Enthusiasm really is king
As Loud And Quiet reached its 15-year anniversary last month we posted the final episode of our 10-part podcast series about obsession and blind stupidity within the music industry. In making Music Made Me Do It, I saw it as a celebration of the music fandom that led me to start printing a fanzine in 2005. It was also an opportunity for me to educate myself in all the rolls within music that I’ve pretended I’ve understood over the last 15 years.
The series ended with an episode unpacking what it is to be a live agent through the life and career of Alex Hardee – agent to Liam Gallagher, Lewis Capaldi, Sia and Janet Jackson, and a partner in the prestigious Coda Agency until it merged with US giant Paradigm in 2019. As in our previous 9 episodes – each one dedicated to a different profession and leading figure within it – I asked Alex exactly what it is that he does and how he became so good at it. The ‘what’ and the ‘how’ were the purpose of the podcast, to say to listeners – and perhaps myself – these are the jobs that make up the music industry, getting one seems to be case of obsessing hard enough.
Just as Alex explained to me that, due to agency laws that protect the restriction of employment, live agents are unable to have contracts with their artists, and are therefore constantly a risk of losing them, professional songwriter Eg White (a man who went 19 years without a hit until he wrote ‘Leave Right Now’ for Will Young) shocked me in his episode when I asked him how he knows how much to sell a song for. “You don’t charge anything,” he said. “It’s a day of their time and it’s a day of mine.” That didn’t sound right either, until he pointed out that he then owns half of that song’s income (or a third of it if written with two other people, and so on) forever. For that one day’s work. It’s a pretty good deal when you write ‘Chasing Pavements’ with Adele and songs for Florence and the Machine and Pink and Sam Smith. “But don’t forget that that’s the end of my investment,” he said. “Their investment [as the artist promoting and performing the song] goes until they bloody die. I get paid for doing nothing… This is a violation of banking proportions.”
Ok. So obsessing hard enough won’t cut it with Eg’s line of work. If you can’t hum a tune, you probably shouldn’t be writing songs for James Blunt, although many would say that you should be (lol). And similar rarified talents are caveats to our episodes entitled ‘The Record Producer’ (with Paul Epworth), and ‘The Mastering Engineer’ (with Bjork’s/Aphex’s/Prodigy’s/everyone’s preferred ear, Mandy Parnell), although both guests learned much of their trade with formal training, which they speak highly of. Enthusiasm really is king though, and it’s the fattest thread running through the entire series, as it has been with Loud And Quiet over the last 15 years. It’s the only thread in my case, and it felt that way for Guv Singh too – a rave promoter and seller of cakes to stoners before he founded Catalyst Management and started hustling big deals for rappers MIST and Michael Dapper, and the Afroswing producer Steel Banglez. “I came to my unit one day and it was flooded,” he told me. “There were cheesecakes floating everywhere. And I thought this is a sign, to concentrate on music.”
We dubbed the series ‘a podcast about music obsession and blind stupidity’ because of stories like this; of Simon Taffe turning his decorating company into End of The Road festival the weekend he went to Green Man; of Barbara Charone moving from Chicago to London in the 1970s to become a music journalist and later a PR guru for Madonna, Keith Richards and Rod Stewart. The ‘blind stupidity’ doesn’t so much apply to floating cheesecakes, or Taffe’s tale of drunkenly flipping a 4×4 the night before his festival opened (although that is pretty dumb), but rather the naïve recklessness of gunning so hard for a career in music simply because you like it so much.
Everyone I spoke to had a DIY ethic that I could relate to – “an undeniable hustle,” is how Guv Singh put it – from Paul Epworth mixing Bloc Party’s debut album in his flat to Martin Mills starting the Beggars Group (the world’s biggest independent record label) as a mobile disco in the early ’70s. In speaking to Martin, I didn’t need to wonder for long if anyone could replicate his success today – they couldn’t. The same goes for founding a live agency like Alex Hardee’s. The music industry isn’t built that way anymore. It isn’t even built how it was when I started Loud And Quiet in 2005. But when I consider our place in it – and our achievements that are huge to us if not to others – I believe that you can still elbow your way in here. Everyone is, after all, making it up as they go along.
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