The second part of the Generator and This is Creative Enterprise songwriting masterclass commenced at Loft Music Studios on the 23rd September, this time focusing on the business side of the music industry. The morning was a panel based discussion with Jenny Jones (Ninja Tune), Keith Armstrong (Soul Kitchen Music and Management) and Steven Braines (The Weird and the Wonderful). It was an impressive line up with a diverse range of experience, leaving them well equipped to advise our audience.
Jenny Jones introduced Ninja Tune as an independent record label based in London with Just Isn’t Music (JIM) being its production arm. Her specialism is sync music licensing – where music is used on various media, from existing songs or bespoke commissions. Jenny’s role involves placing music with clients drawn from Ninja Tune’s roster and beyond. Having earned a music production degree at Leeds Metropolitan University, Jenny spent eight years working for a music production library, which is an archive of music that can be licensed for use in TV for media, before moving into this role. We were able to see a showreel for one of their published artists, Fink, who had his work featured across various media, including major US films such as Dear John.
Keith Armstrong introduced himself as becoming a manager by ‘default’, as he looked after the artists on his first label and publishing company, Kitchenware Records, with acts such as The Lighthouse Family. He restarted a new label and company in 2012, – Soul Kitchen Music and Management – refocusing on the development of artists with his first signing, Jake Bugg. Keith discussed how Jake was a budding talent, who he then sent to ‘song writing school’ to hone his craft with other writers. The culmination of this process to date means Jake is totally driving all the creativity, writing each and every song. Sync music was a huge driving force behind Jake’s early success. Soul Kitchen are continually finding and developing young talents such as recent signing Fletcher Jackson.
Steven Braines leads The Weird and the Wonderful with offices in London, Berlin and L.A. With a pop and underground music focus, his current clients include the artist, producer and DJ Maya Jane Coles and Chelou. As the name of his company suggests, he described himself as being drawn to managing artists who are interesting and instinctually have a ‘presence’. As a white male in the industry, he felt it was important to showcase diverse talents on his roster.
One of the very first pieces of advice from Jenny about trying to get your music synched was that you have to be ‘in it for the long haul’, as whilst it can be very lucrative, it is not easy or quick to get involved with. The money involved can span from thousands to hundreds of thousands, but everyone has to start off small and gain experience, initially often through writing for music production libraries. Production music is non-commercial music created specifically to be synched. Jenny praised production libraries as coming with a sense of community, as you can use message boards to gain feedback and support from other musicians, but she warned not to use your best ideas for these libraries. To get started, Jenny advised our audience to do their research and shop around for the best deals when putting their music to these libraries, as they can provide a good course of income.
Ninja Tune receive sync briefs from clients in various ways, they are often specific, with some clients having music in mind before they create their media, or a storyboard or style. Often the music requested is influenced by trends or fashions in music at the time. Jenny searches through their roster, which is placed into categories, to find the right musician or artist. Jenny advised our audience to begin in the sync music business by creating a showreel with their music or vocal over moving images or film. In order to progress further, finding a sync agent to pitch music to the clients is vital, as many supervisors are bombarded with unsolicited material. Jenny noted how a lot of their artists work under a pseudonym when writing for their publishing arm, separating their artist identity. Indeed, a branch of sync music is bespoke commissions, where an artist is chosen or a piece of music created specifically for the visual.
Steven recognised the many contradictions of synched artist music, as some bands may not be as ‘successful’ in their artistry as they are with sync and vice versa. Keith discussed the successes he had with Jake Bugg’s noteworthy synched songs, such as on the Greene King IPA beer advert, which was chosen as the makers could not use a Johnny Cash song. Through Jake’s sync experience, Keith recognised the combination of luck and subjective taste on how music supervisors choose the music they use. Jenny ended our discussion on a hopeful note, pointing out that music is used now more than it ever has been, meaning there is more of a chance for all those hoping to break into getting their music synchronised with moving picture.
Publishers, record labels, production and songwriting:
Keith helpfully defined the difference between publishers as making money from the song itself and record labels as making money from the recording of the music. For him, publishing was the best way to develop an artist and a good publisher should help you to develop in the way that you want. A publisher works to split the royalties and the best deal was said to be 70/30 in the artist’s favour, but unfortunately a 50/50 split had become the standard. Another piece of key advice from Keith was to not pick a publisher with a huge roster, as this may mean you might not be prioritised.
For Jenny at Ninja Tune, having the record label and the publisher all together makes the process a lot faster. Labels really work to ‘push’ an artist, particularly using their international connections, which can be difficult to achieve when you are totally DIY. Ninja Tune have all the facilities they need in-house to support and distribute an artist’s work. Ultimately it was agreed that there is only so much you can do alone, as bigger labels have the ‘money and muscle’ to take music worldwide.
Producers were defined as making a better version of what you are as an artist and can help you to realise your goals. The industry was said to be getting more egalitarian, with producer splits sometimes 50/50. For up and coming producers, Steven advised using session singers to achieve the sound they want. In terms of songwriters, the panel advised to get out working with young artists to develop your craft. Jenny specifically advised writers to get out of their comfort zone with genres, as there is minimal development to be had always sticking to what you know.
The panel was full of useful advice and engaging discussion about artist development and developments in the industry. Keith encouraged our audience not to overthink the music they are creating, simply to make music that they themselves like, which then goes hand in hand with finding a manager who is equally as passionate about your sound. The goal is to build up your work enough to be noticed and approached by professionals who will help your career.
In the new musical climate, he argued that the consumption of music through streaming and technology is radically changing the way music is made, sparking a debate about whether albums are still relevant or now becoming an archaic form. Jenny agreed that nowadays tracks on an album can all be singles and for new artists in particular, spending a long time on an album can mean they get forgotten. However, at Ninja Tune their older audience still value owning an album. Even in acknowledging the difficulties of getting noticed in this new era of singles, Keith felt this era was promoting innovative work, with new artistic collaborations springing up all the time, with artists no longer feeling the pressure of creating an album.
In terms of artist image and aesthetic, Jenny offered really helpful advice to resist a homogenised ‘pop’ brand. Whilst recognising the importance of having an appealing artist image, she felt this did not have to be looks based, instead you could focus on other aspects including logo, stage design or lighting, rather than a purely appearance based ideal. This aesthetic has to keep evolving and changing naturally, as some images can grow tired if reused.
An audience member asked a helpful question as to whether songwriters specifically need a manager. Keith pointed out that in the same way you need assistance with publishing, managers are there to 100% believe in what you do and to provide you with opportunities, which are often few and far between. Soul Kitchen actively search for new artists and again he insisted that it is ‘instinct’ that plays a big part in who he chooses to manage.
Steven echoed this sentiment, saying you can’t force the friendship that management requires, you have to be able to communicate, as no-one wants to work with a difficult artist. In equal measure, he recognised things can be difficult for artists too, due to the many exploitative managers out there.
After lunch the panel then split off into different rooms around Loft to have one-to-one sessions with our audience. It was an incredible opportunity for the diverse audience of songwriters, musicians, artists and music business professionals to showcase music, gain tailored advice and to network. By cutting out the queues that often form after events for speakers, this approach gave every individual a chance to get the most out of the session and there was a real sense of progress for all by end of the event.
Special thanks to our guest speakers and to Loft Music Studios for welcoming us to use their space.
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