On November 6, the great and the good of the music industry will gather to celebrate the stellar achievements of Lucy Dickins, agent to Adele, Mumford & Sons and many more, at the 2023 MITS Awards ceremony. Here, Music Week meets WME’s global head of contemporary music & touring to tell the epic story of her career, talk Adele, Little Simz and her burgeoning roster and find out how she became the new face of the Dickins music industry dynasty…
WORDS: ANNA FIELDING
PHOTOS: ERIC CHARBONNEAU & LOUISE HAYWOOD-SCHIEFER
Lucy Dickins has lived in LA for almost a year-and-a-half. She appears to have fully embraced the city in some ways, conducting her interview with Music Week from her car as the bright California sun streams in and her husband fetches her a matcha latte.
“But to be honest, it definitely took me longer to settle in than I thought,” she says. “I mean, you can pretty much put me anywhere, I’m one of those people who’s bounced around. But it’s funny how somewhere with the same language can feel so different.”
Earlier this morning she was visiting a new school for her son “somewhere a bit more structured and closer to the English system”, but most of the bumps from her transcontinental move have now been ironed out.
The move came along with a promotion: Dickins became WME’s global head of contemporary music and touring in August 2022. She joined as the head of the music division in London in 2019 and her well-received shake-up of the UK office – which some viewed as not much more than a satellite operation – led to her becoming the co-head of the global music division, alongside US colleague Kirk Sommer.
Super agent Dickins has been keen to bring a similar spirit of change to her current role – which spans offices in Beverly Hills, New York, London, Nashville and Sydney – but notes the need to recognise the people and the systems already in place.
“You can’t just go in and go, ‘Boom!’” she says. “You have to understand personalities and the culture and it can take a lot longer than you thought it would.”
The executive is perhaps best known for representing Adele as a live agent, and the two share similar estuary accents and the propensity for a raucous cackle.
“I first met her years ago at a gig, before I’d heard her sing,” Dickins smiles. “We laughed and laughed all night and when I asked for a CD, she turned to the bloke standing next to us and said, ‘Ere, that CD I gave you? I want it back to give to her.’”
In addition to Adele, Dickins’ roster also includes Mumford & Sons, Little Simz, Olivia Rodrigo Rex Orange County and Sault, amongst others. Any of these acts could be playing at this year’s Music Industry Trusts (MITS) event, as Dickins will be honoured for her outstanding contribution to music at this year’s ceremony on November 6.
Prior to WME, Dickins was at ITB, the company founded by her father, Barry Dickins. She shares Adele as a client with her brother, Jonathan Dickins of September Management, and their grandfather Percy Dickins founded the New Musical Express, publishing the first British Record Charts in the paper. She’s also not the only Dickins to win at the MITS – her uncle Rob Dickins picked up the award 20 years ago as the head of Warner Music UK.
“It’s a blessing in many ways,” says Dickins of her family’s industry history. “You have all this information around you that you just absorb. I had the best teachers I could possibly wish for. But the suggestion that my brother might give me an act, for example, is bullshit. If you meet my brother, he’ll say, ‘I only work with her because I think she’s brilliant.’”
Ahead of the MITS, it’s time to celebrate that brilliance, and so we launch into a discussion of Dickins’ story so far, her roster of stars and stars-to-be and the new projects taking place under the California sunshine…
How did it feel when you got the call saying you’d won the MITS Award?
“I was slightly overwhelmed to be honest. I had a text message from Toby [Leighton-Pope, MITS co-chair] saying, ‘Can you call me? It’s not anything work-related, but I think you’ll like it.’ And it was a Saturday, so it was a big surprise. But it’s a great list of people who have won that award and I’m really honoured to be alongside them.”
Has it given you an opportunity to stop and look over your career so far?
“It has made me feel old! It reminds me of when people describe me as a veteran agent and I say, ‘Do you have to use the word veteran?’ But, yes, it has. And I hope as everyone will see on the night, there’s a lot that’s very much about the early part of my career. I'm very privileged and lucky that the clients I represented at the start of my career are still with me now. So it was amazing to reminisce, and going back through photos, talking to my clients and just talking about old stories made me realise how much I've actually done. For example, I remember Hot Chip playing the Astoria and it’s so vivid and we were all so blown away to get to that level. The  BRIT Awards where Adele did Someone Like You to a standing ovation. Laura Marling won Best British Female Solo Artist and Mumford & Sons won British Album. But then there are so many [milestones] and you don’t stop and have the time to appreciate them. Multiple BRITS, multiple Grammys, multiple arenas and you don’t get to enjoy it at the time. So this has been a really nice process.”
You mention the awards given to artists, how does it feel to have the focus on you?
“Horrendous. Everyone says that, but I’ve never liked it. I was with Mumford & Sons at Austin City Limits last week and Ben [Lovett] grabbed me and was introducing me to other artists saying, ‘This is Lucy, she’s been with us since we were babies, without her there would be no Mumford & Sons.’ It was lovely, but I was really embarrassed. To me, I’m as good as the people I represent. This feels like a weird mix of my wedding day and a eulogy.”
Do you think you’ve changed since you first joined the industry?
“I don’t think I’ve changed. I came into the industry when I was 19 and, I’ll admit, it was at my dad’s place, making teas, filing faxes and writing envelopes for contracts to go out in. I covered for David Levy’s assistant when she was off. I had all aspects of the music industry around me and there was constantly music on around us. There were always shows around us, artists were always calling our house. That was normal and it was my life and I think you just suck it in. I'm probably seeing the same with my son now… He’s 10, my daughter is eight and less interested, but my son was devastated that he couldn’t come and see James Blake last night, but that was never going to happen with a 9pm stage time. But I started at ITB, then I went to the record label PWL. I went through an employment agency called Handle for a role as a junior product manager. They only asked me if I was, by any chance, related to Rob or Barry after I got the job. I left there when we all got made redundant. By that time I was head of international. I’d moved very quickly up the ranks, which I always seem to do, but never know why because I’ve got really really bad imposter syndrome.”
You have said in the past that the mentions of your family can get tiring…
“It’s a blessing in so many, many ways, but there’s a number of curses with it. I used to have people say, ‘Oh, it’s Barry’s daughter throwing her toys out of the pram.’ I’ve been told I’m too opinionated. I would hear people say, ‘Oh, she got that because of her brother.’ And I was like, actually, you're completely wrong… He doesn't give me every act he works on, I don't work on every act he works on. And every act of his that I work on of his, they’ve chosen me after having meetings with everybody else. It was one of the reasons I chose to leave my dad's place. I spent so long trying to prove myself and had so many people putting me down. There came a point where I thought, ‘I have to go out here on my own and show people that I’m doing this because I’m actually good at what I do.’ It was an awful, difficult decision to leave my dad’s agency and take my clients with me. The toughest thing I’ve ever had to do.”
It's just over a year since you were promoted to global head of contemporary music and touring at WME. How are you finding the role?
“I’m really enjoying it. These days, what artists want is so multifaceted, they all want to build businesses. And now I’m in a company where I can become even better at what I do and learn more. It’s like opening a great big toy box with new things to play with. Every artist wants to do so much, so the challenges are about focusing on where it's actually possible and not promising everything and not delivering. I’ve got some great women around me, like Stephanie LaFera who runs our electronic department, Caroline Yim who is our co-head of hip-hop, Becky Gardenhire who runs our country department, Dvora Englefield who’s head of music artist strategy. And it’s not just women. Kirk [Sommer, partner and global co-head of music] is obviously my partner in crime. We’re reorganising the entire structure of the company in the music department, which I think is going to be really beneficial. The business has changed and we want to improve the flow of information and how we work as a team.”
Looking at the London team, how is Craig D’Souza doing with the UK rap roster?
“Craig's great. He was an amazing addition to the team. Dave is obviously doing really well and the whole roster is really strong. He came in when we were building the London office out. We lost a lot of people during the pandemic, through company cuts and also some people decided it wasn't for them and moved on. But it gave me time to stop and think and go, ‘How can I make this company better?’ The problem for me was that the London office was a bit [of a] cookie cutter [copy] of the American office. But it was a different culture, the UK rap scene is current culture, and we didn't have representation in that area. Craig has been fantastic, he's great at mentoring the younger agents and people look up to him in the office.”
You also bought over Josh Javor who spent nearly two decades at X-Ray Touring…
“Josh has been a fantastic addition too, he brings a great roster of artists. Again, it just makes that London office have an even stronger UK feel. We're now representing artists from the UK that have got global appeal. He comes with a significant roster that he and Steve Strange worked on for years and I was very close to Steve and to Josh. I’m delighted to have him in the office.”
Adele has been a huge part of your career. What were the key points in getting her to superstar status?
“I think Adele was a superstar at the age of 17. The way she can connect with people is something I’ve never seen, except in Taylor Swift. I think there’s a realness to what she does, empathy. People can identify with her lyrics and feel she's touchable. You can see yourself in Adele, I think she stands alone like that. I've watched that show in Vegas numerous times and I could watch it every single day. And I don't know many artists that I could say that about. She makes you laugh. She makes you cry. She makes you want to dance. And she makes you go ‘I want you to be my best friend.’ That's what she has.”
How has the Vegas residency been going? You added dates, how many more do you think you could have sold?
“It could just go on and on and on, it has been phenomenal. She is absolutely loving it. And it's probably the best show I've ever seen, every time you go it gives you a different experience. It’s not the same show, because it depends on the audience feedback and the audience is so engaged with her. The way she commands the room… It feels like she's sitting in your living room and playing with you, and you're having a chat with her.”
Little Simz is rising and rising. What do you think she means to British music? And how are you going to take it to the next level around the world?
“She's definitely going to the next level. She is an absolute superstar-in-the-making that one, she is a game changer. Obviously people know her through Top Boy, she's a great actress. But she’s also a creative agency in one person. And so cool it’s ridiculous. And she manages herself. All I can say is watch this space. The good ones always know what they want, I’m just going to help her.”
Lucy Dickins at The BRIT School earlier this year (Photo: Ian Hippolyte)
How tough is it for new acts to break through these days? What does WME do to support emerging artists?
“We come on board quite early with new artists now and try to help them. It all comes back to strategy. So when we bring an artist in, we try to find out their likes, their dislikes, where do they want to go. But the music has to come first. It is really hard to break acts now. Obviously, TikTok is a massive influence, and we have people in Web3, we have people in AI, we have people in strategy, we have people in motion pictures and we have people that build businesses. So now I try to get an idea through younger eyes and then just try and help build their careers and liaise across different departments.”
Are there enough young acts coming through the pipeline?
“It's really hard now to say what's going to break and what isn't going to break. Back in the day, there was a really easy path of, ‘Do this tour, then do this and then you've broken as an artist.’ It's not like that anymore. There might be a great moment on TikTok, but that doesn't necessarily correlate to a live show. So there are so many factors now, you can't cookie cutter anything. So that's why you have to have teams of people from different backgrounds looking at this and working out how you can break through. One thing I would say, that does seem to be appealing, is that people are consuming as much music as they can possibly consume. It’s an ever-changing landscape, and what we want to do is be there for the artists.”
Finally, on the executive side, do you feel a responsibility to pass on your knowledge to younger women rising up the ranks?
“Absolutely, and I do it all day long. I spend a load of time with the girls and talk to them through my experiences and, at the end of the day, I’m in a position to make change so that they don't go through some of the things I went through. People need to see people who look like them in positions of power, right? Whether that be race-related, female, whatever way you want to look at it. We need to have diversity across the board. Because that makes everyone better.”
The MITS award will be presented to Lucy Dickins on Monday 6th November at a gala ceremony at Grosvenor House Hotel, held in aid of two vital music charities in the UK: The BRIT Trust and Nordoff & Robbins.