interviews

Hitmakers: The songwriting secrets of Jess Glynne's Hold My Hand

Up for four BRITs this year, Jess Glynne is one of the most recognisable voices in UK pop. Here, her co-writer and best friend Jin Jin recalls how the star’s first solo No.1 Hold My Hand started with chicken, chips ...

Rising Star: Deviate Digital's Dan Lee

The biz's brightest new talents tell their stories. This week it's the turn of Dan Lee, digital marketing manager at Deviate Digital. What made you choose the music industry? I played in a load of bands growing up and I’ve been obsessed with the music industry ever since (that old chestnut). Music is genuinely my lifeblood and I couldn’t see myself working in any other industry. I find it so rewarding to be a part of an artist’s journey and add value to something that I not only respect, but am extremely passionate about. No other job would give me such fulfilment! And let’s face it, it’s pretty cool when you’re introduced by your Nan as, “Dan who works in the music industry” to the new neighbours. What’s been the biggest challenge? Getting the industry to keep up with the times. It’s hard to manage people’s expectations if they don’t fully understand how or why we want to do something. We spend a lot of time educating at Deviate, as much as we do actively running campaigns, but once they understand it’s great for us all! What’s the best part of your job? I get to work with such a diverse range of artists and we have the freedom to try new and out-there ideas! Thinking outside the box and bridging the gap between the ever-changing tech/data whirlwind and regular music campaigns isn’t an easy task, but it’s so rewarding when you get it right. In digital, you’re across pretty much everything on a campaign and are in contact with great people in different areas of the industry. No campaign is ever the same and there’s constantly new challenges to overcome, which I love! What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned? That the business is constantly evolving and it’s impossible for anyone to know everything and be a clairvoyant. However, knowledge is power! Keeping on top of trends, following successful campaigns and generally being aware of technical developments in both the music industry and marketing are key to maintaining a sharp mindset. What’s the biggest myth about the music business? That you need playlist support from streaming services and radio to break an artist! Focus on writing truly great songs and building a legitimate, loyal fanbase and the rest should follow naturally. With Spotify’s playlist submission feature, any artist can submit a track to be considered by editors (without plugging) and I’ve seen that work first hand. You need to make sure that track is the best it can be and support it with social presence and a live plot. Getting your chosen playlist addition is a great feat, but it’s not make or break. Pay attention to your monthly listeners over general streaming numbers! DAN’S RECOMMENDED TRACK:

'It's been mad': Sam Fender talks BRITs Critics' Choice triumph

Sam Fender is about to have a cup of tea with Phil Mitchell when Music Week interrupts him at his studio. The 23-year-old “toe rag” from North Shields laughs when we splutter in surprise. “Nah, not Phil Mitchell off Eastenders!” he explains. “It’s me godfather and his good friend Phil Mitchell, he’s a scouse lad, he’s cracking. Anyway, they’ve come in for a cuppa…” We find Fender in the studio he’s built over the last year in his hometown, 10 minutes from his mother’s front room – where he wrote frothy guitar anthems such as Play God, Dead Boys and Leave Fast – and five minutes from the flat he’s about to move into. He’s 75% through making his debut album, is about to track some vocals and is the proud owner of a new set of allen keys. “I’m excited to fix me guitar,” he says. “They’re a cracking set of keys.” But we’ll get to the album later. First, there’s the small matter of Fender’s impending trip to pop’s most ginormous night, the BRIT Awards. The Polydor signing is gearing up to collect the Critics’ Choice Award, having seen off competition from Lewis Capaldi and Mahalia. He’s still reeling from the news. “I’ve no idea how I’ll take any of that,” he says, allowing himself a belly laugh when we ask how he’ll handle the glitz and glamour under The O2’s giant grey dome. “I might just rock up with a couple of Greggs pasties in me hand, that’ll look good. I don’t know man, it is what it is. I’ve got to take all this in my stride, it’s very overwhelming for me and very strange,” he continues. “I’m not gonna play the, ‘Ooh he’s a poor northerner,’ but I am just a kid from North Shields and I always will be. A kid from any town around the UK would find this very nauseating and very fucking overwhelming. It’s crackers, aye.” Fender was in a taxi going past his old school when Polydor phoned with the news, and never thought he’d actually win it. For a young musician with indie sensibilities, the BRITs isn’t necessarily a natural fit. He’s enthusiastic about Shame, Idles, Fonatines DC and the current wave of British bands, but acknowledges that he’s “probably seen as the PC, pop version of that, people think I’ve gone to the dark side on a major”. But back to that taxi ride... “I was driving past my high school, where one of my teachers once said being in a guitar band was a stupid idea,” he remembers. “She went, ‘You’re the kind of kid that’s gonna fail all your exams’ [laughs]. What a bastard!” Fender, who now has more than one million monthly Spotify listeners, released debut single Play God independently in 2017, and it was the culmination of years of graft. Now, he’s on a major and is, by definition, a critics’ darling. “It’s amazing, because it means people thought I was the one that deserved it,” he says. “However, I never set out to be anything other than the artist I wanted to be. It’s wonderful that I’ve won, but all I want is to sell enough albums to keep doing this.” Fender acknowledges he’s not “James Bay, Florence + The Machine or Adele”, and his earthy guitars represent something of a sidestep for Polydor as well as the BRITs. All but two Critics’ Choice winners have gone on to achieve platinum debut album sales, with the award still seen as a welcome boost throughout the industry. “For a lot of years, Polydor have had predominantly big pop acts, I’m not the classic thing they would go for, we’ve done this very DIY so far,” says Fender. “They never really signed me to be that artist. They were happy with me being someone that brings out albums and does reasonably well with that.” The major’s co-president Tom March is more effusive. “Sam has that powerful combination of true artistry and ambition,” he tells Music Week. “He’s utterly authentic and is in that great lineage of artists that only the UK produces, with the potential to connect with audiences on a global level.” Polydor’s head of marketing, Stephen Hallowes, sounds similarly excited. “Sam wins over everyone who crosses his path with his talent and charm, and it was no surprise how quickly he found champions, especially once people had seen him live,” he says. “It’s encouraging to see this translating to the general public, with Sam selling out an entire UK tour in just a few days last month. This award gives us a brilliant platform ahead of his debut album.” Deep into recording, Fender is adamant his musical principles won’t change, but his life certainly is. Elton John called via FaceTime, Sam Smith “has been on the blower” and he recently turned down the chance to be in a video for one of the world’s biggest pop stars. “It’s been mad,” he says. “Sam Smith’s been really nice. He reached out saying he liked my voice, and he’s given me loads of tips and tricks. He said, ‘Plan your heavy nights out, we all need a blow out, like, just make sure you’ve got time to recover.’” But even nights out are starting to change for Fender. “It’s been getting a bit mad up in Newcastle. In Shields, everyone’s known me since I was a little kid, so they still call us a little shit and nothing changes,” he says. “But I was in the city the other night and I got hounded. It was really strange, it was that moment of, ‘Fucking hell, people actually know who I am.’” Fender is building a strong bond with his fans, and he’s crafting a debut album to reflect the mindset of his generation. In his head, confusion reigns. “There’s loads of different stuff on there, it’ll be a classic debut in the sense that there’s a lot going on, that’s the beauty of it,” he says. “Some of it is really embryonic and raw and youthful and a bit naïve. That’s what it should be.” Fender’s hoping he can be part of a push for a brighter future, too. “A lot of young people feel really, really disengaged,” he says. “There are dire situations in our country and I don’t feel smart enough to have any solution, it’s really frustrating being 23 and not knowing what you can do. I feel very hopeless, but I do have hope that something will change and we’ll do something to regain a bit of fucking dignity, because, it’s awful, like.” For the moment, though, Fender is focusing on music. “I suppose the eyes are on me now, he says. “All I can do is make the best album I possibly can.” And with that, we leave him to finish his tea and get back to it…

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