Born in Stockholm, Sweden, in 1985, Fanny Maria Grant Axén knew from a very young age that a life working with music and musical artists was what she wanted.
She started her own company at the age of 20, and soon after worked as a stylist for Little Great Things, a band whose members include the grandchildren of ABBA’s Benny Anderson. She designed their clothes and assisted with their image and PR, including when they performed at Melodifestivalen.
She also with the legendary X-level Studio, where she put together photoshoots and connected artists to the right people in order to help their brand. This was all in the days before social media was a huge thing – making the hype about an artist involved different methods than what are available today, and so she relied upon her connections in the industry.
All this hard work didn’t go unnoticed: Swedish-Congalese singer, songwriter, and dancer, Mohombi, saw what she was doing, and hired Fanny to help with his styling, as well as the artists signed to his record label, La Clique Music. She designed Mohombi’s clothes and style for his music videos and photoshoots, and became his PR Manager, after she realised that the music videos he made with other artists were receiving millions of views – at one time Mohombi had one of the most popular songs in the world, ‘Bumpy Ride’ – and yet Mohombi wasn’t a household name. She set out working on her own PR campaigns, liasing with bloggers, magazines, and his fans, as well as radio campaigns for him and his other artists.
Eventually Fanny left La Clique, because she knew that ultimately she wanted to manage her own artists, and she found success with some such as Anton Hagman, seeing them signed to Universal, and the group Young Squage, signed to Sony Music. She also worked as PR Manager for 13 year old Nova Miller, and many others, including the blogger Foki.
Still in her early 30s, Fanny’s career is going from strength strength and is headed all the way to the top. She has, during her whole journey, stayed self-employed, and done only what she’s truly believed in. Fanny’s ultimate goal is to work on her own brand, and create something long lasting for herself.
We had the opportunity to speak to Fanny.
What was it about music that instilled in you the desire to work with musical artists?
My passion for music started it and just the feeling and i realised more and more how much power music has and how much it can help people in ways you couldn’t imagine.
Where do you ultimately see your career taking you?
After everything I have gone through in this business and kinda being on my own, I see absolutely no limit to what I can accomplish in the next couple of years, with the amazing people that I have around me now.
What was promotion like before the days of social media? What did that involve and how has social media affected your work? Is it easier or harder?
To be honest, I always had the kind of “social media” mindset, in the way that I always saw opportunities to use bigger brands and names, and pair them with extreme talent, that might not get as much attention for whatever reasons and see that take off. That’s how I worked from the start even though in the beginning I didn’t have many relationships, in the business so I had to really think outside the box.
I believe social media is both good and bad, but I’m not a fan of what it is like right now, I see the younger generation aiming to become YouTubers, and be on reality shows to grow their Instagram followers, instead of something they actually want to do themselves and work hard for. They believe the easy way is the right way to go, but most of the time that won’t give you a long term career.
Where is the respect for talent, I don’t like that huge prestigious brands, that before wouldn’t pay attention to people without talent, and instead focused on hard-working, talented people, now pay so much money to be seen, on the social media of someone who only has followers because they’ve been drinking and partying on TV – just as an example. I don’t think its a good look for the new younger generation.
The positive though is that it’s definitely easier to build a brand from 0-100 using social media. The negative is that unless you have enough followers you’re not good enough.
Similarly, what’s your take on the current state of the music industry? What advice would you give an unsigned artist who’s just starting out? Do you see being signed to a record label as the only way to do things, or do you recommend other ways?
I think it’s very different in different markets, I like that RnB is coming back and is this time actually welcome even on Radio, and it’s mixed in with other genres, a couple years ago if you said you do RnB, they’d place you in a box and basically wouldn’t give you the time of day.
I don’t like, especially in Sweden where I am from, that they most sign artists depending on your followers. I can’t tell you how many artists are getting signed just because they have followers! Most of them can’t even sing! So I don’t like that the respect for talent is not as important. I love how the UK market is right now, that’s definitely in my opinion where it at right now, most hot new artists the last year have actually come from the UK, and from there become big names in the US and rest of the world. Just look at Stefflon Don, I know her manager well and what he’s done with her from the start to now is genius!
My best advice to new artists is find out what kind of artist you are and stick to it!
We’re looking for “unique but similar” is the way I would describe it, you want to be reminded of something you like to listen to or watch, a look or voice, but at the same time labels and A&R are looking for that one who will be unique from everyone else. So try to combine those two and you will be good!
I also would say look at your situation and see what fits you the best, create a team around you and please don’t forget to make sure you have a entertainment lawyer, they do more than you understand, and from there try to do it on your own with no labels, I think if you can create your own brand, meaning image, sound, and story, and somehow have the finance in place. I recommend you to stay independent for as long as you can. The stronger your fanbase becomes, and bigger the numbers you get, the labels will come after you, and that way you have the advantage in discussing your deal and will have more say. It seems they now are after you because of what you created if that makes sense.
Another important one, don’t think you have to always work with the biggest names – find producers and people that get you and believe in you.
No one really will get a good deal if you’re selling a product that’s not built, but imagine someone buying your product when you’ve completed it and it’s ready to be sold.
But there’s of course good things in being with a label if you can do all that on your own, just try to maybe not sign to the biggest labels with the biggest names, because you probably won’t be a priority.
What three artists should we be listening to right now, and why?
Ohh I love this one but only three might be hard 🙂
Ro James is my absolute favourite, and I’m lucky enough to call him a friend and get to work with him now, but there’s also two new and up and coming artists from Sweden – the first is Kristofer Greczula, who in my opinion is the new Bruno Mars/Michael Jackson. I know your not allowed to touch Michael Jackson’s name, but trust me on this one 🙂 The second is an amazing R&B girl called Mikaela. She produced and wrote her whole new EP that’s coming out this month, so keep an eye out for her, I worked with her for years and I’m so proud of that girl. I also have to say Mohombi, and Mullally.
Haha that’s five but we’ll let you off! What’s the best advice you’ve been given in your career? And what’s been the worst?
The best one came in later years but it is to believe in yourself, not just the talent you work with, and treat your own name as a brand as well. Build it like you build your artists.
The worst is probably do it the safe way like everyone else, like establish your artists in your home country first. I never believed in that, that’s just the easy way out, and I have always done things the opposite to the easy way, so it never affected me!
If you could change anything you’ve done in your career, what would it be and why?
I wouldn’t change anything! I believe in experience, and it’s been extremely hard, but I think I had to go through all of it to be where and who I am today, I’m proud of myself, which I never thought I would say.
What question do you wish someone would ask you in an interview but nobody ever does?
I think what you asked actually…give some advice to help others that want to do what I do, or any new artists out there who need some advice from someone who isn’t just trying to make money out of them.
Thank you very much for speaking with us Fanny Axén! It’s been an honour to hear from you and we’ve learned a lot!