Overwhelmed by startups? There’s a spreadsheet for that

Clippy in the house with Jeff and Bill. He probably didn’t help Excel’s net promoter score. Image via The Atlantic.

In 2011, The prominent Silicon Valley investor and inventor of the Netscape internet browser Marc Andreessen said that ‘software is eating the world’.

Over the past five years, this quote has appeared with increased frequency across the technology media landscape and beyond. From nervous CEOs at startup-threatened incumbent businesses, to the founders of disruptive SaaS ventures and intrigued industry observers, the exponential growth in software to solve all sorts of consumer and business problems does not look likely to slow any time in the near future.

Andreessen’s assertion is one I would certainly agree with.

On a personal level, the number of software solutions I have on my mini super-computer (aka my iPhone) is in the dozens. Within our business, we regularly receive requests for product management expertise to help develop and release bespoke specialist software for our client’s businesses, and are just about to kick-off a substantial project in this realm.

Additionally, we have been approached by clients and prospects both within our sectors of interest and also from further afield for advice, introductions and installations relating to the seemingly endless ocean of software options that are now available for businesses.

In fact, what was initially a tertiary service offering has become central to many of our engagements. Clients are looking for guidance on procurement, installation, user on-boarding, and also the longer term sustainability of technology solutions across almost every aspect of their operations.

Where previously there may have been a single or low double digit number of enterprise software packages available to solve a particular problem (or many problems at once), there are now tens or even hundreds or options on the market — from the narrowest niche to the fullest of stacks.


This presents a number of challenges for a consultancy advising clients on software procurement. We have to be on top of everything to compatibility, pricing and feature sets, through to the provider’s track record, chances of sustainability and product roadmap.

Additionally, the breadth of business areas that software can help automate means our role has broadened from the obvious areas of accounting, productivity and sales pipelines through to insurance, employee happiness, office supplies and hiring of partners, to name just a few.

This is a particular challenge for consultancies working primarily with SMEs, as we do. When working with a larger corporation, the remit for assistance and advice on software procurement is likely to be narrowed to a department or business function by either the client, the consultancy or both, thus focusing the requirement into a more discrete area. However, for the consultancy advising smaller independent clients, a wider lens is needed.

Curation platforms like Product Hunt are very useful tools in our armoury, but understandably they have often have limitations on the depth of information they provide about each service.


One tool we revisit again and again reminds us of, somewhat ironically, a guidance point from Paul Graham and others around coming up with ideas for startups.

One of the first things to find out when looking to launch a new startup is what prospective customers’ existing solutions are.

More than one founder in history has come a cropper because they didn’t realise their customers’ existing solution was good enough, and that the new offering was not better enough to make users switch.

Examples of existing solutions range from a SaaS tool with a few miles on the clock, to a pen and paper, a bricks and mortar shop, and, of course, a spreadsheet.

Visicalc, released in 1979

The computer spreadsheet has been around since 1979, and for many decades before that in non-digital forms. The package that launched the spreadsheet into the homes of millions was Microsoft’s Excel, first released in 1985.

(NB: Interestingly, despite the rise of various alternatives in recent years, alongside machinations that Microsoft is somewhat old hat, ‘Excel’ is still ubiqituous both as a software package and as an interchangeable term with ‘spreadsheet’. The question is whether it will go the way of the Walkman, and to a lesser extent Hoover.)

Fast-forward 30+ years and the spreadsheet is still a first port of call for us when ascertaining how to best solve our clients’ challenges. We’re as passionate as anyone about novel and nimble new software startups but often find that a spreadsheet can at least help model and point us towards the right solution, if not be the solution itself.

Although several of our more creatively-led clients can have a fairly strong aversion to spreadsheets, we work hard on developing and customising options that can be genuinely impactful to their business without unnecessarily dulling their creativity or increasing the time they spend on data-led tasks.

Our weapon of choice is Google Sheets, and the range of increasingly powerful add-ons that are being released on a daily basis (and yes, these add-ons are almost mini startups in their own right). These add-ons combined with the powerful built-in functionality of spreadsheet packages, portability, ease of sharing, and the ongoing overlap with technology resources such as StackOverflow make the spreadsheet a key part of the modern consultant’s toolkit.

Zapier’s Add-Ons directory is full of useful new functionality for Google Sheets

Often we will first test a hypothesis or a feature within a spreadsheet — this can be thought of as a very rough MVP to ensure we’re building something the clients wants.

The final solution may well end up being a software solution from a 3rd party vendor, but the spreadsheet has often proved invaluable and we have several of robust grid-driven solutions currently running live to make our clients more productive, efficient, and profitable. Some of these are deliberately built for the short-term, some are mid-term and some have been effectively solving problems for much longer — it all depends on the client’s needs.

So the next time you hear that ‘there’s a startup for that’, there’s may just be a spreadsheet solution too.

If you want to discuss a challenge you have around software procurement, operations, commercial strategy, growth or talent development, head over to www.hbureau.com

The rise of the remixer


Why remixing is going to become more and more important in the future of content and creativity.

Remixing has been around for a while now, but it’s still somewhat under-appreciated both as an art form and commercial tool.

Music remixing started with the musique concrete era in 1930s France merging sounds from different sources to create new pieces of music.

The dancehall culture of Jamaica in the early 1970s was where the likes of King Tubby created stripped-down instrumental versions of reggae songs, later layering effects and vocal hooks over the top of the raw elements of the tracks.

Disco and hip hop DJs in late 70s New York took the concept of the remix to a broader audience, before the electronic pop bands of the 80s created the “extended mix” for nightclub dancefloors.

Early house music producers then began lifting out the vocals from pop and r&b songs and layering them back over their own instrumental tracks. Before long, entire pieces of music were being created purely from samples and snippets of other works.

Fast forward to the modern era and the remix has become an accepted, although at times controversial, part of popular culture — not just in music but a variety of mediums. Art, media, design and even technologies have all been remixed, re-edited and re-contextualised. If you look around, you’ll see remixes in all sorts of places.

The remix is also a proven way for creatives to launch and propel their careers, spring-boarding from a platform provided by more recognised content and creators. Profile and exposure through remixing is now a key tool in the armoury of the modern talent manager, record label exec and development studio.


In today’s rapidly evolving content business, the remix appears to be more powerful and prevalent than ever.

Kevin Kelly’s piece in the July 2016 edition of Wired magazine illustrates this through the lens of Hollywood in particular.

Cheap and universal creation tools are making it easier to create content of all kinds. The conventions around barriers to entry are fast falling away, i.e. it’s easier to watch a movie than to produce one, or to read a book than write one.

The total number of hours of content outputted from Hollywood is about 1200 each year. Over 24,000 hours of content is uploaded to YouTube every hour.

Of course, the quality of all this deep-lying content online is variable, but a common theme is remixing. Lyric videos for your favourite music artist; comedic dubbing of a classic movie scene; or subtle takes on advertising that are twisted and turned by politics, medium, and cultures.

Mike Diva’s Donald Trump video is an interesting example of the latter. This was sent to me via What’s App by a friend, and with two motions of my index finger I was watching a unique piece of art, entertainment and subversive political commentary that would never have come from a traditional content creation studio. And it was without doubt a remix.

Kelly references the economist Paul Romer who says that real sustainable economic growth doesn’t stem from new resources, but from existing ones that are rearranged to make them more valuable.

The opposite may be the case if these existing resources are not re-arranged in improved, evolved or transformative ways. There are clear legal and ethical issues here — what constitutes a version of something that adds additional value, what is just a copy, and who claims ownership (and revenues) on what? There’s no hard and fast answer, but there’s little doubt that valuable creations of today will evolve into something different tomorrow.

A service that is already proving pretty valuable is Musical.ly. For those who don’t know, Musica.ly is a social network with a powerful tool to make music-infused videos to share on the platform, save or share between friends. Users are effectively creating their own remixes on the fly. And it’s big; the app has gone from around 500 downloads a day in April 2015 to 80m registered users today.

We’ll see the remixer continue to rise in importance in the coming years; hackers, writers, visual artists, musicians and others are going to be behind some of the most compelling and valuable creations we’ll engage with. And to be a renowned ‘remixee’, one of the creators whose works have been remixed the most, will be of greater prestige than ever

Three of the main challenges I see for those in the business of content (and entertainment particularly) are:

  • Sourcing new remixer talent from divergent fields
  • Finding the right ways to distribute remixed creations to audiences
  • Ensuring these new creations deliver real value

And as for this article? It’s a remix too…

Note-taking, creativity and 80s action movies

I have a fondness for mid-late 1980s action movies.

Nothing particularly unusual there for a person of my vintage, except I seem to have a strange ability to recall relatively trivial and obscure details.

The character names of the first 3 marines who get killed in Aliens; the career path of the actor who plays crazy computer hacker Theo in the first Die Hard; the location of the parking lot where Doc and Marty test the DeLorean in Back to the Future…and much, much more.

Yep, I’m the life and soul of the party.

One of my favourite characters from the period features in the (rightfully) much-maligned Crocodile Dundee 2.

He is, of course, Leroy Brown.

Leroy Brown and Mick Dundee.

Leroy is trying to live up to his name of being a bad guy on the streets of late 1980s New York, despite being a humble stationery salesman who happens to have a better than average Rolodex.

He’s Mick Dundee’s connector, facilitator and enabler — hooking him up with the right gang leaders to know, creating distractions to get him out of sticky situations and generally being a man about town, all whilst rocking a leather flat cap, wraparound sunglasses and a purchase order for office supplies.

Leroy is the kind of guy I want to be around; not just for his fashion sense and links into questionable groups of NYC punks, but for his passion for stationery.

Stationery is one of the best paths to improved memory and creativity. Here’s why.


The joy of stationery

Technology now enables us to compile and sort ideas and information on the fly in all sorts of ways (Evernote, Apple Notes, Instagram, Trello are just four — there are literally hundreds of applications out there to help with this).

I use a bunch of software apps to help make lists and scribble down thoughts, but recently I’ve been returning to pen and paper.

My handwriting is still terrible, but going back to basics has helped improve my creativity, memory and ability to connect ideas and concepts.

It also prevents tapping away on a phone or laptop during a meeting, which most people find rude, even if you are taking notes about what’s being discussed.

My method is to take notes on paper, then either write them up into Apple Notes, before re-distributing them where they may be best utilised (a to-do list, new client database, a subject to research via a web browser, etc.), or put them up on the wall.

This may seem like duplicating work but my memory for the notes I make has improved significantly and links between things seem to appear more easily and in new ways.

I try to re-read my notes as much as I can, dipping back into notes from 3, 6, 12, even 24 months previously to see in which directions new associations, thoughts and implications may take me.

Two of my recent and exciting projects have stemmed from a couple of scratchy notes and drawings I made over a year ago, that only now have I been able to turn into fully formed ideas.


Note-taking for idea discovery

Steven Johnson’s book ‘Where Good Ideas Come From’ is a great read for understanding patterns of innovation and the ways in which we can develop better ideas and creativity.

In the chapter ‘The Slow Hunch’, Johnson explores the stories behind some of Charles Darwin’s greatest discoveries, and the benefits of note-taking to help with the process.

None of Darwin’s major discoveries came about as sudden epiphanies or breakthroughs. They were nearly all a number of smaller hunches that collided, conjoined, crept up in stealth mode, or faded into view slowly.

To keep these slow hunches alive, Darwin regularly re-read and referred back to his many pages of notes and drawings over long periods of time. This process saw new ideas and implications emerge, with Darwin’s famous finches only becoming a fully realised concept nearly 2 years after the pieces of the puzzle started to come together in his notes from the Galapagos.

Without making notes, re-reading them and making associations between seemingly disparate concepts and ideas, Darwin’s discovery of one of natural science’s most important concepts may have never come to be.

Darwin’s finches or Galapagos finches. Darwin, 1845.

Stationery Selection

Ideas, concepts and hunches take many forms. It helps to have a mix of tools to write them down and develop them in different ways.

I recommend having 3 different sizes of notebook and a few different colours and types of pen.

If you want to take this a step further, you want to go down the route of legendary adman Paul Arden. A couple of his techniques include using watercolours or very soft pencils on occasions when the creativity process is more difficult than usual. That way you can’t focus on details, only on broad strokes and sketches.

Here’s my current stationery setup:

  • A4 lined ring binder style, with a few colours of Sharpie. This is for sitting in the park, hotel lobby or a coffee shop and I’m thinking about bigger ideas, letting the mind wander, or planning out longer periods of time.
  • A5 lined, with a biro and a fine line. Most business meetings where I may take 5–10 lines of notes that can be quickly written up and actioned
  • A6 graph paper, with a biro and a pencil. Great for sketching, diagrams, charts, and quick notes when on the move. Graph paper is especially useful when, like me, you can’t get close to drawing straight lines.

My current stationery selection (yes, I lifted a pencil from Ikea)

It’s also worth investing in a decent range of stationery if you’re involved in any kind of project or product development.

Masking tape, various colours of sticky notes, index cards and some colourful fine-liner pens will stand you in good stead to set up a really tactile and memorable agile board.

And for wireframes and even functioning product prototypes you can transform your sketches to digital using tools like the Prototyping on Paper app, before creating something more refined.

Technology continues to amaze me on a daily basis and has made so many tasks better, easier or simply redundant, but I recommend everyone gets themselves a nice line of stationery and take more notes.

It’ll also give you more clarity, help improve your memory, and maybe pull together some of those slow hunches that give the breakthrough you’ve been looking for.


Want more? A collection of productivity tools and resources can be found at my latest side project, Operator’s Handbook.

10 years later: mind the gaps in the live music sector

This summer marks my 10th anniversary living in London. A lot’s happened in the past decade, but it’s not hard for me to remember some of the highlights of my first year in the big city.

I was living in South London, and whilst I worked in Soho I found myself gravitating to East London and the Shoreditch district in particular.

One of the best spots was Hearn Street arches and the adjacent car park, where the likes of mulletover would put on some of the best European deep house and techno around.

Hearn Street car park

The building next door to these part-time party venues would later be home to my first startup’s first office. In that scrappy-looking block were old-school Cockney furriers (led by a chap we knew only as John The Mink), a dance school, designers and a whole bunch of other eclectic and unlikely tenants.

Incidentally, less than 5 years after we moved out, the entire block has been flattened to make way for 40+ storeys of chrome and glass, presumably for the City to creep further into the Shoreditch district. John The Mink is nowhere to be seen.


The place I remember most fondly from that first summer was in the Tea Building on the corner of Shoreditch High Street and Bethnal Green Road. Back then there was no Boxpark, no overground train station, and definitely no Pret. Sitting within the Tea Building was the simply named T Bar.

Time for Tea

It had a simple concept; plenty of space, minimal lighting and decor, a well-stocked bar, Funktion One soundsystem, and some of the world’s best house, techno and disco DJs, 3 or 4 evenings a week from 7pm. For free.

Sure, it had its downsides; drinks were on the pricey side (although the fact it got slated for £5 for wine and £8 for cocktails shows how expensive London has become); there were a fair few of the less endearing Shoreditch stereotypes in there when bigger names were booked to play; and the place got pretty hot when it was full.

But when you’re getting to hear the likes of Michael Mayer, Audion, Loco Dice and James Jones play on a great soundsystem with no door charge, no advance tickets, just after work on a Thursday (or even Monday) evening…

T Bar also put a bunch of relatively unknown but excellent DJs in the driving seat for the full Friday and Saturday nights; Boris Horel & Greg Sonata’s Foreign Muck party was one of my favourites.

Unfortunately, it was all over in 2008, and despite a short-lived return to a venue nearby, T Bar is now something of the past. The venue is now a pizza restaurant.


10 Years Later…

Remembering my experiences around East London during this period, and at T Bar in particular, really brings home the current situation in the city with the lack of suitable space and the possible opportunities to reach new, underserved and broader audiences.

Space & Opportunity

Like many inner city areas and scenes, things are cyclical in their nature and places comes and go, but Shoreditch had many more music venues when I was first exploring the area than are operating there now. The physical spaces available for music & broader culture feel like they’re being hoovered up by other sectors more quickly than ever.

Alan Miller, the chairman of the Nighttime Industries Association, posted this piece on The Guardian earlier this week.

According to Miller, the number of nightclubs in the UK has plummeted from 3,144 to 1,733 in the last decade. The article and the comments that follow it both point to the stark differences in culture and approach in European cities like Amsterdam and Berlin vs London.

It’s concerning that cultural venues are being pushed out of areas like Shoreditch, and actually out of wider boroughs as well (well-respected Dalston venue Dance Tunnel is closing in August due to licensing regulations)

Dance Tunnel, situated underneath Voodoo Ray’s pizza shop

As a step to help prevent more of these closures, the Night Time Industries Association are currently running a year-long campaign called Night Life Matters, more info here.


A couple of weeks ago I stumbled across a document released by the Mayor of London’s office, entitled ‘London’s Grassroots Music Venues Rescue Plan

The document has been around for 6 months as far as I can see, and no one I’ve spoken with has heard of it before.

It feels like a good step for the Mayor’s office to be taking, but the level of wider public awareness and distribution around this and what it stands for seem to be sorely lacking.

Music venues and particularly nightclubs often get unfairly siloed as havens of crime and something almost unsightly in a 21st century city landscape.

With music becoming part of a wider bundle of content that makes up consumers’ wider leisure and entertainment activities, it feels like it’s well overdue to lose some of that stigma.

London could do this by learning from Amsterdam and Berlin’s approaches (the idea of a night mayor would be a good start), consider innovating on the conventional models, and embrace night life as both a key component and driver of how people choose to spend their valuable leisure time.

A space such as Amsterdam’s De School (from the creators of the legendary Trouw club) feels like a great blueprint for what the next generation of multi-use music, arts and work spaces will look like.


Money on the Table

Relating to the challenges that night time venues are facing, I’ve been thinking about the amount of money being left on the table by the music industry and also how better serving other markets and audiences may help solve some of stigma challenges I mention.

We all know music consumption and revenue streams have shifted immensely in the last few years, and I won’t dwell on the reasons for that, it’s been done to death. The only thing I’ll say on it is that the industry needs to shift its focus from complaining about Spotify…

Despite all these changes, there seems to be a lack of innovation and change in the live sector as to how events can be delivered.

Such are the effects of time, I am no longer 22 years old as I was in 2006. I’ve grown up (for better and for worse), and I prefer channelling my leisure time into early mornings, breakfasts with friends, reading…and watching an entire season of The Walking Dead in one sitting.


Going out to catch electronic artists play shows at 4am doesn’t really fit my lifestyle any more. To be honest, it never really did…hence my love for T Bar.

So why is the convention to put on shows (electronic music in particular) on at times when you surely can’t reach the optimal number of fans?

The concept that most attendees want to drink and do drugs (and thus more likely to want to go out all night?) holds weight to an extent, but I don’t think it’s a solid enough argument, particularly with the ongoing blurring of the lines between different genres.

Simply, within significant portions of the live music sector there is an excess demand that is underserved.

In addition to VR experiences (the subject of a future article), this could be addressed in a couple of ways;

  1. Change/extend/duplicate performance times
  2. Better serve demand through improved / more tailored experiences


3 simple examples come to mind that I’ve experienced recently.

  1. Filling time-based demand

An electronic artist played a London show on a cold winter Saturday night, stage time around 3am.

I had plans for Sunday morning and didn’t want to get home at 6/7am, so I didn’t buy a ticket and thus didn’t go. I don’t see how anyone wins in this situation.

The artist could have played either an unannounced or very tightly segmented show earlier in the night.

Or to help mend the stigma I mention above (and broaden revenue streams), why not package food and drink together more closely?

Brilliant Corners is a great little venue in Dalston where you can eat some great food, have a few drinks, and hear underrated gems of DJs like Jonny Rock (who incidentally also played at T Bar a lot) play records on a superb sound system. Yeah it’s not Fabric, but the model is sound.

https://soundcloud.com/jonnyrock/its-just-brilliant-brilliant-corners-part-2-on-15-april-2016

For further reading on this subject, Cortney Harding explores related matters here, and this recent Guardian article explores a seemingly growing trend around young people shunning the traditional clubbing experience in favour of other activities.


2. Service level and transparency

A disabled friend had tickets to a show at a large London venue last week; when checking ticket collection options and the stage time of the headliner (my friend’s disability means she can’t stand or sit in one place for more than an hour or so, and didn’t want to miss the main event), the venue didn’t answer their phone, and it took 20 minutes of searching for me to find out who the promoter was.

Upon calling them, no one in their office knew if they were even promoting the gig, and there was no information on the artist’s website other than the venue name and opening time.

I can’t see why the service here is so opaque — this one fan loved the superb artist she got to see but the rest of the experience left a lot to be desired.

Will she go back? I’m not sure.

A couple of ways of improving this area include new ways of dealing with customer service (chat-bots for simple enquiries?), and more visibility of who is promoting shows and what they stand for; promoters can also be excellent curators after all.


3. Baby boomers

Despite marketers focusing intensely on Generation Z & Millennials (don’t get me started on this…), I feel lines are being blurred between demographics and their behaviours, and herein lies opportunity.

An example of this opportunity is Field Day’s extension to 2 days. Through smart programming they now attract a broader range of customers without diluting their core values.

Parquet Courts — playing this year’s Field Day festival in London. Dad and I will be in attendance.

A case in point is that my parents will be going to the festival with my brother and I on the Sunday.

This group (in my parents’ case aged 63 and 62, living an hour or so from a major city) hold around 70% of the population’s disposable income, are becoming more adventurous in the experiences they want to have, and are willing to pay for quality. Coachella’s new event Desert Trip is a signifier of this.

For a number of practical reasons my Dad is very unlikely to see bands on a midweek evening in London, but he will happily pay for a quality festival experience with a range of both new, established and heritage artists. He’s become a fan of several artists from last year’s event and has spent money on their music since.

The balance in appealing to a range of markets like this is not easy (and certainly not suitable not for all promoters and events — not everyone wants to hang out with their parents of course), but in any case there are underserved audiences that the music industry could surely do better to serve.

The baby boomers with 25–35 year old children is an interesting segment to explore here.



I love London and part of what makes it so special is its diverse range of culture and creativity.

Music should be a key part of that.

I just hope that the spaces and places sustain, and that the industry does a better job of serving its audiences and communicating its value so an even broader range of people can enjoy great live music experiences.

None of this is easy and the answers are not simple, but just because the live sector is one of the industry’s strongest areas it doesn’t mean that there isn’t room for doing things better.

My Local – London

This article first appeared in book 1 of The Manifesto; ‘Local’ is a series of home town tips from music industry folk.


Brunch. Mess Cafe on Amhurst Road near Hackney Central. Great Saturday morning brunch for a fiver.

Coffee. The Gallery Cafe in Bethnal Green, next door to York Hall. I have Spanish lessons here early on Tuesday mornings and the coffee is crucial for verb conjugations.

Lunch. The understated Chinese restaurant on Red Lion Street. The Singapore Laksa is the must-have.

Restaurant. Buen Ayre on Broadway Market is still the undisputed champion. The full parrilla is outrageous — blood sausage, fried cheese, peppers, sweetbreads, plus a couple of inch-thick steaks for good measure, all washed down with a few glasses of Malbec. The closest I can get in London to La Cabrera restaurant in Palermo, Buenos Aires.

Meeting. If the sun’s out, Gray’s Inn Fields, a small sanctuary sandwiched between Holborn and Theobold’s Road.

Books. I’m working my way through Michael Lewis’ catalogue at the moment, also I read a little Alain de Botton when my brain can handle it, plus midway through ‘London Fields’ by Martin Amis.

Pizza. Ciao Bella on Lamb’s Conduit Street is my pizza place of choice — the calzone is guaranteed to induce a food coma though, so go prepared.

Cocktail. Pisco Sour — my girlfriend loves them and I’ve been converted, so much so that the next long haul holiday has to got to be to Peru.

Beer. A pint of Windsor & Eton at the Gunmakers in Clerkenwell; light ale with a bit of citrus.

Local. Kuzu on Well Street in Hackney. Traditional Turkish ocakbasi, £7 for a bonanza of lamb beyti, salad, rice and bread — it’s become a ritual on Sunday evenings after a weekend away. It’s so good that my friend who is a food critic goes there by choice instead of the various posh establishments she can eat at for free.

Mobile Office. Top deck of the 38 bus.

Relax. Savasana.

Wander. Victoria Park. I still think it’s the best park in London.

So you wanna be a boxer?

A love letter to the sweet science from a pacifist with two left feet.

This film is gold. If you haven’t seen it, please do. And if you’ve watched Bugsy Malone as an adult and haven’t felt a nostalgic pang for your childhood, you may well have a heart of stone.

This song is the one I always remember from the film, it’s just so damn catchy. However, I never wanted to get into boxing, let alone be a boxer. It just didn’t land with me as something I may want to do or that would be beneficial. Not when I first watched Bugsy Malone in 1992, not when I watched it again a few years later, not when Frank Bruno was a UK hero and top of the tree, and not even when Prince Naseem Hamed was the main man.

Maybe I was just too busy collecting football stickers.

Health & fitness in my teenage years was mainly PE classes (cross country runs and getting spear tackled playing rugby, seemingly always in freezing rain), a bit of football and cricket at the weekends, and then discovering girls and pubs. The idea of taking up boxing didn’t even cross my mind, and presumably not the school sport teachers’ either.

When I went to university I remember an ill-fated attempt trying Taekwondo — the less said about that the better. Other than that I did a bit of swimming, kept a somewhat regular attendance at the gym and did the odd bit of sprinting when the local beer monsters fancied jumping a group of students. The idea of taking up boxing still didn’t even cross my mind. In fact, my perception of it was of brutal backstreet beatings and intimidating, stinking gyms in railway arches. I’d pass, thanks.


Fast forward 8 years, and my music industry career meant late nights, high stress and too much on-the-go (aka unhealthy & rich) food. My skin was grey, I had dark rings under my eyes and I was tired and irritable more often than I should have been.

I found running boring and a killer on my knees, and whilst I played football most Sundays, getting regularly bamboozled by talented wingers 5 years younger was taking its toll. Something had to give.


Enter Paolo.

My gym had recently undergone refurbishment, and as well as a nifty new online booking system and app, the new space had a studio for various fitness classes. I used the gym but found motivation tough and a personal trainer pricey. I was in search of something that would up my fitness levels, started well after 7am, didn’t involve lycra and would keep me interested. £50 went into the app’s digital wallet and I was signed up to 6pm Monday boxing classes.

The leader of the class didn’t look like the boxing coach I had in mind. A diminutive man of very few words, his name was Paolo. I soon discovered Paolo had coached numerous Olympic medallists and pro boxers, was himself a former international champion and was in the process of opening a new boxing gym in Tottenham. And now I was his newest charge.

At first I was simply awful. My long skinny legs wouldn’t move quickly enough when we were in pairs trying to tag each other foot-to-foot. Bailing out of press-ups halfway through was emasculating. As someone very tall, my main weapon was the long jab, but even that supposedly lethal instrument became a feather duster after less than a minute of activity. I barely made it to the end of the classes — short on breath, drenched in sweat, feeling weak and unfit.

Despite all of that, I came back. Those sessions soon became a mandatory booking in my diary. There was just something about the mix of skills and drills, plus the dichotomy of simplicity and complexity that I found compelling. After a few weeks I could sense the faintest touch of style and grace coming — and Paolo’s quiet words of encouragement did wonders for my confidence.


The Art of Boxing

About 18 months after I started boxing, journalist, author and amateur pugilist Tony Parsons presented an episode of The Culture Show entitled ‘The Art of Boxing’. Frustratingly short at 30 minutes, he explores how generations of writers, filmmakers and artists (amongst many others) went to find out what was really inside them — and us all — by entering the boxing ring.

When I first started sparring, I came up against a chap who we’ll call Markus. He was jovial and encouraging, but clearly fitter, stronger and more technically skilled than me. He also had a look in his eye that suggested he’d done this more than once before, plus a constant and slightly maniacal grin indicated he may enjoy hunting me down just a little too much. 
We got to work, my usually advantageous southpaw neutralised by him also being left-handed. Markus let me throw a few shots, absorbing one and slipping the others. We kept moving, and I tried to remember the footwork drills (don’t cross your feet or you’re toast!). Markus’s right jab glanced me on the forehead, causing my guard to drop, before a bazooka left came from nowhere and thumped me on the bridge of the nose. I’ll never forget that fizz of pain, shock, fear and adrenaline all rolled into one, with the fight or flight mechanism kicking in immediately. So that’s what Tony Parsons was talking about.


My Monday evening sessions were doing a lot to keep my fitness up, but I also starting thinking about wider benefits and why I chose boxing above all other activities.

Other than the obvious improvements in strength, endurance, confidence and being more able to look after yourself if the situation may arise (although for me this is far down the list of why I box), there are a few other benefits of boxing I’ve come to value:

Discipline: taking a direct hit from Markus’s howitzer of a left cross makes you want to cry, run or make a frenzied attack. Discipline makes you do none of these and choose the right course of action. Discipline makes sure you finish the 3 minutes of jabbing the bag and the last set of burpees.

Focus: Mimicking the coach’s instructions for even the simplest combinations can be very hard to execute. A 4 or 5 punch combo with a couple of foot movements can leave you flailing and put you back to pre-school trying to work out the difference between left and right . To execute correctly you have to focus.

Co-ordination: Connected to focus is co-ordination. Co-ordination helps with all sorts of things, and boxing is one of the best things I’ve ever done to improve my full body co-ordination.

Range of movement: My arms and legs feel (even) longer; I didn’t even realise I wasn’t using the full length of my arms previously.

Dancing: Despite working in the music business for nearly 10 years, I hate dancing. I’m terrible. Thus, wedding receptions are kryptonite to me; awful music, drunk aunties, being cajoled to dance, being 6ft 6 and highly visible to all in attendance — no thanks. Until last summer, when my footwork drills (and yes, some champagne) enabled co-ordinated movement in time to rhythms! I could dance!

Finally, and most importantly:

Schools: Contrary to popular belief, boxing is more likely to instil discipline, co-ordination, trust and confidence rather than violence. I see clear benefits for schools by having some of the key principles and training methods used in boxing on the curriculum.


Now, my main goal is to train at least twice a week, whether that’s with Paolo, at another gym in London, or just with a like-minded soul now I’ve bought a good set of gloves and pads.

I’ll keep sparring but I’m not fussed about entering into a proper bout, let alone making a late charge to take on Anthony Joshua.

The subject of professional boxing and the potential dangers it brings is another discussion (and at the time of writing a very poignant one), but for anyone looking to build up strength, endurance, focus, discipline, co-ordination and a bunch of other skills through training you should wanna be a boxer.

And if you’re looking to spar with a long-armed southpaw, you know where to find me.

The Bookshelf: Boris Johnson meets the $12m Shark

Some digital detoxing has really helped with increasing my focus on reading books over the last couple of months. I found my appetite for reading dropping a lot in the Autumn, and laying off digital media a bit seems to have helped.

I’m also trying to cut down on shorter form content (including blog posts — yes, the irony of this article is not lost on me) and to focus more on journals and books in subjects that I’m curious about.

The sources of discovery for this book list has been very mixed; I’ve been given some excellent recommendations for new (and old) titles from people who know I’m getting close to the launch of my next venture; additionally a couple got found in pretty unorthodox ways, as you’ll read below…

So without further ado, here’s my current reading list — a mix of art, audience, A3 licenses and architecture.


The $12m Stuffed Shark: The Curious Economics of Contemporary Art

The $12m stuffed shark

Economics professor Don Thompson delves into the contemporary art industry, profiling dealers, gallerists, artists and market forces that make this sector so hard for outsiders to understand.

I got particularly interested in this when thinking about what other entertainment sectors can learn from how modern art works. The key takeaway is branding, provenance and patronage are the center, with Charles Saatchi and Larry Gagosian being the leaders in the latter and often also the former.

Outside of the business side of the modern art world, a recent visit to the Chisenhale Gallery in London further perplexed me. Whilst the concept behind the exhibition was interesting and made sense, the execution didn’t feel like art at all to me. Thus, can the idea alone be considered art?

Thanks to Toby Benson for the book recommendation.

Further reading: Talking Prices by Olav Velthuis


The Mayor of London: An A-Z of Planning and Culture


Something a little more obscure: I came across this in the reception area of a company I was visiting. It felt like a slightly peculiar item for them to have, but nonetheless it’s a very handy and interesting little booklet.

In the Autumn, Mayor of London Boris Johnson called on planners, developers and local authorities to put culture and creativity at the forefront when planning and designing developments in the capital.

However, London is set to lose 3,500 artist studios in the next five years, a third of the capital’s creative workspace, whilst a third of grassroots live music venues have disappeared since 2007. Second Home’s collaboration with Bold Tendencies to create 800 artist studios in Peckham got rejected last year, and rents in well-known creative districts such as Shoreditch are continuing to increase at a bewildering rate.

I’m becoming increasingly interested in the new ways in which physical space can be used for work, education and entertainment, and this guide was a good primer ahead of delving deeper.

I look forward to seeing whether the next London mayor is set to increase or reverse the shift of creative workplaces being turned into (high-end) residential.

A PDF of the guide can be downloaded here


Protein — Audience Survey


I was a bit dubious about this when I picked it up.

Does the world need any more thought leadership, trend forecasting and brand activations around various flavours of millennial bleeding edge influencer tastemaker early adopters? Probably not, but that definitely ain’t gonna stop anyone…

Considerable dose of cynicism aside, there’s a lot of interesting insight between the reassuringly heavy duty cover pages, and I found the data, views and new company tip-offs around social good and sustainability particularly engaging. Nicely designed and a tight concise read, worth checking out.


Offscreen Magazine


My discovery of this came through (maybe fittingly) an Airbnb listing in Los Angeles. In one of the listing’s photos, an edition of Offscreen issue 12 was on the table at the edge of the shot. Some of the features looked interesting, so I checked out their website, loved the story behind it and went to my local stockist to pick up a copy. (The Airbnb booking got cancelled by the host a week before arrival, but the inadvertent recommendation made up for it…)

Offscreen is an independent magazine that takes an in-depth look at the life and work of people that use the internet to be creative and build successful businesses. It’s founded by a chap called Kai Brach, based in Melbourne.

The design is as wonderful as you’d expect, and the features are insightful and relatable — ways to improve productivity, reasons for failure, behind the scenes of projects and a whole lot more. They also have a well-balanced attitude to advertising; partners are clearly picked carefully and the relationship between them and publication feels very authentic.

Whilst Offscreen is aimed more at designers and developers, as more of a ‘business’ person I still got a whole load of goodness from it. Go grab it!


Read any of these? Let me know here or on @howardgray on Twitter

Where’s the mentoring in the music industry?


Career fuel, career angst and passing the torch

this article originally appeared in edition 3 of The Manifesto, a publication for the modern music business.

One of my favourite articles from the past eighteen months is a piece in the consistently excellent Fast Company magazine by Brian Fetherstonhaugh, Chairman and CEO of advertising agency Ogilvy One. Entitled ‘Here’s what you really need to get right about work’, Fetherstonhaugh shares his views on career trajectories and says that most people only think about the immediate next step, not a pathway.

Simply put, the article suggests careers can be split in 3 chapters of roughly 15 years apiece, with a different strategy needed for each.

The chapters are;

  • Taking on Career Fuel (Transportable Skills, Meaningful Experiences, and Enduring Relationships)
  • Pouring Gasoline on your strengths (finding your sweet spot, and setting high ambitions);
  • Passing the Torch (mentoring and staying fresh).

There’s also an introductory section around ‘Career Math(s)’ which emphasises the need to think of careers as marathons rather than sprints, and the need to ‘fuel up’ right from the off.

The world of advertising isn’t always the most nurturing of places for career development but this piece really hit the spot with me, and I’ve referred back to it numerous times. The ideas in these three chapters are simple and effective and also actionable. Rather like the best advertising in fact.

However, one thing that he proposes that I’d challenge is that the passing the torch should only happen in chapter three (i.e. after fifty years of age). The vantage point may be higher then, but I believe it can and should happen much earlier. One industry that would benefit enormously from more torch passing, mentoring and knowledge sharing of all kinds and at all stages is the music business.


Same as it ever was? Or worse?

So what happens if nothing changes? In an industry shifting and writhing as much as music is, I’d suggest that some or all of these things are likely to happen if development of executive talent stalls:

  • executive talent goes elsewhere
  • executive talent doesn’t fulfil their potential
  • artistic talent doesn’t thrive to their potential
  • deals within the industry decline
  • there is a ripple effect to wider creative industries

These are pretty dire consequences, but they are imminently possible if the business talent within music doesn’t thrive and help create a supportive and connected ecosystem.

The best way I can think of to prevent these consequences is through effective mentoring and the building of a virtuous circle where the next generation are guided by those that came before them.


Mentor mumbo jumbo

One definition of a mentor is this:

‘Mentorship is a personal developmental relationship in which a more experienced or more knowledgeable person helps to guide a less experienced or less knowledgeable person. The mentor may be older or younger, but have a certain area of expertise.’

The first rule of mentorship is to understand why you want one, and that probably means taking a step back and properly thinking about what you really want. This thought process will help you identify who the right mentors may be.

Be respectful of a mentor’s time. Their time is often their most valuable resource and should be respected as such — it’s something all of us only have a finite amount of, after all. Ironically, if you keep to time when meeting with a mentor and know when to bring the meeting to an end, they’re more likely to give you extra time.

When I’ve sought out mentors, I’ve learned to ask clear, tightly formed questions. It took me a while to learn this but I noticed the results I got improved dramatically.

If you’re emailing them be specific about why you’re getting in touch, why you think they may be a good fit for what you’re looking to achieve, then ask no more than three well-formed questions. Only expect a call or in-person meeting as a bonus if they have the time. This gives the mentor a chance to politely pass on one or all of your methods of request with neither party feeling aggrieved or uncomfortable.

A mentor relationship can come in many different forms. It could be conversations once a week in-person or once a year via email; someone you met once ten years ago, or the person you haven’t yet.

Make the preparatory steps first, and as the saying goes ‘when the student is ready the teacher will appear’.

Mentoring myths

Let me dispel a few mentoring myths:

  • they have to be from your industry / area of expertise
  • they’re considerably older than you
  • you have one mentor, not many.

Myth 1 is sometimes the opposite of where a mentor should come from. This example from a friend sums it up:

“A few years ago I decided to reach out to my old thesis supervisor at University. We hadn’t talked really since I graduated. I remembered that he always pushed my analytical thinking and made me want to be better. So I just casually started the conversation. Since that time we meet whenever we are in the same city. we email every three months. And I always ask his opinion when I need that sort of critical eye.”

Regarding myth 2, mentorship is not necessarily about age or decades of experience. It’s important to put ego and fear to one side, and to be mindful.

I’ve been recently been getting advice from someone too young to get my cultural references but their guidance in a couple of specific areas I’m working in has been extremely valuable.

And as for the third myth, whilst having a huge number of people to call on occasionally for sage advice somewhat defeats the point, I have found that getting a broad number of ideas and perspectives both clarifies things and also brings up new questions to ask.

If you’re looking for mentors, they can come from almost anywhere — it’s more about being curious and discovering people who you find interesting and do work you admire.


My experiences then and now

Running my own company several years ago I looked for mentors, but coming into the business as a relative outsider I found it extremely difficult to identify these people. I was seeking a fellow entrepreneurial soul who had climbed up the ladder a few rungs further than me but my requests for advice were generally met with indifference or a tenacious PA who spurned my advances.

Through a bit of serendipity and looking in alternative places I struck up relationships with a couple of mentors outside the music business, but having an industry expert’s view to complement those other perspectives would have benefited me enormously.

In the middle of 2015 I made the decision to leave my role as a booking agent to explore my interests in other industries. As I sensed a career crossroads approaching I embarked on something of a discovery mission to help ascertain where my path would lead. The voyage of discovery comprised mainly of seeking out people in divergent fields to ask for advice and find out more about their career paths, challenges and forecasts on what’s going to happen next in their line of work.

Looking back on the approaches I made and notes I took from the meetings I had, there are a few ham-fisted early attempts (later remedied by the framing I mention earlier), plus some wildly differing opinions, a few bits of feedback that were cast-iron in their consistency, and several new doors opened.

Most importantly, my brain had to work harder — reaching out to someone smarter, more worldly, more experienced than you means going out of your comfort zone. This was pretty scary at first but has without doubt made me more open, confident and also mindful as a result.


Where the music industry is lacking

Running a small industry networking event and talking to lots of peers earlier this year, there was a strong sense that the music industry is lacking in the following key areas around mentoring and knowledge sharing;

  • influence from complementary and divergent industries
  • transparency, clarity and insight from those in a position of influence on what it takes to become a success (‘hard work’ is the party line, surely there is something a little more to it?)
  • knowledge gaps and also assets; an overly aggressive stance, or putting up the defences to avoid the perceived threat
  • support to those who are nearing the middle or end of the ‘Career Fuel’ stage (i.e. late twenties to mid thirties)

This is emphasised by a recent ‘brain drain’ among executives that has been highlighted in prominent industry publications. It seems this drain is most prevalent among people in their late twenties to mid thirties. To me it feels like the career equivalent of teen angst — fleeting success and trying to make your mark on the world colliding head-on with new pressures and growing frustration.

Being in the middle like this is hard — some of the reasons I’ve heard for people either stepping out or getting close to it include simple burn out, frustration with monetisation, frustration with major label ways of working, artist and executive demands increasing alongside an insular viewpoint, and negativity breeding negativity in the industry.

All the more reason for mentors to provide guidance through this difficult adolescent chapter in a career.


Where can the music industry can take note from other areas, and who’s doing it well?

I’ve been interested in technology since my teens, and having kept a keen eye on it throughout my time in both advertising and the music business, it’s only relatively recently I have pushed myself headlong into the world of startups.

Yes, startups are the hip thing right now, so there’s bound to be a buzz of activity around them, but upon getting more involved I was still surprised at just how many events there are each week in London devoted to both the wider startup scene and many smaller niches. Most of these events are free, many have prominent speakers sharing a few secrets, and the majority of attendees are happy to pass on useful information and make introductions. The openness and lack of fear around hoarding ideas and information is refreshing. As the saying goes, ‘a rising tide lifts all boats’.

Meanwhile in the hospitality industry, a new venture has started called Journee. It’s a collaboration space in the heart of Manhattan, offering a professional setting for a meeting, a place to study for a sommelier’s exam, or simply somewhere to connect with new friends and colleagues.

People may argue the music industry is consolidating more tightly than hospitality and doesn’t have the scale of tech, so why would we share important information, or be able to set up a collaboration space? I’d suggest that this is even more of a reason that things need to change.


Torch passing

I’d urge you to think about torch passing whatever stage of your career you are in. If you’re at entry level you can help a school/college student understand the paths available to them; if you’re in your late 20s/early 3os there’s ample opportunity to mentor interns and junior executives; if your age is around the forty mark there are a large number of thirtysomethings who could use your advice.

Why? It empowers the mentee, makes the industry more robust, and it’s good for your soul. In particular I’d recommend that perhaps you make a recommendation between two individuals whom you feel should meet with this idea in mind.

One of the reasons I left the music industry was the lack of mentorship and knowledge sharing; it shouldn’t be the reason for other people to do the same.

Let’s pay it forward and build for a stronger, more connected community of tomorrow.


Thanks to Michelle Sullivan, editor at The Manifesto, and Jacinta O’Shea-Ramdeholl for their feedback on the drafts of this article.

What have artist managers, football coaches and startup studios got in common?



Two things that are ingrained in many countries’ cultures are football and music. To an extent they go hand in hand — both blend art, commerce, fashion and entertainment, and have huge numbers of passionate fans.

In both businesses (and they are businesses, like it or not), there’s often one person in a quarterback position who is more likely to get fired than get the limelight, and arguably has a thankless task no matter how much success the wider team accrue. That’s right — the manager.

In music, I see a manager as CEO of an artist’s business. The artist themselves is the visionary founder, and the majority of artists are best off following that visionary creative path rather than moving into a CEO role (although they should never take their eye completely off the business side…that’s a very dangerous position to be in).


A football manager may not be the CEO of the club, nor the players’ individual businesses (that’ll more likely be the agents), but just like the artist manager they have a close connection to talent, and this article in the Financial Times really resonated with me. It’s definitely pertinent for talent managers, but the advice here can be translated to almost any other area of business where star talent is a key to success.

What the artist manager and the football manager do when it comes to identifying and developing talent can also be compared to the technology industry’s recent wave of startup studios.


The Startup Studio

I came across the startup studio concept fairly early on during the journey towards setting up my new company Rozel. It’s very well summed up in this post by the guys over at Makeshift.

Note: It’s also worth checking out their product Attending — I’ve used it a few times now and it’s a very useful tool for all sorts of event planning. (I’m not on the payroll, by the way)

In the Nesta session that Makeshift were part of, they identified the following attributes that were part of a startup studio. Taking each one of these in turn, I see strong correlations with how talent managers develop their rosters:

1. focused on building multiple products / startups simultaneously

a talent manager will often have several clients on a roster, and to a growing degree more than one of these clients will be active at any one time and need servicing accordingly.

2. generally own the majority of all the things they work on from an equity perspective

the area of music rights isn’t getting much clearer (companies like Kobalt notwithstanding) but most likely that at an early stage, the talent and the manager will be the only two people due income or owning IP.

3. generally have full time staff working on design, dev and marketing

consolidation at the top end of the music industry as well as a shift towards direct-to-fan models and the rise of the attention economy has seen management companies have a need to build teams to take care of their clients’ growing design and marketing needs. Whether the majority will be in-house remains to be seen, but having a retained team of some sort is likely to continue as the lines blur further.

4. attempting to make their process additive — i.e — more value from each thing as you do it

generally, an engaged fan base for a musician are tribal. if what’s being added is of good quality and fans want is, the value derived from each fan should increase.

5. “lab” is frequently used to describe a startup studio because they conjure up a “digital workshop” more so than an agency or accelerator. They’re a place to tinker away on different ideas and build multiple things at once.

whilst talent managers may not consider what they do a ‘lab’, the nature of their setup is much more akin to this to an agency model (whether booking, marketing, etc) where projects and clients are rotated at a much more rapid rate.


Managers as Startup Studios

Taking the idea of a manager being CEO of an artist’s business one step further along, it could be said that early-stage artists can themselves be considered as startups. This is because they usually;

  • are high risk
  • have a very small chance of breakout success
  • have no product-market fit defined
  • need to make something people really want if they are to succeed
  • are able to grow rapidly

The manager’s role as the startup studio is to develop a number of these startups at one time, with the hope that one or two will become big hits (i.e. a ‘Unicorn’ in startup parlance), and maybe a few others become solid ongoing businesses, whilst the rest will unfortunately face the inevitability of not reaching the heights that the founders set out to achieve at the beginning (i.e. in effect they will fail).

Furthermore, managers, just like founders and startup studios, are now more often called upon to make their own investments of capital.

In the technology world, a lot of startup studios are being backed by an exited entrepreneur, or in the case of music it may be a talent manager with a big breakout artist on their CV. I see a future where these studios increase in popularity, but without as many big names above the door (simply because there are proportionally not enough of these available, especially in a music market where the big breakout successes are growing in scale but dropping in frequency).

The main challenge for a relativity fledgling manager/entrepreneur wanting to continue develop their ‘studio’ offering is therefore one of capital. In technology, this typically means angel investors or VCs.

But what about the music industry?

I’ll be looking at a few ideas around this, and also what a future music industry accelerator/incubator could look like, in part 2… coming very soon 😉

Getting down to business in South America

Travelling on a train from London Fields to Liverpool Street last week, I came across this article via Pitchfork’s Twitter feed, focused on English band Arctic Monkeys and their success in South America.

http://pitchfork.com/thepitch/848-how-class-videos-and-goth-aesthetics-made-arctic-monkeys-huge-in-south-america/

I got 2 paragraphs down and emailed the link and a note to a friend.

One paragraph more and I followed up to the same email with two more notes.

Another two paragraphs, another note. I decided to read the rest before brain-dumping any more ideas to my friend who already suffers from inbox overload (and the train had arrived at my stop).

This article really resonated with me and I found myself generating ideas with more fervour than anything else I’ve read recently, so I thought I’d write a few words around why that may have happened, and some of the ideas I had.


Happy accidents

Some of the people who knew me in my time as a music agent will be aware that I ended up (half by design, half by accident) booking tours in a really broad range of territories.

In 2014 I booked shows in about 65 countries; I’m sure there are a bunch of agents that do more than that, but relative to my experience and size of roster it was still pretty high.

There were a number of reasons I ended up working this way. Two of the main ones that were more by design than happy accidents were;

  1. I felt there was growth in developing areas within a consolidating industry, and that there was a need to diversify a client and customer base in line with that
  2. If I could help develop a live career for an artist that was strong and stable across many different countries I felt they would experience more longevity and be more immune to the trends, cycles and fads that inevitably come and go (now more than ever)

Most people often actively avoided this way of working, and with good logical reason; higher risk of failure, more unknowns, customers you haven’t worked with before, challenges with currencies and exchange rates, difficult logistical hurdles, things being lost in translation/time difference between teams, etc.

(Sounds kinda like working at a startup, no?)

Despite all these challenges (some more clear and present than others) I still dived in, and one of the most challenging yet also rewarding territories I did business in was South America.


From Angel Falls to Patagonia, plus Bebeto’s baby

Like a lot of people, I love to travel, and have been intrigued by South America in particular for years. The landscapes, the food, the people, the music… and the football.

I think my interest first came about through watching the 1994 World Cup — Maradona in overdrive, the tragedy of a Colombian defender who was murdered for scoring an own goal, Bebeto and the ‘baby’ celebration, and Jorge Campos’ dayglo goalie kit. Growing up in suburban England, these guys were like something from another world.

Jorge Campos keeping it real

South America was also one of the reasons I started learning Spanish (I’m still pretty rickety but can keep it together in most everyday conversations), and I got to make a visit a few years ago which was a genuine life-changing experience.

One of the things that was really stark whilst on that trip is that there are a ton of parallels between music and football, and in South America I think the two are as closely linked as almost anywhere in the world.

Now I’ve got my minor football digression out of the way, it’s time to go back to the Pitchfork article.


Ways of working

There are a bunch of learnings from the Pitchfork piece which I think are worth expanding on a little bit with regard to breaking the market.

Leverage partnerships, think laterally

  • There are a lot of products and services that may not be well known in an artist’s home country but are huge elsewhere. Think about combining medium and message, like the actress in the Arctic Monkeys’ music video (see below)
  • For example, services like Uber are becoming very popular in Mexico (yes, they are in most places — but it’s worth looking at what’s nascent in the region and thinking about strategic partnerships that can increase reach and visibility far more than a targeted Facebook post can)

Don’t ignore or shun cultural differences, embrace them

  • Arctic Monkeys used a very well known telenovela actress in a recent music video — this kind of leverage can be huge.
    Local star + band seen as aspirational to their fans + high growth video delivery platform = Crash Bandicoot.

Another obscure 90’s reference…

Street cred and star quality

  • Jason Borge of the University of Texas says; “[Brazilian] middle class kids, young people and intellectuals, mostly white, establish street cred through their embrace of foreign popular culture,” Borge explains. “It allows them to perform or display a rejection of the status quo, particularly if they’re embracing rebellious-seeming celebrities like James Dean or Elvis or Mick Jagger.”

I wrote about star quality in another article, doesn’t matter whether it’s a muddy field in England or an sports arena in Rio…

Watch out for streaming, and not just on the big players’ services

  • Smart phone ownership is growing enormously in the region (there’s still growth in Europe/North America but the curve here is much steeper), and streaming services are going hand in hand with that. There are a handful of services that are either native or lesser-known in Europe/North America that have serious traction in South America. Also watch out for video, streaming music services don’t necessarily just mean audio.

<plug> One of the companies I work with, F#, are experts in the digital music landscape and how it all fits together. If you want to know more about all this stuff, ask us, we do workshops 🙂 </plug>

Never forget how passionate the fans are, especially the core

  • Another football parallel; musicians can have their own section of Ultra fans, and in South America the people are enormously passionate. I know of several artists who have been playing shows in the region for nearly 20 years and the fanbase shows no sign of dilution, boredom or losing their fervour — I can testify that stuff like this that’s mentioned in the article really does happen, and you don’t need to be an arena band for it to be you. Cultivate and connect with the fans in an authentic way and they will stick with you, just like they stick with Boca Juniors, River Plate…or Crystal Palace.

For example;

Before Murphy’s final tour date, in Lima, Peru, a fan posted the arrival time for Murphy’s plane to his Facebook page. Upon his arrival, 100 to 150 screaming fans were waiting for him, the kind of scene one expects to hear described when One Direction touch down anywhere in the world.

The example above is actually a good marketing tactic that artist teams should look at — pop-up gig in the Arrivals hall? If you want to look at the sharing economy model, airports have a ton of excess floor capacity that could be filled…

a summer’s morning in Cordoba, Argentina with Nick Warren on the decks

Booking an artist in South America is (generally) no different than anywhere else in the world

  • The agent mentioned in the article states that all the money needs to be paid at least a week in advance. I’d times that by 4 and say a month ahead (at the minimum). Otherwise though, it isn’t that much different to elsewhere around the globe — just make sure common sense prevails.

Present brand and creativity in a way that appeals to the market

  • I’m not sure if Arctic Monkeys deliberately stylised themselves around this campaign to appeal to the specific audience in South America, but I see a lot of artists who don’t adjust their messaging to suit the market. Sure, sticking to what you’re about creatively is core, but there’s a spectrum and nudging towards one end of that for a particular market can pay dividends.
    A lot of the most successful electronic artists actually do a really good job of this through their social media and the design and targeting around the content they produce.

I’d like to see more clever marketing ideas in this vein — as a basic example, a couple of years ago emojis became particularly big in Singapore so the SingTel telecoms company ran a campaign where fans could enter MMS-based competitions by guessing a movie title only through a couple of emoji clues. This also ties into looking at the main media channels in a market and leveraging them.

SingTel’s ‘Movie Emoji’ campaign

Have that key person on the ground

This is important. There are unfortunately some unscrupulous people out there, and having a trusted and reliable partner protects against many potential pitfalls, some of which are easy to forget about because they just don’t happen all that much in developed nations.

Finding that partner can be difficult, but a good booking agent will likely know a few — and one with the right connections is worth their weight in gold.
The right agent (and also the right point person in the territory) will understand the nuances between competing promoters, the politics where multi-national brands are looking to enter markets to the chagrin of the incumbents, are likely have a cross-agency map of who’s reliable and who’s not, and should have a good feel of where there are rafts of non value-adding middlemen in a process.

Most importantly, a reliable and trustworthy host can really make an artist’s tour; the benefits of local knowledge and a warm welcome is never to be underestimated.


I’m by no means a master of doing business in South America, but I’ve worked with quite a lot of people there and have seen just how amazing it can be when tours are executed well.

I think that every modern music business person should seek to gain an understanding of the market there; the mechanisms, the fans, the business, and the wider cultural touch points that make it one of the most exciting places in the world.

Things are going global, but at the same time they’re also going more local — to succeed a strong understanding of both is needed.

And if you needed any more motivation, just think about the authentic Peruvian Ceviche, Brazilian Feijoada, Venezuelan & Colombian arepas, and the unbeatable Argentinian parrilla that’s waiting for you… hopefully I’ll see you there sometime.

Buen Suerte!


What do you think? Let me know on Twitter (@howardgray) or in the comments below…