'I felt quite sick' - Manager Scott Maclachlan on his break-up with Lorde

By Jennifer Dann

Scott Maclachlan discovered Lorde at age 13 and managed her rise to stardom before they split a year ago. He still manages Sol3 Mio, Thomston, Mt Eden and Leisure and is up for Music Manager of the Year for the third time at this year's MMF awards.
Scott MacLachlan and Lorde in 2013. Photo / Norrie Montgomery
Scott MacLachlan and Lorde in 2013. Photo / Norrie Montgomery

• Scott Maclachlan was Lorde's manager from the age of 13 until last year, when she ended the relationship to manage herself.
• In this revealing interview, he explains how Lorde broke the bad news to him, and says there are "ongoing legal issues".
• He says he always thought Lorde would be great, "but I didn't realise how great, how quickly".
• And he reveals Lorde turned down an invitation to perform at the White House when she was 17.

Kiwi singer, Lorde, parted ways with music manager Scott Maclachlan. Photo / AP
Kiwi singer, Lorde, parted ways with music manager Scott Maclachlan. Photo / AP

1. Lorde relieved you as her manager a year ago. Did you see it coming?

I think I realised when I got a phone call that Ella and her father were going to come into the office. You kind of have a sense, like a relationship break-up. It's that "we need to talk" conversation. I felt quite sick.

It was pretty clear she was unhappy with the way things were going for a bunch of reasons, which I can't talk about because there are ongoing legal issues that I don't want to compromise and she's not here to state her case. I felt very sympathetic to her and tried to make the process as easy as possible. She was quite upset and I gave her a cuddle and said, "Look, these things happen." It's a business relationship but the problem is you're so in each other's pockets it becomes a lot more personal. But I have no animosity.

Lorde is set to release her second album later this year. Photo / AP
Lorde is set to release her second album later this year. Photo / AP

2. How do you think Lorde has survived so far without a manager?

I think she's done really well. There's a lot to be said for the purity of her decision-making. Her instinct is incredible. The test will be when she releases her second album and she's got 28 countries asking her to do promos in three weeks. Managers in the industry a long time know the nuances of doing deals with people which on paper might not look beneficial but actually can get your artist a lot more mileage. It's difficult to swim against the tide 100 per cent of the time. It's all right when you're on the rise but if you're wobbling they can cut you loose.

3. What do you love best about being a music manager?

Management is addictive. If you sign an artist who becomes a success it's a gamble and a hustle but it's completely addictive. The most fun you have is in those early days when you get a break. The high-level parties are a lot less enjoyable. One of my career highlights was a recent tour with a band called Leisure staying in s****y hotels. It was back to square one after being with the Lorde circus and it was a real breath of fresh air.

Scott Maclachlan says music management is addictive. Photo / Greg Bowker
Scott Maclachlan says music management is addictive. Photo / Greg Bowker

4. How much do music managers get paid?

We charge 20 per cent across the board and that's non-negotiable. It's fair when you factor the amount of work and cost of overheads. After splitting with an artist, a residual ongoing payment is normal too.

5. You signed Lorde at 13. Were you under pressure to get her earning money?

No, there was no pressure from the label. We hadn't invested much at that stage. She was developing at her own pace but it wasn't until she worked with Joel (Little) that things really happened. I always believed she'd be great but I didn't realise how great, how quickly. Hearing Royals for the first time I knew we had a hit. Those ones come along once every five years.

6. You released Royals as a free digital download. Was that your idea or Ella's?

In those days it was very collaborative. We both have a disruptive gene. Thank goodness Adam Holt was head of Universal. I dread to think what sort of pressure he was under when we gave away 60,000 EPs but we were so off the radar here that no one was scrutinising what we were doing. Very quickly we had all these calls coming in from round the world and we both enjoyed saying no because we saw that as perpetuating the feeding frenzy. The toughest refusal was saying no to performing at the White House. I would've loved to shake Obama's hand but I'm 47. She was 17 with her whole life ahead of her.

7. Did you also "discover" Sol3 Mio?

No, Adam Holt saw them on TV's Sunday programme. I had a scout track them down and we asked if they wanted to do a record deal. Universal signed them and I became their manager. It was that quick. I love those three boys. They're like family. I was a groomsman at Pene's wedding recently and I had to do a traditional Samoan dance. It was great fun but I was very, very awkward. I'd only do something like that for Pene.

8. Were you involved in music from an early age?

I was the singer in a band at school called The Children. I was very into The Smiths so everything I did had this introspective, maudlin quality. Before I started university, I flung myself into the Second Summer of Love in London and arrived at Dundee University with a box of records and started DJing. I also got a part-time job at a record label packing boxes.


9. How did you get your break doing A&R?

A&R's a dark art. I started off at an independent label called Jive Records signing dance records including Basement Jaxx for their first single and Groove Armada. I like the entrepreneurial approach of independents. You don't have the luxury of just getting out the chequebook so you either have to be very early or very creative in your approach. I didn't have the same success in the big corporate record labels because I wasn't very good at working the system. It's very political and relationships within the label are as important as the music you're signing. So at that point I thought bugger it, I'm moving to New Zealand. My wife's from Auckland. We've been married 14 years. She was my PA for five years before we got together and saw the worst of me during that turbulent time. She's a very calming and honest influence.

10. How is the NZ music industry different?

I couldn't believe how supportive everyone is. I found the No8 wire approach really exciting. Overseas it's really segmented. Sometimes Kiwis can be a bit humble. I think you have to fight for every inch in this industry but for some people I can come off as quite aggressive and abrasive.

11. What did you think about Herald columnist Lizzie Marvelly's recent revelations about the way young women are treated in the music industry?

I don't know Lizzie or what happened to her so I don't want to comment and risk appearing like I'm jumping on the band wagon. I've always employed women and I have strong opinions on equality but my approach is to make practical changes rather than just paying lip service.

12. How do you feel about being up for the MMF music manager of the year award for the third time?

My biggest disappointment is that it's the same old names up for awards. I'm in this crusade to bring more young people into the industry which is top-heavy with older guys. We need to train up a new breed of internet-savvy kids because ultimately that's where artists are going to live.

- NZ Herald

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