The music industry can be harsh and ruthless at times, but Bianca Nilsson—owner of Adelaide-based independent record label Renegade Records—shows it’s possible to hold on to your values and still be successful. (Image source: Priya Kajaal)
By Nikita Skuse | @nikita_skuse
“You have 80 summers. Why am I going to spend time giving you one of my summers if you’re not going to give it back?”
Ben Smith from Northern Sound System, was told this “life proverb” by Sebastian Chase who runs MGM Distribution. It resonated with Ben. It was during the early days of running his old record label, Pilot Records, and it made him question why he was putting all his effort into artists who weren’t willing to put in the same. This mentality is one Ben is now trying to instil in his mentee Bianca, who, like many young people trying to make their way in the industry, can let her kindness get the better of her.
Bianca is the 23-year-old owner of independent record label Renegade Records. She’s from Smithfield, South Australia, and has a seemingly never-ending resume of accolades that come from not only signing and managing artists through her label but also publicity, sync licensing and creative services.
Bianca also works at the Northern Sound System in Elizabeth where she contracts two days a week and runs creative agency See Oh with Daniel Steinert from TOWNS and Nick O’Connor from Heaps Good Friends.
Bianca set up Renegade Records to gives artists freedom and creative control. In 2015, she was just a teen fangirl with an ambition to fight against the injustices of the music industry after watching her favourite band be mistreated by their major label. “They were puppeted,” she said. “They were told, ‘You can’t sing like this,’ or, ‘You can’t dress like that.’ So, I wanted to create something that gave artists full creative control and also the money they deserve.” In December that year, Renegade Records was born.
Since then, Bianca has maintained a high moral standard for her business, which not only underpins how she runs things but also determines who she signs to her label. “Of course, their moral compass has to be there,” she said. “I don’t want to work with someone that doesn’t agree with me on that standpoint. Like, equality is a huge thing, so as long as they treat everyone the same and treat people right, then I guess we can work together.”
One of the many upsides to Bianca’s kind nature is that it is benefitting up-and-coming artists suffering from the effects of COVID-19. “A lot of artists have pulled out from working with me for the time being because they may not necessarily be able to afford it because they lost their jobs because of the pandemic,” she said. “So, what I’ve done is I’m running competitions on my Instagram every day for artists to help out.” Bianca is holding regular giveaways on the Renegade Records Instagram account where she partners with a blog, radio station or Spotify playlist curator to give out prizes such as a write up on a music blog, radio air time or a spot on a prominent Spotify playlist. She’s been putting her own money into the project to create free opportunities for artists.
The current figures show the Australian music industry has lost $340 million due to COVID-19, so to have people like Bianca donating their time and money to the cause is vital.
Although, it hasn’t been an easy road to get where she is today, and she hasn’t always been in a position to be this generous. It took Bianca four years before she profited from her business, and up until last year, she was working 12-hour night shifts at a potato factory, only to come home and work another five hours on her label. According to labour market research conducted by the Department of Education, Skills and Employment, Bianca’s home town of Smithfield had the largest unemployment rate in South Australia as of December 2019, with over a quarter of people in the area unemployed. This was markedly higher than the state’s average of 6.2 per cent. Youth unemployment rates are also consistently higher than Australia’s national unemployment rates. Statistically speaking, to be a young person in Smithfield with a steady income is a marker of success.
“I have not once been stressed about money [since quitting her day job], and I think that was my biggest worry … so I’m really, really happy and thankful for that,” Bianca said. “Something good happens every single day, and it makes me think ‘oh my god, I’m doing my dream job’.”
Cade James Carl, lead singer of US band HARLEY which is managed by Bianca, can vouch that she stays true to her vision and morals while still guiding the group to success. Cade also had plans of becoming an artist manager when he attended school in Nashville and worked with a bunch of bands in the process – so he knows his way around the profession.
Cade described Bianca’s managing style as “low-key”. “I’ve worked with a lot of people in the music industry … and she doesn’t push anything which is really nice,” he said. “She doesn’t push her own vision or push her own ideas; she’s really just there to help you make your idea better rather than having her own agenda, which is super refreshing.”
The band has been in a better spot for opportunities since Bianca started managing them in September last year, according to Cade, who said that everything she shares is a “step moving forward”. He said she’s broadened their contacts and given them a leg up on everything. “[She’s] just super cool, like randomly I’ll just get texts like:
“These are things that we weren’t doing on our own,” he said. “I just think she’s great. I think this band has great potential, especially with her.”
Bianca is equally revered by her mentor Ben, who quite simply said, “When you get to know her, she’s like a fucking miracle.”
Ben explained how hard-working Bianca is and said her “grind” is the thing that will make her what she wants to become. He doesn’t think there are many people her age who have a vision, or are as hungry for their vision as she is. He sees her as “kind of unstoppable.”
However, he believes her over-commitment to people can be her pitfall. “She always goes looking for, probably to her detriment, what’s going to be best for whoever she’s managing or representing,” he said. “I think she goes above and beyond a lot of the time and sometimes it’s not reciprocated. So, when I say it’s to her detriment, I mean more like she’ll put in more and sometimes she won’t get it back.”
Bianca agreed without hesitation that this can be an issue for her. She described an incident where one of her artists needed money for an Uber to work, so she connected her card to their account. Her card was never disconnected and instead used for multiple other Uber and PayPal purchases, forcing her to cancel her card. A similar incident occurred when an artist went behind her back and told the third-party company they were working with that he wasn’t associated with her label anymore, resulting in tens of thousands of dollars never reaching her account. She also once gave up her 50 per cent cut for an artist because she felt he needed it more than her.
“I’ve realised I kept getting taken advantage of, especially when it comes to money because I’m really nice and always willing to help out,” Bianca confessed. “I think in the future, I shouldn’t do things like that, or if I’m going to do them, have things in place where I don’t get screwed over.”
Her mentor Ben believes no setback is for nothing, and that staying true to her values will pay off eventually. “[I] still let her make the mistakes because you learn from making them,” he said. “In the long run, putting in more is always going to benefit you because it’ll grow your business, so it’s not completely detrimental or a waste of time.”
Despite a number of obstacles, Bianca has never given up, and never deviated from what she believes in. “I’m constantly chasing something,” she said, “I’ll get a hold of something, and I’ll be like yes, I got it, and then chase something else. I just never stop running.” Referred to as a “go-getter” by Cade, and a “virtual hustler” by Ben, it seems unanimous that this young entrepreneur is doing all she can to work her way to success with her values by her side for the long haul.