This week’s special guest is an A&R responsible for the success of several high profile UK artists, Anton Partridge. Anton has been heading up Warner’s dance imprint One More Tune or ‘OMT’ since it launched in 2010. As head of A&R he signs and nurtures domestic and international dance talent, both through mainstream and genre chart success and more long-term artist development. Prior to OMT, Anton worked for nine years at MCA/Universal in national radio promotion and A&R, signing artists such as Livin’ Joy and E-Motion. Alongside One More Tune Anton also manages artists such as DEVolution, who are releasing their next EP on label-of-the-moment Black Butter.
Tune in at 4pm (GMT) Tuesday for the live broadcast via our YouTube channel.
As usual we will be taking questions through YouTube at the end of the broadcast. This is your opportunity to have direct contact with a major label A&R, responsible for countless UK No.1 singles and the development of hugely credible artists like Wiley. Get involved.
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Luke Hopper: Welcome along to Point Blank Music Store here in London where today we are joined by Anton Partridge for this special A&R Live Master class. Now, Anton has been heading up Warner’s dance imprint One More Tune since it launched in 2010 and as head of A&R he signs and nurtures a variety of domestic and international dance talent. Prior to that, prior to One More Tune, Anton worked for nine years at MCA Universal in National Radio promotion and A&R as well, signing the likes of Livin’ Joy and E-Motion. Alongside One More Tune, Anton also manages artists like DEVolution who have their new EP coming up on label of the moment, Black Butter Records. So just before we get into it, I think we’re just going to see a quick clip from Wiley’s Reload which is a single that Anton is working on at the moment.
So right, we just watched a clip from Wiley’s Reload. Let’s welcome along Anton, give him a round of applause.
Anton Partridge: Hello. Hello everyone.
Luke: So yeah, first up I just wanted to ask if you could give us a bit more of an insight into your role at One More Tune and if you can talk us through some of the singles you are working on at the moment.
Anton: My role firstly is to find new music, new artists, sign them. With any luck have hits with them. Secondary to that, it’s also about the strategic plan for an artist, how and when to release certain parts of music. What the look will be in conjunction with our marketing team and how best to try either to build or sustain an artist’s career.
Luke: Okay. And what are the kind of things you look for when you’re going to sign a single? I mean, you mentioned there marketing. Is something, is there always going to be elements other than the music that come into it?
Anton: It’s always the music first because it’s pointless having anything else if the music isn’t any good. When you’re pitching for the top ten or higher then, yeah, marketing always has a large role to play.
Luke: Okay. Okay. So you’re looking at someone’s look, I guess, or?
Anton: It’s not necessarily as surface as that. It’s about which records comes first, where best to place an advert, what does the advert say about them, what does the artwork say about it? Is the artist on the artwork? Is it a concept driven thing where it’s imagery instead of artist on there? When do you reveal the artist within artwork or within videos? Depending on the artist and the sound, it’s a multitude of things.
Luke: Okay. I was also going to ask about videos. How important is it, in today’s industry, to look at music videos and from a dance perspective what are the kind of treatment that work there and is it a factor in getting a hit record?
Anton: Videos are important, mainly because everyone is so used to seeing visual imagery or not just the static photo of something. Lyric videos have become more important. Even, what with people having Final Cut or iMovie and stuff like that, cutting together their own videos and popping them up onto YouTube themselves before even the likes of me can come across them. There is already a video there and it’s important just to continue grabbing people’s attention because everything is so readily available at the moment that you can find it quickly, consume it, listen to it, or watch it 20 times a day and then you move on. That’s why a video is important whether or not it’s at a very early stage before you’re signed and it’s not a question of spending thousands upon thousands of pounds at that point when you are signed and you’re gunning for the top ten and you’re trying to fill certain criteria with what the video needs to achieve.
Luke: I guess YouTube is now the kind of go to place to look for music, to search for music. It must be a hugely important factor for you guys in A&R.
Anton: Yeah, stats are tending to be very important at the moment. Whether or not that’s YouTube views, Twitter followers, Facebook likes, any of the kind of social media. It’s becoming more important whilst we look at things but not only whilst we look at things whilst we take things to radio or to TV and they can see how popular something is just by the sheer numbers.
Luke: Yeah, that plays a massive role. Can you talk us through some of the singles that you’re working on at the moment?
Anton: Yeah, well I am just finishing the Wiley album and we’re just on our third single Reload, which you saw a clip of there. The album comes out on the first of April. We’ve got another couple of singles to come from that still, to continue pushing with the album. I’ve got a Matisse record called All In. There is a new Smiler single and I have a great Australian band called Parachute Youth that are touring across Europe at the moment and then hit the UK at the beginning of April.
Luke: Okay, cool. I was also going to ask about the kind of approach. You mentioned the Wiley album there and then a few different singles and stuff like that. How different is the strategy with an album artist compared to releasing an EP?
Anton: It’s really broken down to the fact that, at least I think that people buy singles because they like the song. People buy albums because they like the artist and what the artist represents. Whether or not it’s because of the clothes that they wear or what they say on Twitter engages them and they follow them. They buy in. It’s less of an ask to get someone to spend 99p because they like a song than it is to anywhere from 7.99 to 9.99 if they don’t like the artist but they only like a couple of the songs because they can cherry-pick them from the album and just pick the singles anyway.
Luke: I guess with the album, you’re almost leading just with that in mind, without hearing every record on the album. You’re just buying it because it’s a piece of work you want to own whereas with a single, you’ve always got to listen to it on YouTube like we said, kind of that way. You’re going a little bit blind as well.
Anton: The only real difference for me is the strategic part, with the album, because you are looking at which single should come when and where, whereas with a single you’re just running with it to try and make it as big as possible.
Luke: To look at the Wiley album again, is it a different thing taking someone from that UK underground to the kind of commercial success that he is clearly looking for with the album?
Anton: I’ve been fortunate with Wiley because he’s had commercial success in the past, it just hasn’t had the continuity and he hasn’t sustained it but I’ve got him at a time in his career now where he wants to give it a really good push and he does want to follow up a hit record with another hit record and he isn’t afraid of doing that. He’s not afraid of any accusations of selling out because whilst he’s doing that, he’s giving away 20 free tracks online.
Luke: Pretty underground stuff as well.
Anton: Very underground stuff. He’s serving both worlds as best as he can. It hasn’t taken too much enticing for him to be able to do that. He’s at a point in his career where he wants to do that. Whereas maybe five or ten years ago, continuously having top ten records with him would be beyond most people’s task.
Luke: I think he’s had a fairly bumpy road with major labels, I guess. Is it hard to keep someone like that, who has a very clear musical identity and almost vision, is it hard, as you said, to entice him to a more commercial sounds or to keep him in check with what the label is looking for?
Anton: Whether or not it’s him or any other artist, unless you’re dealing with someone like One Direction. They are just like ‘Yeah give me any song, we’ll do whatever production. We’re going for number one.’ But when there is any kind of artistic integrity, there are always going to be questions asked as to whether or not a song is, not necessarily too cheesy but too commercial or is showing the artist in the best light even though you’re trying to get a hit. There is always that regardless of whether or not it’s Wiley or any kind of band or singer let alone a rapper that has come from the underground and up.
Luke: I guess there are plenty of examples out there of people who do both. Definitely. I think you’ve got a couple of clips of records as well.
Anton: Yeah, here’s one by an artist called Matisse that I am currently working on. This isn’t finished yet. This is something that will be coming out for the summer.
Luke: What is the approach using a theme record [inaudible 10:50]
Anton: Yeah. We’re just finishing this record. It has had a load of online stats. It’s looking really good. We’re slowly building it so that by the time we go to radio, day time radio in the summer, we are at that point where we’ve got everything set up. It’s been used in the Coke Zero online campaign. So their whole online campaign which has this dance involved. This clip is used for the whole online ad.
Luke: How important is that side of the world? I guess you’re thinking seeing music for ads and stuff like that? Is that part of the ..?
Anton: It’s a huge help. It helps the music reach places that you couldn’t normally reach because their budgets are astronomical.
Luke: It gets spread to the world incredibly. I also wanted to ask about the production process as it were. We had recently a guy from Interscope Records A&R, Dave Rene. He studied a production course with us. I think he had been in industry for a long time and wanted to be able to relate to artists and producers as well as remixing. I guess being in the dance world that comes up a lot. Do you have any kind of involvement in any production process like that?
Anton: Yeah, I work Logic. I work Pro Tools. I have made dodgy records in the past. Definitely not with my name on or anything. But I think more than anything, unless you really are aspiring to be a producer, for an A&R man what that gives you is an ability to communicate with a producer or an artist in the same language and the same understanding that they have. Instead of making it more purple, you can say look, the bottom end needs a bit more compression. It has 20 kiloHertz. Why don’t you do? It’s being able to just speak on term with them in a language that they understand and also knowing when you analyze and sit and listen to hit records and you see how they are made. When you can hear something is almost a hit, but it’s just lacking something from one of your favorite records. It might be one. Or it might be the song it might be the melody. It may be it’s not bright enough as far as production is concerned or anything else like that. It’s just being able to spot it yourself and communicate that with the producer instead of just saying make it bigger or make it a hit.
Luke: The knowledge plays a communicative role. The fact that you know terminology and know what a logic project looks like, etc, must be an amazing advantage.
Anton: Yeah, it also allows you, from my point of view, I get the stems in and I’m there in office and I am chopping things up and doing edits or re-overlaying acapellas over instrumentals and tightening things up. Or just doing that so that I don’t have to communicate with someone to get my vision across. I do it, send it to somebody and say that is the arrangement at least. Or here, look, I’ve turned up the bottom end. I’ve put some more top end on it for sparkle on these bits. That’s what is missing. They can start getting a clearer picture of what I am looking for.
Luke: I was also going to ask about re-mixing. How important a role that plays in the industry today and your views? When you’re looking for remixes, are there certain kinds of criteria you are looking for or a remixer?
Anton: It depends on what the record is. Some records, like with Parachute Youth I’m looking to keep the remixes on that very cool because they are not a high street, commercial club sound, by any means. They are somewhere more between Empire of the Sun and then GMT. They’d kill me if I tried to do that anyway. I am looking with them to have other areas of DJs that might not play the original, playing that as long as it still has elements of the song in. It’s being spread out further and wider. Ultimately it will always be, nearly always, 95 percent of the time, it will always be the original version to go to radio and is what becomes the hit. It’s a very dangerous game to remix something, looking for the remix to be what gives you the hit because the remixer might suddenly want to go do something really in left field tangent. It might be brilliant but that’s not going to give you the hit. It’s going to get other people playing it and other people aware of your act but not help put the record in the Ten.
Luke: For the artist, you want to support them, the original has got to be the piece of work that you’re really trying to drive.
Anton: It’s always a bit of a balance as to how many or how soon you go with as far as remixes because you don’t want to dilute the artist’s original production. If you’re putting tens of remixes on a project, that means you’ve got no faith in the original production and you’re trying to find something else that it doesn’t have. With Wiley, we might do, because we’re in that Top Ten arena now, we might do a slightly more commercial mix. But we’ll always do something for the specialists and for the underground people as well.
Luke: I guess for Grime as well, such a massive artist is Grime is kind of good to get back to that community as well.
Anton: Totally, yeah. And not leave that behind. That’s a really important thing. Especially if you are taking someone out of somewhere that gave him his foundation and you’re putting him in a different area. If you don’t look after where he came from then suddenly the Top Ten market decide they’ve had enough. They are very fickle. Then there is nothing left behind him. He’s got nowhere to go. So as long as you always take care of him and keep that base so he’s always got a foundation to fall back onto.
Luke: Cool. Today, we’ve been talking in the office. Obviously knowing that you are coming in, we are talking about Kill Your Friends, the John Niven book, which obviously paints a pretty exaggerated, cut-throat world of A&R in the ‘90’s. Is the world of A&R different now? Is there any kind of [inaudible 17:48].
Anton: Yeah, that book was exaggerated for story telling purposes, to an extent at least anyway. It’s competitive. Everybody wants to sign the hits. It’s collaborative at the same time though because I’ll work very closely with our New York, LA offices, with Germany, with Australia, key markets that get the UK sound. If those territories start working, then France, or Holland and Belgium will start coming on board as well. We all talk. We all play one another what we’re looking to sign. ‘Will this work for you? Do you want me to pick it up for your territory? Do you want this?’ At least within the Warner system, it’s very collaborative.
Luke: You get to do a lot with other territories, I guess?
Anton: Yeah. We’re constantly using one another as an outlet for our music. I partner up with our sister label in New York, Big Beats. It’s Fire Atlantic. A lot of their releases come through me as well. Our Australian label Neon and our German label Bit Clap, we all swap releases and co-release one another’s materials.
Luke: Well it’s nice to hear it’s a bit more collaborative than the picture painted in the book. Let’s talk about DEVolution as well. Have you got any of their tracks that we can hear at all?
Anton: I happen to have a couple of their tracks here.
Luke: They have a release coming up, Black Butter?
Anton: It’s just out on Black Butter. It’s been going great. I’ve been managing DEVolution for just over a year and again sometimes you carry on doing what you are doing and the time comes around for you to have your moment because they’ve been doing great remixes to DJ mixes. We’ve been plugging away and building support from Mr. Jam at One Extra, Target, Cameo and then tail end or actually, summer of last year that support went into Annie Mac on Radio One and it’s just building really nicely. Now, this future based, future garage, future house, future whatever you want to call it, it’s its time now. It’s Disclosurer [sounds like 20:14] at the front. They are running.
Luke: Rudimental as well.
Anton: Rudimental. It’s all looking really good. It’s carrying on and having belief in what you’re doing even though it doesn’t necessarily feel as if it’s right when they were doing stuff like this and there’s Avicii and Afrojack and Swedish House Mafia with dance music on steroids. They are thinking, where do we fit? And everything has its cycle. It’s come around. They are really hot at the moment. Radio is starting to love them. They are DJing everywhere, at every festival this summer.
Luke: What is the kind of story behind these guys? How did you come across them?
Anton: There are two guys. One is Pete Devereaux who used to be the Artful Dodger or one half of the Artful Dodger at least anyway, and a guy called Tom Devassi who was signed to Steve Angello’s label Size quite some time ago. Funnily enough, my lawyer put me in touch with Pete because we share lawyers. He said ‘Look, he’s doing some good stuff perhaps you should go and have a chat’. And he was right. He was doing some great stuff. But again, there was nothing going on. I said, OK, we need to build this. We need to slowly see where we can carry on raising your profile with each remix, with each release. Now we are getting to a point where we’re all in a really good space.
Luke: It’s a great record and it’s out right now you said as well?
Anton: This is actually out as free download on Black Butter Spread Love. It’s part of a three track EP. There is this. There is Listen to the Bad Man. And this one, which is If You Believe. Again, an EP is good because Annie Mac started with My Friends and has moved onto Listen to the Bad Man. She had it as her record of the week, special delivery. Mister Jam has continued supporting My Friends and If You Believe. It just allows, as producers as well, it allows them to just be slightly flexible with their sound across the three different tracks. So they are not being pigeon holed just for one thing.
Luke: I think for me, the three track EP, especially that third track gets to be slightly different, slightly weird, a bit more experimental.
Anton: You’re going to have to excuse me a second. It’s looking really good with them now. We’re writing like mad for the second EP. We’ve got a hell of a lot of backing tracks. They’ve now got vocalists going in every week and we’re just sorting through songs in between then going off and DJing. We’ve cut back on all the remix requests now just so that they have time to do their own thing. When we’ve got our own music, because again, it’s that thing of having strategy. Even though we’re self releasing or releasing via Black Butter or Low Key Releases, there has to be continuity.
We have to get the next EP out by the end of April. It has to be right. If it’s not quite there, there might be a slight delay but in between those two EPs, we’ve got little DJ tours where they’ve chopped up old bootleg records of stuff that they use in their DJ sets that we’ll have as free downloads. They did a Mister Jam guest mix. They had Annie Mac special delivery. They just, on Friday, did the Annie Mac mini mix and then at the end of this month they are doing the guest mix cameo. We’re just constantly keeping their profile out there.
Luke: With an artist like that, the remix request must be off of the single right? To kind of make time to maybe put a little bit of a stop to them in [inaudible 24:14].
Anton: It is. You have to look at the long game because it’s very easy to go, Okay, we’ll take a couple of grand to do a remix and we’re done and it’s done. But if that stops you from writing your own material or you give away one of your best ideas when you’re mentally stepping up a notch, it’s best just to hold back and go ‘Okay, right, We will do remixes.’ It makes you more sought after and then what?
Luke: A question has come online in the chat room that I was going to ask you anyway. Just to Get Rappers has asked, how did you get into A&R in the first place? Do you have any advice for someone looking to get into it now?
Anton: It has changed drastically how, well by comparison to how – when I got into it. I just bugged the hell out of people. It’s the same attitude whether or not you’re making music, wanting a job, it’s just persistence. Back then, it was London Records that I was trying to get a job at because they were my favorite label. Pete Tone was there with FFRR and they were on fire. The promotions guy for radio, Billy McCloud, who now works in Australia for Warner’s. I did silly things like befriended the security guard when I went into at 7 o’clock one morning. Filled his office full of blue and white balloons because he’s a Glasgow Rangers supporter saying ‘Give us a job’. Just wouldn’t get out of his face to the point where, when a job came up somewhere else at Universal, he was on the phone to them going, you should at least talk to this guy.
But in the meantime, what I’d also done is found, I wanted to go into radio promotions because I loved radio. I loved listening to the radio. I knew how it worked. I had researched and I found that Radio One or Capital Radio, the producers have appointments and the pluggers, as they are called, go in and play the music to the producers in consideration for a playlist or to be played on the station. I just called up Radio One people and I’m like ‘Hey look. I know you wouldn’t normally see me but I’m trying to get a job as a plugger. It would really help if I came in and sat with you and see what you do.’
Also, when I do get a chance to have an interview with a label and I’m saying ‘Yeah, I’ve seen the producer at Radio One who does the breakfast show and I’ve seen the producer at Capital Radio and I’ve done this’. They are sitting there going, ‘How did you do that?’ ‘Well, I called them and I wouldn’t take no for an answer. In the nicest, politest, possible way’. It’s a really thin line between pissing someone off and being just on the right side of ‘Okay, you’re serious about this. Come on then. I’ll have a chat with you’. Whereas now, there are interns. There are schools.
Luke: It’s a similar thing, though. Interning, you are kind of making stuff happen for yourself, aren’t you?
Luke: You’re kind of putting yourself in the spotlight. Making yourself available and getting right involved in the deep end.
Anton: No job should be too small, worth it or not. That means it’s three weeks of not doing the glamorous stuff but number crunching, making tea. If you really want to do it, be appreciative. The big thing is getting your foot in the door and being very appreciative of at least getting your foot in the door because there are thousands of people that want to be inside a record company or want to be a producer or want to do this. It’s pretty much the same for all alike. It’s persistence, it’s belief that you’re right or that it’s the right thing for you. Whether or not that’s making a record or wanting to work inside a label.
If you’re making a record, there are so many tools at the moment when people like me aren’t taking your calls or we’re ignoring your emails because we’ve got so many other things going on and we’re just not there. Suddenly you email me and you go, ‘Jey look, I’ve got 10,000 views on YouTube.’ Okay, that’s low by comparison to what I want but you’re doing something. You’re getting involved. ‘I’ve got a track on this blog. I’ve got my mix on Eaton Messy or Majestic Casual or any of those.’ Well, you get it, because you need to understand whether or not, as an artist, how a label works and self releasing and promoting your own material will give you a really good understanding of when we’re screwing it up. So you can say, ‘Why are you doing that?’ If you haven’t got a clue, you don’t know what we are doing and we might not get it right all of the time. It’s about having as much knowledge and intelligence on the whole thing and the whole set up.
Luke: I think it’s something that has come up again and again when we’ve spoken to industry professionals like yourself, and artists, and DJs. Is about really putting in the ground work. Making sure you know the industry and you’re doing it for yourself almost. If things aren’t happening, then why not go out and find artists and work with people. I think it’s a really valuable thing.
Anton: And what there is available at the moment, from the likes of Tune Core, to be able to get your music onto iTunes. You don’t have to deal with iTunes directly to everything from YouTube to blogs to BBC Introducing, shows at One Extra, the producers are open to new music. That’s what they are about. That’s why they are there.
It’s a different ball game when you’re trying to get in on the day time areas of Radio One but you need to build yourself into that point before you can get there, before you are ready to be able to be played on day-time radio. It’s about building up a base with the specialists and the people that are appropriate to play your music and will play it regardless of whether or not there is a story, so long as it’s good.
That’s what we did with DEVolution. The boys went to Junk in South Hampton where Mister Jam was playing. This is our tune. Here you go. Here is a CD. Mister Jam loved it and he’s been a fantastic supporter since then.
Luke: We’ve had Mister Jam in and he did actually say, I think, that he preferred being handed a physical thing rather than just a faceless demo sent by email.
Anton: Yeah. It’s difficult because you do have to find something to set yourself apart because they, I, everybody gets so much music continuously. It is physically impossible to listen to it all. It’s hard to say what the markers are that would make me notice something but it’s either persistence or the fact that you’ve got things going on. When it’s just ‘Hi, I think I am going to be great. Here’s my MP3’. There’s every chance that that’s just going straight in the bin which might be foolish of me at times, but it hasn’t bitten me on the arse yet.
Luke: We’ve got another question from someone online who’s said that recently, he’s started his own agency, Pop Possibly Dot Com Management agency maybe? He’s asked what are the first three things to focus on when starting up in the industry, really?
Anton: If you’re starting a management agency…
Luke: I think that’s what he said. Recently started an agency.
Anton: Then it’s music, accounts, and legals because everything has to work from the music side of things. You need to have an idea about what you’re doing from an accounting point of view because if you’re spending far too much money and you’ve got no money coming in, you’re not going to be in business much longer. A decent lawyer, whether or not they are through the MU or anything else like that. A lot of firms are really good and work on a basis of we know you can’t afford to pay us now but we’ll take a percentage of whatever it is when you get signed. With that, it will just steer you in the right direction. Good advice from all around.
Luke: OK, cool. Another question from someone called K100Music. They’ve said that they’ve seen a lot producers releasing their own material, by their own labels or however else. He is asking if you think you’d ever see a time when major labels don’t play as big a part in the industry?
Anton: No. Because it takes a lot of money when you are at the top of your game. Even if you don’t take into account videos or marketing costs. The more popular you are, sometimes, the more expensive it is because people want you for promo. So you are traveling here, you’re traveling there. If you can make that work, I don’t ever see the major record company folding. People aren’t necessarily aware of how extensive and how much work goes in. We have a team, it’s a small team, but we have a team that work on Wiley, they just work 12 to 14 hours a day. It’s building things. It’s getting things right. It’s making sure that artwork is good. That it’s in. That music is right. That he is where he is meant to be.
Luke: Which is a job in itself.
Anton: Which is a job in itself and deadlines are being met. It’s very easy to be a very good successful independent with the occasional hit and make some decent amount of money. But it just depends what you want. Do you want to fill stadiums? Do you want to sit at the top of the chart? Or do you just want to kind of go along on a nice little curve that bumps up and down slightly every now and again and is totally sustainable? It just depends on what it is that you want out of your label, your project that you’re doing.
Luke: I think I definitely agree, actually.
Anton: Well good. I’d hate to have an argument with you right now.
Luke: Do we have any questions from you guys in the room at all?
Q1: How many people do you sign a year, on average?
Anton: It really depends. I guess, if it’s album materials, it’s probably only going to be about four or three. But with singles, of they are great and they are rolling then I could do anything from five to ten singles a year.
Q1: And of those albums, you push all of them to try to be at the top of the charts?
Anton: Yeah. Depending on what the strategy is. Someone might be at point where you think, ‘Well they are able to go in the top end of the chart straight away’. Someone else might need to build slightly on the first album. You are pushing them but you’re not overtly doing it so it looks like it’s a failure because you know that it’s got certain limitations and you’re building an artist. You want to move onto the next album and let them have a career and not have people think, well they didn’t hit a Top Ten, so that’s a failure. When your game wasn’t actually intended to be doing that.
Q2: You said you were managing DEVolution? Are they with Warner. Was it just for…
Anton: My management company is a stand-alone management company outside of Warners. I have DEVolution. I have some writer/producers called Reever [sounds like 36:51] and Black. They did Ne Yo’s Let Me Love You record. They are sort of at a big pop end. They are working on another big artist right now. And then I have a singer songwriter called Kate Ellsworth who is kind of left of center, slightly jazzy voice. We have a few other people that we are developing before we put them officially onto the management roster because I don’t want the pressure of them visibly on the roster, like ‘Okay what are they doing? What are you doing with them?’ It’s like, we are just getting the ground work done first.
Luke: Any more?
Woman 1: Hi. I just wondered, from a songwriter’s point of view, do you have a pool of songwriters that you go to when the artist has a track that they need a vocal on? What’s the process for that?
Anton: If the artist needs help or doesn’t write songs or they are more of a track person then there are some tried and tested people that we might go to. Then again, we try people out of the box like nobody had really heard of Miss D before Heatwave and she’s just a hook monster now. She just keeps on writing hooks for us and for other people. Her career has taken off. If you want a song, that isn’t necessarily a single. You don’t necessarily need to go to someone that is tried and tested but it’s amazing what that little 20 percent difference in someone’s writing ability is for it being either a Top Ten record or just a good record.
Q3: Hi. I’m just wondering, in terms of the major labels, do you see in the foreseeable future if they are still going to be monopolizing the scene or do you see smaller labels coming up?
Anton: I think smaller labels already are coming up, you know? It’s an expensive game. We reap our rewards when we have success but we don’t always have success. So the major company can afford to take the blow of spending the money and not having the success as long as we’re having the success elsewhere. If you’re an independent and you don’t have a big catalogue or you don’t have four acts that are constantly having Top Ten successes and you put a lot of money into something that you think is going to go all the way and give you all the money back and it doesn’t. It can cripple you. There is a huge place for independents. They are absolutely brilliant and I don’t subscribe to the kind of major versus indie battle or majors are terrible or indies are where it’s at. It’s like a major record company does something. It tries to take an artist and it tries to put them in a very big platform and tries to make the public as aware of them as possible, and then hopefully the public likes them enough and will go and buy their records and go and pay to see them on tour.
Independents do the same thing. They are a breeding ground. Black Butter is a great label but they signed Rudimental on Atlantic Records to be able to have the big injection of cash put into it and shoot a lovely video and really go for it. More than the money, just have a very big experienced team working a record and knowing when something quite might not be right or you’re on the money and we’re sailing. It’s not to say that the independents don’t have people with experience and that our teams are just normally bigger. We tend to have, I think by comparison, kind of like the ‘80s and ‘90s, when there really was a David and Goliath thing going on. There is a much better working relationship with independents and majors now. Independents, some could easily just carry on being independent and not have to sign anything after they’ve got their business model down. They’ve got the good accountant. They’ve got the good lawyer. They’ve got the good acts. They are solid.
Luke: Anymore from you guys?
Q4: One thing about the artist. Does it happen that you find them or they have to come to you usually?
Anton: It’s a mixture really. I wouldn’t say there is any one particular way that I go and find a single, an artist, an act. With A&R, I think you’re good, not only because you have a good understanding as to what sounds like a hit record but you have a good understanding of the whole process that a record has to go through. Normally, you serve a lot of time in other areas within the industry to get an understanding of how the marketing works or how the promo works or how anything else. During that time you build up a whole list of contacts and management comes to you and says ‘Hey, here’s a record’. Listen, I saw a kid the other week where everybody was there to see the singer and I thought the singer was average but his guitarist that was doing backing vocals and playing guitar was awesome, you know? I didn’t go to see that kid. I went to see somebody else. At the time, the other kid took my attention totally.
Luke: I was going to ask about that. That kind of follows onto, I was going to ask what makes a good A&R? Is that eye?
Anton: I’ll be damned if I know.
Luke: Not doing a bad job though.
Anton: The ear, I would say is first and foremost. And then you kind of are, to a great extent, in the lap of the God’s because there is a lot of timing and luck to a certain extent that goes into it because there have been amazing records and amazing artists that haven’t succeeded. It doesn’t mean that they are bad, it’s just the stars weren’t aligned. It wasn’t quite the right time at radio or the public weren’t quite ready for that sort of sound. Then certainly that sound comes in cycles. I mean, look at Alex Clare. He was signed, made the album, dropped. Microsoft picked up the track for the ad and suddenly it’s everywhere. Then he was re-signed. It was just people weren’t ready for it 18 months previous.
I would like to think that first and foremost it’s being able to hear a good strong hook or record. But I sound a little bit ambiguous about that because it’s not just the song. It could be an instrumental track. It could be a riff, especially in the dance world. But with artists, it’s invariably do they have the ability to write themselves or do they have the ability to write a good record? Have they got a great voice? Does that voice not only sound great coming out of a studio but does it sound great when it’s on live, in small dirty pub where there is only ten people standing around?
Then it’s thinking of, okay, I love the sound of this record or I love what this artist is about. How am I going to set this up? Who’s going to play this? How does it fit on TV? Where is the entry point to radio?
Luke: See the bigger picture.
Anton: Yeah. How immediately am I going to be able to, to who’s going to be the supporter at radio from a specialist point of view? Or from a day-time point of view? It’s kind of like just trying to analyze a lot of those factors that will go into it.
Luke: Everyone can kind of hear a good record but it’s seeing it, where it fits in the whole industry, I guess.
Luke: Okay. Cool. As we kind of approach the end of time, have you got anymore questions in the room guys? Yeah, one more. Go for it. Have you got the mic?
Q2: What is the biggest challenge you faced at A&R?
Anton: Apart from waking up every morning? I don’t know, actually.
Luke: Has there ever been any near misses? The ones that got away?
Anton: Yeah, there are always near misses. But you can’t let those get you down, you know? Because there is a lot of good music out there? There are ones that you kick yourself over. If you’re not having success or you haven’t had success, then that’s much tougher to bear. So long as you’re having success and you can’t sign every single record. You have to have the records that you do sign, regardless of whether or not they are hits. You have to be able to have enough faith and work them properly and that’s why I say if it’s an artist album or if it’s an album type artist, it’s like three or four because you physically can’t keep up with the demands of what there is for you to do in finding songs and being in studios and getting the record ready. You possibly could. I personally don’t think I could give it as good a job as I do by keeping the numbers smaller. Other people work in a different way. They sign lots of things and they just wait for one thing to work. If two things don’t, that’s fine, because they’ve got the one thing that is working. Whereas, I like to try to have a bit of a higher strike rate and see things through.
Luke: If there’s nothing else in the room, it’s probably about time. Just to say a big, big thank you to Anton for coming down. Let’s give him a round of applause.
Anton: Thank you very much. Thank you.
Luke: So yeah, many thanks for coming down.
Anton: Thanks Luke.
Luke: Fantastic. Also, if you guys want to watch it again, you guys watching live, the feed will be uploaded to YouTube within a couple of hours time. Also, just a quick one to say, keep an eye on the blog, Point Blank Plus, where you’ll get all the information about the forthcoming master classes. I think there are some pretty, kind of amazing ones coming up for March. Keep an eye on there and the Facebook.
We’ll see you guys very, very soon. Thanks for watching.
This post is included in Music School Info, Tutorials