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

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.

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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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What’s With The Attitude?

When Muhammed Ali threw his gold medals into the river and went to prison rather than obey the man, he showed great attitude. When Keith and Mick were raising hell in their youth, they, too, had a great attitude. Nowadays it seems to me that it’s all the law abiding, well behaved, media savvy artists who get praised for having a great attitude.

The definition has changed as if the new generation was trying to piss off the oldsters by playing music that’s even softer than their parents’ music and by being perky when the sponsor calls, desperate to do the right thing, please the man, play the game. “Oh, we’ve got such a strong work ethic. We’re up at the crack of dawn to do morning tv, then we hit the gym, do press and we’re always ready to pose for photos with fans.”

I prefer what Bruce Springsteen said at SXSW when chuckling about the timing of his keynote speech. He said that having to speak before noon meant that no serious musician would be up to listen to him.

Check out this concert video by Bob Marley. Shot in the late 70s it shows a band with minimal production, just doing what musicians do: playing great music so fucking well and with such electrifying passion that you can’t but get into it.

At no point does he ask people to wave their hands in the air like they just don’t care. He doesn’t ask people if they’re having a good time every fifteen seconds. He’s not desperately trying to be liked.

My old publisher told me a story about Bob Marley, another one of his artists. They were renegotiating the publishing deal and Bob, having become a superstar, was able to command a huge advance. On the morning the deal was to be signed he sent word round to the publisher saying that he didn’t want a cheque, because “it’s white man’s paper, not worth anything”. It had to be cash. The publisher somehow scrambled the significant amount of cash together. At the signing ceremony Bob refused to sign the deal unless it was read out to him first. He listened to legalese for half an hour without batting an eyelid, smoking a spliff. The lawyer, sweating and stuttering, rambled on “notwithstanding the generality of the foregoing”. At the end, Bob just said “alright”, grabbed the suitcase full of cash and left.

I can’t vouch for every detail of this story to be true. But it’s certainly true that it’s a good story.

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Been Around The Block v New Kid On The Block

AIM Startups is a programme designed to help budding music biz entrepreneurs off the ground. I’m chuffed that they asked me to be a mentor. Here’s the blurb. It’s an exciting new thing to get to do.

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One of the advantages of having been around for a while is that you know people from many walks of life, who’ve also been around a bit. On my summer holidays I met a high school buddy of mine and heard about his work teaching design to his design students at various universities. At the start of term he usually conducts an informal poll, which more or less “confirms” that everyone’s destined to work for cool global advertising companies and cool global brands. He then asks everyone in class to take a good look around and realise that everyone in the room is in direct competition with one another for that one job opportunity.

The ensuing discussion about why a company would hire a new designer is not too dissimilar to the one in my racket where for every umpteen bands looking for a career there are umpteen more around the corner. Most just insist that they’re great and the world had better pay attention. Their kind are usually gone by high summer, rarely even realising that they never had the talent to get to first base.

Some are talented and they are prepared to give it a shot if the right opportunity comes along. They last a bit longer, but not long enough, because there isn’t much in this world that is more difficult to come by than the privilege to make music for a living. Rather than being an opportunity that just comes along, it’s a privilege that needs to be fought for in places that are impossibly hard to reach and even tougher to get out of.

The few that do the hard yards that every successful artist ever has had to do, must, in addition to the work ethic, share these attributes: have great songs, great records, be great live, look cool and have interesting stories. These things come first. Only then is a manager able to convince everyone else in the food chain to part with their time, money and resources so that his artist can become successful and give up their day jobs.

Advice that doesn’t directly address the five areas vital to success – the quality of songs, recordings, live show, image and story – is not worth listening to, because whoever is doing the talking doesn’t know what they’re talking about.

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Doing It v Doing It Again And Again

Voracious readers of this blog will know of my dedication to and love for squash, the racket sport. On my summer break I played every day, often doing 3 hour sessions. I must have gone through everyone who owns a racket in Helsinki, my holiday destination for the fortnight.

Back home, my “hobby job” of being a squash coach ( my only professional qualification ) commenced and I found myself being dragged out of bed early in the morning for a coaching session. Following a night when I had been playing league, I was stiff as a plank and wondering what the hell I was doing.

Then I spared a thought for my friends who play squash for a living. They’ve been doing it every day of the year for many years running. Because it’s not a hobby. It’s the real deal. How they put food on the table.

Doing something every day, all the time, without fail is what separates the wannabes from the dudes who do what dudes do to be the dudes they are.

Playing squash for a living is brutal work. Getting to a place where you can do it for a living is hard, as well. Making music for a living is incredibly hard work, too. Getting to a place where you can do it for a living is equally arduous.

The trick is to get up every morning and get to work.

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Hendrix v Nutini

I watched two music shows on TV. One was a documentary about Jimi Hendrix and in the other Paolo Nutini performed at T In The Park. Paolo Nutini, I was surprised to hear, is a very good singer, even if his music isn’t my cuppa. But it struck me like bolt of lighting just how original, groundbreaking and remarkable Jimi must have been in his day. He was so unique that his work blows people out of the water 50 years later.

I had a conversation with a young band about why so little of modern music breaks new ground, a supposition with which they agreed. The unwillingness of record labels to take risks is often mentioned in this context. Meh…. labels don’t make music. Musicians do.

Besides, there are many like us in the business who actively look to work with weird and wonderful new music. So it’s just not true to say that there are no channels for new music to blossom.

This young band, all recent graduates of music schools, said the schools foster a culture of “being professional” that equates to playing it safe, not rocking the boat, being accessible, malleable. With their emphasis on “the business”, these schools may well feel they are manufacturing astute musical entrepreneurs, except that:

 

Notice that bit about taking risks. If you’re unwilling to rock the boat, why would kids wanna rock?

I dropped out/was expelled from my music college for refusing to sing Lionel Richie’s Hello the way they wanted it sung. My small act of personal rebellion aside, the important thing I remember from those days is that there was, among my peers, a big drive to find something new. We’d purposefully attempt to do whatever everyone else wasn’t doing.

It’s baffling to hear so little of this desire in new bands’ demos. It’s as if the competition is to create something that “the market wants”. A lot of them actually ask about it, as if anyone had a clue as to what it wants.

Some say that it’s hard to do anything new and original because everything has already been done. Did you know that in the late 1800s people in the science community declared that science had come as far as it would go?

 

In addition to musical risks, there must be a willingness to take “life risks”, i.e. do things the inevitable outcome of which is that you’ll be broke: something lower than a cockroach on the Richter scale of social status in a world devoted to affluence.

Many a wannabe is able to spend a few hundred quid on a holiday, while not wanting to do a gig that costs them £30 in petrol.

I often hear: “if given the opportunity, we’d quit our jobs and focus on the band”. Not one of the victorious German football team got the opportunity to drop everything so they could focus on kicking a ball. All of them had been kicking a ball for a very long time, playing on shitty pitches fighting against tough people who didn’t want them to get one bit of their meal ticket – all this LONG before they got good enough to be able to compete at “the next level”. It cost a lot of money, time and effort to get there, without any guarantee that it would happen. The life risk was huge.

For those unwilling to take such risks, there are some good news: there is a seat reserved for you at your local where you can pass judgement on guys like Paolo Nutini and anyone else who has made it. Fellow experts on how the music business conspires against true talent will strongly agree with you.

In the meantime, a hungry bunch of crazy weirdos are creating something crazy and weird in a rehearsal room that stinks of beer and sweat. I hope they find me. They won’t if I find them first.

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