Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Interview with an independent music producer

How do you get on in the music business if you aren't Timbaland's cousin? And what about the hurdles, pitfalls and Faustian pacts that the industry is notorious for?

In this interview I conducted in 2004 for Focus West, a digital media business support project in West London, I spoke to "Little" Wayne Antoine, an indie producer who has worked with some of the top names in the business, including Craig David and Jamelia.

Making it big: Little Wayne talks to Focus West
“Little Wayne” Antoine has worked in many studios including Groove and a Quarter and Jetstars' Cave studio and with some of the music industry's best-known artists including Craig David, Jamelia, and Daniel Debourg. He was also one half of the Silent Voice production team. However, he always aspired to having a studio of his own.

Wayne realised his dream when, along with business partner Pavan (Stixman) Chavda, he founded Poisonous Music, an independent music business based in West London. The company now comprises a record label, recording studios and production teams.

Wayne and Pavan met while at school. They went from running a sound system to producing their own material, and eventually produced tracks for Stixman, who was signed to an independent record label.

Originally a DJ, Wayne acquired many of the skills needed in record production "on the job" and found himself more inclined to the engineering side of the business. He also studied at the School of Audio Engineering and got jobs as a sound engineer in London. Wayne's technical understanding of sound engineering, combined with his musical background, enabled him to appreciate both sides of the business. And by 2000 he was managing the studio and record label he had developed with Pavan.

Poisonous Music expanded when DJ Daniel (Baby Boom) Francis joined the team. The current line-up is completed by JP, producer and studio engineer, and Anita (Neetz) Patel, who is in charge of promotion and marketing.

Wayne has learnt to recognise the importance of getting the business side of things right. When he needed expert advice on developing a business plan he turned to the Business Enterprise Centre (BEC) in West London. He also received support from the Prince's Trust.

The music industry has developed rapidly over the last ten years, especially in the development and ready availability of reliable, affordable technology. Wayne points out that the competition for recording studios now includes people at home with laptops. High-end studios are suffering, and can no longer rely on what was traditionally their technological advantage. But Wayne also sees this as a good thing and says that competition is vigorous and stimulates creativity.

Record companies are merging as the market consolidates. Wayne sees this as an opportunity for the independents, and he believes the future for Poisonous will be in production. With fewer A&R people signing the big acts and investing in talent, the majors are relying more and more on smaller production companies who can provide a ready-made "package" which the large record companies can then take to market.

Smaller, edgier acts are seen as more of a financial risk by the industry, although it is often creative artists from the underground, such as Dizzee Rascal, who reinvigorate the mainstream music scene.

Digital technology has created new problems as well as opportunities. The threat of peer-to-peer file-sharing networks, such as KaZaa and Grokster is taken seriously by the industry: kids just don't buy singles anymore. However, Wayne also points out that new markets have opened up, such as ringtones, which now outsell singles. Opportunities still exist for writers, music publishers and performers. In fact, the situation is improving, with a resurgence of interest in watching live music, despite the downward trend in record sales.

For people starting out in the creative industries, Wayne's advice is to concentrate on developing your skills and creativity in your chosen art form, but to not neglect the business of things. Making contacts and networking are essential. Wayne was originally a studio manager and gradually took over the studio's client list. While advertising can be expensive and isn't always effective, word of mouth is often the best way of getting known - and certainly costs a lot less. Publicity and PR is often more direct than advertising, and exposure in the music press carries more weight because it's seen as impartial. Following a write-up by the Business Enterprise Centre, Wayne found himself on the cover of HFM magazine: that's the sort of publicity you just can't buy.

Wayne stresses the importance of getting sound, impartial business advice and support early on. He particularly benefited from the Business Enterprise Centre's "Surviving into the Mainstream" programme. This was set up to support women and black and minority ethnic (BME) creative practitioners. Not having had a break from work for over a year, he found it really useful to share experiences and ideas with other creative people on the residential week-end courses. People in the creative industries often work on their own or in small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs): getting together with fellow professionals was a great opportunity - and he found everyone he met was facing the same problems in running their creative business: raising finance, dealing with late payers, negotiating contracts, struggling with red tape, etc. Without the chance to share experiences and discuss solutions you'd be on your own, according to Wayne.

He also received invaluable advice and practical support through BEC's Rent Support Scheme, and recognises that finding affordable workspace is crucial for new creative businesses. Wayne has gone from being someone seeking advice to someone who gives it, and he now often addresses Enterprise Seminars for people setting up their own businesses and talks about the key issues they'll face. The experience of standing up in front of people and talking about the business as an industry insider has also boosted his confidence.

Having got a lot out of being in the music industry, Wayne has also taken practical steps to put something back into the wider community. Media 4 Life, a group he set up in 2003 aims to encourage young people interested in the media/music industry to actively participate in a new and dynamic project. Media 4 Life works particularly with young people who are not in any form of employment, education or training. By providing workshops it provides participants with the relevant skills and knowledge that will both inspire and motivate them to plan for their future and commit to some form of education, employment or training. The workshops are delivered by industry professionals with over 10 years experience in the media/music industry. Media 4 Life aims to give a more holistic view of the media/music industry, highlighting the many different and varied career paths and opportunities available.

Wayne, who has worked with some of the big names in the music business but describes himself as a "background person”, points out: 'It's more than just being a star'. Getting on in the creative industries requires a lot of hard work and setbacks are inevitable. However, by getting aspiring creative practitioners to take a realistic view of the media/music industry, they can discover that there any many possible avenues rather than stardom. Wayne hopes that Media 4 Life will realise young people's potential and help them succeed in whatever area of the business they eventually become involved in.

Media 4 Life has already done two pilot sessions (in June & August of this year), and has opened up the age group from 16 up to 24 years. Media 4 Life runs evening courses and free daytime sessions in all aspects of media and music and the career options available. Both the Business Enterprise Centre and the BBC's Media Village have featured Media 4 Life.

© Robert Dennis for Focus West, 2004

The Focus West project was a business support agency for the digital media sector, based in the Business Enterprise Centre in West London and supported by the London Development Agency and London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham.

This interview appeared in a section of the website entitled “I Could Do That” – a series of inspirational and informative interviews aimed at giving aspiring creative professionals an insight into the practicalities of setting up their own business.

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