a panel on Copyright, which I think is a crucial issue in the modern music business, and I will be talking about management issues in general.
What are you looking forward to seeing in Iceland, aside from the conference?
I have been to Iceland several times before and I always enjoy hearing and seeing what is new on the Icelandic music scene, there seems to be far less restricted scope for creativity in Iceland so many of the artists are unique, so it is always an interesting and exciting trip.