Welcome to The Artist Network!
This site was set up by people who have worked in the music business for most of their careers. My name is Neil Cartwright and I’ll tell you a little bit about myself.
I’ve always had two obsessions – music and computers. More about computers later.
Back in the late ’70s and early ’80s, on Sunday evenings Radio 1 played the Chart show, counting down to the Number One. I’d be sat next to the speakers with a pen and paper, noting down every song in the Top 20 and whether a song had moved up or down the chart. Later, I’d advance to sitting with a cassette player next to the speaker ready to record my favourite songs. And got annoyed if the show’s presenter spoke over the intro or outro. I had those tapes for years.
Around 1983 when I was 15, I was visiting my Aunty & Uncle’s house in Bristol and picked up one of Uncle Stan’s albums. It was “Remain In Light” by a band called TalkingHeads. Up until this moment I’d only been aware of chart music. I wasn’t really interested in any ‘alternative’ music. To be honest, punk had completely passed me by. But I’d liked the track “Once In a Lifetime”, a single taken from the album, so decided to play the entire album. And looking back, it was at this moment my career in music started.
Boom! One listen to that album and a whole new world opened up to me. I became aware there was music outside of the charts. Who knew! Obvious now, I know, but it came as a revelation to me at the time.
One consequence was that I started to buy the magazine “Smash Hits” every fortnight. Now, as anyone of the era will tell you, the magazine wrote mainly about pop music. However, the writing was very sharp and witty and could be quite sarcastic about the fluff they were writing about. But, occasionally, they would review a song by a token ‘Indie’ band. On one of these occasions they reviewed “Lie Dream Of A Casino Soul” by The Fall and gave it 5 stars out of 5. Curious, I found the album with the song on it (Hip Priest And Kamerads) at my local library and took it home. I was instantly hooked. Mark E Smith’s vocals were unlike anything I’d ever heard. These were songs that weren’t glossy or made for the charts. They sounded like they’d been knocked together in 10 minutes in someone’s garage. For the good reason they probably had been. The lyrics were drawled and indecipherable. The songs could last anywhere from a couple of minutes to longer than 10. But it felt exciting and to this day I still love the band. I consider Mark E Smith a hero of the British artistic underground. Someone from a tough background who truly defines what it is to be an artist. Uncompromising, relentless and unwavering. Over 30 albums he made the music he wanted and wrote his lyrics / poetry in his own idiosyncratic style.
Following my A Levels I was fortunate enough to go to Sheffield University. In the first week, during the ‘Fresher’s Fayre’, I joined a group called the “Technical Services Committee”. We were the student roadies who were on hand to help bands setup when they played a gig at one of the Uni’s venues. The Ents committee would do the easy part, or so we thought. Putting up posters, pfffff ,well, anyone could do that! We were the ones who were at the venue early doors to meet the road crew and the trucks. We’d unload dozens of flight cases, helping the actual roadies, before standing around for a few hours while they did their jobs. Then after the gig had finished we’d reload everything into the truck. Well almost everything. After seeing The Stone Roses on their last ever tour of small UK venues before they decided to only play arenas, Ian Brown walked up to me and said, “Hey mate, have you seen me bongos?”. I said I hadn’t. A proud rock n roll moment.
As a result I saw some great bands up close. Pixies, De La Soul, Happy Mondays, Red Hot Chill Peppers, Napalm Death, to name a few. The greatest band I ever saw was a band I hadn’t heard until I set their gig up. My Bloody Valentine played their first Sheffield gig in The Lower Refectory, one of the smallest capacity venues inside the Uni. They had an audience of about 50 people but their mix of harmonies and psychedelic drone absolutely blew me away. After the gig I approached the band and Bilinda, the guitarist, put me on the band’s guest list for their show a few days later at the Duke Of York in Leeds. I had a mate who lived in Leeds so went along and was treated to another stunning experience.
Incidentally, this kindof reminds me about a guy I knew in Halls at Uni. It was the first term and he was doing Archeology. We noticed he’d gone missing and reported it. The caretaker opened his room and all seemed OK, so it was assumed he’d gone home for whatever reason. After about 4 weeks he showed up again and when we asked him where he’d gone it turned out he’d been following The Fields Of The Nephilim around the country on their UK tour, living on floors and hitching lifts. Those were the days before students had to pay fees! Anyway, I digress….
During Uni I probably saw 150 or so bands. I even started booking & promoting a few myself. Phoning them up, asking them to play in Sheffield, negotiating a price. “My” bands included Silverfish (‘T.F.A’ is still one of my favourite songs), Family Cat, Telescopes and New Fast Automatic Daffodils. Plus I joined a couple of bands, with no success whatsoever. One thing I remember was meeting a young guy in the Uni’s Ents office. He asked me what I was up to and I told him I’d been pasting posters around Sheffield. “I’m Simon, I promote bands, give me a call if you need any work”, he said. Well, I’d never heard of him at the time and thought it should be me offering him work! Hindsight’s great isn’t it? Simon Moran founded SJM who became one the country’s most successful promoters and he personally became one of the richest people in Britain. Did I call him? You can probably guess the answer.
Following Uni I decided I wanted to join a record label. However, there weren’t many opportunities in Sheffield. Warp Records were based there but they were a small operation back then. I did actually get a job interview with them to manage their shop on Division Street. Apparently I got down to the last two but then received an opportunity to move to London so called to let them know I didn’t want the job. I’ll never know if I’d have been offered it or not.
In London I worked for a company, AEI, who supplied background music to shops. Truth be told, yes, we did supply some of the awful background music you heard back then. But we also supplied original music to lifestyle shops like Habitat, Pier One, Pied A Terre and Principles. The result was I got to hear a huge amount of music, from jazz to latin, from lounge to the crooners. It gave me an in-depth knowledge of a very wide range of music, which is why I’m useful to have on a pop quiz team!
While in London I sent speculative letters, along with my CV, to dozens of record companies. Although I worked with music, I really wanted to work on ‘the coal face’, so to speak, but it was difficult to know how to get on the first rung of the ladder without direct experience of working within a label. And although I had worked in the live sphere and promoted small indie bands, no-one had told me what a booking agent was or what a promoter did. Had I known back then I may have phoned some of them, leveraging my experience in Sheffield. If only someone had written a blog back then explaining what they did….
Meanwhile, you recall my interest in computers? As a result of my Geekery I was an early adopter of the Internet. Back in 1995 I bought my first desktop computer – a 368 chip and 72MB of memory – and browsed the early internet, which back then was mostly message boards. I remember Netscape announcing they had developed a new browser that could display images. Amazing, I thought! I made my first website, using basic HTML, in 1996.
One day, in a geek porn mag (Computer Weekly, I think it was), I read an article about a company called Real Networks, who had developed a technology that streamed music over a 28k modem. I investigated by installing it on my own computer and heard what was probably one of the world’s first music streams. I immediately thought of the incredible opportunities for record labels and proceeded to write yet another round of covering letters, explaining to labels why streaming would be MASSIVE (not sure if I used that word or not) and sent it to all the companies who had ignored me the first time round.
One of my letters landed on the desk of “Music Legend” Gary Farrow, Sony Music’s then Head Of Communications. I’m sure he would admit this but at the time Gary didn’t know the first thing about computers. For instance, he called me once to ask how to get a capital letter to appear on his screen. But to his surprise, and I’m sure everyone else’s, he had been tasked by the company’s Chair, Paul Burger, to set up the new Internet Department. At the time I assume the Internet was viewed as falling under ‘Communications’ rather than Marketing or Sales. So it was a true case of my CV landing in the right place at the right time. Gary called me in for an interview. Two weeks later I had quit my job and in 1997 I was sitting behind the desk as “Webmaster’ at one of the world’s largest record labels! I’d made it! 🙂
When I joined there were 6 computers with Internet access – one on each floor of the building. They were usually located at the back of someone’s office. There was no email in or out of the building. Everyone had pigeon holes for internal mail. Do you want to check the year again? It was 1997. When I wanted to update one of the four artist websites the company had previously set up I’d have to re-boot the ISDN line to get online. Most people thought the Internet was a fad. I heard anecdotally years later that the Head of Sales told his team it was a passing phase and they were to ignore it until it went away. Now over 60% of Sony Music’s revenue comes from digital sources. I can only say this is a long fad. I’m sure it will pass eventually.
Over the next 10 years I worked with many of the world’s largest artists, building websites, negotiating deals and assessing new technology and business models . I met countless managers, interviewed dozens of bands for their websites and watched more live bands than I can remember.
Following Sony I worked with The Orchard and a visionary called Scott Cohen. He originally founded the company in New York as one of the world’s first digital distributors of independent music. Baring in mind, back in 2005, the first question we usually got asked was, ‘What’s an MP3?’. Over the course of 5 years the company grew rapidly. I attended music conferences around the world and met representatives from all around the world, many of who I’m still in contact with.
Eventually a new opportunity came along. Media Junction, based in London’s Soho, were an Entertainment Marketing specialist. I joined them to set up a digital department. They worked on behalf of festivals, tour promoters, venues and theatres to advertise their shows. The traditional marketing method was simply to place an advert in a magazine or paste a poster to a wall. Our job was to convince them to build websites, use social media and use digital advertising. I know the record labels were sometimes called slow on the uptake. Well, if they were slow they were like rocket scientists compared to the live industry. Some got digital but to be honest, the majority didn’t. The old, traditional way of buying posters still worked back then and many didn’t see the need to change. However, it gave me the opportunity to learn Google Adwords, Facebook advertising, CPM’s, CPA’s, etc. We also set up a music PR department who built relationships with many of the early music bloggers.
One of our clients was ITB, back then the world’s biggest Booking Agent. I was asked by their CEO, Barry Dickens, to build a new touring backend application to manage their tours. I designed the wireframes and had to brief the programmers. The site included tour routing, venue bookings and all the contracts. It provided me with an incredible opportunity to get an insider’s view of the tour industry since I had to sit with all their agents to get a complete overview of what they did.
By now I was lecturing, running my own digital agency and working with artists such as Jamiroquai, The Prodigy, management company ATC, venue operator The Mama Group and doing consultancy for London’s iconic venue, The O2.
I now had a very good understanding of record labels, both Major and Indie, plus the live industry, working with both promoters, venues and booking agents. In addition I spent two years working with ValleyArm, an Australian company who distributed music in South East Asia. It was founded by my good friend, Gary McKenzie, who I had met at The Orchard. One project we started was “The Creators Summit” to be held in Manilla. This was the first conference focused on YouTube Multi Channel Networks (MCN’s) in the Philippines. I managed to secure many of the country’s top YouTube channels to meet at a two day seminar, endorsed by YouTube, to discuss how to make great content. Unfortunately the funding got pulled at the last minute, but it gave me a great insight into MCN’s.
Around 2007 I was asked to join the Board of a London based charity called Community Music. When I joined them they had already been operating for over 20 years. They offer students a 2 year Foundation course in Music Production and Business, a course that is still running today. Grants from the Arts Council and sponsorship meant the cost of the course was subsidised, providing students from disadvantaged backgrounds a route into the music industry. Today I’m very proud to say I’m the Chair of Community Music.
Fast forward to my next opportunity and learning experience. I’d met serial entrepreneur, Paul Sims, when he worked at a music venture called “Datz” and he needed a music license from The Orchard. The Orchard signed with them but Universal refused, so the venture collapsed. Paul’s next idea was in Music Publishing. He’d seen an opportunity to publish music commissioned by Brands. We signed the publishing rights of composers and global brands, plus an Administration deal with Sony ATV, the world’s biggest publisher. For nearly 5 years I worked in publishing, gaining an understanding of how it works, the negotiations and working with many of the leading composers in the UK’s Original Commissioned Music industry. And now I could add ‘Publishing’ to my knowledge bank.
Around 2014, I worked with with Nova Music, a small booking agency in Chelsea. Together with the amazing Founder, Sophie McCreddie, we set up Nova Artist Services to sign artists for distribution, marketing and publishing.
So, after all this, can I get to the point: what does this bring to The Artist Network?
I’ve gone into some detail so you can see I’ve worked in virtually every aspect of the business. Distribution, digital marketing, live gigs and booking, publishing, management and recording. I’ve worked for both the world’s biggest artists, including tours by Paul McCartney and Elton John, to emerging indie artists. I know the myriad of challenges facing artists, the questions they have or should be asking, an insider 360 degree view of the music business and some insight into the information I wish I’d known when I started out.
Plus, I walk the talk! I record my own original material under the artist name, “AAArgh! An Alien!”. I’ve eventually learnt to play the guitar, slowly and with far too many mistakes still. And, I have some DJ mixes for you to listen to – bookings gladly accepted 🙂
My aim with The Artist Network is simple: to share what I’ve learnt. Plus, I hope to convince other like-minded people to share what they’ve learnt too. After all, the power of the Internet is the ability to create a network that is more powerful than the sum of its parts.
The Artist Network is for the benefit of artists and students every where who want to know more about the incredible, amazing, frustrating, music business!