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by Ani Zulawnik

Q&A: Music Manager Pennie Black

by Ani Zulawnik

Q&A: Music Manager Pennie Black

Pennie Black (pictured above with Katie Thompson) is perhaps most prominently known for her decade-long role as programme director at and voice on air at 95bFM.  However, in 2016, she decided to part ways with radio and embark on an exciting new music venture- Pennie Black Artist Services. Now in return, her ceaseless passion for Independent NZ music and artists has earned her the 2018 MMF Achievement Award for impressive successes in managing the Echo Ohs and HEX. Ani Zulawnik chatted with her about some of the highlights and challenges of the job as well as plans for the future. 

As a woman, what challenges do you face being a manager in a predominantly male-dominated industry, and music genre? How do you feel your experience differs because of your gender if it does?

I’ve never thought about the challenges of being a woman managing alternative artists. I’ve been extremely lucky to have a lot of helpful people around me – Manu Taylor, Nicole Thomas, Brent Eccles, Liv Young and Alan Holt as well as NZ MMF (Music Managers Forum), NZ MIC (NZ Music Commission) etc. These people have been integral in helping me support Echo Ohs and HEX – building relationships and enabling both bands to concentrate on the music they want to make. I love the passion they have for their respective sound and the incredible talent they have, and how super dedicated they are.

If I’ve ever had a problem, I’ve always tried to maintain the higher ground through being super nice and well mannered. I tend to kill people with kindness for the most part. I would call them out though if they were inappropriate.

What have been some of your highlights of managing HEX and The Echo Ohs, two powerful and prominent rock bands fronted by women?

Having both Echo Ohs and HEX release excellent albums, primarily independently, but with support from 1:12 Records (Echo Ohs), and funding bodies like NZOA (New Tracks – HEX).

Also both bands touring the US – Echo Ohs doing so many shows, and HEX’s tour culminating at several shows at SXSW. Both bands have worked really, really hard to be able to travel overseas in what is an expensive endeavour and highly saturated market. 

How did you go about successfully promoting the bands locally and with regards to overseas press and recognition? Any tips you can give us?

I do a lot of research on radio shows, blogs and websites, and try and find where the music fits. Then I try and build a relationship with the DJ/writer whereby they can trust that what I’m sending them is good music. As the ex-PD at 95bFM, I know what it’s like to have a lot of music and press sent to you, which just doesn’t fit the criteria of your programming. It’s easier to pitch the artist if you know who you’re pitching to. Keep emails succinct and remember to ask for what you want.

For touring – the US is a difficult territory to crack. Neither band has a booking agent, so it’s about using all your contacts – personal, professional and everyone the bands know to be able to get the music out there. Echo Ohs worked hard on their contacts including other artists, HEX also used contacts, but also employed a publicist and radio plugging company. Perseverance is key. You’ll get turned down a lot, but you’ve got to keep going until you start getting positive responses.

At a massive international event like SXSW, how does your experience as manager compare to the experience of the band performing? What’s your job at those showcases? 

My role at SXSW was to meet as many people as possible at the shows, networking events and panel discussions etc. SXSW is essentially a music business conference where everyone is keen to network and create ‘mutually beneficial relationships’ – although I dislike that term, it’s the reality. I was super lucky to have contacts from my time at bFM and from attending Going Global, to help me meet other key people who can help the bands.

The band needs to be able to not have to worry about anything other than performing well. We had an excellent Sound Person/Tour Manager, Bernie Gruschow who was integral in making sure HEX were looked after.

In general, what is the most rewarding aspect of being a music manager to you, and what is the most challenging one on a day to day basis?

The little successes are the most rewarding. Seeing the artists achieve small steps towards their goals makes me the happiest. Although most people want world domination, I’m lucky to work with artists who want to be able to make a living as working musicians, so creativity is key to them, not necessarily fame and money.

As a fan of live music, I get very proud of the bands when they play shows and get a great response from the audience. I love when I can see and feel them building or reinforcing an emotional connection with the crowd.

What made you want to initially pursue music management? How did you get your first “break”?

As PD, I enjoyed helping artists with contacts to try and help them get their music out to the public via the Student Radio Network, and online i.e Under The Radar. I tried to be as helpful as possible to the artists who approached me for information. I happened to really love Echo Ohs and HEX, and when I left 95bFM, HEX approached me to manage them. Echo Ohs, I pretty much annoyed the hell out of them until they let me help.

What can we expect for HEX and The Echo Ohs in 2018? Do you have plans to branch out and manage more bands?

Both bands will have new albums out either late this year or early next year. I’d like to see Echo Ohs and HEX at SXSW as well as The Great Escape – so touring those released albums, and getting their amazing creativity out into the wider world. 

I’d love to manage more artists/bands, but right now, I’m fully dedicated to the awesome artists I’m working with.