The biz's brightest new stars tell their stories. This week it's the turn of Orna Lyons, artist manager and label manager at Never Fade Records'.
How did you break into the music business?
My first job in the industry was ...
RuthAnne Cunningham helped write Work Bitch, one of Britney Spears’ most iconic (and motivational!) songs and a viral, Top 10 hit. Funny thing is, as the Reservoir-signed star recalls, she didn’t actually realise it at the time...
Work Bitch happened by accident. So often, as a songwriter, you’re really planning songs and thinking about titles, but Work Bitch was the opposite: it was just fun.
I previously had a song on hold for Britney’s Circus album and I was so excited. When you get a song on hold you think, ‘Oh my God, it’s going to be a Britney Spears song!’ I was so close but then it didn’t get on the album. After that, I had put her out of my mind at the time because she was kind of gone [between album campaigns], I didn’t even know anything with Britney was happening!
Basically, there was a guy called Anthony Preston, who was working with Will.I.Am, and every so often he would call me up and say, ‘Hey, do you want to come write with me for a few hours?’ I would go to Treehouse Studio in Santa Monica and Anthony would take a track and then I would start singing melodies and making words to them, that was how we worked together – it was all very quick.
The track Anthony played me [that became Work Bitch] was different, and was originally called ‘Fingers To The Sky’ – we were writing an empowering song and those words are still present in it. The inspiration behind it was that we were talking about the music industry: just how much we get screwed over by different things, and how hard it is. We wanted to come up with a new way to say, ‘Up yours!’ [Laughs].
Afterwards, Anthony took what we’d done to Will.I.Am and he really liked it. Will already had the Work Bitch idea and verses and so he took our sections and put them in and all the concepts fitted. I had no idea this was all actually happening – I got a call four days before it was released!
At the time, I had just been broken up with, I was feeling really shit and I was broke… And then I got a call from Anthony saying, ‘I want to play you something’. He played it to me over the phone and I was like, ‘Is that Britney Spears?’ Is that our song?’ He said, ‘Yeah, it’s called Work Bitch and it’s her new single!’ That was the fastest turnaround for a song of mine – when I wrote Too Little Too Late, it took two years trying to find a home before JoJo picked it up.
Because I’d been in the industry for so long and so many things don’t happen, I thought it probably wouldn’t come out. Four days later I was getting all these messages because Britney had tweeted the song credits! It just took on a life of its own after that, people were sending me all the different memes – it was even parodied in South Park. I thought it was so clever the way that the two songs worked together.
When I went to see her Vegas show I was like, ‘She probably won’t perform it,’ and she actually opened with it and the merchandise was all Work Bitch themed. It was a big moment and a really good time for her. Every time I would bring my friends to the show, they would turn around to people and say, ‘My friend wrote Work Bitch’ and no one believed them.
With other songs, I work with the artists, but I never met Britney and that makes it even more exciting. I’m from the era of Britney, Christina Aguilera and Backstreet Boys and I kept her as my childhood hero. I’m still so excited by the thought of her performing it. She doesn’t know who I am or how obsessed I was with her as a teen. To write her comeback song, to be a part of that, is crazy to me.
Publishers I.Am Composing, BMG, Refune, UMPG, Sony/ATV, Britney Spears Music/Universal Music-Z Tunes Writers Britney Spears, Will.I.Am, Otto Jettman, Sebastian Ingrosso, Derek Weintraub, Anthony Preston, RuthAnne Cunningham Release Date 29.09.13 Record label RCA Total UK sales (OCC) 224.812
Crispin Hunt crosses his legs and sits back in his chair. The remnants of his lunch sit on the desk next to him and, as he fiddles with an electronic cigarette, he’s a picture of contentment.
We meet over coffee in the office the Ivors Academy chair has occupied for just under a year, inside the opulent hustle and bustle of The Ministry in South East London. When Hunt and his team moved in, the Academy was still known as BASCA, and he begins by asserting that this year’s rebrand is all part of the modernisation mandate he was given when he took the role in 2016.
“It’s been a real challenge, there’s been a lot to do,” he begins. “I was asked to be chair and it was an honour to do it. There was a lot of love for what BASCA stood for and it was important not to lose those things and I don’t think we have. We’ve developed them and it’s a much cooler look.”
The former Longpigs singer has worked in politics and as a songwriter for a raft of artists ranging from Florence + The Machine and Ellie Goulding, to You Me At Six and JP Cooper. He campaigned heartily around Article 13 (which we’ll come to later) and is determined to fight for fairness for his fellow songwriters.
“I never intended to end up in this role, I just reached a point where I was frustrated nobody was fighting our corner, so I decided to try to do it myself and found a legion of others who had decided the same,” he says.
“Long gone are the days when musicians could afford to be apathetic about the way our work is disseminated, we have to take responsibility and engage fully and collectively in shaping the future of how our work is used.”
Naturally, Hunt believes his past endeavours mean he’s well cut out to represent thos who make music in Britain, both in the industry here and around the world.
“Longpigs’ short dalliance with success and my subsequent mentoring, producing and songwriting career have been a pretty good set up for this role,” he says.
“I’ve had enough success to understand what that feels like and how brilliantly the industry can help enable talent, how it works but also where it doesn’t. I’ve learned from my mistakes and am well placed to warn others of the pitfalls. I also worked in politics, so I understand and believe in [using] existing mechanisms for meaningful change.”
With that in mind, we begin by asking where songwriting is at in 2019, using Music Week’s recent findings that the average number of writers on a hit UK song rose from 4.84% in 2017, to 5.34% in 2018 as a starting point.
“We seem to be going back to a time where the songwriter is fantastically important,” says Hunt.
“But we need to recognise that the reason there are so many writers on a piece at the moment is because it’s very, very difficult.”
Hunt says the problem lies in the almighty battle for prominence on DSPs. “There are millions of tracks available, so if you’re not on the surface of it, it’s very difficult to get in front of people. Everyone is having to adapt accordingly to be one of the three or four people that appear on the homepage,” he says. “The labels are chasing that position and so are the writers, the writers want those hits, too. If I need a brilliant hi-hat pattern, I’ll call up my mate, ask them, and give them a share of the publishing.”
Hunt maintains that songwriters are still not fairly rewarded for their work, but believes change is coming. “As the model and remuneration, splits and shares change, people won’t be scrabbling for not enough money to reward 10 writers,” he says.
All the same, the man who has two more years in the Ivors hot seat is concerned about future generations of songwriting talent.
“I really worry that something has gone wrong, we haven’t been rearing the next generation of great bands,” he says. “The industry has had to go through massive change over the last 10-15 years, it’s been put into a corner and hasn’t had the luxury to experiment as much as it should to nurture the next generation.”
But although Hunt wonders whether we’ve been “fattening the already fattened calves”, he remains positive, citing Billie Eilish as a beacon of hope.
“The publishing industry is doing a lot, there are still a lot of people getting signed and there are always going to be people who are brilliant and amazing writers, it’s an exciting and brilliant time for music.”
One of the factors driving Hunt’s sunny outlook is the fact that music makers stand to benefit from MEPs backing the EU Copyright Directive back in March. Hunt was one of the foremost voices throughout the campaign.
“It was a massive battle,” he says. “It was about two things: whether the internet should be regulated and privacy. Privacy and copyright are intellectual property, it’s all information that belongs to the creator, so if they could enfeeble copyright they were halfway to enfeebling privacy.”
The legislation stands to play a key part in Hunt’s bid to reward writers fairly, and his passion for the talent he represents through Academy (Ed Sheeran and Disclosure are among recent sign-ups) is obvious. The 64th edition of The Ivors took place last month and saw winners including The 1975, Dido and Wiley, while Jax Jones, Ghetts and Let’s Eat Grandma were among the nominees. Naturally, Hunt’s reflections are effusive.
“The winners demonstrate that UK creators are writing extraordinary, innovative and ground-breaking music, we’re still pushing the boundaries of musical communication,” he says.
“From exceptional film, TV and gaming scores to songwriting that’s challenging, truthful and inspirational, UK writers are embracing the opportunities of today.”
He tackles criticism of the diversity among this year’s winners with similar gusto, emphasising that the Academy is committed to changing the state of play in the biz.
“I acknowledge the criticism, but I would say that the works are judged anonymously and panellists are simply asked to judge the music,” he explains.
“We believe there is real integrity in this process, you are nominated or win an Ivor Novello Award for your craft, no other factors are involved. It is also important to say that, for each category, there is a different, autonomous panel of 50/50 female and male songwriters or composers, so there is no knowledge of who is nominated in another category. That means there is no orchestration of results, but it does mean you can have a year when all the winners are mainly one gender, for example, or the same act can win in two categories like The 1975 this year, because their music affected the judges most.”
Hunt says a lack of diversity is “endemic” in the music industry and calls for the biz to “address the causes as well as the symptoms”.
“The direction of global travel is multicultural, multi-gender and multimedia,” he adds. “The Ivors Academy is constantly reviewing its diversity policy across because we believe the industry of the future must reflect that diversity.”
Music Week might have interrupted his lunch break, but Crispin Hunt continues to exude positivity, articulating his desire to push for change in all the areas the Ivors Academy represents.
All that remains is to ask, what happens next?
“I’m hugely optimistic about the future,” affirms Hunt, who was recently elected to the PRS For Music board. “Music creators draft the product of the entire business and we’re entering a new renaissance, this is a new world with endless potential.
“Creators should be front and centre in deciding how it evolves. The whole industry understands it is on an uncharted journey to success and there is a brilliant will across the business to build the trustworthy and holistic framework the future of music will demand.”
Crispin Hunt crosses his legs again, the other way this time, and leans back; satisfied he’s made his point.