Mathieu Drouin: Thinking Outside the Box

Shilpa Ananth
March 5, 2012
Mathieu Drouin encourages students to take the reins of their music careers.
Photo by Phil Farnsworth

Music business and technology mega force Mathieu Drouin is often described as "provocative," having earned the reputation of stirring the scene with his direct words, although he denies that it is on purpose. While speaking to Berklee students about strategies for success outside the traditional music industry, the cofounder of Crystal Math Management and manager of Metric displayed a plain and outright demeanor had the David Friend Recital Hall abuzz with energy and hope for freedom from contracts and labels.

Drouin delivered the annual James G. Zafris Distinguished Lecture sponsored by the Music Business/Management Department in February, speaking about how recorded music would one day become profitable again and how the music industry would adapt to today's technology. But what does an artist do in the meantime?

Drouin knows a thing or two about being innovative. He began his career at 17 with the founding of a successful web-based travel services firm and went on to found a number of independent music companies, including Equator Music, Remedy Music, Crystal Math Management, and Runaway Music. Meanwhile, he was named among Billboard's "Top 30 Under 30" Industry Power Players and is best known for managing platinum-selling indie band Metric, for whom he orchestrated a global plan to self-release its last album Fantasies in more than 20 countries on five continents.

He advised students on the pros and cons of working with a major label versus working independently as an artist.

Emphasizing a few simple steps such as cutting a demo; securing an agent, manager, and publicist; and pushing the demo on the radio, Drouin also underscored the importance of building a longstanding relationship with the fan base, empowering them with the tools and incentive to work on promotion—something a labels don't provide the artists they represent. He also said that it is better to have a "collapsed copyright," retaining creative control and decision-making, than have none at all, quickly adding, "I am not a major label hater."

When relying on publishing companies, Drouin advocated building a relationship with publicity and promotion departments, which could pitch the music on college radio stations and satellite radio, helping the artist gain a huge niche listenership for no cost at all.

Students were impressed with Drouin. Mikaela Allen, a fourth-semester student majoring in music business/management, called Drouin "pure brilliance."

"Everything he said makes sense, when you think about it from a different perspective than the one we've been accustomed to follow," said in Nigel Wilson, a third-semester piano principal.

Drouin's message was one of empowerment.

"I feel like I needed to hear that. It has just opened a world of options for me, and I feel less pressurized, empowered even, after listening to what Drouin had to share about the workings of the current music industry," said Tiffany Wilson, a fourth-semester professional music student.

Drouin left students thinking about just how important it is to not lose themselves in the process of creating music. "Someone needs to build a platform so that more artists can learn to manage themselves," he said. "There is always luck, but you have to rely on yourself. That will get you further than any form of outside representation."