Pursuing parallel paths: being a creative and a commissioner

Written by Hatti Rex & Photography by Ollie Ali

There’s no clear pathway to becoming an artist manager. Whereas some start with a formal, managerial background, it's common that others entered the music industry via a backstage route and were once musicians themselves.

As both a creative and a commissioner, artist manager Sam Furness knows the feeling all too well.

Having worked in music as an artist manager at Everybody’s Management for the past seven years, he started out as a theatrical child turned music-loving teen before applying both passions to study theatre and write music at University. Upon graduating, to gain a foothold in the music industry, Sam took on various music internships to score a behind-the-scenes music role.

“I felt a real sense of gratification, being involved in large scale, ambitious creativity - and playing a small part of the machine,” he explains to Creative Commission. As part of his role in the music machine, Sam occasionally would hire out through CC whilst using his creative experience to give breathing room to his freelance hires.

“You’re paying them for a reason: they’re doing this because they’ve got ideas themselves. I would always advocate for leaving space for creatives to be creative!”

Gretta Ray

At Everybody's, Sam went from working full time, day-to-day across three acts, Keane, Jack Garratt and Gretta Ray, down to three days a week and working solely with Gretta. 

"The artist development side of Gretta’s project was where I could add the most value," Sam explains. "So I managed to free up my time for my own creative work, but also get more focused specifically on Gretta’s project simultaneously. It’s felt like a win-win."

Pursuing parallel paths

"I don’t think it’s a particularly well-trodden path," Sam tells us, after finding it tricky to find information about simultaneously being a creative and a commissioner.

"It really only feels like we’ve entered into the age of the ‘multi-hyphenate-career’ in the last five years or so. Before that, I think having multiple lines of work was viewed like having a few low commitment part-time jobs. The idea you can pursue more than one career at a time is a relatively new concept. Our recent chat with Kayode Thomas, former creative lead at AWAL explores this in further detail.

Sam agrees that there’s generally an air of shame surrounding being an artistic person whilst working in a behind-the-curtain role.

"Since embracing a creative path... I think my role as a manager has evolved"

"On starting out, the overwhelming impression I got was that if you aren’t giving 110% of your time to climbing the ladder, then you aren’t going to succeed. So I think even admitting publicly, and to yourself, that you want to pursue parallel paths is a huge step and seems like a big risk."

"It’s also the job of the industry, to put their clients on a pedestal," Sam explains. "You want the world to know how talented your artist is and you want them to succeed. And rightly so! The repercussions that can have when making artistic work yourself is that your own creative efforts can feel a little pathetic in comparison. Cue: imposter syndrome!"

However, juggling two different perspectives often comes with huge rewards, and not just on a personal level.

"Working as a commissioner of creative work has helped me a lot. Because of my music campaign experience, I approach the rollout of all my own creative projects with a much more collaborative, strategic, and ambitious mindset. Since embracing a creative path, freelancing, making art, founding Channel Twelve; I think my role as a manager has evolved."

Channel Twelve

Sam's recently launched venture Channel Twelve is a programme and studio hybrid for the creatively curious. Through open creative briefs on a wide range of projects and monthly Creative Quests exploring different themes each month - the mission is to inspire more daring approaches to both living and creating. 

We asked Sam whether he had any solutions for people struggling to balance their work-life with their creative ambitions. "I think the most creatively stifling thing you can do is surround yourself with the same stimulus that you always do," Sam suggests.

"Stay curious and keep changing up what you are exposing your mind and heart to: read books from a variety of voices, watch an eclectic mix of films, find new and interesting galleries, write two or three pages of free-hand writing in the morning as a pure stream of consciousness [also known as The Artist’s Way]. Stimulating your brain in this varied way will help keep your neural pathways in good order!"

"Remember that creativity doesn’t always have to be a time-consuming marathon. It can be gentle, small acts too."

Perhaps these are some revolutionary words of wisdom that we can all incorporate into our lives. Thanks, Sam.