THEA ZAITSEV has been playing piano and singing in a choir since she was little. Being a part of the music world so early on, she knew she’d like to be in that field in the future as well, but having worked for someone else in various companies, she knew she’d want to be her own boss too. So she has tied her two goals together and became an artist manager, working in her own company “Pieces of 8 Music” alongside her British business partner James Morgan. On a daily basis, Thea’s tasks are the artist development, planning, organising negotiations and seeking out the best partners. For example, in Estonia she has been managing a local artist called NOEP for some time now.
Which schools have you studied at and which one of them helped you develop the most?
If I have to mention all the schools I have attended, then my journey started at Kivimäe Secondary School in Tallinn and in high school I went to Gustav Adolf Grammas School. For about ten years, I studied piano at Nõmme Music School alongside my regular studies.
After high school, I headed straight to Denmark to study AP International Sales Marketing at Aarhus Business Academy. I obtained my Bachelor’s degree from Business Academy Copenhagen North in the same field of study. After that, I headed to England to get my master’s degree in Music Management from University of Westminster. You could say I developed the most during my Master’s studies. By that time, I already knew what I wanted to be doing and it widened my music-related network a lot as well.
What are your favourite genres of music?
To be honest, I don’t have one favourite since going to music school has widened my musical taste. In addition, working as a manager makes me listen to different styles to keep up with trends and find projects for our producers and mixers. I’d rather say that heavy-metal, hard-rock nor relatively intense trance are my cup of tea.
How do you choose your artists?
Definitely based on their genre and style of music, since if I don’t really connect with or like the music it’s difficult to work with them. In addition, whether or not I’m able to see a place for myself in the artist’s future. Who I know, who’d be interested in that project and how I connect with the artist as a whole. The artist-manager relationship has to be a friendship, business and family relationship at the same time. I wouldn’t take working with someone I don’t like into consideration. I believe that’s fair and effective.
What do you consider to be your biggest achievements?
In some sense today – being who I am and where I am! Having been my own boss with my business partner for almost 3 years already and having talented artists as clients. The journey has been full of ups and downs, but I’m happy I have had people in my life who have given me the opportunity to prove myself and that’s what I try to do with the young people starting their career in the music business. We all have to start somewhere, but starting your own company and managing it, the success or failure is up to you. It helps you grow and gives motivation to start the day ready to face any challenge, to find yourself in a better place tomorrow.
What other professions have you had?
I’ve picked my jobs very selectively – especially during my university years while doing internships. In the beginning of my university studies I worked in different service companies in Denmark (both restaurants and hotels) and did my first internship in Estonia at Baltika Group marketing the Mosaic brand. The internship during my Bachelor’s degree was what directed me to my first long-time position at Apollo Music who was, at that time, the only music company
in Denmark with and Estonian market. I stayed there for around 3-4 years. After heading to England, I continued to work part-time but after some time it seemed sensible to find someone Estonia-based for that position since I wasn’t prepared to return. During my Master’s in England, I had a couple of shorter jobs in PR companied Bang On PR and Name PR. After graduation I worked for a year and a half in Universal Music in London in the licensing department and as an A&R co-ordinator for Virgin/EMI, where I met my current business partner. After that, I’ve only been working with Pieces of 8 Music under which we have started a second company called Pieces of 8 Publishing. In Estonia, my company is Tier Music.
What should an artist you’d like to work with be like?
Definitely active enough to not hope and wait for their manager to do all the work for them. Since I don’t manage one or two but ten people, I have a lot of things to do and remember as well. There’s a time and place for every artist based on their current position and action plan. I believe I have my strengths and weaknesses, but I don’t think any manager should be a great travel agent, tour manager, agent, social media specialist, photographer and record label at the same time. Of course, in the beginning, a manager is everything mentioned and more to an artist, but I believe there are some things to outsource as well. It’s inevitable, but it’s wonderful to work with artists who you’re working together with in the most direct sense.
What has been your biggest challenge so far ?
Making it in the music business and finding your place. In London and overall being abroad for almost 11 years has given me a lot of experience on how and to whom to prove yourself. There’s always the question “Why me?”. Then again, all challenges and achievements are much sweeter when you handle them by yourself.
What are the pros and cons of being a manager in Estonia?
I can’t really bring out any specific ones. Unfortunately, we only have a handful of full-time professional managers which 7 years ago was a push factor to me as well to become a manager and study music. Today, 11 years later having moved back to my home country, the situation hasn’t really changed, but it’s great to see the level of artists and motivation to make it abroad has only grown. Same applies to young managers who mostly lack the bigger “shake-ups” and experiences, but you learn by doing. I’ve walked the same road because nothing has fallen into my lap by chance. We don’t have to be in the same level in Tallinn as in London, NY or Stockholm, but there’s plenty of room for improvement. Some work has already been done thanks to organisations such as Music Estonia and Tallinn Music Week, so the future is looking bright.
Which countries would you recommend for someone wanting to study music business?
My own choice 6 years ago were the countries that provide the most contacts and opportunities in the music world. Personally, I’d always wanted to live in England for some time so choosing a Master’s wasn’t that complicated. My second choice at that time was New York, but I figured it was too far. Today, there are a lot of music festivals and contacts in addition to NY in LA as well. There are opportunities in Berlin and Stockholm as well, but I would leave these options out due to the territorial limits and a lack of international network. Of course, a lot depends on the university and your specific area of study.
Where would you rather work, in Estonia or abroad? Why?
Difficult to say, since I’ve been back home for a year now and haven’t regretted it once. Of course, the amount of opportunities to see different artists is much bigger in London but I hope that having lived there for 6 years, having a business partner and flying back and forth does the trick. Since my company and work is very much international, I attend different festivals and make time to fly to different cities to have coffee with both – old and new – contacts. Contacts, in addition to knowledge, are the key to success in my world. Then again, I did so well with managing NOEP from London for two years that we still work together.
Editor: Kärt Mättikas
Translator: Triin Tikk
Pictures: Thea Zaitsev