In Rising Star this week, we meet Island's senior e-commerce & CRM manager, James Lee...
How did you break into the industry? I started off by securing a year in industry placement at Warner Music Group within the D2C department. ...
Emma Banks won the Music Week Women In Music Awards Outstanding Contribution gong in 2015. Last week, she picked up the MITs Award. Here, the legendary CAA agent shares some of the knowledge she’s picked up along the way…
The difference between working for Kylie Minogue and Marilyn Manson is… “Smaller than you think! I love the fact that I work with Norah Jones, Katy Perry, Marilyn Manson and Kraftwerk, all of whom do quite different things. You learn so much from different genres of music and the way different people do things. A lot of the promoters are the same. Andy Copping at Live Nation promotes Metallica, Kylie and Kanye [West]. Three acts that have quite different fanbases but he does a great job on all of them. There’s no problem with being able to do that. It keeps me on my toes and keeps me excited and interested when I’m able in, the same week, to be booking Disturbed, Florence + The Machine, Foals and Norah Jones. There are some things you find out in one genre of music that you can absolutely use in another.”
Agents should work with labels rather than against them because… “I work for the artist and what I get up in the morning for is to do the best thing for the artist. And the best thing for the artist is that the record label are able to stream more songs, sell more albums, do more of what they do to make the artist more famous, successful, popular, richer. I need to work with them to make sure that the live plot complements it, in the way that I would hope the recorded music [plot] complements what we’re doing. There has to be some give and take but we all come to a conclusion. If the tickets sell and the album’s doing well, then mission accomplished.”
I’m worried about Brexit because… “No one knows how it will affect the live industry. You hear the scare stories that there’s going to be a million trucks going into Dover and they won’t be able to move. In which case, all of my tours that are booked for April onwards are going to fall at the first hurdle. I don’t think there’s an agent, manager, artist or production manager that’s actually factored in, ‘Are there going to be new border checks?’ because nobody’s told us. I’m worried about it for the music business but I’m worried about it for anything. If a band can’t get to Paris to do a gig, that means food can’t get somewhere else and medicine can’t get to places. There are far bigger issues that are going to come up.”
The biggest change I’ve seen in the industry is… “The digitisation of everything. We used to go on sale on a Thursday and people would line up and buy real paper tickets and, from the day you bought your ticket, you owned it and, if you lost it, you were screwed. Now, we have four pre-sales before you go on sale and you have to juggle with everything electronically. You can’t say progress is either good or bad a lot of the time, it is what it is and we deal with it. But it certainly brings additional challenges.”
The biggest mistake I ever made was… “Not signing Radiohead. I mean, who knows whether they would have wanted to be signed by me, but I went to see them at the Jericho Tavern in Oxford as On A Friday and I really didn’t get it. Then they went on to become one of my favourite acts and one of the best live acts I’ve ever seen. At least it’s a joy to just be able to enjoy them when I see them live now!”
The best advice I ever received was… “Probably to ‘shut up’!”
I was just a student at Sixth Form college in Basingstoke when I wrote Good Tradition. At the time, I wasn’t really telling anyone I was even writing songs. I had made them from a young age, but I didn’t know you could actually have a job as a songwriter.
There was an album I was listening to a lot at that age called Nina Simone Sings The Blues by Nina Simone, and one song called Real Real in particular. I loved the simplicity of it and that was how Good Tradition came about – I was trying to write something simple and lively.
The song questions the idea of family and having an ambivalence about it… And I like my family! But I will always question everything, I will always say there’s good in family and bad – I can see both sides. I don’t know anybody who has had an easy ride. It’s funny, [the opening line] ‘There’s a good tradition of love and hate staying by the fireside’ – there’s the idea of everyone in the family being dysfunctional, it’s something very present on your mind at that age. You’re hyper-sensitive about those things when you’re young, you look for contrasts in everything.
Good Tradition didn’t take a long time to write. At that age I was writing so naturally, I would literally just have a tune and the words would come. I don’t really write like that anymore. Melodically it’s not very difficult for me, but writing lyrics is harder now. I wasn’t self-conscious about lyrics at that age, I would just write what came into my head and not edit myself. I look at that with real nostalgia because I don’t think it’s easy to capture that again.
I’d only done one demo when I was in Basingstoke, because I knew you had to send songs to venues to get gigs. There was very little time between conceiving Good Tradition and recording it. A lot of those songs from [1988 debut album Ancient Heart] were written in a short space of time as I was doing my A-Levels. Sometimes, the less you focus on things the better it is. I was working with Rod Argent from The Zombies and [Mike + The Mechanics drummer] Peter Van Hooke, and they were so nice and never patronised me – it was like a summer holiday recording it.
There’s a great violin line in it, which is Helen O’Hara from Dexys Midnight Runners. She played it in the session and it really lifted the song – it had a Celtic feel after that because she had that in her playing. Paul Brady’s on it too, he’s on the pipes and the mandolin, and I also love the drums on this song.
I might be wrong but I think I was playing the Cambridge Folk Festival when I heard that it had gone into the charts. Eventually it got into the Top 10, but it had just gone into the Top 30 then and everyone was so excited and it was infectious. When you have your first success and you’re very young, everybody’s excited: your record company, friends, family and strangers. Maybe today it’s slightly different, but at that time it wasn’t so expected for some kid from Basingstoke to go and be a success. Now, I think people expect success in a way.
Did it give me confidence to have my debut single become a hit? No, not really. I was very immature, really! I had this image of being quite mysterious and deep but really I was a teenager. I don’t think I could write a song like Good Tradition now, one that’s a ‘sing-song’. It’s so simple, it’s almost throwaway, isn’t it, really? Even when I perform it now it just makes me smile – even if there’s something behind it that is less ‘smiley’. There’s just a joyfulness to it.
Publishers Warner/Chappell Writer Tanita Tikaram Release Date 23.07.88 Record label WEA Total UK sales (OCC) 17,318 (post-1994)