The Hot Seat: Jason Fielding, The Sound Campaign

Published in The Music Network

 

What originally brought you to Australia?

Australia always appealed to me. I spent a year here back in 2000, when I helped set up a sponsorship department for a global conferencing company. I moved here permanently in 2004 (Fielding co-founded The Sound Campaign in 2007 with Sasha Morello). I originally moved from Manchester to London when I was 18. I’ve been involved in the live music scene since I was 19 years old. Two weeks ago, I became an Aussie citizen.

What opportunities do you see here?

Music marketing has really come of age. Where it was once seen as a nice thing to have by a lot of brands, it’s now a very serious part of the marketing space. Young people aren’t engaging with 30-second TV commercials. Spending a million bucks making a TV commercial won’t give you that return on investment these days. You can get your message out in ways which aren’t particularly overt, and that’s a much more cost- effective way to reach an audience. Australia is a vibrant market. I don’t think we could be doing 10 years ago what we are doing now. The appetite for doing music marketing wasn’t quite there, but the market has really shifted. Brands now recognise that music is a strong platform to reach younger consumers, and we’re seeing some world class campaigns here. On a macro level, the Australian economy is faring better than others around the world. And musically, Australia punches above its weight.

What exactly does the Sound Campaign do?

We do three things. We work with consumer brands to create and deliver entertainment campaigns.

We also work in commercial rights representation, where we – for want of a better description – sell sponsorship. We see it as creative partnerships between brands and entertainment owners. The third area is content creation. It’s the area of our business that has really accelerated in the last 12 months. In February, Bree Knight joined us as Head of Branded Content. And three weeks ago, Rachel Moor (former Video Hits executive producer) joined us as Head of Entertainment Content. We’re moving to Surry Hills, on Foveaux and Crown, because we outgrew the space we were in.

One of the most high-profile branding campaigns in recent years was a deal done out of the U.K. where Groove Armada recorded and toured for Bacardi. That deal is history. But will we see more like it?

It was a big step for both parties, but it apparently didn’t work particularly well for either. There have been a few plays by brands – including Levis and General Pants – who have created campaigns where they were acting as record companies, either A&Ring or actually producing and releasing product. It’s an interesting space for a brand to get into, but your DNA needs to be an A&R company or record company to really do that properly over the long term.

Does your company have plans for its own sync department, or publishing division? Or a label perhaps?

Not a publishing division. We’re not in that space where we’re working for artists. But we’re currently doing a lot of syncs, perhaps five a week, primarily for TVCs. We’re producing a couple of interstitials — clips we make that run on networks that have more content than TVCs. A lot of the work we do is filming the concerts our clients put on, in particular the Debit MasterCard series and the JD Set for Jack Daniels. The sync space is one we’re informally in. It’s definitely an area we might grow into and do more of in the future.

There’s got to be a fine line between getting it right, and seriously wrong. The line is, if you’re doing it for the wrong reasons. With every campaign, with any client we work with, we don’t start with any preconceived idea of what they should do. We ask them what their objectives are, what they’re trying to achieve. We look at what their brand is, what their DNA is. Out of that some ideas start to emerge about what the right strategy might be. Budget is also a consideration. It’s really about picking the right artist for the particular campaign. A brand has got to want to be in the space. You’ve got to respect the nuances of operating in the music space. You’ve got to respect the integrity of the artists that they work with. And if a brand has those traits and if they do approach the campaign with that headspace, then it’s going to be a successful campaign. You’ve got to be genuine.


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The Hot Seat: Jess Beston, Tiny Monster

Published in The Music Network

 

Former Universal Music Australia A&R Manager Jess Beston has gone solo, with her new business Tiny Monster. As A&R Manager at Universal, Beston had the hot hand, signing Children Collide, Gyroscope and The Naked & Famous. A former musician, Beston previously served in licensing and PR/radio with EMI, working with the likes of silverchair, Missy Higgins and The Finn Brothers. TMN caught up with Beston to talk shop.

Jess, you recently left Universal Music Australia to launch your own business. What’s the plan?
I’ve started a unique, boutique music company Tiny Monster, which specialises in A&R Consulting, Creative Services, and Artist Mentoring. Through the “consulting” side, I can give different degrees of A&R advice on demos, singles, EPs or albums. On “creative services,” I can project manage video or photo shoots from conception to delivery, while the “mentoring” business offers hourly or monthly sessions for newer acts. I’ll do sessions with any developing band who wants a chat and some feedback. That process also works as an A&R filter for me. If I feel there’s huge potential there, they can become a Tiny Monster “mentoring” band. So far, I’ve project-managed The Jezabels’ Sam Kristofski-directed Try Colour video, and I’m consulting for Ngaiire from Sydney, and The Panda Band from Perth. I also manage The Trouble With Templeton, from Brisbane, and I mentor Tehachapi from Melbourne, Ben Wells & The Middle Names from Hobart, and 20th Century Graduates from Adelaide.

You A&R’d some pretty important records at Universal. What inspired you to leave your “comfort zone” and go it alone?
It was difficult to leave. But I’d worked for major labels for ten years, I realised there was this gap in the market and I had to take the leap. There’s an expression, “You should do one thing that scares yourself every day.” It’s scary yes, but I’m feeling excited and inspired about the future, because I whole-heartedly, passionately believe in what I am doing.

What were the big lessons you’ve learned in those ten years?
I noticed an unprecedented number of young independent bands with potential who were spending a lot of money on their recordings, but not achieving the results they desired. I met quite a few bands who would spend $10,000; $7,000 on making the EP and $3,000 on a publicist or plugger. But they’d get no response. The songs just weren’t quite there. In many cases if they had someone to help them during the demo and recording process, they could have achieved a stronger result. It dawned on me, there were independent publicists and radio pluggers out there, but little access to A&R services outside the traditional label structure. And there’s a real need.

These three services you’re providing, are they not being adequately handled by the major music companies?
In the future, it’s viable that A&R could be a service the major companies decide to hire external consultants for, and it may save those companies money. Whether they are independent contractors or label employees, A&R is here to stay. We’ll see more small, niche independent services companies popping up, like Tiny Monster, or like Run DNA, Vanessa Picken’s new digital services company.

A&Rs are typically seen as the paratroopers of the record business. Slightly crazy, and dropped into dangerous situations. How is an A&R’s job-spec changing?

A&R has always been about finding incredible new acts who write brilliant songs, meeting them, understanding them, and helping them get their music and message to a broader audience. That hasn’t changed. Sometimes those acts need a little help with their songwriting, sonics, image and visuals along the way. And sometimes you wouldn’t touch all that with a barge-pole because they’re so brilliant at producing it all on their own. Thanks to technology the way we find talent has changed. There are more places to access new music. So we need to sift through more content, a lot of it very average.

Women are underrepresented in the music biz, especially in A&R. Why?
It’s a tough one, and I don’t understand why it’s the case. Early on, bands need nurturing, understanding and empathy. They’re qualities that women tend to possess and are more happy to display and share than many men. It could be a reflection of the fact there’re less women in popular music in general, something which is equally difficult to understand. Likewise, how many female producers are there? Most A&R people come from a musical or producer background, which may help explain the lower number of females in our field. I don’t like it, but therein lies the fact. There are plenty of Australian female musos who would make incredible A&Rs. If they feel they have a flare for helping other bands and their career is winding down, maybe A&R could be for them. Knock on the label doors ladies! Let’s change those stats.

 

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