Urban Music Business Speed Dating

Getting serious about the business of music? Want to know about copyright? Registering a business? How to set up a label?


Urban Music Business Speed Dating

On hand to dispense music business advice at this seminal urban music event to artists, managers and business entrepreneurs, MusicTank are indebted to the following for making this event such a buzzing success:

  • Labels – Phil Legg & Dominic Brendell (Futureproof Records) & Ralph Tee, (Expansion Records)
  • Marketing & PR – Ade (Urban Allstars) & Wendy K, (Netbod)
  • Artist Management – Keith Harris (Keith Harris Music) & David Stopps, (FML)
  • Law – Lee McGuirk (Denton Wilde Sapte) & Leonard Bendel, (Entertainment Advice Ltd)
  • Publishing – Gordon Charlton (Reverb XL) & Kehinde Olarinmoye

The Urban Speed Dating event was part of an ongoing, East London creative business initiative, collectively known as SkIN.and was funded by the Learning Skills Council and the European Social Fund.

The business advice archived below is a selection of some of the advice given on the day.


  • Phil Legg & Dominic Brendell (Futureproof Records) were asked…Is there a distinction between the approach to marketing taken by independent labels and major labels?
    (PL) People with lots of money tend to be less inventive with marketing, so the majors can get lazy, for example just sticking up lots of posters, and if it’s not successful, artists can get dropped. As a label you have to learn how to do things differently. We once took on someone to do club promotions – they gave out too many records and flooded the market, but you learn from your mistakes.

Marketing is all about having good ideas; you don’t need lots of money you just need to be creative. Instead of doing a poster campaign all over London, target specific areas and events, for example spending your money on hiring a blimp (an advertising air balloon) for the Notting Hill Carnival.

Be different and entertain. Get out and do things yourself. Talk to people in record shops and any other places to do with music.

We have been offered a deal with a production company, what advice would you give?
(DB) It’s important not to give your material out to disreputable people, though you still have to get your music heard by as many people as possible. If it’s studio or production time you want, some managers are studio owners or and/or producers, (thereby minimising the amount of 3rd party involvement & risk).

(PL) Production companies are a good way to start out, but think about whether or not the work will get released, and the status of the deal you are signing. Some production companies have a record company that they pass music on to, their job is to turn your music into a quality product and pass it on.

Avoid committing yourself to them for too long, they should be able to deliver results in 6 months to a year. Don’t sign anything like a 3 album deal – that could tie you up for 6 years. Make sure they have an outlet and they can ultimately make you some money.

  • Ralph Tee (Expansion Records) was asked…
    To get music released is it better to approach the major record companies, or start your own label?
    If you can afford do the latter it is better, because at the moment it is very hard to get a major label to take notice of you without you having some form of profile as an artist to begin with. Putting out your own record will raise your profile, but you need to think about how to do it.

Although releasing CDs is the cheapest option, independent r&b/dance releases tend to do better on vinyl, whereas if you are aiming straight at the mainstream pop scene, marketing will be the biggest cost (which is not advisable unless you have a substantial investment fund from the start).

A debut record on your own independent should be good enough to bypass the hype and be recognised for the music on its own merit. In theory an initial pressing of a good record can pay for itself by dividing copies between ones you sell and one you give to DJs to build the interest. If it’s a brilliant record that you can sell the rights to another company with the capacity of putting it in the charts and establishing you as an artist in the mainstream.

Going straight to mainstream will be very costly in terms of marketing and proper distribution. However, if you get good management it will help a lot – it will also help with getting a deal with a major label if they have good connections. Major record companies do not respond do demos sent through the mail and would rather work with a manager they are comfortable about working with than artists direct.

If you do start your own label you are advised to set up a legal entity and make sure you are protected from financial risks. The best way to do that is by becoming a limited company, although that, too, has costs involved.

You also need to get distribution – there are two ways to approach this:

  1. press your own records/CDs and then try and secure a distribution deal only. This way the distributor has to do less so is more likely to agree, and you will get more of the money; OR;
  2. get a pressing and distribution deal, which will be less work for you as a label.

What do I need to think about when starting a label?
The first thing to do is get someone who knows the business; you need more than just enthusiasm. There are copyright laws and contracts to understand, and you must contact the MCPS to ensure you have a license to manufacture and sell any recording you plan to release

You need to decide what you are best at, who is in the company and what roles they will have. Who makes decisions? Who controls the money? etc.

You need to find an outlet for your records, and set some money aside to market them when they are released.

Once you have done all this you should look for your best record, and put it out on vinyl because CD singles tend not to sell outside the charts. You need to be as creative economically as possible when it comes to marketing because you are on a budget.

If you are trying to distribute it yourself, don’t go to retailers, go to wholesalers, as this is where retailers get their supplies and can help you get a wider spread of sales. Finally establish who the key players are in your area of music and get copies of your record to them for support.

  • Wendy K (Netbod) was asked…What is the best way to get media coverage to boost a band’s profile?
    Firstly you should have your own web site for people to visit; secondly you should look at other web sites for advice. The BBC 1 music site has a lot of information on how to get exposure for your music. Radio 1 will also play demos sometimes as part of their unsigned playlist, as will Ras Kwame on 1Xtra.

Other outlets for unsigned artists you should consider are Internet radio stations, and community stations like Resonance fm and even pirate radio stations.

If you want to get reviewed in a specific magazine you should look through it before you send a demo and see what the different journalists like before you send anything.

If you play live, look through Time Out and try and find venues that have live music at club nights, promoters often like to start the night with a live act. The Telegraph in Brixton is a good example of this.

How do we build up our fanbase?
Always collect the contact details of anyone who is interested in your music, and anyone you meet who would be able to help you. Remember to make notes about all of your contacts as you add them to your database. When you meet people you should make the effort to build a rapport with them and not just take their details, that way they will remember who you are if they get an e-mail from you. Put your contacts into three categories:

  • A fans contact list
  • A press contacts list
  • An industry contacts list

Then whenever you do anything you can let these people know what you are doing. Don’t send any e-mails out on a Monday, or Friday/Thursday evening, always send them out mid-week and they are less likely to be ignored.

PR people are very good people to have as contacts because if they like you they will be very good at promoting you; it’s their job to know lots of people in the industry, often at record labels. They sometimes run their own small labels as well.

Another very good way to promote yourself is to spend a lot of time contributing to online forums, but not chat rooms as they are ineffective. I spent a lot of time doing that when I worked for Ninja Tune, and quite a few of their artists very successfully promoted themselves that way.

What other sources of information would you recommend?
There is a book called Succeeding In The Music Industry that is very useful. It runs through all the different aspects of working in music from a business perspective. It also has a CD- Rom with many of the forms you might need to fill out at different times, if, for example, you want to start your own business. It also has advice on contracts and a section on music publishing.

You can find a lot of information and contacts in the Music Week directory (a lot of these people are ex-directory), unfortunately it costs about £65. However Music Week magazine also contains some of this information. There is also the Guardian Media Guide, which is much cheaper than the Music Week directory, and has a lot of useful contacts for promoting a band, such as local press as well as the national publications.

As a musician it is a very good idea to join the Musicians’ Union, not only for the information they can give you, but also because they will provide you with free legal advice.

  • Ade (Urban Allstars) was asked…How would you promote a live event on a budget, and grab journalists’ attention?
    The Internet is the best place if you are trying to do it on a budget. E-mail newsletters are also good.

When contacting journalists, be different, make things personal for each journalist and have telephone contact first before you send anything through – it shows that you have put in an effort. Be very clear about what it is you are offering. When you do speak to them make sure you mention your name and company name as much as possible.

If you are sending out e-mails you could design an e-flyer to make the e-mail stand out. If you have a web site you should always include as much information as possible on it as search engines will hit it more often.

How do you get included in listings?
PA Listings (part of PA Newswire) are the normal way to go about it, but it can be difficult to gain inclusion. If you don’t use PA Listings, contact publications directly. To do this it’s a good idea to set up a database of all the people that you contact.

How do you get sponsorship?
You need to offer them access to their customers by a new route, which can be difficult. It depends on what you are looking for from a sponsor. Trying to get money from them is hard; promotion is somewhat easier. I remember an example of a club that was in a very small venue, but they used to do a live web cast of the night that built up a large following, so they were able to get a lot of sponsorship.

  • Keith Harris (MusicTank / Keith Harris Music) was asked…

How should you go about developing an artist who has already written and recorded a number of songs but is unsigned?
Firstly, you should think about what kind of deal you would like. A deal with one of the major record companies has both positives and negatives.

On the positive side they have a lot of money to spend, and a well-established method for breaking new artists.

On the other hand they expect success very early on and will drop artists quickly if this doesn’t happen. Even though they sign a lot of acts they only really break a few a year because they are aiming for success on a very large scale. They do give a lot more money upfront than an independent label, but usually the terms of the deal are not as favourable as those offered to artists by independent labels.

Another option is to try and release the records yourself, which is an increasingly popular option these days. If you are going to do it yourself there are quite a few issues to think about.

You need to network a lot, and build a fanbase – the Internet is very useful for this.

You need to find out about royalties and the relevant collecting societies like MCPS/PRS.

Get as much advice as possible. The Association of Independent Music (AIM) is great for small labels and can offer a lot of advice. The Music Managers’ Forum (MMF) is cheap to join as an associate member if the artists you manage are unsigned (£100 plus VAT). They organise monthly training events on a wide range of issues.

What advice should I give a band as a manager?
The band should join the Musicians’ Union (membership starts at £99 and is for individuals only, not groups); not only do they give their members lots of advice, but they can help a band make an agreement between themselves. It’s very important that they do this, and as a manager it will be important to you in the future.

People don’t tend to think about this, but you need to be prepared for what happens if everything goes wrong. What happens if someone wants to leave. Who owns the equipment, etc?

The artist should have a lawyer before they sign any deal. Lawyers work on far more contracts than managers do, so they have a better idea of what an artist should expect at a given time.

It’s also important that artists have an accountant. When a young person gets an advance there is a tendency to spend it all straight away, and if they aren’t careful they won’t have enough to pay tax when it’s due.

Finally if there’s something you don’t know as a manager you should never be afraid to ask – everyone has to – and the MMF is probably the best place to go for advice. You only end up looking foolish if you’ve assumed you know how to do something but don’t really. I still learn new things every week.

What advice would you give about a production deal?
You must find out what the producer will bring the artist. Are they able to ensure that the recording will get released by a record company? Well-known producers often have ties to specific companies. If not it might not be worth it as you could very well be giving away the rights to the recording to a producer who will then just sit on the recording.

· David Stopps (FML) was asked…

What should you consider when looking for a manager?
They must be enthusiastic about your music, not just a businessman; they have to believe in what you are doing. You should look at who manages the people that you listen to, try looking through the Music Managers Bible for contact details.

Also, think about what you want from a manager. Every artist I have worked with needs different things, but basically a manager provides you with opportunities you couldn’t get on your own. They will need to be good at negotiating with people on your behalf, and managing accounts. If you do manage yourself, it takes time and your art suffers, but a manager still needs to justify their 20%.

You then need to think about what demo to send. I get a lot of demos sent to me; sending things cold is not the best option. You need to speak to someone first, but sending cold does work sometimes. It’s very important to put your contact details on whatever you send – you’d be amazed at the number of people who forget – and sometimes they’ve been people who I wanted to contact.

When you send out demos and press packs you shouldn’t make them too flash. Steve Lamacq said recently that he tends to put things to one side if they look too flash – I think it’s a British mentality to distrust things that have had a lot of money spent on them.

If your music is very diverse when you are sending out a demo then you should think carefully about what you want to do and concentrate on just one aspect. Early on in your career you need to be more targeted if you are going to break through; then you can diversify later or work on side projects. It takes a lot of time and effort to get somewhere so you should stick to one thing at first.

How would you develop an R&B act and get their material released?
It’s very difficult for British R&B artists to become successful. For some reason everyone wants to hear US R&B acts at the moment. You can still do it, but it is hard work. For some reason it’s easier for UK R&B artists to be successful if they try and be commercial rather than underground. It also helps if they get out and do live work as well.

Instead of self-releasing a record or getting a record deal, if you already have the recordings, licensing them to a record company is a good way to approach things. You really need to just knock on lots of doors; the Music Management Bible has lots of advice, and also useful contacts. To make more contacts, music courses are good, so are gigs. You should be trying anywhere you can; you can never tell what will come of things.

You need to always be enthusiastic about the music. I find that I gravitate towards people who are enthusiastic about what they are working on.

As a manager it also helps to work in lots of areas as you get to meet more people, I have recently signed a classical pianist and a drum and bass DJ.

How do you assess an artist’s development?
You need to look at what you are doing all the time and be critical. If you are rehearsing, always use a mirror to see how you look as well as how you sound. If you are writing music get as many opinions as possible on what you are doing; if you think you can improve it then do. An artist should be constantly improving and writing new songs.

Do you think it’s important to play live?
In my opinion it’s very important, though not essential – the Pet Shop Boys had 6 top 10 hits without playing gigs – but playing live is the best way to learn your craft. The more live work you do the better, even if there are only two people there to watch, it’s still important that you put on a proper show.

What advice would you give to someone starting out in the music industry?
I’ve been doing it for 35 years and I still love every day of it, and I’m still learning as well. The most important thing I have learnt is, never assume anything. Never assume that people will do what they say, or turn up when they are supposed to. You should always check and double check everything and chase people up to make sure they know what to do. I was a promoter for 15 years, which taught me a great deal about how hard it can be to organise events.

Although it’s not essential to join any societies, they are very useful; they run a lot of courses where you can learn a lot and also meet people. As a musician the Musician’s Union is the one to join, they offer free legal advice that you will find very helpful.

The band I work with are keen for their music to be used in film and adverts, how should I go about that?
You need to familiarise yourself with the film and advertising world. It’s much easier to get into in the US, but you’ll need to think of travelling over and having some meetings.

The people involved are starting to gravitate towards New York now instead of LA, so it’s not so far to go. Over here, A&R people in general are very hard to get hold of and arrange meetings with.

If you get a publishing deal it can help getting your music into films and adverts, but you need a publisher who will work hard for you. I have worked with EMI publishing quite a lot and they have worked very hard.

To find your contacts you should look in the A&R registry, which you can find online, it comes out quarterly and has a list of all the A&R people in the UK and the US, there is a yearly one that has contacts for the film industry.

  • Lee McGuirk (Denton Wilde Sapte) was asked…What is a cost effective way of copyright protecting your work?
    In this country there is no copyright registration like in the US, but if you can prove you were the first to create something then it’s protected. The most basic way is to post whatever it is (a recording, song lyrics, artwork etc – anything you can put in an envelope) to yourself recorded delivery and then don’t open it – it’s called copyright in material form.

If you are a member of the PRS you can register a song with them once you’ve written it, and then they will provide you with documentation. If you have recorded in a studio then there is proof that you have been there, though it would be a good idea to post the master to yourself as well.

It’s worth remembering that it’s hard to copyright a format or an idea, you can only copyright the expression of an idea. Say, for example, you had an idea for a script, you could write it out in a reasonable amount of detail, and then that in itself can be copyrighted as a piece of literature. Though if someone else does have the same idea you have to be able to prove that they have stolen from you, and not just had the same idea by coincidence.

How can you get legal advice without having lots of money?
It’s important for us as music lawyers to keep the grassroots going because they will end up being the people who pay us in the eventually. Because of this, junior partners will often do a little bit of free Pro Bono work for people starting out.
You can never tell how big an artist will be in the future, and once an artist works with a lawyer they tend to stick with them.

There are also West End music lawyers who only work with artists, and as a result they tend to be able to offer a better rate.

It’s a good idea to look at the trade bodies like the MU, as they have people who can give you legal advice. There are a lot of lawyers who will do an hour for free through one of the societies, and most people in the industry are willing to give out free advice sometimes. Lawyers also tend to offer specific rates for specific contracts that work out less than normal hourly rates.

It’s important to have a contractual relationship with people before you work with them, otherwise they can just walk away no matter how hard you have worked for them. You should always put something in writing; you don’t necessarily need a lawyer for this, as it is something you should do even if you work with friends.

I recorded a track with some other artists some time ago that has been licensed to a compilation album. The track has been receiving radio play since October, and I haven’t had any money for it.
First you should write to the label that is releasing the compilation album and see who has licensed the track. If the co-writer has licensed it he has obviously done so without permission from the rest of the band. This is why it’s very important to put things in writing at an early stage, though it’s still not too late to get legal representation.

You should also join PRS and MCPS as this will help generating income if your music is being used.

When do I need a manager?
You don’t need a manager to join any of the societies, but it is still important to have a manager as you have to remember that you can’t rely on people to stay as your friends in the music industry.

When you do get a management deal you need to make sure that you keep control of any money, or have a co-ownership account. Better still if you have an accountant you can trust the money should go to them first and then be distributed.

If you do sign for a management deal you should only sign for one year at a time and only continue if they have achieved some results for you, like gaining you some kind of record deal.

We are releasing a single soon, but as a group we have quite a complex relationship, and want get it sorted out before we progress any further as we are trying to sign a distribution deal. There are 15 of us, artists and producers, and we do our own management and PR, but we all want to be able to go off and do other projects with other labels. At the moment all of the money goes into a joint account, but we want to set up a limited company.
You need to go to a high street accountant to get help setting up a company, and then you can all be shareholders in the company, and some of you can act as directors.

If you tell a lawyer what it is you want, they can draft an agreement that will make you all equal members, and still allow you to go off and work with other labels. If you do then get a (distribution) deal for your work, your company can pay you a salary, so it’s important to get this sorted before you get a distribution deal.

It’s always important to formalise relationships, but as there are so many of you it is especially important, and you are now at the stage where you really need to get lawyers and accountants involved.

  • Leonard Bendel (Ent. Advice Ltd / Mint Source Recordings) was asked…
    What role does a lawyer play in an artist striking a recording deal?
    It’s not very realistic for a lawyer to find you a deal. They would only help if they really liked your music and had the contacts, in which case they would not be acting in their capacity as a lawyer. However if you are in the position where you already have interest, a lawyer could help in negotiations in the same way as a manger would if you had one.

How can you make sure that a lawyer is doing what they say they are, and charging correctly?
You can ask to see their time sheet. They have to justify any correspondence on your behalf, and you can bring this up and negotiate. If money is an issue you can always ask for a junior lawyer to handle your work with some supervision, this should reduce the cost.

How do you know if you are getting a good publishing deal?
There are certain standards that you should expect. You want to keep as many of the rights as possible. It’s important that both sides can maintain a good working relationship, if you have a personal relationship with your publisher they may push your music harder, which could be more important than a few percent more in a deal.

A good lawyer should know where a deal can be pushed, and which areas of what you are being offered are good or bad. You can also get advice from the British Academy, which is the songwriters equivalent of the Musician’s Union.

Don’t sign anything unless a music lawyer has looked at it first, this goes for production and management deals as well. You can get out of an unfair contract, but it’s better to avoid getting in to one in the first place, as you have to get it overturned by a court.

  • Kehinde Olarinmoye (Warner Chappell) was asked…What do I need to think of if sending off demos to be a songwriter?
    Basically the songs need to be of a very high standard. It’s also important to think of how they will sound with someone else performing them. As far as recording goes, if a song is really good the production won’t matter that much as it will stand out on its own. You should hear back about 2 or 3 weeks after sending the demo, though it is up to you to chase it up if you don’t hear something.

What style of music are people looking for at the moment?
The industry shifts so quickly that it is impossible to know. You can have an idea of what it should be, but nothing is certain, so we just have to gamble. Right now, in terms of albums, middle of the road music is successful, and for singles, R&B and pop music of the Fame Academy/Pop Idol verity is doing well.

It’s the production more than anything which determines the genre rather than the song itself, and that’s up to the record company, although by all means if you have access to a studio to record in then you should use it.

What terms should I expect from a deal if I am offered one?
As a writer you would get the larger share of the deal, probably somewhere around a 70:30 or 75:25 split for a five-year deal with the publisher.

Because of current low sales is there a lack of money in the industry as a whole?
Publishing is doing OK as royalties still need to be paid for all the uses there are for music these days. Album sales are actually good at the moment despite what’s happened to singles. There is always a need for songwriters, especially if they are good; they are the most important element of the music business. People who can write both lyrics and melody are always in short supply.

  • Gordon Charlton (Reverb XL)

What are the important things to look for when getting a publishing deal?
Apart from the percentage, if you are with a smaller publisher you should look for one that has an international network, so you can collect overseas royalties. These deals will often have a rolling advance as it can take 6-12 months to collect money particularly if it is being processed abroad.

A good publisher can do more than simply collect your royalties; they can develop you as a writer, press white labels, and license your music to record labels.

Remember if you sign with a big label you may get a big advance, but receive less freedom.