The Man in the Moving Castle: A Conversation with Artist Manager Brett Blackman

Posted in News on June 1, 2021

More than a manager, Brett Blackman, CEO of URL2IRL, is a tireless evangelizer. Working with emerging names in electronic dance music like Hotel Garuda, Manila Killa, AOBeats, Slow Magic and Goldroom and establishing his own forward-thinking record label, Moving Castle Music, Blackman provides hands-on artist management and brand development, plus acts as a media liaison. Beyond that, Blackman is intent on spreading the word, growing the community and expanding and influencing tastes to embrace the music that he clearly believes so much in. He is a champion for his artists with a love of their work and a savvy business acumen to get their music played, heard, shared and enjoyed across all platforms.

BMI caught up with Brett Blackman to find out what drives his success and his passion for electronic music. Here’s what he had to say.

Brett, over the past five or so years, your name has been synonymous with the LA electronic music scene. Everyone we speak with in the dance world seems to know you, somehow. To start, give us some backstory on how you started your record label, Moving Castle, and your management company, URL2IRL. Did it all come together accidently or was it something you planned from the beginning?

First of all, thank you for asking to interview me! It’s always funny to hear things like this, especially not being able to go out during the last year due to Covid. But I appreciate when my name gets brought up. Of course, on the record-label side, Moving Castle was an idea in 2013 by Hunt For The Breeze, Robokid, AObeats and Manila Killa. Then they asked me to get involved. We didn’t feel like we belonged to any sort of community like an OWSLA, Mad Decent, Team Supreme, WEDIDIT, Soulection, etc., so wanted to make something on our own. The idea came together pretty naturally. It was Hunt For The Breeze who actually named the collective, named after the animated classic, Howl’s Moving Castle, of course. We first kicked things off by doing a compilation with Jailo and Kappa Kavi from the Netherlands, Vices from Florida, Dirty Chocolate from DC & Bonae Bonae, and Ba-kuura & Objectives. Things began taking off as we did more compilations. Eventually, we decided to make it a real label in the summer of 2015, when we put out “Helix 2.0” on global platforms. It was a true moment that summer; all our friends played it out during their sets!

Regarding my management company, I was working independently for years without a name or anything. I was loosely using URL2IRL (Internet 2 Real Life) as an LLC to run my company, but I never made it an actual outward-facing name or anything. It first started because I kept becoming friends with people on the internet, then meeting them in person, and felt it was synonymous with helping artists build themselves online and transition to becoming a live act as well. I don’t think anything came together as planned. It was super organic on both the label and management sides.

What is your current label and management roster now?

For the label, we don’t have anyone signed on an exclusive basis, but regarding projects we’re releasing this year (if I can say or not), we have upcoming releases from Juuku, Dugong Jr, Covex, Meesh, Dash30, Simon Cress, Khamsin and a few others, excluding the co-founders of AObeats, Robokid, and Manila Killa.

For my management roster, it includes: AObeats, Goldroom, Hotel Garuda, Manila Killa, Slow Magic, as well as Power Glove - who I co-manage with my good friend, Ryan Moe.

You and your artists have managed to come up together, and they also happen to be friends of yours. How do you handle that line between personal and professional? What is your mindset going into a new project, having to decide when to put on your manager hat instead of your friend hat?

Yes, we have, it has been a beautiful thing! I think about this often, especially when people say that friends cannot work with one another. For me, we are definitely close friends, but of course like anything else in a working relationship, we have boundaries, expectations, and want what is best for one another. At the end of the day, it’s a partnership, and I want to help them steer their ship to obtain their hopes and dreams, as well as help execute their vision. I joke about referring myself to a ship’s captain. They are the ship and I help coordinate with them and the rest of the crew.

My mindset going into a project is easy (enough): “What do you want? What has been resonating with you sonically and visually? What has been inspiring you? And how do we tie all of these things together?” I don’t even think about wearing a friend vs. manager hat these days. We all talk freely, and they know when they need to get things done or if I need to nudge them to do so. At the end of the day, we understand deadlines as well as timelines that are in place and I’m there to keep them on track.

How did you learn how to be an artist manager? Did you have mentors when you were coming up or is it just something you have to learn as you go? Now that you’ve been in the business for a while, how would you describe your management style?

I first started learning how to be an artist manager in 2012 when I started blogging about music I liked. For two years, I talked to publicists, artists, managers and labels every day, and it let me soak in everything like a sponge on what I wanted to do. I sadly did not have any mentors but learned from people around me that taught me what I know now. I also just read and watched a ton of things that helped me learn as well. I think, like any job, the most important thing when starting out is just learning on the go.

Being someone who has ADHD, I would say my style is organized chaos. Jokes aside, I am actually very organized, though. I have not really been asked what my style is, but the way I go about my day-to-day routine. For me, my style is very hands-on with my artists. I love being an A&R and getting involved with the creative process, as well as marketing. My brain really works at connecting the dots, so that is what I like to focus on.

Shifting focus to your record label, Moving Castle. The question of the day seems to be, “How do you get eyes on your music when releasing on digital platforms?” When releasing new music from the artists on your roster nowadays, what is your promotion strategy? Also, how have your rollouts changed since you first started?

Man, it is so hard these days, especially with the algorithm sometimes burying things. Honestly, we make things that are just on-brand that resonate with the artists we are releasing with. From the music to the art to the videos, we try and have everything be super cohesive.

I guess with promotion strategy, it differs with each artist depending on their goals, the story they want to tell, and the art they want to create. I think it’s really important to tell the artist’s story, and if that means getting the proper looks on editorial, mixes, etc. I want their voices heard as to how they came up with their art and how they channel themselves into it.

I guess compared to when we first started, we now have a better understanding of what it means to do a rollout and what things are must-haves when doing a release, i.e. that radio spin, that interview, that mix, that video, etc. Overall, I think like anything, it’s just adapting to technology, too. For example, HypeM used to be a bigger thing, now it’s not and everything is more focused on playlists and TikTok.

We’re sure you get a lot of requests or submissions from people wanting to connect or wanting you to listen to their music. How do you know when it is the right time to work with a particular artist in either a management or label context?

You know when you know, you know? For me, my newer management clients, Slow Magic and Goldroom, happened very organically. They actually reached out to me. I’ve been fans of both of them for years and it helps that they are friends with my artists.

Generally speaking, when looking for new clients, I prefer to know the artists first and I need to get along with them on a personal level. For the label side, it’s a very similar case. The artists are fans of the label first, and we all see something in them. There is always that spark. Seeing them have a vision for their project and feeling their passion when you talk to them.

Overall, I think the artist needs to already have a fair understanding of who they are and what they want. Then, you (the manager or label) can help to elevate their brand and provide the connections needed to take them to the next step.

What has been the most challenging part of your career thus far?

I would have to say it was first realizing I wanted to do it, followed by breaking into it, followed by the pandemic. But overall, the most challenging part of my career is when the pandemic hit. We were relying on tour revenue and having to figure out what the next steps would be while waiting on the pandemic has been tough.

On that note, the pandemic has obviously changed so much about the music industry. How have you adapted as a label owner and manager? Any positives that can be taken out of it?

Being a label owner, it really has made us hone in on what we really want out of signees. For us, we have really focused on developing new talent, seeing through some of our favorite artists’ first big projects, and returning artists’ big projects that we’ve collaborated with in the past. We love collaborating with our friends new and old, and it has been truly special being able to work side by side sharing our resources and working together with them and their teams to allow their vision to come to fruition.

As a manager, it has been tough. Like I said before, touring was a huge source of revenue, however, it has been a blessing in disguise to stop touring after years of doing so. I could see they were bordering on burning out and so was I to a degree. The last year has been used to rest, recuperate, and focus on our mental health.

Three-part question: What is the best piece of advice you’ve received, and from who? What advice would you give to aspiring artists? Is that different from advice you would give to aspiring managers/ music industry professionals?

  1. Whatever you daydream about, do that. I sadly forget who told me this, but it made me truly think about what I wanted out of life, and I always kept thinking about music or events when I was in school, etc…
  2. Do your 10,000 hours, hone in on your craft, work with your friends who make art, do photography and create like you. Build together.
  3. Same, but different. For aspiring managers or music industry professionals, understand what you’re good at, if that’s connecting people… etc.

Any upcoming releases/ projects from your artists we should look out for? Can you tease anything for us?

The fun stuff! For Moving Castle, we just put out visual artist Juuku’s debut EP, as well as started rolling out an EP by Dugong JR. We just announced Covex’s debut album, and just put out the last song on Slow Magic’s album rollout.

We’ve actually planned out our releases until next year, the rest will be a surprise!

On the management side, what I can say is, there are shows again! We may or may not be looking into high seas events for Goldroom. His yearly boat events are in a handful of cities. Also, I’m excited to be finally announcing these festivals, that obviously we hope to happen, but understand if they get pushed again due to Covid restrictions. That said, it’s uplifting and exciting to be looking into and booking future tours!

For music from my management company, we have a ton of really special remixes for some of our favorite artists that are locked in, but sadly I cannot tell what those are just yet. You’ll see! Regarding originals, I cannot let the cat out of the bag in full, but we have a few really exciting full projects in the works from my roster, which I hope we can announce sooner rather than later.

Overall, there is an excitement in the air that things are turning back to normal in the music world, and I can’t wait to see live shows again. Lastly, thanks again for having me!!