Words by Baz Bardoe
Photography by Indya Connley
Most people understand that the music industry is a tough business. Most of the ‘industry’ is about making money, while tales of artist exploitation are sadly the norm. Sometimes though there are exceptions to the ‘rule’. One such example is the evocatively named ‘Maths and Magic’ management and publicity company. Started by Sabrina Robertson in 2011 it is described as a ‘boutique’ company that deals with artists on a very personal basis. In fact she describes the relationship as being collaborative.
“Maths & Magic was launched in 2011,” Robertson explains.
“At the time I was working on various projects across booking, management and publicity and felt the need to bring them together under the one name. Growing up in Perth I developed a keen interest for the music industry from the age of around 15. I actively found ways to get involved to help support the local scene — from music promotion, to assisting with booking shows, to writing for a local music magazine.
“In 2010 I moved to Melbourne and began co-managing a local act. The following year I took part in FreeZA Central’s mentoring program and was paired with mentor Nat Bell (Milefire Management). I also began co-managing Elephant Eyes and started working on publicity campaigns for acts such as Owls of the Swamp. Sleepy Dreamers were added to the management roster in 2012 and Marmalade Ghost in 2013. In addition to Maths & Magic I also work at a music publishing company two days a week and run a Melbourne music blog. I’m driven to work in this industry because I’ve always believed that musicians should have more time to focus on the music and not be so caught up in the other areas.
“I like to think that Maths & Magic is artist friendly. The projects are a collaborative effort between myself and the artists I work with.”
And unlike some of the huge egos that tend to dominate the industry Robertson has a refreshing humility recognizing that in order to provide an effective service she needs to constantly strive to improve her knowledge and specialist skills. “I’m a passionate and driven person who is continuously striving to learn more across all areas of the industry”.
Choosing an artist to work with is not about the money or second guessing what new trend or image the industry might be after. It is based upon the simple, time honoured approach of good songs and good attitude. “It goes without saying — it’s all about the music. If I’m going to invest time and energy into a new project I have to be sold on the songs. I also look for artists who are motivated and who I can get along with.”
This has resulted in her working on an ongoing basis with three select artists — Elephant Eyes, Sleepy Dreamers and Marmalade Ghost.
Her website reflects her values with a black and white aesthetic that reminds me of the kinds of imagery associated with the inner city Melbourne band scene of the early 90s, especially Fitzroy. It is a classic look that sits well with her dedication to quality music and strong personal relationships.
There is no doubt that the music industry is becoming tougher for new artists and many would say it has never been harder to get a start as a musician. Downloading and especially free and illegal downloading has made it very tough to make money from releases, while new and smaller bands can find touring prohibitively costly.
The days when an independent artist could sell a decent amount of records and get paid for their efforts seem to be long gone. So how does Robertson see new and smaller artists making their way in the industry? “More than ever artists need to be self-sufficient. Obviously from a financial perspective it’s desirable to be able to do more yourself but when it comes time to expand the team and involve others (ie. publicist, manager, booking agent) you have the knowledge and skill set to understand what they can and what they should be able to do for you.”
The industry is full of stories of artists being ripped off and exploited — education is the key more than ever. “With the ever-changing way fans consume music I think artists should continue to assess the way they release music and monitor what works,” Robertson adds.
The future looks bright for Maths and Magic. “The wheels are in motion and plans are being made for the artists on the management roster. There are some new releases in the works and many exciting gigs being booked”.
Robertson brings a real love of music to the business and perhaps it is indicative of the times that makes this so refreshing. Her artist roster makes honest and real music and while most of the industry is about the ‘maths’ these days she is demonstrating that there is still a place for ‘magic’.
Wanna know more about M&M? Check em’ out here