The biz's brightest new talents tell their stories. This week it's the turn of Sarah Anderson, business manager at Thomas St John...
How did you break into the industry?
My first job in music was heading up the finance team ...
She’s So Lovely still gets hammered on radio and TV.
We still play it live and it gets about two million streams a month on Spotify. It’s a monster, but I had no idea when we started writing it that it would ever be anything more than a fun song to sing down the pub.
That’s really where the song started from. We’d almost given up trying to get a record deal and would put on our own indie nights in a local pub in Harrow. We used to try and write stuff that people could sing along to, and that was the song that emerged.
It was written at the piano at home, and that’s where the main hook came from. But I wrote the chorus probably two years before it was actually recorded, so it had the benefit of being played live for two years to see what worked and what didn’t so we could refine it. Nothing can replace taking a song and playing it in front of people. You know when people are bored and when people are into it.
I try and use that process when writing for other people now; give time to allow a song to grow. You might have an amazing part of a song, but it takes a while for the rest of the song to be as good as that bit. I don’t think songs get the writing time to allow that to happen these days.
The lyrics took a long time, so there were actually two or three different women it was based on. There was a music teacher at school who all the boys fancied, and I used to work in a shop and there was a customer who we quite fancied… The music teacher knows about it, I think we said it in an interview and now her daughter is exceedingly embarrassed about the whole thing! I don’t know how the teacher feels, I’ve never spoken to her about it!
We had Andy Green as producer and Nick Raphael and Jo Charrington as our A&Rs so there was this incredible team around the song. The lyrics were a bit corny to begin with. Mika had just come out with Grace Kelly and Kate Nash had Foundations, so our manager at the time suggested making them a bit sharper with a bit more bite. That’s when lines like “She’s pretty/A fitty” came in, because the first lot of lyrics were just a bit twee.
Sometimes it’s worth trying to remember those lessons; writing music for fun and the joy of it, not worrying about where it’s going to end up. Just write something you love, it could be stupid or completely nonsensical but really fun. I listened to The Beatles’ White Album the other day and some of the songs are utterly crazy. If you played half the songs to an A&R team now they’d be like, ‘What the hell is this?”, but it’s one of the greatest albums ever produced. Er, I’m not trying to compare She’s So Lovely to The White Album, obviously, but I’m trying to take that fun approach to writing music.
She’s So Lovely will probably follow me around for the rest of my life, but I’ve never been embarrassed by it. I never get bored of playing it. We were in Gibraltar recently playing to 20,000 people all going crazy for the song. We get that reaction wherever we go and it’s always fun.
But when it was written, I thought at best we might be some culty indie band and make a part time job of it. I never thought it would still be going 10 years afterwards.
Publishers Sony/ATV, BMG Writer Roy Stride Release Date 27.08.07 Record label Epic Total UK sales (OCC) 871,761
What’s the next big thing in music technology? From cutting-edge developments such as AI, VR and AR, to blockchain and the breakthrough of voice control, leading executives at the Music Week Tech Summit Together With O2 give us their verdict on what’s going to cause the next wave of digital disruption in the biz. The future starts here…
1. ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE & MACHINE LEARNING
“AI has already completely changed the music industry, both for businesses and consumers - but mark my words this is only the start. Its application within the music business impacts every sector including A&R, music discovery, personalisation, ad products, communication, analysis and monetisation and, of course, music and visual creation itself, not to mention the rise of the virtual assistants and smart speakers. We are entering a brave new world for technological advancement within the music industry, and you ignore the potential for AI at your peril.” SAMMY ANDREWS (CEO/founder, Deviate Digital)
“There’s going to be a lot of discussion about AI and how that dictates the A&R process, which is actually quite interesting. I’m slightly more traditional, maybe that’s because of my age, and I’m still a firm believer that the art of making an album and signing artists should be based around what sounds good, what sounds different and what sounds exciting. But saying that, I’ve got two members of my team on a plane to Germany at the moment because we’ve identified a single based out of that market that seems to be doing all of the business on Spotify, and we’ve only found out about that through analysing the data provided by one of these so-called AI technologies. So it is happening, I guess it’s to what level and degree you adopt it.” ANDY VARLEY (CEO, Insanity Group)
“The next big thing is always a difficult question to answer. Certainly, the way that businesses are leaning for [start-up incubator] Abbey Road Red is that they all tend to be very, very AI focussed. I was at SXSW and someone was speaking there saying, ‘We have to get away from talking about AI as a trend, because it’s actually the next generation of computing’. So, when you put it that way, AI’s not the next big thing - it’s what’s being built on AI that’s exciting. For us, it’s understanding that, actually, the huge benefit of AI comes across the whole music value chain, because we’re seeing businesses focus on AI helping the A&R process; you see it in marketing where you can test different campaigns. For us in the production world, it’s [about] how it actually aids the creative process or potentially disrupts it.” ISABEL GARVEY (Managing director, Abbey Road Studios)
“The world continues to evolve in this space, so we don’t even know what’s coming next. We’re certainly seeing trends that are being driven by things consumers are finding value in and that we can use to enhance their experience. Technology is so exciting, but it comes with a level of responsibility to add value to consumer experience and make their lives easier. Machine learning is an area that will continue to improve. This can be a little bit controversial because people can feel it’s an invasion of their space regarding data and those types of things. Especially with the way the world works now, if we’re collecting data properly, as all good companies should be, and the consumer has the ability to control the data you put in, it actually contributes to what you’re going to receive on the back end. So machine learning is really advanced and is so very good, that it can enhance whatever platform, technology or experience you’re going through. The more it can learn about you, the more it can provide things of interest and value. The data you put in can contribute to better things.” JACKIE WILGAR (SVP marketing, UK, Europe and international markets, Live Nation)
“There are a couple of emerging technologies that are material to music. Voice assistants, clearly, that’s growing very rapidly and music is one of the key content types that people interact with. VR and AR are still very much in their infancy, but there are some truly interesting use cases for music like the Melody VR guys. Blockchain is an interesting but misunderstood technology that’s yet to create that ‘aha’ moment of understanding and the true disruptive power of it. The confluence of those three are all very material for the music industry. I’ve been staying very close to blockchain as an emerging technology for the last two years, so I understand the underlying principles, the big players and the investors and what they’re getting hyped up about. I’ve also talked to a lot of the big tech guys, Amazon and what they’re doing around blockchain, especially around Amazon Web Services (AWS), the underlying cloud infrastructure. Being able to make blockchain available as a mainstream service, places like AWS, Microsoft with their Azure cloud platform and Google with their cloud platform are going to be the guys that really unlock that potential and then creative innovation from start-ups and other players will follow. But there is a lot of hype out there at the moment.” RIAN LIEBENBERG (CTO, Kobalt Music)
“I would love it to be some kind of blockchain solution to data, that would be incredibly helpful across the board. Especially as an independent record label, being able to speed up the payments through to artists - not just us but across the board. We’ve got the issues of a fragmented industry - it’s something I have to explain to our artists often, because they don’t understand why it’s so fragmented. There are lots of different companies approaching this in very different ways, a bit like the beginning of the internet. Maybe we will see someone winning through, it’s going to take a little while yet but I’m hopeful. Although blockchain is not as exciting as 3D printed vinyl, which is my personal dream!” VANESSA HIGGINS (Director, BPI Innovation Hub/director, Regent Street Records)
“Obviously, I work for a blockchain company, and I do that because I’m really passionate about the impact it could make in the music industry. Blockchain could be really exciting. I also think machine learning and the ability to clean the data that the industry’s struggling with is important. If you can unlock those two, you unlock a great deal of value for the music industry - hundreds of millions, if not billions long term.” BECKY BROOK (Commercial lead, Jaak)
“The tokenisation of assets and those tokens being made available through a regulated body, much like shares are. And for institutional investors, organisations and individuals to be able to participate in the ownership of music IP, whether it be songs or products. It’s not cryptocurrency as such, but it’s one of the benefits of blockchain technology.” KEVIN BACON (CEO, Blockpool)
3. VOICE CONTROL IN CARS
“The connected car is going to be a big deal. You’re going to see voice migrate out of the home and into the car, and that’s going to really move the needle. You’re going to see voice assistants like Alexa really change the way customers are interacting with music and entertainment in the car, it’s going to have a dramatic effect on the business. From an outsider’s perspective, I think the automative industry has been slow to move to new technology - we’ve seen that in the past. But it’s happening, customers are pulling that behaviour into the car. We don’t have anything to announce but it’s an obvious place to take Alexa - we want Alexa to be everywhere customers are.” ALEX LUKE (Global head of programming and content strategy, Amazon Music)
4. AUGMENTED REALITY
“Pokémon Go was the beginning, and Niantic launching Harry Potter in the next year or so, that is going to get everyone and their grandmother using mobile AR a lot more, just in a game sense. But games have always led the way into driving consumers’ adoption of technology and that is going to be really interesting. Given that we have our phones on us at all times, [when it comes to] location-based experiences, mood-based experiences, AR will open that up. I’d like my music experiences to be customised to what I’m doing at that time, what mood I’m in, what time of day it is, what location I’m at. I think that’s going to be really interesting to see what happens there. Data privacy is also a big issue, consumers are very aware of it now and that’s going to cause music marketing and music people to be more highly targeted and better at what they’re doing. We’re going to have to become more dynamic.” AARON BOGUCKI (VP, digital marketing, AWAL)
“It will be really getting to the point where there is standardisation across the industry, along with what an insight is, what data integrity actually means and getting a better sense of how to convey information in a way that’s impactful for artists and fans. These are broad statements, but the reason I go back to ‘the big thing in tech’ is that these are challenges to convey using technology as a standalone concept. What you really have to do is be able to solve the business problem and then build the technology to solve it. The better we get at conveying what needs to be done - what the big things are – the better we can go back. The music industry, as engaging as it is, really needs to be open to understanding methods, systems and technologies that are used widely in e-commerce, and how to implement these for their own version of effectiveness.” SK SHARMA (EVP, insights & analytics, InGrooves Music Group)
“Using digital assets in a way that’s more informed by metadata. As unsexy as that might sound, we haven’t even scratched the surface on the environmental data that we have, as well as the personal information. By that, I don’t mean private information, but the consumption and taste information and metadata. That’s going to drive genuine discovery, things that feel very personalised where you feel like [the service] knows you and is therefore recommending and taking you down paths that are really satisfying. The current state of playlisting is about convenience: ‘I got you to something that I know you would like very quickly’. That allows you to acquire, but not really to learn or discover. The next big thing is getting you to spend more time inside music catalogues and getting more of the consumer’s share of time than music’s getting right now.” MIKE JBARA (CEO, MQA)
6. MOBILE TECHNOLOGY
“From our perspective, getting rid of the paper ticket and going 100% digital unlocks a whole new world of opportunities. Delivering each ticket to a fan’s smartphone means we know the individual attendees, not just the buyer. Identifying every person who enters the building not only increases security but dramatically decreases fraud and increases marketing potential. It also provides a much more engaging and personalised experience for fans. Digital tickets are much easier to transfer to friends and easier to sell to other fans through our fan-to-fan exchange, at the price paid and no more.” ANDREW PARSONS (MD, Ticketmaster UK)
“The O2 opened 11 years ago in June 2007, and the other big thing that happened in that month was the launch of the first iPhone. Here we are, 11 years later, and yet I think the venue and entertainment business has still got a long way to go to embrace mobile technology and make that a much more integral part of the customer’s experience at an event or venue. We’re beginning to scratch the surface with those things - we’re offering people the ability to use their mobile phone to have their ticket on it to get into the venue, rather than a paper ticket; we’re giving them the opportunity to buy food and drink, to buy merch and upgrades - and all of those features are available for them in the venue, through a mobile app. The interesting thing for us as an industry, as we gain so much more insight about customers, is we have a much closer relationship with them, we potentially have the opportunity to market to them through that mobile channel. Our real driver is to know more about customers.” DAVID JONES (Senior vice president of IT, Europe, AEG)
7. ER, MUSIC...
“If I knew what it was I’d be in it and rich! There are definite trends happening - you don’t have to work in technology to know that AR, VR, voice and AI are coming and are going to have an impact on our lives. These things are trends but they are all still a little bit away. My job is more to focus on how to make artists successful with the technology that exists. I’m just trying to make sure that I’m keeping my eye on the trends that are coming but really focusing on all of the technology and making creative use of all of the things that everyone has already got their hands on, not trying to get users to download new apps that they don’t care about or buy really expensive hardware that they can’t afford. It’s just making sure that everything that’s out there I’m using in a creative way rather than focusing on a gimmick or something that’s way off still.” CLAIRE MAS (Head of digital, Island Records)
“The next big thing in tech is the brilliant content that whatever that tech is will be able to uncover. It may be the great algorithm that really nails what that listening experience is. Some people feel it’ll be biometrically tracked, some feel it will come from wearables, some feel it’ll come from a great app that will match your mood with some engaging, educational, entertaining output.” JOE HARLAND (Head of visual/multiplatform radio, BBC Radio 1, 1Xtra, Radio 2, 6 Music and the Asian Network)