Achal Dhillon 22nd Nov 2021

‘The industry can be an unhealthy place to work. But there is a balance between great work and wellbeing’

Good Neighbours is a series brought to The IMI by The Music Federation’s Achal Dhillon. It's designed to highlight individuals in the music industry who embody that unique sense of indie community and are changing the biz for the better. This time, Dhillon sits down with Equilibrium co-founder Marni Wandner...

Goddamn I love Canada, especially the configuration of its music industry.

Recognising the export potential of its local talent, the nation’s government dedicates a percentage of GDP specifically towards supporting the music biz. This usually manifests itself as a huge grant system (FACTOR being one of the biggest to look out for) at a national, state, and even municipal level. British Columbia, Nova Scotia, even bloody Saskatchewan all have their own ‘music councils’.

That means plenty of investment is put into bringing music delegates over to pro-actively create opportunities. It’s encouraging for independent operators in particular, who are usually hampered by logistical costs when doing business abroad.

More than anything, empowering smaller businesses tends to create an independent community of like-minded individuals coming in and out of Canada. I’ve made a lot of friends and colleagues in this way. Several years ago, I was invited to attend the annual Halifax Pop Explosion Festival in Nova Scotia, which is where I met Marni Wandner.

Marni is a creative strategist with more than 15 years’ experience working in the music and entertainment industries. She ran digital agency Sneak Attack Media for 12 years before it was acquired by marketing agency The Syndicate, where she served as VP, Marketing & Business Development. She’s currently serving as strategic advisor for The Syndicate and consulting on other projects as well.

Marni is also a certified holistic health coach and the co-founder of Equilibrium, an organization whose mission is to bring wellness resources to the music industry. In fact, one of the projects she’s working on at the moment in her role with The Syndicate is a music app designed to reduce anxiety.

Merging strategy, marketing, music and mental wellness, I feel that Marni is occupying a really interesting space – one that is only going to become more important and more sought after for years to come…

Marni, could you start off by telling us about yourself and your business…

I’m currently a marketing and wellness consultant, having just left my full-time position at entertainment marketing agency The Syndicate. I’m working on a few projects with The Syn, mostly non-music, but one of them is a music app created to reduce anxiety, called sona, which I’m really excited about.

I’ve also been taking this time to continue to build Equilibrium, an organization I started in 2019 with my co-founder Nicole Blonder – a fellow health coach working in music. Equilibrium began as an event series where we would facilitate discussions about wellness in the music industry and present workshops on practical wellness tools. That idea has morphed into a broader initiative to bring wellness resources to musicians and the music industry through health coaching, partnerships with wellness practitioners, and more.

Last year we brought our events online and did things like a self-healing workshop on Jin Shin Jyutsu and our Applied Wellness For The Music Industry workshop with Record Union where we presented wellness tactics from a naturopathic doctor, a meditation coach, a personal trainer, and a sleep scientist. We also did weekly Instagram Lives during the pandemic, where we presented quick 10-15 minute breathing exercises or meditations to help our community reset during their day – the RESET series is archived on our IGTV. We regularly partner with practitioners to demo their techniques and modalities, feature music from wellness-minded artists for our #FeelItAll Friday series, and have artists and industry take over our Instagram to share their wellness routines.

We’re about to launch some other exciting stuff soon – you can stay up to date at @thisisequilibrium on Instagram and/or sign up for our newsletter on our website, thisisequilibrium.com.

"Prioritise your wellbeing in whatever way you need to. You’ll still work hard, and get it all done, but without the added side of burnout."

How did you first start working in the music industry?

My first job was in management working with artists like Tracy Bonham, The Fire Theft (members of Sunny Day Real Estate), Local H and Morningwood. The job started as an internship. It was a great place to begin because I got a bird’s eye view of the industry right away. After that, I ran marketing and publicity at a small rock/electronic label group.

Then in 2006, I started Sneak Attack Media, the digital marketing agency I ran for 12 years. We worked with a huge range of artists (Lou Reed, Annuals, Motörhead, The Cult, Tori Amos, Third Eye Blind, Counting Crows, Flora Cash, Ani DiFranco, Nathaniel Rateliff, Gracie and Rachel, David Crosby, among others) and lots of different labels and management companies. In 2018, The Syndicate acquired Sneak Attack, and my team and I came aboard. I’ve got so much love those folks, such an awesome crew of creative minds.

What do you feel has been your biggest success in your career, and why?

I think it’s the relationships I’ve been fortunate enough to forge over the years, from deep friendships with people I’ve known since the early days, to a wide array of colleagues that run the gamut of various nooks and crannies in the industry.

What has been your biggest low-point or regret in your career, and how did you deal with it?

Honestly, the times in my career when I did not actively prioritize my wellbeing and my self-care were some of my lowest moments. Constant late nights, very little sleep, eating terribly, working constantly and not taking any time to rest or nourish myself.  During those times, I just wasn’t taking care of myself, mentally, physically, emotionally… I didn’t even know how to do so. But I’m grateful that those experiences were the impetus for me to learn, which inspired me to get certified as a holistic health coach a number of years ago. I’m still learning every day. I’m far from perfect, but I love sharing the info I’ve gathered along the way.

What do you like most about the music industry, and why?

Camaraderie, passion, creativity, innovation – still blows my mind that human beings are capable of creating such incredible music. And the fact that I’ve gotten to work with so many that do it. I’m just really grateful to be able to have a front row seat to how music gets made, seeing and even being a part of artists’ success at all levels.

If you could change one thing about the music industry, what would it be and why?

There are a number of things I would change including diversity and the way artists make money from their work, but one of the biggest things I would like to change as well as those is making the industry a healthier space – mentally and physically. This involves giving artists and industry the tools (and the space) they need to take care of themselves and each other.

We all need to be empowered to make healthy changes in our own lives, but it needs to come from the top down as well, starting with the acknowledgement that the industry can be an inherently unhealthy place to work, and identifying the things that can be done to change that.

We’re seeing in-roads, which is awesome, but there’s a lot of work to do. With Equilibrium, we’re hoping to not only keep the conversation going, but also provide real ways for musicians and the music industry to stay healthy while doing what they love.

How do you see the future of the music business developing in a post-pandemic world?

I love seeing more action (not just discussion) in the way of diversity and equity, across the board, and I do think it will continue to build and grow, thank goodness. I see people listening more, which I think (hope?) will continue. And I see people focusing more on their wellbeing: slowing down, acting more consciously, and taking care of themselves more. For all the terrible things the pandemic brought, it also allowed a lot of us to do things we never had time to do: cooking, sleeping, exercising, etc. So much of that newfound self-care is being tested now with tours starting back up, travel, commuting and late nights. I’m hopeful that we won’t fully go back to how things were. I think that we’re in a good place to find a middle ground between doing great work and not sacrificing our wellbeing.

Can you give us some advice to readers who want to improve their current practice in the music industry?

Do set boundaries. It took me so so so long to realise that I was allowed to do this with bosses, co-workers, clients, team members, artists… Prioritise your wellbeing in whatever way you need to. You’ll still work hard, and get it all done, but without the added side of burnout. And Don’t forget to have fun! This industry is a tough one, but we’re super lucky to work in it, and it really is a freaking blast!

Achal Dhillon

Achal Dhillon started Killing Moon Group in early 2011 in his parents' loft as a new music blog following a string of A&R/artist management positions at Universal Music, Quest Management and Turn First Artists/First Access Entertainment. It has since evolved into one of the UK’s best artist development platforms, encompassing a record label, artist management and live promotions business. Dhillon was elected in 2016 to the board of directors at the Association of Independent Music and was promoted to the Board Management Group in 2021. He is regularly engaged by third party labels and managers on developing artist campaigns as an area of expertise. In August 2021, Killing Moon Group announced the creation of The Music Federation – a collective of various music companies ranging from labels like Fierce Panda, and studios like Metropolis, right through to curators like Radio X’s George Godfrey and festivals such as Wild Paths and 2000 Trees – with Dhillon cited as the principal architect and the Federation’s first CEO. In addition, Dhillon is a consultant festival booker for Festival Republic focusing on DJs and stage comperes, alongside Killing Moon Live’s position as exclusive talent bookers to Native.fm – a platform with content exclusivity over 75 student unions in the UK, with over 3M subscribers. He has also worked a great deal in creating access to funding/capital for developing artists and new music businesses. Artists he has worked with currently and historically include Jack Garratt, Rita Ora, Arcade Fire, Fickle Friends, Paul McCartney, Bjork, Ellie Goulding, Annabel Allum, Marsicans, IDLES, Chapter and Verse, Cleopatrick, Bad Nerves and more. Dhillon is also a patron (as well as Killing Moon being the largest revenue-generating partner) of the House of St Barnabas in London; a charity operating as a members’ club, with the object of raising funds to eliminate homelessness in the UK.