Matt Graham admits he knew little about — and didn’t even like — country music before he signed the country trio Midland in 2014.
Graham had just left Scooter Braun Projects to start his own management company, BRND MGMT, and reshape his reputation as a “teen-pop guy” after working with Australian pop singer Cody Simpson and hip-hop artist Jack Harlow.
“I had an interesting and burgeoning business that was youth-pop focused. When I decided to sign Midland, it was the biggest departure musically of all the things I was looking at,” Graham, 36, says. “I thought Midland were undeniable. The combination of the music, the songwriting, and the personalities — how could it not work?”
He and the band, who broke out with the Grammy-nominated single “Drinkin’ Problem” in 2017, didn’t stick to the Nashville template. The L.A.-based Graham brought a 360-degree view of entertainment to Midland, helping link them to movie and TV opportunities, a Spotify podcast, fashion ventures, and even a tequila brand. “I get very bored by artists that don’t understand that they’re entertainers,” Graham says. “There is an element of this job that is presentation, and the Midland guys are so welcoming of that.”
Now, he’s building on that irons-in-the-fire strategy as a founding partner of the new company Range Media Partners. Structured sort of like the United Nations, the firm assembles the best agents and managers in film, literature, and music under one roof, including power players like Peter Micelli, Jack Whigham, and Susie Fox.
“It’s a support system to create,” Graham says. “Music-management companies are usually built around a ‘cult of personality,’ which is one singular mega-manager who has cultivated this Wizard of Oz persona, like they’ve somehow got fairy dust that they can sprinkle on artists that makes them stars. I don’t believe in that. There are people that have good networks and good relationships, and people that have good ideas.”
At Range, Graham and his colleagues aim to provide an array of opportunities in all media to their talent by trimming any unnecessary fat. Think less clients on the roster, but more important ones. “It’s finding that Goldilocks zone of attention where every client gets incredible focus,” he says.
Graham’s full-court approach with Midland paid off not just in the country world, but across genres. “Anytime you have an act like Midland that is so cool, respected, and making music with integrity, it’s a calling card,” says Graham, who signed the rapper Wale, the alt-rock band the Score, and country songwriter Hailey Whitters on the strength of his Midland win. “When I left [Scooter’s], I had a stigma of being a teen-pop guy, and they really helped me break out from that.”
Like everyone, Graham has had to adapt to a music business reshaped by a pandemic, but he predicts a brighter future than some of his peers. “Covid is going to create a healthier industry. The economy of the business is hurting, but positive solutions will come from that,” he says, citing the livestream industry. He doesn’t view the format as a stopgap until touring resumes, but as a way for musicians, especially at the midlevel, to add to their bottom line.
“How you get from the West Coast to the East Coast and still make money is a problem we have on tour, because there’s not a lot of markets in the middle,” Graham says, drawing a comparison between touring and virtual gigs. “Now, your soundcheck can become a streaming show for Europe and then your evening show becomes your live audience show. It changes the economics of the business. What comes after Covid is this new learned behavior of watching concerts on your screen.”