Emily Dubin (left) and Jeremy Berkin of Lost + Found Management | photo by Ashley Gellman for WXPN | agellmanphotos.com
The Business of Art: Meet the two Philadelphians bringing industry smarts to DIY with Lost + Found MGMT
The Philly scene is Do It Yourself. It’s nitty gritty, get-down-to-business, we-don’t-need-your-stinking-labels. It is “we got this, it’s easy.” And that’s all well and good. The rockstar as self-made, as taking on everything, as complete auteur of their hard-earned art. It’s a nice image, it just isn’t entirely true.
DIY is, at its very core, collaboration. The truth is the “yourself” is really “ourselves.” It is a collective, a big heap of like-minded people not waiting for anyone to do something they know they can do themselves. It is about communication and honesty, about avoiding the pitfalls of mixing business and art, about succeeding together, not in spite of each other. There is no one able to do it all and, more often than not, those who try end up so bogged down they can barely reach above the surface for air, let alone finish their new LP.
In step Emily Dubin and Jeremy Berkin of Lost + Found MGMT. They aren’t here to take control, they aren’t the big, bad, faceless business crushing the true artists, and they are nowhere near outsiders. It doesn’t take long to realize, as I sit across from the two in West Philly’s Green Line Cafe, they are the essence of DIY; here do it with you, not for you.
Though Lost + Found is only about six months old, its creation was anything but spur of the moment. Lost + Found began in earnest last September, but the idea first sparked when the two were living in New York City, where Jeremy worked at a booking agency and Emily interned at a record label. Armed with experience both valuable and a bit stifling, the two moved back Philly, where the seeds of Lost + Found truly began to take hold.
It is no coincidence these two are so perfectly positioned to undertake this task. Having kicked around the Philly scene for some time now, they have cultivated both the experience and connections to make the move to management nearly seamless. Berkin has been booking shows for his own band, Weller, for years while Dubin has worked with countless artists in the scene through freelance photo and video work, from Harmony Woods to Diet Cig. It didn’t take long for the two to realized they had enough tools in their box to stop working along the fringes and take things into their own hands.
“We were doing all these little pieces,” says Dubin. “But we had the capability of really doing everything, we just had to put it all together.”
When they first launched they had three bands on their roster – Weller, Harmony Woods and New Jersey’s Fire Is Motion – and have since grown to manage Adult Mom, Nervous Dater and Derek Ted. Though all these bands are at different points in their maturation, they feel their plethora of experience will help guide all their bands where they want to go.
“We are a one-stop-shop, but we are not a one-size-fits-all,” reads the mission statement on the Lost + Found official site. “We are a buffet. See something you like? Let’s do it. Something you don’t need? Leave it behind.”
This kind of swiss-army management style is only possible because of the experience the two have cultivated over the years. It is evident early on in our discussion how the two work, bouncing things off each other rather than against. It is rare the same person who begins answering a question will be the one to finish, but it is not about stepping on one’s toes, not an attempt to seize credit or control, and rather embarking on a fluid, natural partnership. They are two sides of the same coin, each with their own areas of expertise and the humility to know getting the best results is all that matters.
For the most part Dubin handles the creative side, working with artists on promotional material and music video shoots, what she calls, “big picture” items. On the other side, Berkin handles more of the day-day operation, implementing his experience as a booking agent to help put together tours and handle label relations. Despite this delineation, the two work in tandem and realize their projects only work if they are consistently on the same page with both each other and their artists.
Dubin shares a story of a time recently when she was working with Weller on new promo photos to go along with the release of their upcoming record. While she had taken the band’s older photos, she felt the kind of personal touch she strives for was missing.
“The last round that I did with them didn’t really capture the essence of the band,” Dubin admits. “The only way that that happens is if I’m working with the band on the shoot.”
To accomplish this she had Nantz send her anything, and everything, that sparked inspiration, whether it be another band’s promos, a painting, a color, or even a texture. Through this kind of honest communication Dubin was able to truly capture the band, not just visually but emotionally, allowing her work to be far more personal.
“Until I know what the band wants and how the band feels, it’s never going to be fully representational,” Dubin says of the process.
Berkin must also keeps these lines of communication going if he is to get the most out of their clients. While booking can seem more businesslike than some of their more broad, creative projects, Berkin recognizes how essential touring can be for the kind of young bands they manage.
“I always ask the bands if they have a preference of who they want to book with because so many of our bands have been booking their own tours up to this point and I don’t want to just take it from them, I want to work with them,” says Berkin.
“They really focus on the artist and put a lot of stake in what the artist wants separate of their individual opinions,” says Weller frontman Harrison Nantz. “They’ll ask what bands we prefer touring with, what spaces we want to play, and create an open dialogue that suits everyone involved.”
Communication, dialogue, discussion. These kinds of words come up a lot in my conversation with Berkin and Dubin. They aren’t just buzzy words wrapped around a tight mission statement, there aren’t selling me some grand ideal. Dialogue lies at the heart Lost + Found because the two don’t know how you’d run a company without it.
“It’s rare for a day to go by and not talk to them about something,” Berkin says of the artists he works with. “They know they can come to us about anything and they know that we’re going to come to them about anything. They know we have their best interests at heart.”
“They are people I can turn to when I am in search of honest feedback and advice,” says Adrian Amador, frontman for Fire Is Motion. “Creating a solid support system with a mutual level of trust can yield beautiful, productive results.”
Much of this trust comes from the fact that both Berkin and Dubin are not concerned with keeping up the facade of the more formal aspects you might find in the typical management/client relationship.
“I don’t think I intentionally did this,” jokes Berkin. “But it seems I’ve decided it’s my job in life to destroy conflict of interest.”
Intentionally or not, Lost + Found works best, in part, because of this eradication. Their personal touch, rather than something that gets in the way of productivity, is the very thing that allows them to flourish. The two are conscious of representing artists they, themselves, come to love, and know will catch on if given the right exposure.
“They are genuine fans-first of all the bands they work with, and it truly shows in the work they do,” Amador says. “I honestly believe word about our record has reached so many people thanks to them.”
Weller frontman Harrison Nantz feels this type of open communication has a way of alleviating the uncertainty that can sometimes come when a band looks outside for guidance. Lost + Found don’t come in with some grand vision for what their bands need to do and how they need to do it, instead they work within the already existing framework to create something exciting without feeling forced.
“Of course they offer insight and guidance,” says Nantz. “But I really value the fact that they allow artists such as myself to find their own comfortable direction to pursue.”
Despite the camaraderie they’ve achieved with their artists, Lost + Found remains a full-time job in every sense of the word – one both must balance against the stuffed slate that is their day job and coursework respectively. Dubin and Berkin make a point to be available at all hours of the day and night, recognizing the responsibility that comes with their position as managers.
“Stuff just goes,” says Berkin. “It happens when it happens. We represent these bands and when they have a problem, they look to us.”
Berkin feels especially accountable sending out one of their artists on the road. Often, these tours are a blend of DIY spaces and minor venues, presenting each night with its own set of challenges. He can do all the groundwork possible, but the DIY scene can nonetheless be impossible to predict.
“There is nothing worse than making phones calls and begging the internet for help when a show inevitably falls through the day of,” says Rachel Lightner of Nervous Dater.
Berkin’s goal is to make his number the first and only they have to call to shake themselves from this kind of logistical nightmare. They both admit this kind of constant responsibility was a bit of a wake up call at first, but one they’ve grown accustomed to as they’ve settled into their roles.
“It was definitely an interesting learning curve diving into something that was larger than just our life,” says Dubin. “There is nothing we can do that doesn’t reflect back on our artists.”
Though it’s only been about six months, this reflection has been almost universally positive. Lost + Found has ushered and overseen growth from each of their artists, whether it’s in day to day songwriting and touring or larger scale outputs. No better example exists than Weller, perhaps the band closest to the team (Berkin serves as their full-time drummer).
Till now, Weller has been a complete DIY project, with all the self-promotion and constant grinding that comes with it. Due in large part to the effective touring they did after the release of their most recent LP last fall, the band caught the attention of Carolina-based Indie Tiny Engines, who will give it a proper reissue in June. Though both Berkin and Dubin had little experience with labels, they were able to use the kind of communication and logistical skills they’ve refined in their time at Lost + Found to find what’s turned out to be a perfect fit for everyone in Weller.
“We take everything in this industry as facilitating relationships,” says Dubin. “Not just a business transaction but understanding who we really want to make part of our team.”
Weller’s signing with Tiny Engines is just one of the many pots they two have simmering on the stove. Representing young bands is all about maturation, moving from one level to the next, and Berkin and Dubin are learning to handle every type of growth. Whether it is a more experienced band like Adult Mom moving from DIY to full-fledged venue tours or Harmony Woods demoing their much anticipated second LP, the two are learning to grow and evolve right alongside their clients. In many ways this is the future of Lost + Found.
“I would rather take the bands we have now and grow with them, than grow our roster,” says Berkin.
“As much as we might love a band, if we ultimately decide we can’t give them the time and attention they deserve, we won’t pick them up,” adds Dubin.
The commitment necessary for success is obviously something very important to Dubin and Berkin. Management is no part-time job. Friendships may abound, but at the end of the day Lost + Found an integral part of each one of their bands’ successes. It is evident when talking to any of their clients how deep this truly goes. They are not just business managers; they are a helping hand, a shove in the right direction, a booking agent and a creative director, a voice at the other end of the line, a collaborator, and an understanding ear. No one does everything themselves, but for Lost + Found’s artists, at least they’re doing it with a friend.