Matchstick Group are reimagining the way that talent management typically operates. In addition to a deep commitment to improving diversity, accessibility and representation in the entertainment industry, Matchstick Group boldly breaks with tradition by prioritising the mental wellbeing of its staff and clients above all else, as well as offering client and staff incentives to refer new business.
Masterminded by entrepreneur Max Parker – an entertainment industry rising star at only 29 years of age – the digital-first agency represents talent from musicians to models, actors to authors, and social media influencers to celebrities. Uniquely for a management agency, Matchstick Group is an agency founded by the talent themselves, with both Binky Felstead from Made In Chelsea and Danny Jones from McFly teaming up to invest in Matchstick Group.
Not since Scooter Braun discovered Justin Bieber has anybody in the entertainment industry had such a good track record for discovering new talent. Prior to founding Matchstick Group, Max was responsible for signing 24 clients for his previous employer, 15 of which had not previously had management, making Max’s signing rate the most successful in the UK entertainment industry over the past five years. Max launches Matchstick with some of the UK entertainment industry’s biggest names including actress Martine McCutcheon, Danny Jones from McFly, Binky Felstead and Ollie Locke from Made in Chelsea, as well as Strictly Come Dancing Star Max George from boyband The Wanted, plus many more.
In this exclusive interview, I speak to Max Parker (Founder of Matchstick Group) and Danny Jones (Investor & one-quarter of the multiplatinum British pop rock group McFly) about managing talent in the digital era, and the mental health impact of public profile and fame.
Q: How did you launch Matchstick?
[Max Parker]: I was literally a broken man just 7 months ago, and life since then has been a bit of a blur. I went to see Danny so often and I was in tears, I was just broken. You know, if it wasn’t for Danny, Binky and my close friends and family- I just don’t think the idea would have been able to happen, I wasn’t in the right frame of mind to set-up a business. Danny, his wife Georgia and Binky together with a whole group of friends were there to guide me and push me to set the business up. At the time, I had no intention of staying in entertainment.
[Danny Jones]: It might sound strange, but I’ve always felt that even as an artist there’s a lot that resonates between what we do, and the entrepreneur mindset. I’ve always been someone who believes that there’s something amazing just around the corner. I know I’m brave enough to take the risk, and I love the excitement of business. One of the first investments I ever made was What3Words – Chris Sheldrick was a friend of Harry – and we met him and really believed in their energy, person and story. There’s one I missed out on recently too… a friend of mine created Seedlip (the non-alcoholic drink) and I was like damn why didn’t we do that one!
It’s similar with Max, I’ve always found his energy infectious, and his work ethic incredible. We have a great relationship where we can be really brutal with each other and not hurt our friendship – and even before I signed with him, I fully believed in him and we hung-out together and I was impressed with him.
Q: How has the business model for artists changed?
[Max Parker]: The industry has changed massively- Danny came through the more traditional celebrity route. The start of his career was a lot of graft, blood, sweat and tears without any financial remuneration in the slightest. It took years to start earning money and gaining the recognition to build a sustainable career. Online the tactic is very different. There’s an immediate gratification factor…. People say, ‘yeah… I’ve been working on my Instagram for a year!’ – that’s not the same as the struggle that a musician or actor would have had for years and years – struggling to pay the rent and going through hardship. I don’t wish to discredit any content creators, I know the struggles they face – but more than ever people need to be more entrepreneurial with their approach.
We’ve seen a massive shift in the market as talent create their own brand identities and their own brands – they’re no longer relying just on brand income and that gives more long-lasting businesses. Just look at Danny… he could easily have sat back with his role on the Voice Kids, knowing that touring will return – but he and McFly have invested in a brand-new app with a subscription model and live streaming. It’s forward thinking, entrepreneurial and plugs into their new studio space and the way that fans now access music and musicians. During lockdown, everyone’s been at home, mobile phone usage has gone through the roof and they’ve been able to capitalise on that in a way that brings-in revenue and engages the audience, keeping relevancy.
In today’s market it doesn’t matter whether you broke from the traditional or non-traditional world. Social media is at the forefront and heart of every business decision.
[Danny Jones]: I was listening to a podcast recently and Richard Branson was asked why he had so many branches to his Virgin group. He laughed and said, ‘well, If one goes down, I’ve still got the other 200…’ It was a brilliant insight. We’ve seen that ourselves right-now as the band isn’t touring.
When I speak to my financial advisor, he tells me how he’s invested 60% of our money into secure assets meaning we can invest 40% more bravely; and that mix has given me the confidence to look at investments and projects that make me excited. I think it was Steve Jobs who said that if you do something you love, you’ll stick at it through the struggles…. There’s no point doing something you don’t enjoy.
It’s also important to find role models. If I pick 5 of my idols and do 10% of what they do, and then look at who they idolise and take 10% of that, somewhere in the middle you find your own path, your own originality and creativity.
Q: What are the mental and emotional challenges that come with celebrity?
[Max Parker]: The entertainment industry is one that breeds mental health issues yet seems to be the only industry that is able to get-away with it without being regulated or monitored. This is an amazing sector, but as with anything in life, that comes with good and bad – and what we don’t have is balance.
Imagine Danny. He’s able to sell-out the O2 arena and goes and performs in front of tens of thousands of people… a few hours later, he’s back in his kitchen having a cup of tea, experience that emotional crash that comes after experiencing something so intense. That illustrates the challenge – it’s extremes, no middle ground.
Social media has also had a profound impact on talent. From a business perspective, talent are now able to create a sense of authenticity that allows the audience to watch their journey. In Danny’s case, people watched him get married… have a son… they’ve then watched his son grow… and so when he releases an album or a new venture, fans feel invested in him as a father and husband! The blurred line is that you also open yourself up to criticism and opinion. If we use Danny and his wife Georgia as an example. We were at The Voice Kids a few weeks ago, and Georgia got really unpleasant messages from someone about their son, Cooper and her parenting style. You simply can’t regulate that. Georgia has an amazing career on social media, she’s made it her full-time job, but that also opens her up to scrutiny because- like any influencer- her life is under constant surveillance.
There’s extreme highs and extreme lows that come with this industry, and when you’re trolled you’re trolled bad. It’s not someone going ‘I don’t like you’. It’s ‘I wish you weren’t alive’, or ‘you’re doing this wrong’ or ‘you’re a bad parent’. That’s what I mean, there’s really no fine balance of it. And it’s impossible to regulate.
[Danny Jones]: In the music industry, nothing is stable… there’s always change… there’s always extreme highs and extreme lows. You can be signed to a record label one day and dropped the next. Things come and go. You can be hot one minute and forgotten the next. It’s constant change – you don’t know what’s coming. I don’t know what I’m going to be doing next week – and so I can’t plan and organise, and that makes me feel anxious… but I take that energy and channel it into good things, into things that are worth focussing on.
Q: What is the role of a talent manager / agent as a mentor?
[Max Parker]: Music management isn’t regulated even though our relationship with talent is as deep- if not more so- than a legal advisor or financial advisor, that’s important to bear in mind….
Let me give you an example. You get some good, honest people that have gone onto reality shows. They’ve had 2 weeks off social media whilst they’re on there… they come out and suddenly they have millions of followers and are inundated with brand deals, commercial opportunities and offers. That is precisely when they need the right management working with them to guide them and protect their wellness… looking after them as a human being not just as talent. I take the wellbeing of talent seriously – I know how gruelling this industry is and have experienced anxiety and depression myself, which has informed how I want Matchstick to operate.
As a manager, you need empathy – and need to understand that everyone is different and has different emotional needs. People need to feel a sense of stability – which is hard to find in this industry – and it’s the manager’s job to be that stability, to give an infrastructure of trust and respect so that no matter what happens, they have someone to go to… day or night.
I had a call last night with a client who was pretty close to tears. She’s been experiencing burnout and I told her she needs to step back, take some time off, and then evaluate workload refreshed. You cannot push people beyond burnout whatever the opportunity is. I’ve seen it first-hand where when you push people too hard, it’s just horrific.
Q: What advice would you give to talent coming into the industry?
[Danny Jones]: You have to have your foundations correct before you get into the industry. You have to believe in yourself so that – no matter what anybody says – you can take the hits, the knocks, and keep moving forward. You also have to make sure you don’t get too carried away by the highs either… when you’re signed with a label, you can get used to the high life and want to sustain that, but the money will not last forever. You cannot get used to a lifestyle that you won’t be able to afford. You have to come down to earth and realise that private jets and all that are great but that’s not reality. I’ve also seen lots of bands who don’t write their own songs… from the beginning my band, McFly have been so lucky to write all our own songs- so no matter what label we’re with, it gives us financial resilience to not be reliant on anyone.
That foundation of self-reliance is so important – and your team is a bonus, take all your team and your friends as a bonus, but always be able to come back and go I can rely on myself here, I can get through this myself, then you’ll be okay.
You have to surround yourself with the right people- the right manager- it’s not about the biggest, but rather making sure that you align with someone who will fight for you, be your gatekeeper, protect you and look after you. You need a great accountant, a great lawyer and need to make sure you protect your wellbeing. Everyone comes into the industry with this idealised image of glamorous celebrity life- but you should see people’s dressing rooms… the meals we have to stuff down in between filming… the portacabins…. The blood sweat and tears that go into making things work.
[Danny Jones]: Finding a mentor – or mentors – is critical. That’s what I love about the relationship I have with Max. Together we feel like we can take on the world, but can do so without being alone. And remember, when you take advice- it’s not always right. It’s hard to explain, but you also have to listen to yourself and learn what feels right.