The industry is changing. Independent artists are in the driver's seat, music is being released at a record pace, and the vehicles to promote are readily accessible. The Golden Kids Group is a surging management company that recognizes this recent change as an opportunity, and has been able to help artists win with a team of only two. You may be familiar with some of the artists on their roster: 347aidan, Ant Saunders, TELYkast, Sky McCreery, and Noah Cunane. Almost all of these names are on the verge of fully breaking through, partly because of their incredible talent, but also largely in part to the expert help from GKG. I got the chance to talk with the CEO and founder of GKG, Nick Mueller, as well as his right hand, Lil Fogarty, about the company, and the industry as a whole.
Nick Mueller bet on himself. Starting in the music industry at 16 years old, it was only 4 years later when he made the move from Dallas to LA. The CEO told me, “I was 20-years old at the time. I knew if I put myself in an uncomfortable place, something was going to happen. Something was going to click.” He was right. Only a few years later, the company has experienced monumental growth and has impacted many people across the business. Nick made sure to tell me that the credit is not all his, though, speaking to the importance of his relationship with Lil Fogarty.
“She got referred by a friend that I knew back in the day,” Nick said. “I happened to be in Philly for one of Ant’s shows, and I told her to come hang at the show. She vibed with Ant, and was really cool with the artists. We clicked too, which was most important.”
While it’s clear the respect that Nick has for Lil, that same respect is reciprocated back, as Lil told me, “We immediately connected over our love for music and that passion to help and empower artists. I always wanted to work with new artists so when I met Nick, it was the perfect storm. Nick has been a great mentor to me.” Lil began at GKG in an assistant role, but has since grown into a day-to-day manager. As for Lil, every day is different. She told me, “one hour I could be doing branding, the next setting up sessions, and the next planning rollout strategy for our artists.”
Later in our conversation, Nick and I were chatting about the industry folks we look up to. Nick gave me one quote that laid out exactly how Nick and Lil work together at GKG. Nick told me, “When I was 16 and getting started in my room back in Dallas, I would have pictures printed and thumbtacked on my wall of different managers. Some of those were of Scooter Braun and Allison. What inspires me about them is the same way I see me and Lil. Scooter is absolutely nothing without Allison, so it’s inspiring to me because of how they operate.” It’s true: Lil and Nick are a modern-day Batman and Robin.
After understanding the dynamics of the team, we began talking about how management companies are now able to take on more power due to the digital revolution. Strong management teams can almost act like a label nowadays, Nick mentioned, saying, “for all of the independent artists, we have to talk about digital marketing, we have to talk about DSP pitching, we have to talk about radio. We have to talk about all of those things.” Lil also commented on the changing industry practices, saying, “More artists are leaning away from label deals as we knew them 5/10 years ago, which reaffirms how important a solid management team is for an artist. With so many more lanes for independent artists to take in 2021, it’s really important to have someone on board that can navigate those options with the artists.”
Ultimately, strong management teams have the power to help artists, while also allowing them to keep their freedom. For GKG, that’s what it’s all about: helping people win. The industry has taken notice of the several weaknesses of record labels, while simultaneously gaining respect for smaller teams that can provide administrative help. Nick spoke to the difference between labels and modern management companies, saying, “They [labels] are not good at taking an artist from 0-50, because they don’t think that way. What they can do is take an artist from 70, and bring them to 100. When it comes to artist development, it falls on the management company every time. I’m not thinking this artist is making us this amount of money, but labels are. Managers just grind every day to think of ways to build and grow, and that’s just the reality. And that’s not a knock at all, that’s just how the landscape works.”
A large part of the reason management teams have grown into such an imperative role, is everyone’s access to the growing digital landscape. This fundamental switch in the industry has lowered the barriers for entry, but has also saturated the space. Nick commented on this, saying, “There used to be super strong gatekeepers that you needed to get through. Now, it doesn’t matter what anyone says. For example with Aidan, sure he’s signed, but he was popping before that. Today’s digital space allows for artists to grow and develop a fanbase on their own.” He even added, “If they are smart enough, they don’t even need a manager.”
The question remains, then, how do you cut through the noise? With an abundance of tools at every team’s disposal, it’s up to creatives and their managers to make the right decisions in order to get heard. One way to do this is taking advantage of opportunities, and creating a community for artists' true fans. Lil told me, “Some of my favorite moments have been seeing the ways fans engage with each other when the artists aren’t even present. Making Discords, starting Instagram group chats... They create this whole other world where instead of having the artist screaming from the rooftops, you have this community cheering the artist on too.”
Of course, another way to cut through the noise is with TikTok. For the past year, TikTok has been the most important vehicle in breaking new artists. The Golden Kids Group has had their fair share of TikTok success, with Ant Saunders “Yellow Hearts” and 347aidan’s “Dancing in my Room” breaking through on the viral app. When I asked Nick about TikTok, he was completely honest with me. The CEO told me, “A lot of it is luck, and if anyone tells you different, they’re bullshitting. You can’t really predict those things, it’s all just timing. When “Yellow Hearts” popped, it had been out for 6 months prior. I think what we do well at GKG is when we see something happening, we know exactly where to take it next. It’s really hard to spark the fire on TikTok without the world agreeing with you.” This echoes a common theme for the young manager: it’s all about the music.
When it’s all about the music, managing becomes less of a job and more of a passion. When I asked how Nick and Lil choose the artists they work with, Lil told me “We work with artists because we believe in their vision. When you start these relationships fully supportive, the creative conversations become super open and productive.” The art of managing then becomes striking a balance between letting the artist chase their vision, while finding the right times to offer guidance. Nick mentioned that when he enters relationships with anyone, it’s never “what can they do for me,” but rather, “what can I do for you.” This artist-first mentality is part of the reason why Golden Kids Group has seen early success, and it’s this exact mindset that will continue to propel them to the next level. “Our job at the end of the day is twofold,” Nick said. “One is to put artists in the best position to win, and secondly, to execute what they want. It’s a very collaborative process, but we always let our artists lead the way.”
Plenty of management teams preach an artist-first approach, with a goal to simply help artists get heard. Few teams, though, live by this approach. For Nick and Lil, it’s not about the money. Nick told me, “I could have 5 artists that were all mega successful in their own way, and I made zero dollars but absolutely loved it, I would still do it. I’m a big believer that when you do good things for people, the money will come.” This exact attitude is echoed by the Golden Kids Fund, which is a partnership with Indify that allows GKG to help more artists, outside of the 5 they currently manage.
Nick described the Golden Kids Fund to me, saying, “It’s just another way to help people win. We partner with artists who already have teams, and they say "hey we need a little bit of money to put here and here, and your advice on these things." If we love the artist, we help them out, and thats it. We act as the bridge between the artist and the next step in their career, but we don’t define that. It’s no different than if AWAL was to give an artist money and help with particular projects. It’s morally the same, we don’t own anything, I’ll never own anything from an artist.” It’s clear that Nick and Lil enjoy helping artists, as they continue to find new ways to do so.
So, with all of this mounting success, what’s next for GKG? Lil told me simply, “We’re going to continue to do what we’ve been doing since day one and that’s developing artists' careers. We’re definitely exploring different avenues but expect it to align with the same philosophy behind our work with the artists.” As for Nick, he said, “I feel like a lot of people know us, but a lot of people don’t. We have to take it to the next level by breaking an artist now. Period. I’m super dialed in, and I haven’t felt this good in a while. I’m trying to have one of the most respected companies in the business, but you have to do the right things to get there. That’s where my head is at.”
If you aren’t familiar with the Golden Kids Group, now is the time to get acclimated. Nick Mueller and Lil Fogarty plan to take their team to the top, and lead a generation of managers that have the power to flex their industry muscles.