We Are The Animal Farm

The Animal Farm is a forward thinking independent music company whose 360 range of services include artist management, booking agency, record production, record label and music publishing.

Our Studio

Our 20 year career in the music business has given us the experience and global network of contacts to get our artists heard by the right people.

We are members of AIM, the umbrella association for UK independent record labels, PRS and PPL. The hub of our activities is our London recording studio. Check out the work of our producers and mix engineers. New artists wishing to submit music please do so via our demo submission page.

The Animal Farm Blog

An Encyclopedia Of Lyrics, Guitar Riffs And Liner Notes

I was at Young Sportsperson Of The Year awards the other day, courtesy of my friend James, who plays professional squash and won the award as a kid. It was very interesting to get a glimpse into the world of sport.

Twelve regional winners from different sports like tennis, gymnastics, different athletics events, as well as disabled versions of the same, were introduced in short videos and interviews. The award includes financial support to help them with the cost of doing their sport. One overall winner, Young Sportsperson Of The Year, was announced.

I couldn’t believe the amount of work these kids put in. 27 hours a week for some of them. That’s on top of school work. They are near enough full time from very early on, with an unreal dedication to making it in their field. It was inspiring. A little sad, as well, in some ways.

At the drinks reception afterwards I got to meet previous winners who had progressed to professional careers in sport. Olympic medalists’ and world number ones’ stories of grit and determination, sacrifice and relentless work made me feel wholly inadequate as a human being.

One of them said that surely I would have had to put in many hours for a very long time to learn to play and to gain the skills that enabled me to have a career in music.

I did. And that’s why my brain is an encyclopedia of lyrics, guitar riffs and liner notes, useless trivia about bands and of their twisted histories and the pointless arguments me and my mates had over every aspect of their music, image and so on. I spent countless hours on it, as well as on playing, but none of it qualifies as hard work. ;-)

When you really love something, it doesn’t feel like a chore.

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IndieCon

IndieCon, the annual conference organised by AIM (Association Of Independent Music) which gathers UK indie labels under one roof to talk shop, took place on Tuesday.

The message at music biz events used to be one of belief that a technological El Dorado is just around the corner once we figure out how to get paid fairly. I think it’s dawning on people that El Dorado won’t include the vast majority of us, just as growth in the global economy doesn’t.

Slicing through the panels and private conversations it’s clear to those who do music for a living just how hard it has always been, still is and probably will forever be to belong to the elite who feed and clothe themselves by making music.

In private people are frank, but on panels they passionately talk about their passion for being passionate about passionately loving music. It’s a sincere and honest sentiment. All of us in music love music, believe it or not! But I suspect that those in the audience representing the DIY artist community, and there are many of them at conferences like IndieCon, think they’re taking part in a primary school talent show where everyone gets a prize for showing up.

During one of the panel discussions, one such member of the audience rambled on about how, after two albums and three years of trying, he is still unable to get gigs or an agent or any attention for his music, giving X Factor and unimaginative music biz suits an earful, before someone on the panel pointed out: artists need to write better songs and make better records.

“Yeah, but you said that people in the business are passionate about music…”

“We are. Of the good variety, mainly.”

This latter exchange took place only in my imagination as I followed the argument to its logical conclusion.

Logic has little to do with why anyone does anything in the arts. We create art because it fills a vacuum in our lives. I fill my vacuum by writing songs and playing guitar.

But in order for me to fill a vacuum in yours, my song had better be important to you. It has to address your problems.

The music industry may have 99 problems, but the deciding one for those seeking to make a living from their music was, is and continues to be whether or not their songs can fill vacuums in other people’s lives.

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A Hit v A Mishit

You can sum up the careers of most legendary artists with a handful of hit songs. The notable exceptions are The Beatles and Abba who had lots of hits. Most successful bands, however, are lucky to have one career making song. One career making song equals one short career.

Most bands, of course, are commercially unsuccessful. They only have mishits.

Modern technology is awesome in that it enables many people to express themselves in public, which seems to be something we as a species crave for these days. I saw a statistic that said that 75% of all releases sell one copy. Something like 90% sell less than ten copies. Don’t quote me on this, but even if the numbers are a little different, that’s a lot of mishits. There is nothing wrong with having mishits as long as one has fun and explores one’s inner muse.

However, if the stated aim is to get a career, mishits will not suffice. If the stated aim is to work with professional people like managers and labels etc. then mishits are to be avoided, because one needs hits to create the excitement and buzz with which the wheels of business go round and round, making money = a living for all concerned.

A hit for Taylor Swift sounds very different to a hit for Ed Sheeran. Adele’s hits sound different to Foo Fighters’ hits, which, in turn, are different from anything Radiohead do. But they’re all popular in their own field.

Getting good enough to write hits will probably take a bit of time. When determining whether or not to get involved with the career of a young, new band I often find myself questioning whether or not the band have the staying power and commitment to become good enough to do what it takes to make it.

The other day I got a killer answer from a very young, teenage band whose sound I liked. The said: “Don’t you worry about our commitment. We’ve already been doing this for three months.”

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Careers In Music

Recent days have seen a slew of opinions on streaming/money/royalties further to Ms Swift’s decision to withdraw from Spotify and Mr Azoff’s threat to pull out of YouTube. An article about “huge” rock bands who still have day jobs caused a lot of commotion amongst people in rock bands who’d rather not have day jobs.

Many young artists come to us saying that they’re not out to get rich and ride around in limos. They just want to make a living. They say this as if it was some sensible, magnanimous statement showing their realistic expectations.

Their perception is wildly out of kilter with reality, which is that most people in bands have never made a living out of being in bands. Most bands throughout history have not made it, let alone have had long careers. This was true before the internet. It’s just as true now and I make an educated guess that it will be true for as long as we’re around as a species.

Anyone who makes it, even for a season or two, is in the top 1%. Out of those, a handful maintain long careers. Watch what someone who has had a long career has to say about it.

Looking at the bands in the article about “huge” rock bands with day jobs, I can see that many, if not all of them, work with managers, producers, labels etc. Quite how much money the value chain makes from a band unable to feed and clothe themselves is debatable, and I debate that it isn’t much. Which, in turn, begs another article to be written: managers of “huge” bands who still have day jobs.

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Wishing 0 – Doing 1

Finding a person who has the talent and lunacy required to forge a career in music is hard. Finding a collection of individuals who share the same attributes is harder still.

I’ve met many people who “could have” become footballers, but didn’t. Similarly, music attracts the slightly deluded and seriously work shy. In my line of work I meet many who are all too willing to wait for the opportunity to take them to the next level. Unfortunately, I don’t meet that many who are prepared to do whatever it takes for as long as it takes to get there.

What separates the men from the boys is the willingness to pay your dues. Like earning your stripes it is not always fun and easy. It almost certainly involves enormous risk, sacrifice and hardship.

Bands who approach us always talk about doing the “right gigs”.

For anyone who cares to listen: every shit little gig is a step forward compared to staying at home, which is a step backward. The gigs you do are the right gigs. The gigs you don’t do leave you worse off. Don’t try to argue the point. It’s boring.

It pays to emphasise the quality of a band’s songwriting and production.

The fact that a band doesn’t already have a career is proof that they haven’t released a career making song yet. Having a manager with the right contacts will not change this fundament, neither will a bigger promotion budget. Only writing a hit song and recording it so that it sounds like one will.

Belief is important. But it’s not a substitute for doing. Belief is the fuel that gives you the strength to do.

If you are in doubt about the above, try this experiment: wish in one hand and piss in the other. See which one fills up first. You may find that the hand into which you wish remains empty, while the hand into which you urinate fills up. Wishing 0 – Doing 1.

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5 Things You Should Know About Practicing

Many seasons ago we were producing a band whose guitarist saw me doing some leisurely fretwork, going up and down various scales in various tempos. He looked on and said: ” I could never do that.”

I wasn’t born able to do it either, I thought.

The other day my brother Mat bought an electronic drum kit. You can midi up and get the computer to correct it all and assign the best sounds in the world to your playing. I told my Dad about this genius piece of kit, to which he remarked: “So, what is there left for the musician to do?”

With modern technology there is remarkably little left for the musician to do except to look convincing in the Vine. Oh, and to engage with fans on Facebook.

Practicing is pretty boring. But there’s a huge difference between something that a cat blows out and something that a piece of software corrects to sound passable. Honest confession: based on the evidence I’ve seen in our studio over the past decade, I don’t think many whose wish is to be classed as musicians actually practice playing that much.

One, you have to do it every day. Two, you have to do it slowly, with care and diligence. Three, then standing up with the guitar behind your back, blindfolded. Four, add your vocals. Five, then with the choreography included.

********

After an hour’s Q&A about the music business at our local state secondary school’s B tech class, I got the opportunity to ask the 15-16 year olds what they listen to, fully expecting to hear names of DJs and MCs I’ve never heard of. To my surprise they named bands like Zep, Purple, Sabbath, Queen, Maiden etc.

I said: “Why aren’t you listening to any new music?” They said: “Because all new music sounds like it’s made from the same beat and it feels like the artists are only in it for the money. There’s no vibe on their records.”

Well, if the room is full of musicians who can’t play, what they do has to be corrected by software. It will have no vibe. Since the chops are poor, the sound is poor. So, it’s replaced by the same samples that everyone else uses on their records.

If they can’t play, they can’t be in it for the music and the love of playing, otherwise they would have bothered to learn!!!

But those kids in that B Tech class sure made me feel good about the future of rock music. Yeah!

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Reeperbahn Follow Up

Reeperbahn Festival

Meeting people who work in the business of music is hard work, especially when it happens at conferences like Reeperbahn Festival, from where we’ve just come back. We had back to back 30 minute meetings from breakfast until early evening for three days running. That’s a lot of talk, lots of flesh pressed, lots of banter, bullshit and bragging.

This woman came up to me on the third day saying that she’d been following me out of the corner of her eye and wondered who this gentleman was who “seems to know everybody and to whom everybody comes to talk”.

My moment of stardom was brief and bemusing.

Speaking with one’s peers about the business confirms that no one is alone with their problems. It doesn’t make the problems any easier to solve, but one thing is clear: there is no conspiracy.

No one has the keys to the walled garden that is the music business. The garden just doesn’t exist. There is a network of people, however, where everyone knows everyone and we’d all love to do stuff together.

But when we walk into a conference like Reeperbahn, the sheer quantity of acts overwhelms you. With scores of bands playing in just as many venues across the city at the same time, who do you go see? With even more bands being championed by flocks of managers from all corners of the world, who do you pick?

If bands could be flies on the wall at conferences like these they’d understand what they need to do to have even the smallest chance to make it.

1. Be Unique
Stand out from the crowd. Whatever it is you do, make sure that you are remarkable – worth remarking on. This will get you noticed.

2. Have Great Product
Once you get noticed it doesn’t matter one fucking bit what some manager says about you if the material and the record isn’t great. Honestly, spend ALL your time, money and resources on making great product. Without it your manager is a wanker. With it he’s a genius.

3. Keep Doing It
When your great product is being noticed by people, please understand and accept that they have their existing projects at the forefront of their minds. Your time will come. It may take time until the train stops in front of you. Make sure you are still there so you can hop on.

4. Say Yes
Whoever makes you an offer does so for a reason: they like what you do and they want to create something bigger and better out of it than what you’re capable of doing on your own. It’s called adding value. If you don’t add value to what you’re doing, you will always just appeal to the people you are appealing to right now. They won’t stick around forever, because they will tire of what you do. You won’t get many opportunities to add value to what you do. Say yes when you get the chance.

5. Be Unique
This is so important that it has to be mentioned twice.

Other Thoughts

My cousin is a business angel and a business consultant. He advises new companies and sometimes invests in them. I met him for a drink recently and he told me the five questions he asks of any new business venture.

1. What do you do?
2. What do you sell?
3. How do you make money with it?
4. What’s the process by which you do what you do?
5. Who are the people in charge of the process?

Apparently, if a business can’t answer these it won’t survive. Only an idiot will invest in it.

At Reeperbahn and other music conferences there are always people with very innovative ideas for new businesses that offer solutions to problems I don’t have. You meet them in the bar in the wee hours and they bore you to death with their ideas.

You can jovially extend the above five points to apply to a band.

The first one is easy. We make music. There’s a bit more to it, of course. We provide the soundtrack to growing up, to getting laid, to rebelling at school etc. We provide a code for behaviour, dressing up, shoes and haircuts. We are part of the cultural glue that binds people together and makes them feel awesome.

Many at Reeperbahn were, at best, nice clones of what already is. Far too many weren’t even that. Either way, I struggle to see why they would make kids wanna fuck ass, as the erudite NY a&r man said once about his preferred reaction to any record he put out.

The second: we sell physical product like vinyl and CDs, we sell downloads, streams etc. We sell concert tickets. Merch. Syncs. Plays on radio.

Each one of these is sold as a transaction from us to an end user with many people in between taking their cut in return for the work they do to connect what we sell with the people willing to buy it from us.

Making money with it is hard. If we only sell let’s say 20 concert tickets, no proper promoter will want to know about us. We are stuck with not so nice venues. Our sales being that low we won’t be of interest to anyone in the food chain of music. Of course, if we add a couple of zeros to our sales, we will be of interest to a whole bunch of people. Even one more zero will make a huge difference.

There’s a certain element of chicken and egg at play here, but let’s not focus on that. Let’s just agree that making money out of what we sell is directly proportionate to how many people are willing to buy it from us, which, in turn, is directly proportionate to how well we do what it is we do.

In other words, we have to be culturally awesome and exciting.

The process that makes all this happen begins in our bedrooms where we crank out some killer ideas.

Then we take it to a rehearsal room and share it with our band mates. >From there to a demo studio or a home setup. Then a producer steps in with his ideas on how to add value to it. A manager or an a&r may have some further ideas on the music. The product managers, graphic designers, sales reps and buyers all have their parts to play. Promoters plan tours with our agent. They’re in touch with bookers at venues. Pluggers and PRs present the product to radio producers who instruct DJs to play them. We upload our video to YouTube.

Then some kid in their bedroom watches it and goes: nah, I like this other band much more.

At this point the people in charge of the process are in a vital position because they are faced with a dilemma. Being back at square one, they can either give up or try again.

All of which neatly ties up with what I said earlier:

Be Unique
Have Great Product
Keep Doing It
Say Yes
Be Unique

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Return To The Sun breakout on XFM

Scottish rockers Return To The Sun are Breakout Track on XFM.

Return To The Sun are on tour:

12/ 09 – Edinburgh, Cabaret Voltaire
13/ 09 – Perth, The Green Room
14/ 09 – Dunfermline, Monty’s Bar
16/ 09 – Doncaster, Diamond Live Lounge
17/ 09 – Manchester, Tiger Lounge
18/ 09 – Preston, Mad Ferret
19/ 09 – Barnstaple, Golden Lion Inn
20/ 09 – Torquay, Apple and Parrot
21/ 09 – Bristol, The Fleece
22/ 09 – Bideford, Palladium
24/ 09 – Plymouth, Junction
25/ 09 – Brighton, Sticky Mike’s Frog Bar
26/ 09 – Hastings, The Marina Fountain
27/ 09 – London, Spice of Life (Hog Roast)

10/ 10 – Dumfries, The Venue
11/ 11 – Glasgow, Flat 0/1

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