Sorry to make it about us for a moment, but…. it was entirely expected but nonetheless rather sad to learn that amongst the casualties of Elon Musk’s scorched earth moves at Twitter will be Revue, the very platform responsible for sending this email.
I could probably ramble for a while about how Revue should form part of Twitter’s broader strategy to accommodate long form content, but in truth our annoyance is a little more selfish.
Since shifting to Revue – which enabled a re-design of the Digest into the form you see now – our open rates have rocketed. Our average open rate is now above 60%, which is insane for a newsletter of this type. Your feedback has been incredible too – additions of things like the hot takes and more images etc have all been well received. We’ve even seen other newsletters copying our style, which is super flattering.
Now though, we need to find a new home. Again. Apparently we will have until the end of the year, but honestly given Musk’s volatility right now, we feel it might be wiser to move sooner rather than later as it’s entirely possible the whole platform might vanish overnight.
To allay any fears then, I think it’s worth confirming that we’re exporting emails and generally readying for Revue to vanish overnight. Hopefully it won’t, but who knows. In an ideal world, someone will buy it, but I don’t think that’s where Mr Musk’s head is at right now.
Watch this space. Ideally we can turn this into something even better. 💪🏻
For now, enjoy the news below, and we’ll be back next week. I think if we do move platform, we will also let you all know so you can be sure to check spam filters and suchlike (inevitably such moves can cause some volatility on that front!).
In the meantime, have a great weekend,
🎶 written whilst listening to the legendary “Blech II” mix of Warp’s catalogue, mixed by DJ Food and PC. Not available on any streaming services (a common issue with mixes), hence the YouTube link. Is this one of the greatest mixes of all time? Yes – only bettered IMO by the pair’s Ninja Tune colleagues, Coldcut, and their ridiculous, genre-smashing “Journeys By DJ” mix. If you’ve never heard either before, I genuinely envy you discovering them for the first time now.
There’s an interesting paradox in two news stories today. First is that Amazon Music is now making available a catalogue of over 100M songs for Prime users to listen to – albeit only in shuffle mode.
The second is that the constant growth of Spotify’s (and to be fair, other DSPs) long tail of music is both creating a cost issue (on the basis all this music requires storage somewhere in the cloud) and frustration among the major labels, who are viewing the platform as one increasingly clogged up with poor quality music.
So, Amazon are wooing users with that big 100M number, whilst the majors (well, Universal at present, though I suspect Sony and Warner would feel similar) are tiring of the bloat of these systems in which all music is presented equally, when in their view it is not.
This 100M number has cropped up previously, when Apple Music announced it had that many songs on its platform. Ironically at the time, the point of their press release was to highlight how the company is helping users navigate that all. In reality, that detail was lost as everyone (myself included) simply focused on that monstrous number and asked what this was doing for music consumption in general.
I’ve felt for some time that DSPs are pretty broken in that regard, and are having quite a negative effect on listening habits. I am one of those people who now avoids DSPs for the most part in favour of physical formats, purely because I think the ritual of listening to music is more rewarding that way.
Does Joe Public feel the same though? Perhaps Amazon will be the canary in the coalmine in that regard. Will consumers settle for a listen-on-shuffle experience if it’s rolled into their Prime subscription? My gut feeling says no, but it will certainly be interesting to find out.
Once again though, I wonder how much longer this can go on before music fans crave a more focused, niche experience. Everywhere I look, the cultural signposts are there: people are increasingly tiring of social, tiring of the “all of everything all the time” gluttony of consumption, and alongside it, they’re burning out.
In the face of that, it looks like more and more companies are realising that the answer is to pull their customers in closer and super-serve that. This is why Amazon is offering more to their Prime subscribers. It’s why Disney is opening an ecommerce store to drive merch sales to their Disney+ subscribers.
It’s all about drawing down revenue from a diverse range of income streams. With that in mind, anyone sitting hoping that Spotify alone will pay the bills is crazy. The name of the game now is the focus on those artist-centric communities and super-serve that.
Have a great evening,
🎶 written whilst listening to Monster Magnet’s “Dopes To Infinity“. I’d forgotten what a gem this album is. Perfect for a frazzled mind like mine to hammer the Digest out to 😆
It being Halloween, there’s precious little industry news to report, so I’ll apologise now for the short shrift you’re getting below.
That said, all eyes are on Elon Musk and Twitter today, as various stories emerge speculating on the future of the company now he has taken ownership. Perhaps the biggest development currently doing the rounds is that the company is going to charge $20/mo for Twitter Blue, and that this will be the only way to retain your Verified blue tick.
For me, this perfectly illustrates the complexity of the problem Musk now has to solve. In this case, he’s confusing the purpose of the Verified tick. It serves as a means to demonstrate that this is the official account for a person on the platform, thereby confirming identity as bona fide. Musk appears to be thinking it instead could just show that one is a paying customer.
In the world of music, that blue badge has been something of a lifesaver in the past, helping artists establish that they are the genuine article and not some imposter.
Should this $20/mo deal go ahead, it isn’t hard to see fake accounts popping up all over the place, potentially conning users and generally making trouble for all involved. Misinformation may well run riot.
As a day one move then, this one feels pretty ill-conceived.
I use Twitter more than any other social network. The Motive Unknown Digest is published through its Revue platform (something I sincerely hope Musk elects not to mothball). Even so, part of me kind of hopes Twitter goes up in smoke.
Hear me out.
We are moving into something of a post-social world. Facebook is struggling, Insta feels like it is going the same way, and the only platform really surging in growth isn’t a social one at all (TikTok).
At the same time, Web3 is providing an alternative approach here – one in which you control platforms plugging into your own data ID, rather than your data being littered across all manner of different companies.
With that change may come a very welcome simplification of things. For some time now, artists have complained about burnout around social media. Shifting to a new landscape in which you seek out the artist’s community and join it, rather than all the artists clamouring for your attention in one centralised platform (i.e. Twitter, Insta etc) may not be a bad thing at all.
Factor in the means to sell directly from posts etc – as is possible on the likes of Lens already – and it isn’t hard to see this as a positive step forward that benefits artists, better engages fans and generally brings a greater element of equity around engagement, among other things.
Put another way: if like me you’ve spent 15+ years on Twitter, what do you have to show for it? Twitter has accrued all manner of data about you to sell, but what did you get?
So perhaps change is due. It may well prove a little painful getting there, but I still don’t think it will be a bad thing to move to a post-social world of smaller, more niche communities with a far greater sense of invested value in each one.
Have a great evening 🎃
🎶 written whilst listening to this amazing playlist of Drexciya-inspired electro/techno, selected by Father Dukes. Every one’s a banger. Enjoy!
P.S. Speaking of Lens – we are still able to fast-track whitelisting to join the platform if anyone’s interested. Just complete this form and we’ll process applications each Friday. You’ll need Metamask or any other ETH wallet to apply.
AI continues to be a hot topic in the world of tech, and today brings the news that InGrooves have secured a patent for technology that predicts TikTok trends that might translate into streaming success. More specifically if I’m understanding this right, it also suggests when to focus more on TikTok and the organic growth, and when to spend on promo to translate that trend into plays on DSPs.
At first glance, it all reads as being rather clever. In real terms, I am a little sceptical, but only because history is showing us that whilst the dream of AI seems amazing, the realities can often be somewhat flawed.
Whether it’s AI music that sounds like a hot mess, AI copies of art that look like a stoned sixth-former’s A Level project, even AI personalities that descend into racism and humanity’s worst aspects, we are already seeing that AI is most definitely flawed.
With that in mind, I cannot help but have some scepticism around just how well this new tech from InGrooves will work. Of course, there’s case studies to accompany the press hype, but at the same time, the errors and misfires never get mentioned.
All that said, it will certainly be interesting to see if this makes a material difference to InGrooves’ position in the market, and whether it proves a solid draw for artists who may, for example, be looking for someone to translate their unexpected TikTok virality into a hit.
In the broader context, I also worry about the degree to which labels are investing in this kind of tech. I would think it inevitable really – to *not* research this whole area if you have the means to would be foolhardy too of course – but at the same time it speaks to something a friend remarked some years back, and which has stuck with me ever since:
“Be data informed, not data led”
I think it’s safe to say that Motive Unknown has sight on a LOT of data. With clients ranging from the Spice Girls and Robbie Williams through to the releases of innumerable indie labels, through to music brands like Sonos and platforms like Beatport, we see more data than most.
What all that sight has taught us though, is that when applied to the marketing in particular, it always has to be tempered with what I used to call “Mad Men Nous”.
Pre-digital, ad men of the 60s – as fictionalised in shows like Mad Men – had to rely as much on their gut instinct as to whether something would work. They didn’t have these monstrous data sets to draw upon. That meant, however, that they had to stay sharp, keenly tuned into the ebb and flow of popular culture in order to know how to penetrate that with whatever message they were being asked to deliver.
Through the years, I’ve seen bands get turned down for signings because they didn’t have enough Facebook fans. I’ve seen all manner of data points used as weak excuses for something not happening.
At the same time, I’ve seen plenty of mavericks who took their gamble on new signings, confident that this music would connect, despite in some cases barely being able to operate a computer, much less study any data. They did incredibly well too, I might add, establishing arena-tier bands still active today.
My point here is only that I worry that too much reliance on data may lead to everyone pointing the same way, chasing the same things. Of course, AI isn’t going to replace all A&R people and one of the more sensible arguments around AI is that it will sit in balance with human input too. I am sure the music industry may wind up in that place, as will visual art and all other areas being challenged by this new development.
At the same time though, I just hope too much emphasis isn’t put on this all. It feels like everyone is now painfully fixated on TikTok, and potentially on quick wins. That, to me anyway, remains a concern. Quick wins more often than not prove flighty. Real, lasting careers are built with careful thought, strategy and investment.
Have a great weekend,
🎶 written whilst listening to Fred Again’s new album/comp “Actual Life 3 (January 1 – September 9 2022)“. Fred can do no wrong at the mo – he’s precisely what we all need right now: amazing music performed by a really joyous character. I can’t listen without smiling, heheh. Also, this Insta reel of him performing a track live – drumming and all – for Zane Lowe has to be seen to be believed. Incredible stuff.
Apple has certainly taken the gloves off today, announcing a series of updates to its terms of service around its App Store, all of which move to derive more revenue through its commissions on sales.
A very notable shift is that the company is now seeking a share of the money spent on ad boosting via the likes of Facebook, Instagram and Twitter – a move that only last year the company said it would not do.
Now granted, the percentage of ad bookings made via the app is tiny, but it will now mean that those making use of it will quite definitely be paying more to advertise – and when that covers anyone from small businesses to rising DIY artists, that’s not a good thing at all at a point where everyone is being squeezed more than ever.
Apple isn’t stopping at ad revenues either, also adding measures that will seek to derive a share of NFT sales too, in a move that will doubtless irritate Web3 businesses currently trying to establish their own models.
Spotify has seized the moment too, once again decrying Apple’s app taxes, this time in the context of its attempts to sell audiobooks.
Total this all up then, and one can’t help get the impression that Apple is almost pushing and pushing to see how far it can go before regulators step in. After this latest move, I would imagine all efforts to change the App Store’s commissions will only increase.
Beyond that though, I suspect this also lends weight to developers evolving what is possible without apps, and it will certainly compel more people towards a Web3 world in which app taxes and suchlike might be more readily circumvented.
Oddly then, Apple’s move might not be such a bad thing, if only because it might spur innovation to work around these restrictions. Apple would argue that this puts users at risk, but equally I think only a very naive person would now claim that Apple is doing all of this with their user’s best interests at heart. This is about preserving strangleholds, and I’m curious to see if people will accept that.
Have a great evening,
🎶 written whilst listening to two promo CDs of DFA remixes that I picked up for £1 each in the Exchange in Notting Hill. They were never commercially released, but here’s a playlist that covers most of their contents. Enjoy!
Bonus productivity tip: I’ve been really enjoying Sidekick browser to replace Chrome. If like me you work with a lot of webapps (Google Workspace, Slack, Monday etc) then it’s proving a terrific replacement. Faster, better organised, just an improvement on every level. Check it out
Do we have a problem looming with .ETH domain names?
If you’re not in the loop, you might have seen this trend on Twitter for people to post their .eth domain name in their username – e.g. basgras.eth in Bas Grasmayer’s case. The purpose of these domains is to provide a friendly, memorable URL for your Ethereum wallet, making payment transactions a little easier to resolve, because the actual address is a monstrous string of numbers and letters. If your .com domain is the memorable resolution name for the web server where your band’s website lives, the .eth domain is the same but for the band’s wallet. Or it should be anyway.
Ever one to stay across these things, I bagged motiveunknown.eth and figured at this point it might be wise to check some of our clients’ names. After all, securing this kind of IP is pretty important – all the more so when the domain is less about hosting a website and more about appearing to be the bona fide crypto wallet for a band or brand.
That’s when I learned with increasing alarm that every artist name I could think of had already been registered. Now, granted I might be doing some a huge disservice, but a quick poll around managers and colleagues concluded that none of these registrations were legitimate.
“So what?” you might ask. Well, if these are direct links into crypto wallets, the implication is that someone can pose as an artist and scam people into paying money direct to them. Someone could sell NFTs as the artist and receive funds into what appears to a layman to be the legitimate account.
Digging slightly deeper, the bigger problem is that I could not find any recourse for dealing with domain squatting. Given the far more anonymous nature of crypto in general, this could be a massive headache to address – and, if only based on me sitting there typing any artist name I could think of into the .eth domain search engine, not a single artist name is free to secure now.
I won’t claim to be an expert in this space – if anything I am at best a passionate novice, something I’ll be writing more about soon – but it strikes me that there might be a huge IP issue looming in this area in general. So, if you’re a manager, or an artist, or a label – anyone working with artists at all – you might want to look into securing your .eth domain now. At worst, it’s could be $100 you won’t get back; not a king’s ransom in the grand scheme. At best, it could be the equivalent to grabbing that crucial .com domain, with an ever-more central role in all things crypto and ecom. Don’t hang around on this one.
I moved house recently, and in doing so was finally able to get all my music, my mighty hifi setup and my office all combined into one. For me this is Shangri-La; now I get to blast whatever I like all day whilst working.
Having all my vinyl on tap got me passionate for LPs again, though the ever-escalating prices around them quickly dampened that enthusiasm when I realised you could buy an album on vinyl for £30, or just buy it on CD, second-hand, for £3.50, tops.
Consuming albums in both CD and LP format really made me realise something though, namely that the enjoyment of music is greatly enhanced by the rituals of selection that surround it – and indeed the things that in turn drive that ritual of selection itself.
Allow me to elaborate.
Visiting a music streaming service has always been a joyless experience for me, with a combination of weak algorithmic editorial and the paralysis of choice ensuring that my passion for listening to music seemed to ebb away the longer I had the app open.
By having a finite, physical selection of music around me, that joy of limited options and therefore more investment into one’s consequent choices means that I actually emotionally invest into whatever album I elect to play all the more. Even the physical act of pulling the chosen release off the shelf and putting it in/on your player of choice seems to commit you to listening that bit more. Or at least it does for me.
In truth, I think the physical format is less relevant; if I’m honest, I’m not a vinyl snob and most definitely take a view that a great album is a great album, irrespective of whether one owns it on vinyl, CD, cassette or whatever else.
What really enhances one’s joy from physical, in my view anyway, is simply that you tend to place more focus into what you choose to play, and in turn don’t get into ADHD-style track skipping or album hopping.
Of late, I’m listening to albums (and comps) end-to-end… and I’ve not felt as into music – as wholly passionate for it – in decades.
Adding to this passionate deep dive is the veritable smorgasbord of great books about music that have either just been released, or which I’ve discovered (or rediscovered). The stories these tell, the extra context they all bring, ensure that when you’re listening to music, you’re not just putting on some aural wallpaper to largely ignore. You’re deep into the record, the story, the entire world around that release.
One of my favourite books of all time is In Praise Of Slow by Carl Honoré. In it, the author argues a case for simply slowing the pace of life down, and enjoying the moment more. Anything from food to medicine to working is covered in separate chapters, but the over-arching message is simply to stop rushing to complete things, and instead enjoy the process. Savour it all.
That, to me, is where the real joy in listening to music comes in. Don’t rush; take time to select that record, stick it on, and just relax and take it all in.
These are simple pleasures, but in modern society we seem to have a fixation on having access to everything, all the time. Silicon Valley’s main focus is on scale – “all the music in the world at your fingertips!”, “10M books to choose from!” etc – but the victim of that is inevitably those deep connections to something that generate a lasting emotional impact.
Rejecting that entire state has never felt so good.
If Covid pushed one thing right to the fore very abruptly, it was the entire concept of remote working. For me and my team, we had always been a semi-remote business, and we only ever worked together for two days a week, so we were blessed in that we were built for remote working such that – pub lunches aside – it didn’t really impact how we operated as a business at all.
As Covid dragged on, businesses – and workers – had to accept that remote working was actually possible, and this in turn has led to quite the debate as to how much it should be adopted now that things are easing.
For me though, the discussion of remote working is looking at the wrong things.
Businesses are asking whether it works for them operationally. Staff are asking whether it provides a greater work/life balance. But the issue is not so much whether remote working is possible; it is more about whether it is a good move for the business as a whole. Happy workers = better productivity in my view, and managers and MDs in general should ideally listen to their staff and consider whether, amid all this change, new ways to work should be explored.
As Covid lockdown went from weeks into months, we decided to embrace the remote working aspect of who we are as a business. So, we announced to our team that we would now consider ourselves fully remote, and that if people wanted to move out of London and base themselves further afield, they could.
However this also meant we could hire from further afield too – something we then proceeded to do when Bristol-based Tom joined our team.
One of our directors, Matt, even went a step further, moving to Spain before the Brexit drawbridge was pulled up. He’s now living in a lovely villa on a hillside near Malaga, and given the lousy UK summer we’ve just had, yes, we’re all a bit jealous.
It has also allowed more flexibility in the lives of our staff; this week Sadie is in Wales, whilst Asher is in Denmark. Both are working from their locations, and productivity isn’t affected at all.
So far, so good – but one thing we have also learned is that we all just miss the social side. That was always the actual reason we met up to work; truth is that we can do our job from anywhere, but it’s great to just hang out, have a laugh, perhaps grab some food and a drink together – all of that.
Also, some of our team felt it would be good to just meet up and work together now and then, purely because it can be a lot easier to, for example, walk someone through how to do something in person.
To address that, we now use The Halley over in Haggerston. Any member of staff can book a spot there, such that anyone can meet up and work together if they fancy it.
So, we now have options for our staff. They can work from home, or they can work from The Halley. But we are keen to stress that we’re not expecting them to be in the office space X days a week, and nor will we think less of people working from home all the time.
This, in my view, gets to the nub of the remote working debate. For me, this is about providing flexibility for your staff and allowing systems to come together that work. Happiness is a massive priority for me where staff are concerned, because I simply believe happier workers do better work, avoid stress and generally have a better quality of life. Hardly rocket science! So listening to them and finding options that allow a dynamic approach to working in general feels like the right thing to do.
For those running businesses, I’d simply say that it’s worth being open-minded and listening to your staff. Give them a voice and pay attention to what they’re saying. Of course, you cannot please everyone, but in my experience treating my staff fairly and positively also means they afford me the same courtesy back. Nobody is unreasonable and together I think we’ve found a path forward that might just work.
Oh – and on the social side, we’re planning to just have regular get togethers where we can have a great meal, talk a lot of nonsense, laugh loads (usually at someone’s expense, as is our way) and generally make merry. That’s invaluable – but it’s also a LOT of fun.
In recent times I’ve found that the #1 casualty of the streaming – and advertising – age has been the stories around music; that critical context that heightens your love of something from “casually enjoying” to “deeply connected”. Streaming platforms have largely stripped all the context out from music to just present songs as ‘artist name – track title” and not much more. Equally, advertising shifting almost entirely into the pockets of Google and Facebook has meant that many a music website has shut down or become highly marginalised as revenues went off a cliff. Some might call that progress, but these days I just call it a tragedy.
My means to address that change has largely been to immerse myself in seeking out books that really speak to the music I love, and in that respect Harry Sword’s Monolithic Undertow is something of a slam dunk. Subtitled In Search of Sonic Oblivion, the book bases itself around the powers of the drone, and how that has fed through the finest music since music existed.
Starting with Neolithic Maltese temples designed to turn chanted vocal into something significantly more powerful through extreme resonance, the book plots a path examining various chapters in musical history, from the Master Musicians of Joujouka to Tony Conrad and LaMonte Young, through to Popol Vuh, Swans, Sunn 0))), Coil, The Stooges, Brian Eno… you name it, they’re all in here.
In its own strange way, this book is a bit like Julian Cope’s mighty Copendium in that, once read cover to cover, you find yourself dipping back into a random chapter for inspiration. And inspiration is there in droves. There are a lot of artists I am aware of, but not overly familiar with. Spacemen 3 would be a case in point; friends liked them back in the day, but for whatever reason I never sought out their music.
Imagine the sheer joy then, of checking this band out only to learn that not only is their Dreamweapon album an absolute gem of a release, but that it was recorded live less then a mile from my house, in Brentford’s Waterman Arts Centre of all places.
It is interesting too, how much a book can have you revisiting artists you might have wrongly written off for one reason or another. Hawkwind are a case in point; I think I am semi-justified in not really delving deeply into their catalogue, as it has proven variable over the decades. Again though, with some refined guidance, one lands on their Space Ritual live album that truly reflected the group at their finest.
I could go on and on, naming albums and embedding links here, but that would miss the point. Monolithic Undertow to me is like an alternative history of rock n’ roll; of the real music that influenced the influencers. Every recommendation is pure gold, and along the way you will undoubtedly discover artists and albums you either missed completely, or were vaguely aware of but never truly invested time into.
I think there are very few books that I would argue should be on everyone’s bookshelf, but Monolithic Undertow is one of them. It is such a joy that even now I keep returning to delve into chapters. So much to learn, so much to discover. Frankly, I’m just glad books like this exist. We’re all the better with books like this – and authors like Harry – in the world, keeping that crucial context alive and celebrating what is truly amazing about music.
On September 1st, Motive Unknown turned 10 years old. For me, the time has flown past in many respects; certainly it feels like yesterday that I was starting out, taking on a (then) brand new signing called alt-J as my first client, via Korda Marshall’s Infectious label.
Cut to today, and Motive Unknown is a company of 11 people, with a client roster that counts amongst it a huge number of indie labels and artists and/or management companies.
To mark the occasion, I am going to do a “10 for 10” series: ten posts, each on different topics around things I’ve learned and experienced in the decade I’ve had running the company.
For now, as an aperitif of sorts, I thought I’d list ten things I’ve learned in all that time, both about running a business but also about working in the music industry.
1. Be Kind
This might well sound like the most obvious (or even naive) statement to make, but kindness is something seen as a weakness in business, as if to be kind is also to be a sucker to be taken advantage of.
I firmly disagree.
In general, I find that profit often sits above kindness. Many awful decisions are made based purely on what will generate the most money. I feel lucky in that my father is a successful businessman in the construction industry, and he always ran his company with a sense of fairness. There was no “us and them” between senior staff and the junior members of the team.
This stuck with me in running Motive Unknown. There have been countless instances where, had I so desired, we could have screwed someone over or generally behaved in a manner that was morally off-centre. And, whilst I am no angel and certainly have made some bad decisions along the way, I would like to think that I’ve valued those around me and tried wherever possible to act with compassion and understanding.
2. Take care of yourself
Another perpetuated myth in starting a business is that you should work 24/7 and be prepared to put it all on the line if you want to succeed. I think it’s safe to say that I fully bought into this concept – and the end result was a biblical burnout which led to persistent anxiety attacks and, eventually, a nasty bout of depression.
I once remember talking to my Dad about my then line manager at my job (back before I worked in the music industry). This guy used to make much of the fact that he worked every night until 10pm. I recounted this to my father, who listened and then said “well… he’s a bloody idiot. If he can’t even manage his own time and his department such that he’s not working until 10pm every night, what kind of manager is he??”
On this, I now realise, my Dad was 100% correct. Fuck working 24/7. Work smart. Being broken on the wheel of your job isn’t a badge of honour; in my view it is quite the opposite.
Often I think people just like to perpetuate the “work 24/7 to make it” myth because they did that and feel everyone else should suffer just as much. But ask yourself this: who has had the last laugh, the person who worked smart and achieved a lot with a keen work/life balance, or the one who did 100hr weeks? If you feel it is the latter, you’ve fallen for the myth.
Don’t get me wrong; this isn’t to say that long hours can always be avoided, or that you can have everything your way. You can’t. And even worse, your sheer passion for what you do might have you working crazy hours without even realising.
But understand this: you have limits, and unfortunately a lot of the signs of burnout come just a little too late. Be attuned to that, and never be scared to recognise it and take action.
3. Seek the counsel of others
If, like me, you are the sole owner of a business, it can be oddly isolating at times. The Stormzy-endorsed maxim of “heavy is the head…” can certainly ring true. Equally, I think maybe worries about money and other matters might scare you away from closely involving others in the business.
In reality of course, the wisest thing a person can do is find wise people and seek their counsel.
To this day, I still remember when PR ran that Motive Unknown was launching. I received an email from Jonathan at RetroFuzz, with a simple statement. “We’ve been where you are, so if you ever need help with anything, just ask.” I’d worked with J and Matt a few times and concluded they were great guys, achieving a huge amount all on their own terms. So, this offer meant the world, and sure enough through the years I did indeed seek their advice on anything from hiring people through to mundane things like tax and accounting. And, they always gave that advice willingly too, despite there being no gain in it for them (reinforcing point 1 above!). For that, I remain eternally grateful and they should rest assured their karma is well and truly in balance.
Over time, Tom Packer and Matt Cheetham, my fellow directors here at MU, have become my consiglieri and, to my relief, happily challenge me on all manner of things. I am better for having their support, and collectively we are a better business with the three of us as its central brain trust.
So, don’t fear seeking the counsel of others. Be mindful whose advice you seek out, for sure, but wise people aren’t that hard to spot in my opinion.
4. Surround yourself with smart people, and ideally, hire people smarter than you.
I think it is a natural human response to feel intimidated by people who are on some level smarter than you. Here’s the thing though: hiring people smarter than you will only ever do you the world of good. Why? Because the reality is a quid pro quo; by employing these people and giving them space to do their best possible work, everyone wins.
I remain grateful for the teams I have around me for this reason. They’re all ferociously smart people – and the great thing is that they’re all on my team!
5. Understand that running a company is a two-way street, and you must work to ensure your staff are supported wherever possible.
Something I see a lot are companies where the person who owns/runs it takes a kind of dictatorial stance. “I am the boss, don’t you dare question me!” – that kind of thing. This is compounded in the music business by a frankly outmoded notion that everyone should be grateful to work in it, which in turn creates a sense that everyone is replaceable and therefore entirely abuseable.
This is utter, utter bullshit, and never fails to enrage me.
OK, so I started Motive Unknown, but I am nothing without my team. And if my team’s job is to work to make the best of Motive Unknown, my job is to work to make the best of my team.
In real terms, that means ensuring they are always progressing, that they always feel supported, that they feel they have a voice, and that they feel they have the best environment in which to do their work.
We are a small company and I’m only human, so I don’t necessarily succeed, and in truth it might be wiser to ask any of the Motive Unknown team how I’ve fared in that regard, but I’d like to think I do a pretty decent job of it. The fact we’ve not had a single resignation from the company for something like 4 years now is maybe a testament to that.
6. Question everything.
I nearly quoted Timothy Leary for this, but I think the “Believe nothing…” part is perhaps up for debate as to its wisdom. If I’ve learned one thing through the years, it is that people love to find trusted models and then work them to their absolute death. The music business is particularly bad on this front, with accepted wisdom on a topic often being sorely out of date and in need of revision.
Motive Unknown has succeeded because at every point along the way, we essentially ignored what everyone else was doing and simply asked “what, with a blank sheet start on this, would be the best way to solve this problem?”.
Embracing slightly heretical thinking is no bad thing. The people who really got somewhere in the world did not do so by following the herd; they dared to think differently. Be more like that: you’d be amazed where it can get you.
Also, even when you’ve found new ways of doing things, never forget to challenge even those ways after a while. This world moves fast, and you have to stay at the front if you don’t want to get trampled underfoot.
7. Never lose sight of your own dreams and aspirations in life
At the start of 2020, I was in a bit of a fug, so decided to engage the services of a professional coach, Tom Pinchard. I hesitate to use the term “life coach” not least because something about that makes me cringe (and possibly Tom too!), but yes – a person whose role is to just gently push you along into getting over obstacles and achieving the things you have maybe talked a lot about but done little to ever realise.
These coaching sessions have taught me a lot, but probably the #1 thing I learned is that I had lost sight of what I was running a company for. By which I mean: professional success is all well and good, but if you’ve achieved that, what are you doing with your life?
In my case, I realised that work had come before all else, and that it was time to make work deliver things back to me. Perhaps the biggest thing on that front was moving house, finally buying a place we adore as a family, but it also encapsulated other, simpler, things: making music again, getting fit, losing weight… all goals I’d talked about forever and never really taken action on.
Cut to today and it’s safe to say I’m probably a perfect case study for Tom. I’ve moved house. I’m about 13kg lighter. I’ve made something like 30 tracks, a process which has brought me enormous pleasure (and I might yet get around to releasing them!), I exercise daily and – to the immense bewilderment of my family – really love boxing as my keep fit method of choice.
Without Tom diplomatically kicking me up the backside to focus on these things and see them through, I wouldn’t have managed it. But my point here is not so much “hire a coach” so much as “outside of your day job, focus on what you want to achieve, whatever that may be”. It doesn’t matter what the ‘thing’ is; just focus on it and make it happen, because to do so balances your life and introduces a lot more happiness and satisfaction to it. It also inevitably contributes to a better work/life balance, and that is never a bad thing. You only get one life – don’t waste it all working.
8. If you work in music, never, ever forget what it is to be a fan
A sad reality of the music business is that it can wear you down pretty quickly. It is also very easy to get sucked into the cultural bubble of your office. The end result of this is often a disconnection from the very things that got you into music in the first place.
Fans are not cash cows to be milked. They’re actually your employers. Without them, you wouldn’t even have a job.
So, if you work in marketing as I do, don’t sit there with a mindset of “what will make the most money here?”. Ask instead “what will the fans really love?” After all, connecting with fans generates goodwill, and that in turn means those fans will support your artist all the way. This is karma at play once more: don’t be a dick, treat fans well and – shock horror – you will build something infinitely more long-lasting and meaningful.
Of course, labels are there to make money. Often though I think they win the battle but lose the war. Yes, you might have succeeded in cynically selling a ‘deluxe’ version of the album that is actually the same record with 10 different covers, which will doubtless help the chart position of the artist in week one, but seriously, is this how you create long-term value with fans? Of course it isn’t. Don’t be that person. Remember those moments of complete euphoria you felt discovering bands, or hearing them deliver the set of a lifetime, and focus on making every artist’s fanbase feel that as much as possible. That’s the real victory here.
9. Get financially smart
This might be the most Dad-ish thing to include here, but here’s the crux of it: I realised, far, far too late that had I bothered to engage a financial advisor and generally work to understand money a lot more, I might be about £100,000 wealthier today.
You can only earn so much money, but it is what you then put that money to doing for you that really counts. Now granted, if you run a business there are innumerable benefits to take advantage of on that front, but even if you are not in that position, there’s a lot to be learned out there.
Not learning more about money is something I really regret now. It always felt very uncool to me, as if learning more on that front would turn me into some kind of besuited Tory voter. Nothing could be further from the truth, and the joke is on me for not wising up sooner. Don’t make the mistakes I did: get smart about money ASAP, even if you’re fresh out of Uni and starting your first job. You won’t regret it, and believe me that the positive financial actions you take earlier in your professional career are the ones that will benefit you the most later in life.
10. If you’re doing well, recognise that and pay it forward
I am all too aware that Motive Unknown has been extremely lucky to have not just survived the pandemic without having to make redundancies, but to have actually grown due to the increased demand for expertise in the digital realm. However for some, this has been 18 months of pure hell.
One of our clients through the years was a venue here in London. To say they have had a hard time would be a massive understatement. So, it felt only right to reach out to them when they were reopening to ask if we could help them, gratis, with anything they might need in the way of marketing support etc in order to get restarted again.
Music is an interconnected web of cultural touchpoints. The music, the venues, the writers covering it, the websites posting those pieces, the stores… they’re all parts in a bigger puzzle that combine to deliver some of the most affecting and life-changing moments we can ever experience. So if you’re one of the businesses that has done well, it is important to recognise when others are struggling and to help them along. If we cannot show basic compassion on that front, we have nothing.
I hope that might have proved useful on some level to somebody. If not, thank you for reading all the way to this point anyway!