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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