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December/January 2023

by Charlie Rodgers

Exploring The L.A.B. Path To Success – Business From The Band’s Perspective

by Charlie Rodgers

Exploring The L.A.B. Path To Success – Business From The Band’s Perspective

How did L.A.B. go from writing on pizza boxes to writing radio hits? Was it their musical talents alone or were there other factors involved outside of the music? L.A.B.’s live monitor engineer and Southern Institute of Technology audio tutor Charlie Rodgers sat down with some of the band members, and their management team, to discuss their business practices and how they have contributed to the success of the band.

In January 2016, L.A.B. collectively wrote their musical goals on a greasy pizza box. Those goals were to record three albums in three years, tour internationally, and to buy their own homes with the money they earned selling their music.

Fast-forward six years and those goals have become more than a reality as the band have released five albums in five years, sold out their own headline shows here and in Australia, garnered praise from their musical peers, and among all the praises have made music awards history by repeatedly taking out Album Of The Year, Single Of The Year, Best Group, and Best Roots Artist Tūī at the last two Aotearoa Music Awards.

“L.A.B. doesn’t get to where it is without Brad producing the five albums, and taking an active role in the music videos.,” starts bass player Ara Adams-Tamatea. “Brad is the head of the arrow, he is the one in the studio checking everything. He always values people’s input, but he has the final say with different instrumentation, arrangements and lyrics. Sometimes, we stand there scratching our heads going, ‘Umm, are you sure you want it to be like this?’ But the great thing about having a CEO within the band is we don’t have to try and please five different people at the same time.”

L.A.B’s ability to leave ego at the door has allowed the band to flourish under the leadership of musical director and drummer Brad Kora. During the early days, Brad would talk openly about his experiences within the music industry and how his insight would translate into the band’s future success.

“He told me right at the start, we are going to get to the top of the NZ music industry. We are going to do this, we are only going to play this long, we are going to be selling out this, this, and this venue, we are going to buy our own houses. He literally said these things out loud, all the time! I’m an optimistic person, but in my mind I was like that’s crazy!” remembers lead singer/guitarist Joel Shadbolt.

Brad’s determination and evident work ethic stems from his childhood growing up in Whakatane with brother and L.A.B. keyboardist/guitarist Stu Kora. Well-known for their contributions to the original Kora lineup, Brad, Stu, Fran, Laughton and their father Tait would play cover gigs at the RSA pub at night, the kids heading off to school the next morning. Outside of music, the Kora brothers are also gifted surfers, martial artists, actors, businessmen, and youth mentors.

“Brad has great instinct and heaps of experience. When it’s go time he’s on, but outside of that he’s always friendly,” explains keyboardist Miharo Gregory.

Despite having the final say in all things L.A.B., Brad does not rule the band with an iron fist, instead opting to encourage everyone to express their opinion without judgement.

“Brad and the band decided to split everything equally, like the songwriting credits, and money, so there’s never a chance for jealousy or feelings to come to fruition,” adds Gregory.

Money can lead to toxic behaviour when members are not included in the finances, especially if you are selling out arenas!

“I check over the contracts, I check over all the schedules before they go out to the crew. I always question them because I’m quite a detail person, so I can step into the world of being a musician and how a musician would see things, and then how management sees things,” says Adams-Tamatea.

Ara is an important piece of the puzzle. A self-confessed tech nerd, his nickname within the band is Inspector Gadget, and with good reason. He has co-engineered all five studio albums with Lee Prebble, acts as the band’s bass player and playback tech during their live sets, and outside of the music he oversees a large portion of the band administration and finances.

“I found in the past when someone isn’t in the band doing that role and you’re relying on someone else there’s just more questions than there are answers, and when it gets to that stage people always think the worst. By having someone in the band have an understanding of that it can hopefully just avoid all that unnecessary crap, and if there is some form of shadiness going on, or something you don’t like, you can address it quickly as opposed to five years later.”

L.A.B. is quite a business. At times there are up to 20 band and crew members. Ara’s role here is to understand how individual members are taxed e.g. are they a sole trader, partnership, company etc? Are they GST-registered? Are they on schedular payments? What about ACC levies and other potential payments the band may have to make? There is a lot involved in getting everyone paid legally, another reason why the money has to be accounted for at all times.

“Ara is able to take a scenario and give three financial outcomes to that scenario. That is a skill that is unbelievably valuable,” notes Shadbolt.

“I think he is one of the main reasons L.A.B. has been successful. Nothing goes over his head, and then nothing goes over the band’s head,” Gregory elaborates.

L.A.B.’s collective musicianship, songwriting skills, and live performances are what established this group as one of the country’s most-loved bands. A tireless work ethic, strong leadership skills, and lack of ego have made it possible to earn a living from music, but to be able to count the money, you first have to make it, and this is where quality band management comes in. Band managers are considered to be the hustlers, and their main purpose is to generate work and income for the band.

Read part 2 – Business From The Management’s Perspective here