IDOL US: Thomas Sharp Maxwell, chasing the American stream

In 2016, IDOL decided to conquer the American continent, starting with the US. For this noble task, IDOL hired Thomas Sharp Maxwell, who was recently promoted to General Manager North America.

Meet Thomas Sharp Maxwell, General Manager North America, who explains how, with his team, he ensures that IDOL’s labels are happy, and that their releases receive the attention they deserve. In charge of the US team, his primary focus is business development and bringing on new label partners.

You were the first US employee, what struck you at first?

I’m coming up on my eighth year, and it’s been really interesting to observe IDOL’s growth. When I first started with the company in 2016, the Paris office that I visited was very small, with just over 20 employees worldwide. Today, we’re approaching 60 across multiple offices.

I always knew that IDOL had international ambitions. Over the years, our release volume has scaled with our internal development. We have a really nice balance of new employees to new releases: thanks to our independence, we can develop our services in line with market needs.

Why did you choose to represent IDOL?

I had actually met with IDOL years prior at the Midem Conference in Cannes and I really appreciated what I learned about their philosophy. I was already familiar with some of the labels they worked with and I really admired the diversity of the catalog. I’ve always thought that one of the biggest blessings in this industry is the opportunity to work with music that you’re passionate about, and I could tell that my own personal tastes were very much in line with the company.

What also attracted me was the smaller size of the company at the time – I saw this as a chance to be a part of IDOL’s history. Since they didn’t have an office in the US, I was excited by the opportunity to help build something from scratch and ultimately have a hand in how the company develops. I felt I could truly grow on an international level both personally and professionally.

Ultimately, the US being a small office, it’s up to us to decide which labels we want to sign and bring on. Before I joined, I was working with a company where I was several steps removed from working with releases, and I missed the creativity process: be it receiving early mixes all the way up to seeing a release succeed on an international level. And I could see that with IDOL I would have that opportunity.

Can you tell us a little about your career path?

I went to Belmont University for Music Business. Then I was lucky enough to get some early internships at an incredible indie label called Dual Tone as well as the historic Bluebird Cafe here in Nashville, which is a very famous songwriter venue.

After my studies, I landed my first gig at Universal Music Group, and realized pretty quickly that the major label route was just not the right path for me, so naturally I ended up joining a (now defunct) streaming startup and moving to New York.

This all happened at a weird transitional time for the industry, when download piracy was rampant and there was a lot of anxiety about the direction of the music industry. After experiencing the highs and lows of the startup world, I had a few consulting roles before ultimately landing here at IDOL, a place that I was excited to be a part of long-term.

What are the key characteristics for this position?

I’d say having good ears, which I hope is a quality I possess! Apart from that, persistence is key for this role. Especially as it pertains to business development. The most recent label that we signed for example, Young Art Records, I started talking to six years ago! We developed a great relationship, built trust, and would meet each time we were in the same city. When the time was right and it made sense for both parties, we were able to finally go into business together. I think that sort of consistency helps to build successful, long term partnerships.

Sometimes these conversations with new labels can last from less than a month to several years. But if you truly believe in the music and the people behind it, it’s absolutely worth the wait. We really value these long-term relationships because we can be a part of the evolution, from the early days to the more established phase…

We get told ‘no’ quite a lot – or at least we did in the early days, but over time that’s changed! Being able to know how to accept defeat and channeling that into motivation and energy to go out and do more, that’s a quality you really need for this role.

What do you love about your job?

I love the unknown nature and the possibilities of what’s to come for our office. For example, many of our long-term partners have actually originated from cold call outreach, and seeing an email get sent into the void, watching that blossom into a friendship and ultimately a business relationship is a really rewarding experience.

Most of all though, I love the philosophy, which all goes back to our selective nature. It means we can choose our own destiny in a sense. On the day-to-day, it means that we can work to really develop those relationships and be there for our labels and artists, which is an approach that I really value.

You’ve been with IDOL for almost eight years. What are you the most proud of?

I’m proud of working with such talented people both here at IDOL, and in the labels that we’ve brought on. I learn something new every day from my colleagues, both here and abroad, and I’m very proud to be part of such a dynamic cast of characters.

Along with that, it’s incredibly gratifying when you sign something that you truly believe in that might have very small numbers in the beginning but eventually finds international success, it’s an addictive high. Like Ginger Root, for instance. He is basically a celebrity in Asia right now while several years ago, it was difficult to get any sort of attention here in the US, where he’s actually from. It gives me a sense of pride because occasionally we take some riskier bets, but when they pay off, I think it really validates our methodology.

Where are your offices located?

Our US offices are located in Nashville, Brooklyn and Los Angeles. I originally opened the first IDOL US office out of New York but moved down to Nashville a few years back. It’s an obvious place to operate: Nashville is literally Music City, USA. The DSPs are all in town and the level of artistry is just insane down here. The independent scene here easily rivals NY or LA and the city boasts a very strong, storied, and thriving music business.

The weather is hit or miss but the music scene is absolutely vibrant. There’s something happening every night, both big concerts and songwriters at small venues…There’s something for everyone of all shapes and genres. Being on the confluence of the Southeast of and the Midwest of the states means pretty much everyone tours through here. You can choose your own adventure!

What’s the strangest thing that’s happened to you in your career?

At a previous job, a label requested a meeting at their office in Nashville. It was a big priority for the company, so I flew last minute from Florida to attend the meeting. I arrived at the label’s office on Music Row and the receptionist brought us down to the basement conference room. After an hour waiting in a windowless room, we were ready to give up and walk out but our contacts finally arrived, apologized and the meeting took place.

When we left the office, I opened Instagram and the first thing I saw was a post from Taylor Swift: a photo of her with the people we had just met, enjoying a birthday cake. It just so happened to be Taylor’s birthday that day and she had stopped by the label to celebrate with them. I almost met Taylor Swift in person but we were clearly not invited.

Thomas' playlist

In other territories
Read more articles