interviews

Hitmakers: The songwriting secrets behind Fashion Week by Steel Banglez

Not only is he a producer for the likes of Dave and J Hus, Pahuldip Singh Sandhu – aka Steel Banglez – is also a hitmaking artist. Here, he recalls how his recent Top 10 song Fashion Week with AJ ...

Mercuriadis rising: The superstar manager talks Guns N' Roses, Morrissey and Beyonce

Merck Mercuriadis on his time working with his most famous former clients... GUNS N’ ROSES “I’m in the Axl camp and I believe that Axl is the barometer for Guns N’ Roses. I’m not denying how great Slash is, but the guy that is the ethos of Guns N’ Roses is Axl. The thing with Axl was that he knew what he wanted but he also knew what he didn’t want. As difficult as that seven or eight years of commitment to an artist can be, it’s just because he’s as committed to it as you are and he will not compromise. When you’re that successful you have the machine – whether that machine is Interscope Records or whoever – that only wants one thing out of you, which is a product that they can sell. My job as the manager was to make sure that he didn’t have to turn that product [the long-delayed Chinese Democracy LP] in until he was ready. My job was to protect Axl and make sure that he got what he wanted, not having to compromise to the rules of the rest of this business. That can be unpopular sometimes but besides making people believe what I believe in and listening to the artist, the next word that becomes really important is responsibility, because my responsibility is to the artist, not to anybody else.” MORRISSEY “Morrissey is an incredibly misunderstood guy, but the most important thing about him, despite the fact that he’s brilliant, is that he is not corruptible. People get annoyed with him because he won’t do some things that other artists will do just to be successful. He’s committed to the art and he’s committed to ensuring that the art is as pure as it can possibly be. Yeah, he says and does things that are controversial but I think that they’re only controversial in the sense that he sees things in his head at their logical conclusion, even before they’ve come to their logical conclusion. The one thing that you’ve got to understand with Morrissey is that at probably the moment in time that you least expect it, he’ll disappoint you. But you’ll only be disappointed because of what you expected, not because of what he expected. I would continue to work with him and would advise anyone that has an opportunity to work with Morrissey [to do so]. We’re still great friends and at seven years I lasted longer than any manager [of his] has ever lasted!” ELTON JOHN “Working for Elton was one of the greatest experiences I’ve ever had and I could only wish that everyone could experience how magical it was. It was just two friends that were in love with music, figuring out what to do with his music at the same time. The passion existed on every level from whether he was walking into a room and writing a brand new songs with the Scissor Sisters to whether he was doing something with Eminem on a Tupac unreleased verse or whatever. These things always resulted in Top 5 singles because he brings the most incredible energy to it possible.” BEYONCÉ “With Beyoncé it was very much a scenario where her father, Mathew Knowles, and this is from 2002 to 2008, was her manager and he worked for me. My role was to step in whenever necessary and help them get the big picture stuff done. She is without question – and this is a title that James Brown used to have – the hardest working person in showbusiness. No one works harder. She has a very tough gig and you have to admire her work ethic. Her father is a much maligned guy but he, equally well, put the work in to make sure she got to where she belongs. I have tremendous respect for him and his ex-wife Tina, for Solange and for Beyoncé. As a family they really put the effort in for not only [Beyoncé] being arguably one of the two or three biggest artists in the world, but for Solange also having an incredible career.”

Bake some noise: Lara Baker on her big post-AIM plans

Judge Jules has had thousands of demos thrust into his hands over the years, but when a young Lara Baker approached him at a BBC Radio 1 Roadshow, she made sure the dance don listened. “I played him a demo of a band I managed and he told me to go for it,” Baker tells Music Week. “I remember feeling on top of the world. Those interactions you have as a kid are really important to shape the direction you go in.” Baker has been following his advice ever since, now more so than ever. She first broke into the music business in 2004, landing a role at the Association of Independent Music (AIM) where, working under founder and industry legend Alison Wenham, she would launch and develop the AIM Awards. But Baker’s world shifted in January last year, when redundancy brought an end to almost 14 years at AIM. Over that time, she forged a reputation for pushing boundaries with AIM’s events and became one of the most prominent activists in the business, pushing for change and campaigning to right industry wrongs where diversity and equality are concerned. After leaving AIM, she dropped the vowels from her surname to set up The Bkry, a consultancy, events and communications business. Her story, told with intent over quiet weekday afternoon pint, is a modern music business tale with goodness at its heart. “When I left AIM and thought about what I might do next, there wasn’t really a role that covered all the things that are important to me, so I thought I’d start my own thing,” she begins. “The Bkry is a consultancy, it marries the different areas of expertise that I developed at AIM: events work, campaigning around diversity and women in music with some comms and PR, too.” Grateful for her time there, Baker says AIM set her on a positive path. “I grew up there and was a big part of the growth of the organisation. I had a lot of space and opportunity to create things, like the Awards and an events programme,” she says. “It was almost like being my own boss a lot of the time and being part of a family. I met everyone right across the industry.” Baker’s biggest takeaway from all those years at AIM’s Chiswick HQ is that music is about people, nothing else. “We’re not selling toothpaste, the artists making the music are people and it’s very much about connecting with people and collaborating,” she says. “The relationships I developed and the work I did bringing people together around inclusivity and diversity [shape] what I can offer now. Bringing people together is the common thread through the different aspects of what I do.” So far, Baker has worked with and alongside BBC Music Introducing Live – where she pulled together more than 500 speakers with a 50/50 gender split – Americana Fest, the Musicians’ Union, Liverpool Sound City and the Artist & Manager Awards. For someone with so many connections, her foray into the country world has been particularly eye-opening. “People say I know everyone in music,” she says, seriously but with a knowing smile. “But what I found working on Americana Fest is that there’s a whole other industry there. I’ve got to know a lot of new people, talented artists and people like [BBC Radio 2’s] Bob Harris and Baylen Leonard. It’s exciting, because it’s growing.” Baker continues to chase the thrill of being part of emerging or expanding parts of the business and, though she praises the growing push for change in the business, she has a word of caution, too. “At the moment, I’m worried there’s a lot of fatigue because we have talked about it so much, everyone’s seen that ‘women in A&R’ panel or that ‘women in music’ event,” she says. “It’s been done, but actually the problems haven’t gone away. We need to start working on real systemic change. The problems and the stats are still pretty similar to what they were five or 10 years ago.” Working under Wenham – who, like Baker has starred at Music Week’s Women In Music Awards – Baker wasn’t immediately exposed to the industry’s equality problems. “When I started at AIM I had it quite easy. I had a female CEO in Alison who really encouraged her team members and was passionate about diversity,” she explains. “I didn’t appreciate for quite some time the scope of the problem. It’s only as you get older and you see friends dealing with sexual harassment problems and the gender pay gap. We have a lot of women in music events and amazing networks, we’ve still got a long way to go before the problem is fixed and we don’t need to talk about it anymore.” What then, does Baker, who held a place on UK Music’s Diversity Taskforce, propose we do? “We need things like mentoring schemes, leadership programmes, unconscious bias training, changes in the way people do their hiring…” she answers. “We need more flexible workplaces and working hours, better maternity and paternity packages… There are so many systemic fundamental changes we need.” While she’s “concerned by inertia” and encourages the industry to “keep focused”, Baker cites PRS Foundation’s Keychange programme, Girls I Rate, Shesaid.so and Women In CTRL as evidence that the biz is ready for change. “The industry is responding really well,” she continues. “There are loads of amazing people, male and female, in music who are really passionate about effecting positive change. Having a network is so important; the advice I always give to young girls entering the music industry is, ‘Find your peers and support each other.’ It’s so valuable.” Paving the way for the next generation of the music industry is clearly important to Baker, and as she looks back on her time working on last year’s sprawling BBC Music Introducing Live event, it’s with the stars of tomorrow in mind. “It was quite scary, it was such a huge project, the biggest I’ve ever worked on,” she says. “It’s an important one as well, the audience is 15,000 young kids who want to get into music. I wanted to make sure they were really inspired and saw a diverse range of speakers so that, whatever they wanted to be, they saw someone that reflected that.” Delivering the 50/50 gender split added an extra two weeks to the project but, more importantly, it meant there’s now no excuse for similar events not to follow suit. “We demonstrated that if you can do it on that scale then there’s really no event in the music industry that couldn’t do it if they cared about that issue,” Baker says. “It was hard, if you want senior figures, a lot of them are male. But I wanted a lot of young speakers and among younger ages in the music industry there’s a broad, diverse mix. I really wanted to make a point with that event.” Baker is determined that the future will be different. After falling in love with music through her brother’s work presenting a music TV show (“It was on cable, and he’s not famous!”) she studied music business at university and landed a paid internship at EMI, then her role at AIM. She acknowledges that such a path isn’t universally available. “It’s not just about gender and ethnicity, but social background,” she says. “So many people can’t get into the business without going to university or doing unpaid internships or having a dad that’s friends with the CEO. That’s poor, we need to do better.” Baker says she’s been in rooms with senior major label figures and made this point in person, reporting that “there’s appetite for change”. Lara Baker will forever be an indie kid, and praises the variety and character of the sector she knows so well. But, she reasons, music is too fluid to pretend there’s a chasm between the indie and major worlds. “Lots of people go from indies to majors or vice versa; it’s a misconception to assume that if you’re dealing with people at majors you’re dealing with people who don’t really care about music and it’s all about the money,” she says. “That’s not true, there are some great people in the majors.” Baker isn’t ruling out getting involved, either. “I would love to consult for one of the majors,” she adds. “They could definitely use some help with the gender pay gap.” Looking towards the future, Baker is looking forward to delivering “long-term business development strategy” for her clients and says, “my focus will always be on improving diversity and inclusivity in music, as well as supporting, connecting and educating independent artists.” The great British Baker off continues…   BAKIN’ SQUAD Lara Baker on her five industry heroes... Remi Harris, Remi Harris Consulting “Remi used to be at AIM and is a consultant now. She hired me at AIM and has given me so much advice ever since. She’s a funding guru and is amazing at navigating the work/life balance.” Nadia Kahn, CTRL Management/Women In CTRL “Nadia manages Lethal Bizzle and started Women In CTRL. She’s a one-woman company who never stops, what she’s achieved is amazing.” Kanya King, MOBOs “She started the MOBOs as a single mum. It’s such an incredible brand and a power for good, and Kanya has been really generous with her time and encouragement. Every time I speak to her she’s great, a real class act.” Katie Malcolmson, Someone Great PR “Katie has a PR company called Someone Great PR. She was in-house at One Little Indian and she started her company at the same time as me, she’s amazing and has been brilliant at helping me navigate this journey.” Alison Wenham “The founder of AIM. She’s one of the originals, a woman who got to a really senior level in music while it was still so male-dominated and has been all about helping other women get there too, rather than being competitive or protecting her spot. I learned loads from Alison, she would throw me in at the deep end a lot.”

Merck of greatness: Merck Mercuriadis - The Music Week interview

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The Aftershow: Andy Gill

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Rising Star: Ellie Rumbold

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