The World According To Wiggins

Morty Wiggins is something of a chameleon. When he first hung his shingle in California’s Sonoma County as a concert promoter more than 30 years ago, he ran smack up against the notoriously territorial Bill Graham in nearby San Francisco.

Figuring if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em, Wiggins instead went to work for the impresario. During his 13 years at Bill Graham Presents, Wiggins moved into the VP chair and became a partner of the company before deciding it was time for a new challenge.

He left BGP to become general manager at A&M Records in its heyday, implementing several unique strategies before once again getting the itch to try something new. He returned to the Bay Area, became a consultant and launched the independent 33rd Street label for Tower Records. When Tower filed for bankruptcy, the label closed.

Rather than return to Sonoma County for a quiet retirement, he became president of digital media startup Outhink in 2005. And he’s still changing with his environment. With both the recorded and live music industries undergoing convulsive change, he saw it not as a crisis but as an opportunity. With that, he opened a new company, Second Octave Talent, based in Petaluma, Calif., Feb. 1.

Second Octave is bonded and licensed as both an agency and management company, and Wiggins contends his business plan is the first of its kind in a changing industry. For established artists, the model of a manager being the artist’s conduit to his agent, who in turn is the conduit to a record label, has gone the way of the dinosaurs.

“Artists are really going to need either an agent that’s going to manage their careers on the road or a manager that’s going to be able to book their dates and manage their tours. So we decided to be that,” Wiggins told Pollstar. “We’re licensing and bonding ourselves in the state of California to be an agency, we’re charging an extra 5 percent commission on top of what the agencies usually charge to manage those artists and we’re choosing established touring acts to launch the agency.

“I have a lot of confidence and think it’s the right scenario and direction for where our business is going.”

Wiggins isn’t just reading tea leaves. He’s certainly put in his 10,000 hours. During his time at 33rd Street Records, he realized that with the advent of Pro Tools and a lack of priority given to established artists by radio and major labels, many of them could simply record and release their own work and, most importantly, own their masters and control their careers.

“Back then, I was the very first person who was licensing finished masters from established touring artists. That was our business plan,” Wiggins said of his 33rd Street Records days. “They made the initial investment to make the record, they owned the copyright, I did a forecast of what I thought could ship as an initial outlay to all accounts – not just to Tower stores. And then I would advance a mutually controlled marketing budget based on a formula of $1.50 per record.

“And I made that available in cash, not soft dollars. In addition, we advanced manufacturing costs and retail costs. It was a great deal for artists, because they got to retain ownership of their master, they had a first-rate marketing plan that made sense based on the economics and they had mutual control over how that money was spent. It was very successful and we had a really good run,” Wiggins said.

With Second Octave, Wiggins takes the idea of giving artists more control over their careers a step further. With recording income in a steep nosedive for career artists, it’s imperative they turn their attention to the live performance. And unlike emerging artists, established artists aren’t dependent on managers and agents to lay the artist development groundwork.

“When you’re managing an established artist, a big part of that job used to be managing the record company relationship,” Wiggins said. “Now, a lot of artists are the record company. A lot of their activity is now feeding into and pointing toward their live tour dates. So when you’re managing an artist, you’re really managing a tour and the activities around the tour.”

In what may seem counterintuitive, Wiggins suggests that career artists need managers to handle tours, but not so much to interact with the agents who book them. It doesn’t need to be, according to Wiggins.

“A bunch of my clients wanted to talk and strategize directly with the agent and didn’t really want or need a manager to be a layer in between,” Wiggins explained.

“Because of the dynamics present in the industry right now, a lot of managers get new clients via agents. You don’t necessarily want to piss off an agency if your client’s over there, and you’re getting clients from there. I’m not that interested in that now.

“But whether you’re a manager booking, or an agent managing, I think that’s the ultimate combination, and we’re licensed to do both.”