My music business life in seven offices
My music business life in seven offices
By Doug D'Arcy
 
 
IMG_1871.jpg
Office 7 (1).jpg

Listen to Episode 7 here:

I left Chrysalis knowing I didn’t want a corporate job at a major label. My only thought was to start again from the beginning. That means a new label. I have the opportunity to go into partnership with the Bertlesmann Music Group to create one. I’d worked with them when I was at Chrysalis and had good relations with them, firstly through Monti Luftner and now my main point of contact Rudi Gassner, who I’ve also known for quite a while. Following my ‘Mick Jagger strategy’ as always Richard Leher who represents the Rolling Stones in America, as well as Chrysalis Inc, has negotiated the necessary agreements for the joint venture. 

It took a while and in the meantime I was in a temporary office in Conduit Street on the corner with Bond Street.  My situation felt pretty strange and although Suzi Gooch my longtime PA came with me she was obviously unsettled. She soon told me she didn’t like the new circumstances and left. I’ve made a decision not to stay in contact with Chrysalis as we all need to move on, however I did offer jobs to a couple of people there. Karen Brown who works in the press department  impressed me by the way she handled bands like the Proclaimers and the Waterboys. I think she’ll make a good General Manager. Niall McGinley who was a scout at Chrysalis joins in the same role for my new label. It’s a small team who urgently need a home. I choose the name ‘dedicated’ all in lower case. I’m not sure Karen is thrilled with it but it’s supposed to express commitment and it does have the two ‘d’s’ of my name. 

Alison Shaw of Cranes.jpeg
images-17.jpeg

The music business is in the throes of a move west. The big companies have decided they don’t need to be in the West End where office rents and car parking spaces are expensive. Pulling all their different labels together under one roof with lower rents and rates, cheaper parking and their own building in West London seems like a good option. Maurice Oberstein aka Obie at Polygram led the charge and as usual the others follow him. BMG’s companies RCA and Arista based in separate West End offices are moving to Putney which is very west. It doesn’t suit me so I’m looking for my own office. I see a nice place in Golden Square, Soho but Karen persuades me we need to go west. Notting Hill is as far west as I can manage. 

We find an office at the back of the The Gate Cinema in Notting Hill with an entrance in Uxbridge Street. It feels important to secure a new office quickly for the embryonic label so when Faron Sutaria the estate agent and landlord calls to say he has another tenant it feels catastrophic. Fortunately we can make a deal and thankfully we can move in. We’ve bought cheap second hand furniture from Phillips Auction House and Karen has had some large papier mache figures made to sit on the terrace outside our windows. We’re the only tenants so loud music isn’t an issue, although sometimes in the afternoon we can hear the soundtrack music of the films showing in the cinema. 

I’ve been to New York to sign the agreements with BMG and make a press announcement. They are in the RCA building on 6th Avenue but are in the process of buying a forty four storey skyscraper on the east side of Times Square at Broadway between 44th and 45th Street. We decided my releases would go through RCA in the US where my old friend Bob Bouziak is President. Rudi Gassner introduced me to Heinz Henn who runs the International network which will be releasing our records. It’s interesting working in an entirely different structure. I’m used to having responsibility for most things that happen whereas now I’m just a cog in a wheel. I don’t mind the change. The last year or so has been difficult so this new situation feels like freedom again. 

images-1.jpeg

We’re settled into the offices. Karen has hired Coleen Maloney to be the receptionist, her assistant and to do some press. From reception down the corridor past Karen’s office on the right there’s a large room which is big enough for a meeting table, a couple of sofas, a piano and a desk for Niall. At the back of that room there is a door to my PA’s office then my office both quite small.  

The first signing to the label is important. There’s an alternative music scene developing and I think that’s where I must start. I like to work with music which  critics call cutting edge. I think of it as progressive music and I’m always fascinated by artists who are pushing out to find new forms of music. My experience is that this is where great music emerges. Whilst I was at Chrysalis Nigel Grainge of Ensign had signed a group from Bristol called the Blue Aeroplanes from a small indie label Fire Records. I’d noticed they had another band called Spacemen 3 who are an experimental band with great ideas and an amazing sound. I decide I have to sign them. 

Interview-In-conversation-with-Pete-Kember-of-Spacemen-3-Spectrum-and-Sonic-Boom.jpg

I approach Clive Solomon at Fire who I already knew from the Blue Aeroplanes and he put me in touch with Gerald Palmer the bands Rugby-based manager. He’s a local business man who after a long discussion arranged for me to meet Pete Kember aka Sonic Boom and Jason Pierce the two main band members. Pete lives in his parents country house near Rugby. Jason and I meet in a pub in Hammersmith. We manage to make an agreement with Gerald and we all meet for a dinner in a chinese restaurant in Lutterworth a village near Leicester. The two members are not communicating at all. They are each recording their own side of the album and it will definitely be their last record. I’d realized this from meeting them but I’m happy to release that album and work with them as solo artists afterwards. Jason has already started his next band Spiritualized and recorded a single with them, a cover of ‘Anyway that You Want Me’ by The Troggs. So my first LP release will be the Spacemen 3 ‘Recurring’ album and the first single will be Spiritualized ‘Anyway That You Want Me’ which squeezes into the Music Week top 75. I think it’s a good start. 

Chapterhouse early photo.jpeg

We’ve set about signing some other artists. Gerald Palmer plays us another group he is managing called Chapterhouse. They’re a guitar band and part of the same scene. We sign them pretty quickly. Without an artist roster most of our time is spent on scouting. Everyone in the office is involved and Chris Roberts the music journalist joins us as to help us find  new talents. We’re also recruiting scouts in Glasgow, Dublin and Manchester. We’ve found a band The Cranes from Portsmouth formed around a sister and brother duo Alison and Jim Shaw and we’ve begun to release a series of EP’s from them. We’ve decided that the music we’re signing and releasing needs to be part of the independent music scene. We’ve arranged to release our records through Rough Trade distribution and Karen is meeting independent press agents and radio promotion companies to create a team who are committed to our records. There’s the same split between the major and independent labels as there was when we first formed Chrysalis but it’s different now. Independent music is now a genre of music.

Chapterhouse live.jpeg

There’s another almost ideological split. The majors are ferociously increasing their market share. They’re buying up as many labels as they are able. Polygram have bought both the Island and A&M labels. EMI have added Virgin to their portfolio. In the early 80’s the music market comprised of 16 leading labels each with between a 1.9% and 8.8% share totaling 56.2% and the remaining 43.8% was shared by all the other labels. Now five majors have three quarters of the market. The independent labels that are left are smaller but just as active and are ahead in developing new artists. One result of this situation is that competition to sign new bands has become manic. A lot of the best new artists want to be part of the alternative culture that the indies represent even if it’s only because the music press champion the indies. I’m in the middle having a joint venture with BMG. I’m not the only label in this position for example Food Records is partly owned by EMI and the Hut label is a Virgin label.

Chrysalis moved west to a remote corner of Shepherds Bush about the same time I moved to Notting Hill.  I’ve been too busy to worry about my old company but I have been amused to see a Chrysalis bus shuttling the employees who don’t have  cars from Notting Hill tube to the office. Still I feel real remorse when Sinead O’Connor releases ‘Nothing Compares to You’. It’s a great achievement by Sinead and her brilliant manager Fachtna O’Ceallaigh to release probably the best ever single on Chrysalis, and I’m not there. The feeling doesn’t last as soon afterwards EMI complete their purchase and take over of the rest of the label.

 We started building the artists through EP releases but now we’re releasing their albums. Chapterhouse’s debut ‘Whirlpool’ has made the charts and so does the Cranes album ‘Wings of Joy’. We keep on making new signings. This Picture an alternative rock band and Balloon an acoustic duo are next. Karen is new to a lot of the stuff we’re doing, a&r, marketing plans and sleeve designs and she is loving it all. She is doing a great job with everything she’s called upon to do. She’s discovered a French designer Mark Pechard and together they are creating brilliant artwork both for the artistes and the label. We have Spiritualised’s debut album ‘Lazer Guided Melodies’ to come next which is sounding great.

 Karen Brown

Karen Brown

Our music is released in America through RCA. They have a Head of Alternative Promotion based in LA Bruce Flohr with whom we quickly form a good relationship. He’s leading the alternative music at the label and luckily RCA also licences Beggars Banquet’s records for the US. This means the label has a real interest in the music we’re making and have people working at the company who are committed and knowledgeable. My good friends Wayne Forte and Marty Diamond at the ITG booking agency are enormously helpful in setting up club dates so we can get our bands touring in America.  Heinz Henn the International head is proving to be a major ally and friend so despite having a very small team we’re able to get our records released and promoted all over the place.

 Penny with David

Penny with David

The Family Cat.jpg

We’ve just signed another band called The Family Cat. They’re good live with commercial songs. Robert Smith of The Cure has picked up on The Cranes and has offered them the support spot on their extensive European and American tours. This is a major opportunity for them and us. Running the label is helped by our brilliant accountant at BMG Dave Robinson and Steve Fernie a business affairs person at BMG who hasn’t a corporate bone in his body. I have a brilliant PA Penny Walker. She’s stylish to the point that she’s appeared in a David Bowie video but she also manages the office really well and I rely on her completely. It sometimes feels strange working in a label so much smaller than I’m used to and everyone, including the artists, are young and everything they’re doing is for the first time whereas I’ve done everything a thousand times but I’m enjoying being hands on.  We go to see a lot of our bands and a lot of scouting gigs. It’s feels like the life I’ve always had and always wanted.