We had the good fortune of connecting with Seth Kallen of This Fiction Music and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Seth, how has your perspective on work-life balance evolved over time?
In my early days as a manager, the job was all consuming. It was addictive. Every little victory was thrilling. When I started managing my first artist, it was all I could think about, sometimes to my detriment. I’d be scheming, dreaming, and trying to push my career forward every hour of the day, morning, noon, night, and weekends. Over time, I realized the importance of setting boundaries, turning off, and taking breaks – I find that the more I give myself space away from my work, the more I can come to the table with creative ideas, energized, and ready to lead my team. Nowadays, I take my work life balance very seriously, and make it a very real part of our company culture. I remind my staff every day to go outside, take a walk, take breaks, and take time off. I believe we’ll all be well rounded, great music executives if we make real time in our week to explore the things we love for ourselves. On a personal level, sometimes I’m able to really organize my brain when I go out on a 20 mile bike ride in the middle of the day. Stepping away from the hustle for either longer periods of times or just micro-breaks makes a huge difference in the success of creative businesses.
What should our readers know about your business?
I am the founder of a boutique music company, This Fiction Music. At the core, we’re an artist management company, working in partnership with number artists to build their team, grow their fanbase, and create a longterm sustainable career. As a manager, we’re essentially the CEO of the artists’ entire business. We’re the closest person to the artist, working with them on everything from music creation, to touring, merchandise, brand partnerships, and more. We’ve since expanded into other parts of the music business outside of just the traditional artist manager role – we have a small record label, a festival in Ithaca New York, as well as a growing publishing company called Campfire Songs in partnership with our friends at Spark Music Group.
I moved to New York City for school in 2005, with zero intention of being a manager. At the time, I was making my own music and thought that by moving to New York I’d get my “break” as a singer-songwriter. By some weird twist of fate I ended up playing a show with Jukebox the Ghost, who soon became my first client (and still my client, nearly 18 years later!) I was so blown away by their show, that I became consumed with wanting the world to hear them and sort of just fell into being a manager. I never was trying to become a manager, management found me because of simply how much I loved Jukebox the Ghost.
Over the years, majority of the artists we work with we’ve started with at day one. When I met X Ambassadors, they were called “The Ambassadors” and playing in tiny Brooklyn dive bars. Will Linley had barely finished a full production on his first song when we fell in love with his energy and voice. Many of our clients we’ve worked with before they named their band/project, or released a single song, and I think that’s what makes us unique. A lot of managers wait until an artist has built a following online or had some success, and then battle it out to sign the client, but we as a company base our decisions on two things; do we love the music, and do we love the person making the music. That’s it. We go purely on gut.
Running this company for almost twenty years now, I’m constantly learning. The music business changes faster than any other business I’ve ever seen – one day I was selling CD’s hand to hand that I made in my dorm room on college campuses, and then seemingly overnight things changed in an instant, technology changed, and we’re suddenly trying to figure out ways to crack the code on TikTok to find fans for our artists. I’ve just learned that I need to come to work every day ready and willing to rethink everything I know about the music industry. And that’s what keeps it fun and interesting.
This job is always challenging because no matter how much work you put in, how many hours you hustle for an artist or a song, there’s also a massive amount of luck needed in breaking through. Even though it’s a constant uphill battle trying to break through the noise with the artists we work with, we’re always ready to be in the trenches, try new things, and have a great time while doing it.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
My wife and I live on the East Side, and we love our little neighborhood in Atwater. First thing’s first, the minute someone gets off the plane I’ll take them for a nopales breakfast burrito at Tacos Villa Corona. Some of my absolute favorite spots in the area to eat and drink are Ceviche Project (their scallop dish is one of the best bites in LA), Bar Covell for a constantly changing list of amazing natural wines, Proof Bakery (the chocolate chip cookie is incredible), Good Housekeeping for the best cocktails on the East Side, Wife and the Somm, Alimento, Homestate, Kismet, Sushi Gen, De La Nonna Pizza, Melody Wine Bar… the list goes on! Between bites, I love to grab a coffee at Go Get ‘Em Tiger in Los Feliz or cycle down the LA river and stop for a drink at Spoke Bicycle Cafe and Frogtown Brewery.
Hiking up to Griffith Observatory is a must, and on the way, I’d recommend popping into DomaineLA or Silverlake Wine to grab a bottle of wine, and open it while looking over the city at sunset. Whenever possible, I love drive up the PCH to Malibu and stop off at Reel Inn for some grilled fish after a long day at the beach. When I’m feeling like a nice night out, I usually head straight to Musso & Frank’s for a Martini and a steak or their insanely tasty garlic chicken. And of course, if you’re in LA you need to bounce around to as many different taco trucks and taco stands as possible; I’ll drive all the way to Venice for the ceviche tostada at La Isla Bonita, and am incredibly lucky I’m not far from Angel’s Tijuana Tacos and their fantastic Al Pastor.
Later this summer, Andy from Bub & Grandma’s bread is opening a deli/sandwich shop/wine bar and the minute that opens, that’s going to be my home away from home. I can’t wait.
To me, the best part of living in LA is being able to get outside; I love going down to Mother’s Beach in Marina Del Rey to go out on a stand up paddleboard for the day, and my absolute favorite thing to do on the weekends is drive two hours north up to Los Alamos, just inland from Santa Barbara, and going out and cycling the hills of wine country (ending the ride with dinner at maybe the best restaurant in California, Bell’s)
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
I’d love to shoutout all of my fantastic professors from NYU at the Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music. I attended school there in the early days of the program, between 2005-2009 and all of my professors supported me and pushed me to start a management company… when I was 18! They instilled the entrepreneurial spirit in me, always teaching the students to not just sit around and wait for a job opportunity, but instead build your own world.
And I also need to shout out the amazing Shep Gordon; not only an incredible manager, but an incredible human being who has brought so much good into the world. He’s the blueprint for me and a true inspiration. One of the most magical nights of recent memory for me was having dinner with him on Thanksgiving, and picking up little nuggets of wisdom between bites.
Instagram: @sethkallen @thisfiction
Photos by Lauren Kallen, Graham Fielder, Elli Lauren