Insiders are coming back online after the summer break! On this episode, we sit down to talk about all things music & marketing with Darren Hemmin
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Insiders are coming back online after the summer break! On this episode, we sit down to talk about all things music & marketing with Darren Hemmings, Managing Director of UK-based strategic marketing consultancy company Motive Unknown. Besides his work with Run the Jewels, Moby, DJ Shadow and alike, you might also know Darren as the man behind one of the sharpest voices in the music business — the Motive Unknown Daily Digest Newsletter.
We’re obviously huge fans of Darren’s work, so there’s no better way to kick off this new chapter of Insiders series. Buckle up for the hour of real music industry chat. On today’s episode: Motive Unknown’s approach to music marketing, how can you find a “give” and “take” balance with the artist’s fans, and how the hell do you get people talking about a five-hour-long ambient album:
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01:30 — On Motive Unknown
I mean we’re an agency that exists to do smart work in an around things like digital strategy and marketing spaces. Originally it was just me, and I used to just do everything for campaigns. So, I started the company. The first client was Alt-J— which obviously went huge. I was looking after everything from paid marketing through to their social media — the whole spread. As time’s gone on and as the company has grown, we’ve sort of diversified a bit more.
These days we work with artists management directly, so we have some artist clients. We work with quite a lot of labels as well. And what we do for them tends to differ depending on what their needs are — but it’s broadly sort of strategy and business development. How can they do things better or smarter or more profitably — things like that. And we also do an increasing amount of work around e-commerce, because we’ve just realized it was a space that was quite fertile for improvement.
We’ve always found it difficult to sort of crisply summarize what we do. Actually, we often summarize it as: “we’re hired because we’re quite smart.” So, we try to look at stuff and say, “how can we do this better?”. And if there’s a consistent theme throughout what we do, is that we’re not really fans of “Oh, you do it this way because it’s always been done that way.” We’re very much like: “let’s look at it with a blank sheet of paper, let’s just ignore everything about the music industry and its little constructs, and how it works.”
04:35 — On e-commerce and building long-term fan relationships
With Run The Jewels, the whole thing was just to tighten up what they were doing with their merchandising. Going back a few years, the idea of using conversion tracking to understand the response of a person was not something that really happened a lot. It was something we tried to implement. E-commerce is a great area to work with in that sense, because online music, recorded music is so unbelievably vague in terms of what you earn from it. With e-commerce there’s usually the only check out point, and therefore you’re pushing everyone through the same doorway, and you can clearly examine that.
I think some of it was almost a laziness on our part, in that sense of: ‘if I can prove conclusively that for every dollar you spend you make at least ten backs — but often 15-20″, then the managers of any band are going to look at that and just go “Okay well then just keep spending money!” There’s no discussion and there’s no misunderstanding there. It’s absolutely black and white what you’re earning back. And so I think within those spaces, we find it quite a nice place to work just because it is genuinely that much easier.
But with Run The Jewels, it has since evolved into bigger conversations as to “how do we do this but maintain a really high-quality fan relationship”, because obviously, if you’re not careful, you might keep producing too much merch, because you’re making money and you’re first thought is “Well, if we get 10-15-20 dollars back for every dollar we spend…”
Just because you can do it, it doesn’t mean you should do it. And you have to really respect that fan relationship and understand that all of this is a “give vs take”. In Run The Jewels case, they gave the album away for free — they always did. Fans can always get the record first, and download it straight away. And so that’s the “give” — and the take is to put merchandise on sale or put out deluxe versions of the album on sale. But it always sits in balance, and if you overdo it on the “take take take”, and you don’t give; then you are gonna piss fans off and lose them. It’s a relationship you have to maintain and be sensible about. You don’t gouge fans; you have to respect them. They are your supporters, and you should nurture that relationship, and avoid the desire to sort of just plunder them for as much money as you can.
When the second record came around, “Long Ambients Two”, my colleague Tom was looking at it. Moby owns the album, it’s his own label, so he has absolute freedom to do what he wants with it. I remember Tom and me sitting there, and I’d been ranting about the futility of trying to compete in this noise to get Spotify’s attention. The coverage and feedback and stuff like that — it just bores me. You stand in a queue with a thousand other people.
So we’ve been looking at these meditation apps for a while and we realized that Calm had 45 million users. It had music in there, but it was all production, new age music. It wasn’t great. And I use the Calm app as well… So at some point I’ve got the report, and it said that the primary goal of listeners listening to the long ambience was to sleep better. The primary listening time was between like 9 p.m. and 8 am — so very much putting it on to nod off.
You know, there’s a great marketing guy called Dave Trott who’s written these books about creative thinking. It was after we’d done the Moby deal — but I remember reading his book and he was saying that “smart marketing is where you swim upstream to where it’s quieter, to get space and be noticed.”. And I think that’s exactly what we did with Moby.
Instead of trying to go to Spotify where all the music is, we swam upstream to where Calm was with its 45 million people. They emailed 40 million people to tell them about the release, it was on the front page, it was covered in about 50 outlets. I think the impressions on that announcement alone was like a hundred million. You would cut off your arm for that kind of coverage on any album release. It worked really well. And it was just by not accepting that your only path to market is through standard DSPs. Outside of that, what’s over here, what else can we look at — and it’s something we’re continuing to do.
23:58 — On marketing in the music industry
I think I’m quite a contrarian at heart, so when everyone’s running to Instagram to spend money, I’m the guy at the back, saying “well where else can we put our money here?” You know, we’re sort of known as digital people but if Run The Jewels can achieve more by spending money on posters on the tube or whatever — then we’ll do that. I don’t care: it’s about impact and growing something and it doesn’t have to be digitally-based. It’s just whatever gets the best result.
I think the music industry has a terrible tendency of only hiring people who’ve been in the music industry — and it has created a monstrous kind of echo chamber. When Matt Cheetham joined Motive Unknown in January last year, his background prior to that had been with DuFry, the duty free shops in all the airports around the world. Prior to that he’d been in Mothercare.
So, Matt came in with this completely fresh perspective. Even to this day, there are these points where we go “oh we’re going to do this”, and Matt’s looking at us ‘Well why?”. Because from his perspective it just makes no sense at all. And sometimes, it’s prompted us to be like “Yeah he’s kind of got the point. It doesn’t make any sense at all!”. It speaks to this thing of just looking at different ways of doing stuff — don’t accept the things that are in front of you.
26:28 — On working with non-music clients
I think the non-music clients that we maintain give us a sense of balance and just a bit more of a real-world view. It’s really healthy. I think what we learned with working with non-music brands is something that we’ve brought back to working on with the music clients. For example, we realized, particularly with headphones: it’s such a congested market. It’s painfully overcrowded. So, what you needed to do was tell a story as to why your product is better or what more worthy of attention than someone else’s.
But with such short attention spans on social media, you can’t do that in one long ad, like “here’s a five-minute video explaining why your headphones are awesome”.You have about 15 seconds, tops — so you have to tell stories in sequences. And once we know you’ve engaged with story number one, we’ll deepen it with story number two. So you build that up.
I think in music there was a real point where everyone, us included, was just being very lazy; like “Yeah, the new album by Blur is out now, click here!” — and you go through to a pivot page whether it’s SmartUrl or LinkFire or FeatureFm — and that was it. Just “Yeah, Here’s the album, listen now.”
33:30 — On Metallica and the importance of small things
I am a bit of a stalker of Metallica at the moment. They are very commercial now, but you have to admire the game they’re running. I’m on their mailing list, and genuinely I recommend people join their mailing list, because it’s quite an interesting exercise in how they manage a balance of fan “give” and “take”. They’ve done so many things.
For example, I went to see them in London this summer. And they just understand the little things that make a difference: the beer cups were branded Metallica plastic beer cups. So they had the “And Justice for All…” font that just said “And Beers for All…” or something like that. Of course, all the fans were hoarding the cups and leaving with them. But also they had guys going around giving younger fans in the audience, which in my case is my 12 year-old son, branded Metallica plectrums. They had like “Metallica London” and the date, and it blew my son’s mind. I’m forever fascinated when you see how much impact that had — and now it’s like a massively treasured thing because they’re all quite rare. They were done just for that one day, and you couldn’t buy them — they were only being given out. So, they carry that rare value.
Branded plectrums! It’s no cost it at all, it’s pennies — but the goodwill that you parlay from that by just giving them away. And then at the end of the show, they had a Big Union Jack with “Metallica loves London” or something. After the show, I remember being on the phone to Run The Jewels manager, just going through this “These are the little things, and it’s just the little things that create so much goodwill! And you have to look at this stuff because, you’ve just got to admire it”.
44:29 — On well-being and life/work balance in the music industry
I think it’s a broader problem — a symptom of a 24/7 device culture. But particularly in the music business, we are more guilty of that than any other industry I’ve experienced. The music business just kind of runs itself incredibly badly — It just doesn’t work well. If you had someone come in from outside the music business and look at a lot of organizations, they’d just be like “what the f*ck are you doing! Why do you think this is a smart and good way of working?”.
There are two sides to this. The first is that it’s just bad — it just shouldn’t be happening. We shouldn’t accept to normalize the fact that people are struggling — you know, they’re going home and they can’t function. I remember somebody telling me that he went on holiday and spent it with his family hiding in the bedroom, obsessively looking at his phone. Trying to deal with work emails — because he just couldn’t disconnect from work. And he didn’t have a holiday — in fact, he almost had a nervous breakdown in the process. That’s just f*cking wrong — and if as a business you’re doing that to your staff, you’ve got it wrong.
So I think we have to cool that stuff out — and whilst there’s been improvements, I don’t actually think it’s improved that much. The number one observation of mine through the years since that all happened, is that a lot of people have paid lip service to it. They said “oh you know we care about well-being” and it’s like “you don’t, you just don’t”. There’s no evidence that you actually do.
Unless this absolutely bleeds through the company from the top nothing will change. Somebody at the top has to go “I’m running this and I don’t accept that working 60 hours a week is the norm”. Unless that happens, it just won’t work. You’ll get a poor H.R. person, trying to do this — but the bosses won’t care. So they’re never really going to be able to do anything meaningful when the people above them don’t give a shit, going “I want the best result and I don’t care how we get it”. I think it’s still a huge problem.
59:34 — Darren’s advice to 19-year-olds getting into the music business.
Something I see a lot in music is that people don’t have truly valuable things to offer. We’ve done a lot of hiring, and a lot of people have very vague skill sets. What I like in my team is we we’re all capable of rolling up our sleeves, and running quite complex ads. Years ago, someone’s dad would have said “learn a trade, become a carpenter — because the world will always need a carpenter”. I think there’s a lot of truth in it.
So, learn demonstrable skills but also learn skills that you could apply elsewhere. Whether that’s becoming a developer, you know — if you have development skills you might build a platform like Soundcharts, but you might also build software for Fintech or whatever. It’s a transferable skill.
It was originally why we started working on non-music brands. It was almost to say “is this transferable?”. If Motive Unknown at some stage wanted to exit music, could it? And the answer is yes, easily. You know we can we can do that, because the skills we have can apply to anything you’re trying to sell, whether it’s an album, or a T-shirt, or soap powder. So I think learning those skills and getting hands on with that stuff is really important because it’s one thing I see whenever I’m interviewing people — they don’t really explain to me why they want this job in particular.
If I had a penny for every guy that turns up saying “well, you know, I put on some gigs and I manage a band you’ve never heard of”, it’s like “I mean, okay — but none of that really relates to what I need and this job’s spec”. Doing some stuff in music is not good enough. So I would probably say that — because 19-year-old me was very idealistic: “yeah I want to work in the music, I love music”. And it’s like “That’s nice — but that means nothing”. When I got my first proper music marketing job, it’s because I sat down and went “here’s what I’d do. And this is why.” I outlined it all, and they turn around right “All right great. You’re the guy we want because you got ideas, and you’ve got a vision, and that’s what we need.”
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David Weiszfeld [00:00]: Hi everybody we’re back after the summer for another episode of insiders. I actually lost track of how many episodes with them so far. So it’s episode Darren. Hey Darren. How are you?
Darren Hemmings [00:12]: I’m good thanks.
David Weiszfeld [00:13]: Good. So just a little bit of intro. I’ve actually read your words for quite a few years now, and we’ve been in touch mostly through just emailing over the past few years. You’re one of my favorite people when it comes to just make me think about important topics: the ownership of data usage of data and how to maximize ROI for artists, the role of the streaming platforms, how they’re helping but at the same time how they have a lot of control. Anyway. You also have a gift first approach with this daily newsletter, that’s called The Daily Digest. That you are sending to, I don’t know how many people right now. But I always feel like what you’re writing on top of that newsletter is meant for me that day. Usually, the topics that people have been speaking that week. So I’m really happy to have you on the show. I’ll put a link on the newsletter, and I hope more people can start to read your thoughts.
Darren Hemmings [01:03]: Thank you. It’s kind of you.
David Weiszfeld [01:04]: That’s really my pleasure. Kind as usual with people, I always try to understand where they come from and why they are doing what they are doing now. We work in such a specific industry. And people like you and I work in a subset of that industry. You do digital marketing, strategic development. Can you just explain very briefly what is Motive Unknown, which is your company today?
Darren Hemmings [01:29]:I mean we’re an agency that exists to do smart work in an around things like digital strategy and marketing spaces. Originally it was just me, and I used to just do everything for campaigns. So, I started the company. The first client was Alt-J— which obviously went huge. I was looking after everything from paid marketing through to their social media — the whole spread. As time’s gone on and as the company has grown, we’ve sort of diversified a bit more. These days we work with artists management directly, so we have some artist clients. We work with quite a lot of labels as well. And what we do for them tends to differ depending on what their needs are — but it’s broadly sort of strategy and business development. How can they do things better or smarter or more profitably — things like that. And we also do an increasing amount of work around e-commerce, because we’ve just realized it was a space that was quite fertile for improvement. We’ve always found it difficult to sort of crisply summarize what we do. Actually, we often summarize it as: “we’re hired because we’re quite smart.” So, we try to look at stuff and say, “how can we do this better?”. And if there’s a consistent theme throughout what we do, is that we’re not really fans of “Oh, you do it this way because it’s always been done that way.” We’re very much like: “let’s look at it with a blank sheet of paper, let’s just ignore everything about the music industry and its little constructs, and how it works.”
David Weiszfeld [03:23]: Yeah, I wanted to talk about two specific types of campaigns of artists. You’ve talked a bit about Run The Jewels and about their DIY approach. I remember reading a few years ago, one of those posts that made me think, and you were talking about ROI. It was a couple of years ago, so don’t trade crazy Facebook ads today if you don’t know what you’re doing. But you were talking about ROI on Facebook ads on Merch, and how most people would see that as an investment. Almost like a publicity thing to be visible. But you actually were calculating how many pounds or dollars or euros you would spend, and how much you would make back, and you had a positive ROI on some on some Merch item, which is a very unusual way to think about the Music Industry, singles release, playlist strategy. So maybe talk a little bit about their approach. And then, there is another campaign that you’ve worked on recently, which is the Moby release. He had this album with this meditation app. He was linking different parts of his careers together. And you guys kind of brought it back into one campaign. Could you elaborate a bit on those two approaches?
Darren Hemmings [04:32]: With Run The Jewels, the whole thing was just to tighten up what they were doing with their merchandising. Going back a few years, the idea of using conversion tracking to sort of understand the response of a person – if they saw a post store for an ad for our merchandise you know that they would click through and did they actually purchase it – And if so, what was the value of the item of my purchase. That was not something that really happened a lot back then. And it was something we brought to the team to implement. It’s a great area to work in that sense with e-commerce. I think it’s part of the reason we’ve really spent a lot of time in that space. Because online music, recorded music was just so unbelievably vague in terms of what you earn from it. You know with e-commerce there’s usually the only kind of one check out. There’s like one site with one checkout point. And therefore you’re pushing everyone through the same doorway, and you can clearly examine what goes on with that. And so, I think some of it was almost a laziness on our part. In that sense of: ‘if I can prove conclusively that for every dollar you’ve spend you make at least ten back but often 15 20″. Then the managers of any band are going to look at that and just go “Okay well then just keep spending money” . Because if you just say “I’m turning this dollar into you know 20 dollars for you”, then there’s no discussion and there’s no misunderstanding there. It’s absolutely black and white what you’re earning back. And so I think within those spaces, we find it quite a nice place to work just because it is genuinely that much easier. It’s very black and white and therefore very easy to establish value and all that kind of thing. So I think with Run The Jewels, it since evolved into bigger conversations as to ” how do we do this but maintain a really high-quality fan relationship.” Because obviously, if if if you’re not careful, you might keep producing too much Merch. Because you’re making money and you’re sort of first thought is “Well if we get you to know 10 15 20 dollars back for every dollar we spend”…
David Weiszfeld [06:51]: …”Let’s be greedy and just keep… yeah, of course.”
Darren Hemmings [06:55]: And so, it led to a lot of conversation. Good conversation about: just because you can do it, it doesn’t mean you should do it. And you have to really respect that fan relationship and understand that there’s I think it took us a little while to sort of realize that all of this is is a given take. In Run The Jewels case, it was like they give the album away for free. They always did. Fans can always get the record first, and they would be able to download it straight away, so they had it there and then. And so that’s the give, and the take is to put in merchandise on sale or put in deluxe versions of the album on sale. But it always sets imbalance, and if you overdo it on the take take take, and you don’t give; then you are gonna piss fans off and lose them. So I think it led down a path that was really beneficial for it for everyone in terms of learning. It’s a relationship you have to maintain and be sensible about. You don’t gouge fans; you have to respect them. They are your supporters, and you should nurture that relationship, and avoid the desire to sort of just plunder them for as much money as you can, and things like that. So I think in that space, it’s led us to this developing a lot more with Run The Jewels, kind of means to focus on that fan relationship and what can we give.
David Weiszfeld [08:22]: Do you think from there pointing the first time they were starting to give music for free? Was it a calculated thing like: “Well we’re not going to sell a lot of CDs, but if we give the music for free and we get an email back; eventually we’ll be able to monetize that better than the actual music.” Or was it a completely genuine thing like: “Let’s give it away. See what happens,” and then they happen to monetize it. Is it a thought out process or a philosophical approach?
Darren Hemmings [08:49]: To be honest, I’m not the guy to answer the question. Only because I came on board with Run The Jewels, kind of about halfway through the Run the Jewels 2 campaign. By which time, there’s a second album they’re given away. I’ve seen interviews with LP where he said they gave away the first album because I think they’d seen Danny Brown do it. With the triple X record that he put out. And he was on the same label on False God A-Track’s label. And Danny just gave it away. And it was on sale and everything as well, but he just wanted as many people as possible to hear, I think. And I think LP just really liked that approach. I mean, I can’t speak as to what his motivation was, because maybe there’s an argument that the view was “well we don’t make much money from the recorded music.” But anyway I honestly don’t know. So I’m not sure what his motivation was. But I kind of appreciate the boldness of it, because I’ve been in many of meetings subsequent to that. I remember being at one, but I won’t name the label, but I kind of said in the meeting, “Why don’t we just give the record away?”. And I mean the room just temperature, you know. There is a real like: ” Ahhhh Okay maybe. Oh no! Say go left”. So even now, if you were to talk about the bold move of just giving something, like that it would get met with Frosty stay. So I kind of always appreciated the way that the band and the management had gone about this. I mean I’m a huge fan of Run The Jewels anyway. I’m so notorious for being the fanboy on the team, which is a blessing and a curse at points. I’m sure I irritate the shit out of the management a lot of the time for that reason. I just always admired them as a group and their music. But I also admired their approach because it looked like they didn’t intend to follow just the framework and the parameters that the music industry has set up for them. They were kind of like “no”. And even with Run The Jewels 3, you know I remember people phoning me up saying “you’ve got to talk them out of giving it away cause it’s going to piss off Spotify and it will ruin a relationship with Apple Music” and I was like “you’re going to say that because that’s the space you work in. And you need this to stream loads and everything else. But there’s a way that this will work, that doesn’t involve doing that. And if that burns a couple of bridges along the way, then we’re fine with that because the only people this band is answerable to are their fans”. And it kind of speaks this whole thing that drives me crazy about labels and people generally in the music business kind of marketing for the platform. And going “well we have to run ads to drive people to Spotify”. “No, you don’t. You have to market a band, fuck where they’re listening to it. I don’t care,”. As long as they’re into it and they’re buying into it, then it’s great. So I suppose that leads nicely onto things like the Moby deal. Moby had made his second album of ambient music. He’d done the first one, and we actually work on that as well, we did a deal with We Transfer to give the album away for free. And We Transfer absolutely hammered the hell out of it. And that got about a million downloads, so that was kind of cool. And when the second record came.
David Weiszfeld [12:13]: What was that? It was the We Transfer huge splash page, so every time people were getting links, they would get the big Moby ad, and then, they would just get through and get it…
Darren Hemmings [12:21]: Yeah. That was it. At the time, it was a bit more rushed and stuff like that. But when the second record came around, “Long Ambients two”, my colleague Tom was looking at it. And Moby owns the album, it’s his own label and everything else, so not unlike Run the Jewels, you know, he’s everything in one, in terms of the artist, and the label, and what have you. So he had absolute freedom to do what he wants with it. And I remember Tom and me sitting there. I’d been sort of ranting about the futility of trying to compete in this noise to get Spotify’s attention. The coverage and feedback and stuff like that. It just bores me. You gain in a queue with a thousand other people. And we’ve been looking at these meditation apps for a while. And we realized that Calm had 45 million users. It had music in there, but it was all like production, sort of new age music. It wasn’t great. And I used the Calm app as well…
David Weiszfeld [13:30]: It was production music it wasn’t artist, background music…
Darren Hemmings [13:33]: Yeah yeah, it was just some music that was presumably bought you know and everything else. So yeah, we just sort of spun out from there. It was a sort of “why not shock the ambient record”. I think it was Tom that eventually sort of was like ” I think I’ve been looking at Calm and Headspace and these sorts of apps over here. And then Moby was over there… And I think it was Tom that kind of was like “Hang on if we put these two together…”. Moby was totally fine with that because the reach of it was just so much greater. And he was the first proper artist on that platform. So it really kind of kicked open the door to do more with them. And we have done more since with Sigur Ròs. We’re doing something with another artist now, and Above and Beyond have also done something with them too. But I mean, stats-wise, it got about three million listens in an opening couple of weeks. Forty-one million minutes of listening time. The really interesting thing was the demographics that were in no way sort of matching Moby audience. We know what Moby’s audience is. But certainly, the listeners on Calm were like 70 percent female and stuff like that.
David Weiszfeld [14:54]: It’s nice from them that they would send you back data on some kind of listening pattern. So. I was thinking if the album was not on Spotify and other platforms, where usually you can see who listens to the music. If you’re giving your album away to a meditation app, then they have the data and they’ve been guessing they’re sending it to you, not a manual way, but not the way out like Spotify for artists. They’re not made for that.
Darren Hemmings [15:18]: Yeah no that’s right. They did the research on it. So I mean I’ve got the report here and it’s saying that the primary goal of listeners listening to the long ambience was to sleep better. Which was basically what the record was there to assist with. The primary listening time was between like 9 p.m. and 8 am. So very much putting it on to nod off, and stuff like that. But, you know, there’s this whole thing, there’s a great marketing guy called Dave Trott who’s written these books about creative thinking and stuff of that. And I remember it was after we’d done the Moby deal. But I remember reading his book and he was kind of saying “smart marketing is where you swim upstream to where it’s quieter, to get space, being noticed.”. And I think that’s exactly what we did with Moby. Instead of trying to go to Spotify where all the music is, to get focus and attention. We swam upstream to where Calm was with 45 million people. They emailed 40 million people to tell them that this app was there, it was on the front page, it was covered in about 50 outlets. I think they said the impressions on that content alone for the announcement was like a hundred million or something. I mean this is all, you would cut off your arm for that kind of coverage on any album release. It worked really well. And it was just by not accepting that your only path to market is through standard DSPs. Outside of that, what’s over here, what else can we look at. And and it’s something we’re continuing to do.
David Weiszfeld [16:56]: Was it a time thing? Is the album now on the DSPs? Or is it a permanent exclusive?
Darren Hemmings [17:03]: No it was exclusive for a month. Now it’s on all the DSPs and everywhere else. And it had a solid halo effect in terms of charting on Billboard and stuff like that. It’s about five hours long. It’s a very long album and each track is about 40 minutes. So by a kind of standard definition, it’s not an accessible record. You know what I mean. It’s not the Ed Sheeran album of nice three minute pop collaboration. So it was a different type of release. But we’ve been continually fascinated by this sort of development of ambient music, which traditionally has been a pretty unsellable genre. Now it’s kind of found purpose and use. And it’s one of the more interesting sorts of developments in the world of streaming
David Weiszfeld [18:00]: Streaming as a whole and actually on the platforms themselves. Contextualized playlist like, “Focus”, “Sleep”, “Meditation”, “Work”. And The Calm App is in the same vein. Trying to find music that fits those things and not labouring music. I think people are still pretty conscious than when they listen to Moby’s music, it’s a little bit better than most of the production music out there. One other thing, the album is definitely not geared to short songs to generate stream royalties. Songs are getting shorter and shorter. If you had a five hour album with very long songs, even financially, it makes more sense to try to get people to listen to the music as much as possible. In a meditation app, probably getting paid some kind of lump variable, but not a paid per stream, it allows yourself to have extremely long songs. And potentially people listening one track for an hour which is the same as you would get for a 20 track album of 3 minutes..
Darren Hemmings [19:00]: It’s interesting isn’t it. Because, I mean, I put an article in the Digest yesterday about how streaming generally may be negatively affecting. It was in Resident Advisor, and it was contextualized in sort of electronic music. But I think in truth it’s probably all the music. It’s just saying that it’s the damage to the broader culture that’s problematic here. And things like the very short attention span of listening is sort of staring consumption away from those long, epic techno songs that 10 minutes long. And stuff like that. And I’m just curious whether there will be this sort of migration of those sorts of artists to things – maybe not like calm – but in similar spaces that would make long music more tolerable or acceptable, because the context for it. (…) You’re putting it on to fall asleep. So obviously you’re not looking to flip through stuff. You’re wanting it to be a 10, 20, 30, 60 minute song almost. So I’m curious to see how that will evolve. But I feel out with the Calm stuff, it was the right music in the right place. And I think, for Moby as an artist, it felt successful to me. I’m very conscious,, I’m not Moby and I can’t speak for Moby, but I feel like it. It did a lot more than if we had gone a traditional route to marketing that album, that’s for sure.
David Weiszfeld [20:33]: Yeah, definitely a good fit for this artist. I was surprised, but you know it’s one of the things you like “huh!”. And then by the end of the sentence you’re like “Well, yeah that makes sense”. For sure. So I’m actually going to go back a bit to try to get some info on who you are before Motive. But now, that we’re on Motive, I started this interview with the wrong questions. Now that we’re on Motive, I’ve realized you’re also working with handful brands, some tech Start-Ups… I read you were helping the Beth Ditto fashion launch, the launch of her fashion brand. Could you give us some context on non music campaigns and how they’re different? Is this something that you were trying to get, just to have a bit more oxygen and something fresh? Or did it just come to you and it gives you another perspective?
Darren Hemmings [21:26]: Most of the stuff we’ve done that’s sort of not music tends to have some kind of abstract connection back. So with Beth Ditto, we know her managers, we had lunch with them because they’re just friends of ours. And had been talking about what we did achieve with Run The Jewels and the ROI on their Merch. And so they kind of came back to us when Beth’s fashion line was launching. Saying “well could you help with this, set it all up so we can understand what money is being made”. I mean who wouldn’t want kind of solid sense of return on investment when you’re spending money. You know it’s everybody’s kind of dream. So we took it on just because it was something a bit different. And since then, we’ve kind of dabbled around with things like headphone brands. And we work with Rough Trade Shops at the moment. We’ve explored different spaces but there’s sort of all have a kind of loose connection back to music. So the product is a music product or whatever. It’s retailing music in some capacity. To be honest it was mainly because they just used to come to us and we quite fancy a different challenge. I mean the one that, we kind of had fun with it even though it was not the most effective, was working with CBD oil. A company that made CBD oil.
David Weiszfeld [22:52]: Is that legal in the UK?
Darren Hemmings [22:55]: CBD is legal yeah. We like a challenge. So there was this thing of how do you market products when there’s so much sensitivity around the product. So in the States, there was ,you know, Facebook wouldn’t touch it, but I quite like things like that.
David Weiszfeld [23:13]: You mean like Facebook is banning any ad, that if put CBD’s artwork and stuff, it just gets banned?
Darren Hemmings [23:20]: Yeah you can’t. But also they know where you’re linking to. So even if the ad is vague, you link through to a CBD page, it can cause issues. But they were experiments on our side to whether you can run ads that simply don’t use the term CBD and refer to as hemp oil and things like that. But then, in doing it, we discovered that there were like whole networks of marijuana advertising. So there are TV based advertising stuff throughout California and other places where it’s legal. And I don’t know. Stuff like that always fascinates me. I think I’m quite a contrarian at heart, so when everyone’s running to Instagram to spend money on the guy at the back. I’m like “well where else can we put our money here” because I am also not really… You know, we’re sort of known as Digital people but you know if Run The Jewels can achieve more by spending money on posters on the tube or anywhere else or whatever. Then we’ll do that. I don’t care. It’s about impact and growing something and I’m not particularly obsessed with it having to be digitally based. It’s just whatever gets the best result. So I think with those sort of non recorded music, or non kind of artist type clients that we work with, they just present a very different view of the world. And I think that’s really healthy. I quite like that we maintain a few of these because it gives you balance. And I think the music industry has a terrible tendency to sort of only hire people who’ve been in the music industry. And it has created a monstrous kind of echo chamber. And it was right when Matt Cheatham joined Motive Unknown in January last year. His background prior to that had been with the duty free shops and all the airports around the world. Which is like a nine billion dollar a year business or something. And prior to that he’d been in Mother Care, selling baby clothes and things like that. And I knew Matt because, actually, peeling back prior to all of that, he ran a service called Samurai FM, that was a dance music streaming site in about the year 2001. Pre-dated Spotify and things like that. But Matt came in with this completely fresh perspective. And it’s been kind of funny because, even to this day, there are these points where we go “oh we’re going to do this and Matt’s looking at us ‘Well why?”. Because from his perspective it just makes no sense at all. And sometimes, it’s basically like “well yeah I know it makes no sense, but that’s how it’s done deal with it”. But there’s been a lot more instances where it’s prompted us to be like “Yeah he’s kind of got the point. You know why are we doing this? You know why go that route? It doesn’t make any sense at all!”. And then again it speaks to this thing of just looking at different ways of doing stuff, don’t accept the things that are in front of you. So I think the non music clients that we maintain, although there’s probably less of them at the moment, they just give us a sense of balance and just a bit more of a real-world thing. It’s really healthy
David Weiszfeld [26:35]: Is the main difference the fact that when you do marketing on Alt-J or Rune the Jewels or Moby, you’re essentially touching an artist. And you might have a positive ROI but sending the same message as an ad to a consumer who happens to be a fan might be too much, and that might alienate him. While if you’re selling a Headphone brand or CBD oil, if one consumer sees an ad too much and just dismisses the ad, that’s not the end of the world. And so you’re more focused on the ROI, and making revenue than trying to find the right revenue slash good karma type of thing.
Darren Hemmings [27:15]: I mean I think what we learned with working with headphone brands and even with the CBD Oil was something that we’ve since kind of brought back to working on with the music. And it took us a long route to get there but we realized particularly with headphones: it’s such a congested market. It’s painfully kind of overcrowded. What you needed to do was tell a story as to why your product was better or what more worthy of attention than someone else’s. But with such short attention spans on social media, you can’t do that in like one long ad. It’s not like here’s a five-minute video explaining why iPhones are awesome. It’s like you have about 15 seconds, tops. So you have to tell stories in sequences. And once we know you’ve engaged with story number one, we’ll deepen it with story number two. And when we know, we’ve got you on that. So you build that up. I think in Music there was a real point where everyone, us included, was just been very lazy. And being like “Yeah, the new album by Blur is out now:” click here and you go through like a two pivot page whether it’s Smart Url or LinkFire or Feature Fm. And that was it. You know when you were just “Yeah, Here’s the album, listen now.” And it took us a little while analyzing all these results to realize that people just don’t do that. And even when we were landing people on a LinkFire page for six pence per click, the cost of actually putting them from the pivot page to Spotify rarely dropped below a few pounds. People never did it. They just bounced and it is just amounted to a really bad use of your money. So we create a presentation, which I’ve still not made public, which I should, because I’ve sent it to a bunch people but I’ve never posted it. Even though I said in the Digest that I would at some stage. But in that presentation, we’re basically saying “you need to engage people with native media partly to work around GDP in Europe as well”. So you know on Facebook and Twitter where people have agreed to see these things it’s much easier to show them out. But you’re pushing media that just tells that story and gets people connected with the artist. And it isn’t as kind of crass as to just be like “Here’s my band. Listen now!”. And I always liken it to the kind of: let’s just say you’re en route to meet me to do this podcast, and you’re walking down the street, and someone steps out from behind a lamppost and goes: “Hey do you wanna listen to the new Run The Jewels record?”. And generally I think the response… I mean I live in London and you know it’s like most build are places we take this view. But it’s kind of even if I’m a fan, you’d be like “I mean yeah but not now, I’m going somewhere, mentally that’s what I’m doing. I’m into it but no I don’t want to stop right now and listen to Run the Jewels. Whereas if when you’re walking down the street, you’re just getting snippets of Run The Jewels, you’re hoping that later in the day. you’re like, “I should put that Run The Jewels record on, because you know I saw this bit that bit and I’ve soaked that in now and it’s stuck in my head. And I think that’s the difference. If I had a penny for every time we dealt with labels who’d just being” like Yeah. We just run ads going “Listen Now!””. And Spotify telling people to run ads being like “we’ve put your song on a playlist, and now if you run ads we’ll put your song at number one”. And I’m looking at going this is just an ad for Spotify’s playlist, this isn’t even an ad for the band. This is criminal. And the number of rants that people have had from me been like, I’m sure Spotify telling you that they’ll probably never playlist you again or something if you don’t do their marketing for them. But there’s something really insidious about spending money to drive people to a platform, that, you know, they should be running their own marketing. They should be paying you to run them, a bit like in the days of the Apple music marketing thing, where they got “here’s some money. Run some ads but it drives people to us”.
David Weiszfeld [31:09]: I don’t actually know that. I still manage a band who is doing fairly well on Spotify. They’ve never asked us. I think it’s a lot of FOMO. You have a fear of missing out as a professional, it’s more like “shit if I don’t push that playlist, the next time I see Spotify, there’s gonna be this kind of feeling in the room, like they know that I didn’t push it”. But in reality I have never had a Spotify rep telling” me Oh you didn’t sponsor that post about that Chill electronic playlist”. It’s more about you coming in a meeting and saying “Hey Spotify, did you see how I sponsored that post? And they’re like “Oh thank you, that’s nice” but it’s a hard thing for them to ask, and I think a lot of professionals are putting themselves in a situation of just doing that spontaneously when nobody has asked for them. But yeah I’ve seen a lot of those posts like “So happy to be in this playlist. Click here” and you click, and it’s actually the playlist. I think it’s a lot of FOMO, it’s a lot of sending that add to Spotify saying “Look how I’m talking about the platform”, hoping that they’re happy, and it’s more wishful thinking than reacting to something the platform would ask.
Darren Hemmings [32:19]: But I think it goes both ways, where it’s like you just have to market your artist and have faith. I think some of the biggest artists have blown up because they’re just doing their thing. And I think weirdly platforms like Spotify gravitate to them harder. Almost because of the FOMO in the opposite direction, where Spotify goes “well this guy’s getting huge. Well this lady, this band, whomever, and we don’t seem to be doing anything with them, so let’s go to them”. I mean that whole view is a real cancer on the marketing of the music business. Where it’s like: market your artist. That is a brand, you have to build a brand. And I suppose that’s the learning we took from working on brands is: you’re building a brand and you’re building an allegiance to that brand. And that’s kind of what you’re doing in music as well.
David Weiszfeld [33:13]: For sure. I don’t think people love. I mean people like the songs. But Bob Marley, Michael Jackson, James Brown, Metallica, they represent so much more than a few songs to the hardcore fans for sure.
Darren Hemmings [33:28]: I am a bit of a stalker of Metallica at the moment. I mean they are very commercialized now. But you kind of have to admire the game they’re running. I mean they do go a bit far. I’m on their mailing list, and they I genuinely I recommend people join their mailing list, because it’s quite an interesting exercise in how they manage a balance of fan give and take, and stuff like that. But they’ve done so many things. I went to see them in London this summer. And they just understand the little things that make a difference: the beer cups were branded Metallica plastic beer cups.
David Weiszfeld [34:11]: How when they got a beer at the venue…
Darren Hemmings [34:13]: So they had “And Justice for All…” font that just said “And Beers for All…” or something like that. And of course, all the fans are like hoarding the cups and leaving with them. But also they had guys going around giving younger fans in the audience, which in my case is my 12 year old son, branded Metallica plectrums. They were just like roadies going around, just handing out. And they had like Metallica London and the date, and it blew my son’s mind, and I’m forever fascinated when you see how much impact that has on a child to be given this stuff. And he’s like “ahhh”. And it’s like a massively treasured thing because they’re all quite rare. They were for that one day, and you couldn’t buy them they were only being given out. So they kind of carry that rare value. Branded plectrums. It’s no cost it at all, it’s pennies. But the goodwill that you parlay from that by just giving them away. It’s stuff like that where, even at the end of the show with a Big Union Jack with Metallica loves London or something on it as everyone’s leaving. And I remember being on the phone to Run The Jewels Magic’s, just going through this “These are the little things, and it’s just the little things that create so much goodwill. And you have to look at this stuff because, you’ve just got to admire it”. Like I said Metallica is definitely very commercial. And they use Salesforce because they’re friends with the guys at Salesforce. So they use a CRM package that no artist could afford because it’s like 10 000 dollars a month, or something. But yeah I just I’m always looking at them, it’s very interesting to learn what they’re doing. The stuff you look at and admire and apply in pieces to your own work.
David Weiszfeld [35:58]: It’s the only concert they slept in the street trying to buy a ticket to. It was a long time ago. I was 20. Less than 25 was 10 years ago.
Darren Hemmings [36:09]: It’s crazy.
David Weiszfeld [36:10]: They came back with St. Anger. I think it was and I’m not the biggest Metallica fan in the world but, my brother in law, my sister’s boyfriend at the time, was a huge fan. I was like “yeah sure I’ll go see Metallica”. He’s like well they’re playing three shows in the same day. They’re playing a 200 people venue, a six hundred people venue, and then they’re playing there like 12000 whatever they’re doing. “Fuck the twelve thousand I’m going to see 100 people venue. Where am I getting those tickets?”. “Well, you have to sleep in front of that place in order to get the tickets”. And I remember that whole evening. I was like maybe 20, in the street with this metalhead, my sister’s boyfriend was like this metal guy older than me, and there was a bunch of people outside, and obviously you could tell: nobody was going to get a ticket there were may be a thousand people outside that ticketing, 200 people would get the ticket. It was such a party and a communion effect. People went to the venue altogether, only two hundred people got in, and then the rest stayed outside. And during the entire show they were like doing Metallica stuff altogether talking. Talking probably about the big stadium show they were going to go at the end of the day. And there was a sense of community for a worldwide band. Almost like the Star Wars people, you know, when you go to see a Star Wars premiere.
Darren Hemmings [37:25]: I think metal has got that down, the whole heavy metal world has got that kind of fraternal thing going on. It’s very inclusive and lovely. And I always love it when I’m in a Metal gig to see them.
David Weiszfeld [37:38]: There is a company called Gimme Radio; I’ll send you a link to; and they do online radio but curated by metal artists. They have Dave Mustaine, and a few of Megadeth, and other artists. It’s basically a curated radio that creates a community. So the fans are talking with the talk show host. The talk show hosts are artists themselves. They’re inviting one another. Very very interesting way of listening to music. Now they’re actually generating Spotify playlist, and when you listen to the station you can kind of bridge other to more lean back experience. Metal allows you to do community-based marketing that other genres don’t allow.
Darren Hemmings [38:19]: With all of that, the one thing I would say, just for finishing on the Metallica thing was, they also really have that understanding give versus take. Like every day they’re playing, they’re filming the whole thing. And they’ve been posting the set, one or two songs at a time, from each date on YouTube. So you can pretty much see the whole tour by the end of it. You have a sense of every single concert, all pro-shot, all in HD and all put on YouTube for nothing. And these little things like that, again where it’s like, as I said, you have to manage a give versus take. So I think in giving those little things, Metallica earned the right to then say: “Oh we’ve done a Metallica watch with Nixon, and it’s like 120 dollars or whatever”. And I just think, and you seem to have a real sense of it, and I’m sure someone might be listening to this going “Yeah. Well obviously Metallica, they’ve got millions” and doubtless that’s true. But I think the principles underlying it are exactly the same if you were playing in a pub and you’re not signed yet. Just understand that you give a little to get a lot back, and you can. I remember EL-P saying this on a phone call actually once. He has an absolute belief that you can be a better person, and still make a living, make good money. (…) In the world, there is a balance you can find there of like: doing the right thing, being a good person, behaving responsibly, and earning a good living as well. It was great to hear him say that because I kind of feel the same way with Motive Unknown. I don’t run my company like an asshole. I run it as equitably as I can to the point where we have a profit share in the company. That we have a good year. Everyone gets some of the profit. And that kind of thing. So it’s it’s important you know. Values count for something.
David Weiszfeld [40:16]: I’ll switch gears a little bit. You were talking earlier a bit about how we all talk in an echo chamber. We’ve known each other without knowing each other, there’s probably 20 people we can name you and I that we both know that we’ve never really met, but we know that we know them. It’s a very small world. It feels very big but it’s not. And we have a sense of putting pressure. We’re always running late, doing too much. Saying yes to too many projects. Dave Emery, who was at Kobalt at the time I think, who’s now with Apple, and you had an amazing podcast, which was you and Dave talking around beers. And so that was a discussion without filters, that discussion led to a lot of thinking. He had a point of view about burnout, well-being. It was at the beginning of the Me-too movements. So that kind of transfer also into talking about overall respect and decency in the industry. You then did a panel about a year ago, a year after those takes. The world is evolving very very quickly. There is still now this Epstein thing, the Weinstein documentary. Can we talk a little bit together about wellbeing, burnout, trying to do your best, trying to work in a vertical that is very hard to get in. In the sense that you need to give 200 percent. And also maybe we can talk a bit about respect, and wellbeing, and how, maybe as a band, we can make it easier for women to thrive in this industry. Two kind of different topics but they’re always kind of overlap.
Darren Hemmings [42:02]: Yeah I think so. The well-being thing was rooted in my own experiences, as much as anything else. Where I kind of in three years into running Motive Unknown maybe. It was about five or six years ago, I kind of started having anxiety attacks, and then had like full-on depression problems and everything else. Which I don’t really speak about. In the whole time I’ve talked about well being, I’ve not really talked about it partly because I don’t I don’t think my own personal experience needs to be discussed in that way. It’s not necessary I suppose, but it was motivated from that. And when David originally wrote an article kind of saying, there’s a lot more of this than we all realize and it’s it’s just not right. One of the people being referenced I suppose was me, because he and I have been friends for a long time. You know back from when he was at Beggars, and he knew that I’ve been having problems. Because originally when we were doing the podcast I remember phoning him up, and saying I can’t do the show because I’m like having a full on freak out. Expecting David to be like “Wow! That sounds awful”. And he just replied going “Oh yeah, I’ve had that”. And I was like “Oh”. And it kind of diffused the situation of it. And that’s what kind of led to us, realizing that you need to call this stuff out a bit more. And I think part of the reason I’m quite honest and open about a lot of stuff is that I think most people work at businesses that wouldn’t allow them to speak openly and freely. And you can’t just kind of say “Yes. This is how I feel because your business, your employer might say “You can’t speak like that”.
David Weiszfeld [44:05]: You mean in other industries like finance or…
Darren Hemmings [44:08]: No I mean in the music business generally. Every business is quite careful about that stuff. But it means that people don’t feel they can speak out. And it becomes quite difficult. And I think it’s very hard. So on the well-being thing, I think in the music industry, I think it’s a broader problem anyway and it’s a symptom of a 24/7 sort of device culture, and things like that. But it’s in particularly in the music business, we are more guilty than any other industry I’ve experienced. As a co-owner of a construction company as well as running Motive Unknown. And so, I’ve got insight and experience of businesses outside of music. And within all of that, the music business just kind of runs itself incredibly badly. It just doesn’t work well. If you had someone come in from outside the music business and look at a lot of organizations, they’d just be like “the fuck are you doing! Why do you think this is a smart and good way of working?”. There are two sides to this. The first is that it’s just bad. It just shouldn’t be happening. We shouldn’t accept to normalize when people are struggling, you know, in the going home and they can’t function. You know I remember somebody telling me that he went on holiday and spent off the holiday with his family hiding in the bedroom, kind of obsessively looking at his phone at the time. Trying to deal with work emails because he just couldn’t disconnect from work. And he didn’t have a holiday, he almost had a nervous breakdown in the process. That’s just fucking wrong. That is wrong and if as a business you’re doing that to your staff, you’ve got it wrong. So I think we have to cool that stuff out. And I think whilst to some extent there’s been improvements, I don’t actually think it’s improved that much. I think the number one observation of mine through the years since that all happened, with us calling this out, is that a lot of people have paid lip service to it. And said “oh you know we care about well-being” and it’s like “you don’t, you just don’t”. There’s no evidence that you actually do.
David Weiszfeld [46:19]: It’s like changing company values putting them on the door.
Darren Hemmings [46:23]: Yeah and It doesn’t make any odds and my chief observation in that is that unless this absolutely bleeds through the company from the top, the very top down, nothing will change. So somebody at the top has to go I’m running this and I don’t accept that working 60 hours a week is a norm. Unless that happens, it just doesn’t work. Because what you find is that you’ll get a poor H.R. person even, who’s trying to do this but with basically with bosses who don’t care. And so they’re never really going to be able to do anything meaningful when the people above them, their bosses, don’t give a shit. they’re just “I want the best result and I don’t care how we get it”. So I think it’s still a huge problem and there’s a lot of evidence that we’re still seeing this. Now I do worry because, and I’ve written about it in the past, where things like label services companies, they’re having to become quite a high volume model now. And we’ve sort of done it to ourselves in the sense that the power shifted to the artists. And it’s made the label services companies have to do really really slim deals, because the artist is now gone words, it’s a buyer’s market. I can cherry pick from whoever I want. I don’t need any of you in my view. So they’re doing these slim deals, but it means they have to do more of them. And in doing more of them, it means the staff have to look after more and more and more of these projects. And then the staff start to struggle, they can’t take this. The balance of what the business needs to draw in, or what it’s able to afford by way of staffing can be a bit off. And so I think there’s new problems developing that will challenge this even more. It’s a bit of a crass analogy but I think if you’re an alcoholic it is something you live with. Every day you’re an alcoholic and you have to avoid alcohol. You’re not cured and you walk away, it’s something you manage actively every day. And I think in terms of well-being there’s a similarity of sorts. You don’t just go “We’ve stuck a piece of paper on the wall saying we care about your well-being” tick. It doesn’t work like that. It has to be constantly monitored and you know within my own company (we are tackling this problem). And it is working well. But it’s not easy. It’s a very difficult thing to manage outside as a person who owns and runs a business. It is difficult. And mine is only a small business so I imagine the scale is very hard, but it has to be.
David Weiszfeld [48:50]: It has to come from the top. That’s the thing, yeah.
Darren Hemmings [48:52]: Has to bleed threw. The running joke in my company is that the person that struggles most with well-being is probably me. Because I’m actually quite bad at managing myself. So very good as I know everyone else, this is how we need to be. But then I don’t tend to listen to it and suffer accordingly. So that’s the well-being side and then I think as regards just generally behaving like a fucking decent human being and not treating women like shit it’s just. Eye to eye. It’s a strange thing for me because it…
David Weiszfeld [49:23]: It goes further than behaving like a pig. It’s the little things like for example pay difference. It’s very hard to know in a company if really the woman are getting paid less and has it been fixed. Like there’s maybe what, three people at the company who would know the CFO the H.R. and the CEO. And if you’re in the 300 people business, you might have doubts and hunches that women are getting paid less. But it’s actually very hard one to pin down and then to change. I don’t know a single company. Like none of my friends have told me “how I work in a business where all the women have been reevaluated 10 percent. Because they’re all paid 10 percent less. And I’m sure that’s the case. I’m sure there’s a lot of businesses where 90 percent of the woman are 10 percent less. They could literally take all the women and say you all get a pay raise. I don’t know a single company who’s done that. So it’s very hard to understand in the fine print. There is the obviously don’t be a pig, minimum respect, but that’s more like jail card like you know you’re out. And There is the fine print, the thing that you know feeling discomfort if you’re one – one in an elevator because of a look. And I think that is really the problem…
Darren Hemmings [50:37]: Yeah I mean it’s a funny one, it’s a tricky area and I think at the moment that the problem is that it seems we’ve lost the ability to have a kind of nuanced debate about these things. We live in a very polarized world now where just saying the wrong thing will sort of bring down the wrath of everything and everyone upon you. And I’ve kind of fallen foul of that before on Twitter where I’ve made a remark, that I thought was sort of positive and then just got lynched for it. And you just hate this thing. You know I just want to say anything. I mean you don’t need to anyway. Let’s be honest, I don’t need to air my views on Twitter. It’s not necessary. It’s like don’t do something. And in that respect I remember we had this like within my business. We hit this point where I was saying “look we’re all men, we need to balance this up. It’s not good for us as a team”. But even then it was like, in the end, the person we wound up hiring was a guy. But the reason we wound up hiring him was because he wasn’t just slightly better than the other applicants. It was like we had to have been stupid to not hire him because he was just so unbelievably brilliant. And he is. And he continues to be, and he’s been promoted and given a couple of pay rises. And he’s only been with this 18 months because he’s that good. He’s amazing. But it’s hard. Because, I think, that it’s something I remember me and David Emory talking about, where he saw it definitely to me. Where I’ve always worked around, my whole career I owe it to women who have brought me up through that. And there’s been incredibly strong, brilliant women that I’ve worked around. So Pat Carr at Infectious at the time hired me to work on Alt-J. It was Claire Brett, Pias, who said to me “Look if you start your own company, you know, I’ll let you go on Friday. You don’t have to work three months. I let you own Friday and you come back on Monday but you’re freelance working three days, and then you can build your business”. And there’s all these women throughout, and continues to be. Whether it’s you know Rian of Because, she is running Because for the UK or Xena at Partisan who Used to work with on Run The Jewels and is now Md of Partisan. They are fucking amazing women working all through the working world that I inhabit. So it’s a sort of funny one, because I look at it sometimes and I think there’s brilliant people out there but I don’t recognise them and go they’re great women. They’re just really brilliant people. And I think the difference me David had was on this or positive discrimination thing. Of like “Should I hire someone who’s sort of less able for the job because they’re female” versus hiring the best person for the job. And I just think it’s a really difficult area to negotiate. One thing I would say is that our learning from working around digital marketing, was that there’s not really enough women sort of coming into it. And even now when we hire, we’d be very lucky to get many applications at all from women in this space. Perhaps there’s different things within any industry that might gravitate sort of gender wise. It’s like I remember talking to my friend Sam at BMG about this, and he was saying that the digital team at BMG, the guys doing the same stuff I do, they’re all men. But the marketing team above it who are the sort of non digital but product managers, it’s all women. And we were sort of looking ” well is it just a sort of natural division or you know why is that?”. I would like to see more women in digital marketing and I’ve talked to people before about whether there’s things we could do to develop it more. Because I just feel like one big problem, you know, I’ve said before, the biggest problem in the music business is that it’s a bit of an echo chamber. And I think you run the same risk if you have a business that’s just comprised of like white men, and stuff like that. And I think the more of a mix you can bring in, the more experience. I mean there’s irony to all of this. The irony of the wellbeing discussion is that if people are happy and healthy, they’ll do much better work for you. They’ll just deliver more. And you’ll get much more from them as as employees. And I think it’s the same as like if you have a mixed and diverse team of people, you’ll do better work. You get much greater range of opinion. It’s like the healthiest dog you can own is a mongrel, because a mongrel got mixed genes from all of these types of dogs. And so he’s developed immunities and strengths against stuff. Where with a pedigree, there’s just one breed all the time, and they come with all kinds of sickness, and genetic disorders. It’s the same thing with the company. You look at a company in the same way, you need variety to make it work. But we’ve got to work to develop that and bring more people into it.
David Weiszfeld [55:27]: When you were talking about verticals like digital marketing, marketing and actually realise: I Work nine years at U.M.G. and it’s true a lot of the A&R are dudes and a lot of the Promotion’s people are woman and there was an overall. It’s not less women than male, but if you remove the junior employees, interns and you keep the senior staff. That’s what really counts. There were definitely more men but men tend to be. At U.M.G. in France, when I was there in 2004 to 2013, I remember one woman A&R, not a junior scout but a senior A&R, and that’s actually the most shocking is certain very key decision making jobs were left and then you had a bunch of radio promotions people. But the head of promo, the V.P. was usually a guy. That has changed a lot.
Darren Hemmings [56:25]: Something else I’d say is I would love to see more. They are women who are older with masses of experience who tend not to get invited to the table, even at things like panels at conferences, and stuff like that. But I think can also just provide so much insight and wisdom. I mean frankly to both genders because there’s an argument. There’s just like someone with shit shitloads of experience who’s brilliant can teach everyone a lot. But I just feel like the industry has a terrible tendency, this is an awful industry to grow old in any way. But I think if you’re a woman and you past a certain age, you’re in real trouble. It’s not an environment that’s welcoming and I think there’s an inherent thing, where people dismiss older women much more quickly than they will dismiss older men. And I think that’s a real shame. But I think equally. I mean it’s funny because you know I’ve got somebody involved on something recently based on the fact that they were older and have more experience. And I sat with a manager going “This person has fucking forgotten more than I’ve ever learned” and that is the person you need on your team, because this person is smarter than you and me combined. And if there’s one thing I’ve learned is that you hire cleverer people than you, wherever you can. You’re finding that thing about well there’s an age thing there and a hair pin on it for now. And I think you’re missing the point. This person has learned so much that to to not recognize that is ridiculous.I remember Sylvia Montel saying this at Fast Forward a few years ago, saying a similar thing where she said “even younger women in the music industry can be a bit dismissive of older women and that needs to stop. You know the older women have a voice and should be listened to”. There is a lot in that. They are every bit as experienced, they have every bit as much to empower, if not more because of their experiences as a woman in the music business. And so they should be listened to and sought out and used. It should happen more often.
David Weiszfeld [58:57]: That’s a great segway to my last question. We talked about more experience people in the industry. If you were now looking at the 19 year old Darren, full of hope in this world. What would you tell him? What’s the one piece of advice you got may be a bit later and you’re like I wish I knew that before? Or the person you meet? Or having role models, or heroes or not having any of those, or self-learning or trying to learn from others, or… What’s the one thing you wish you would have known a little bit earlier?
Darren Hemmings [59:33]: I mean, something I see a lot in music is that people don’t have truly valuable things to offer. We see it, we’ve done a lot of hiring and we’re helping people hire at the moment elsewhere, and stuff like that. And you see this a lot when people sort of have very vague skill sets.. What I like in my team is we we’re all capable of rolling up our sleeves, and running quite complex ads, and rolling stuff out with know Google Tag Manager and things like that. It might feel a bit old saying it but it’s like you know. Years and years ago, someone’s dad would have said “look you learn a trade, you know become a carpenter, because the world will always need a carpenter, or a bricklayer or stuff like that”. And I think there’s a lot of truth in it. And I think, in music, there’s probably a bit of that. Learn demonstrable skills but also learn skills that you could apply elsewhere. Whether that’s becoming a developer, you know, if you have development skills you might build a platform like Soundcharts. But also build software in Fintech or whatever. But it’s a transferable skill. And I think with what we do it’s transferable: it was originally why we started working on different brands. It was almost to sort of say “is this transferable?”. You know if Motive Unknown at some stage wanted to exit music, could it. And the answer is yes, easily. You know we can we can do that, because the skills we have, can apply to anything you’re trying to sell, whether it’s an album, or a T-shirt, or soap powder in theory. So I think learning those skills and getting hands on with that stuff is really important because it’s one thing I see whenever I’m interviewing people is they don’t really seem to explain to me why they want this job in particular. And what they’ve got to speak to that. And I remember when we hired Hugo for my team, who was the guy I was saying before; we interviewed him and my colleagues all turnaround just said “if you don’t hire that guy, you are an idiot”. And he sat there and just was like “Here’s all the reasons you should hire me, and literally rendered us speechless. He continues to be the most qualified guy in the company to my amusement. He’s done more Facebook and Google certificates and qualifications than anybody else. So he’s got all of those professional qualifications.
David Weiszfeld [01:01:51]: As good as it is to come and be a fan, I want to work in the industry, I am a fan of music. I know how to record a bit, and I’ve done some management, and I have this friend doing a festival, and I’ve signed this artist to my to my label. It’s actually learn a craft like “be the best digital marketer, be the best ear, if you want to be A&R then maybe learning how to sounds.
Darren Hemmings [01:02:18]: Is that an understanding that when again if you’re interviewing for roles, and you’re trying to get through that door, you’ve got to explain. You’ve got to present very clearly what value you have to that business. It’s like I’ve said to my staff before. If you want a pay rise, you’ve got a give me a really good case for it. Because you don’t just get a pay rise for being here. I mean you’ll get ones for inflation adjustment and stuff. But if you want to be promoted and you only get pay rises, you’ve got to explain what your extra value is. Why are you worth more to me now. Break that down. So if that’s saying well, it’s because I’m now looking after all of this work and that’s of a higher value than the work I did before. Okay well now you’ve presented a solid argument. Because you’re overseeing a value of work that’s greater than it was previously. Therefore you’re more valuable, and therefore yes you probably do have a case. But it’s those things where I think in music particularly, if a penny for every guy that turns up, they’re like “well, you know, I put on some gigs and I manage a band you’ve never heard of” and it’s like “I mean okay but none of that really relates to what I need and this jobs spec”. Doing some stuff in music is not good enough. Show me that you’ve got talent and acumen, that I want to take and develop further and when we hired Claire who’s a more recent hire, she’s on a fast track scheme to develop power to be a marketing manager. And we love her because she just came in, and was like pinging off all of this knowledge, and understanding, and insight, and examples of what she’d done. And it’s the same thing where when she left we’re like okay well we’ll go hire her. She’s brilliant. She’s really great. But it’s those people that I think should nail it in very clear terms “here’s why I am of value to you”. And if that means you’ve also learned skills that give you a value, then I think it means that anyone trying to hire you and develop you as an employee, you’re talking to them in their language. Because what you’re doing is saying “Look, you’re managing me, and as a manager, I understand that the value, my value to this business is this. But now I’m doing all these extra things, so now my value is that whatever”. And these are the skills that get you promoted in life, and get you go in places. That keen understanding of what your value is to a business and where that place within it. I think very few people really look at that, and I think it makes them less likely to get hired and less likely to get promoted. Because they don’t understand their value, and they don’t work to develop their own value. So I would probably say that because 19 year old me was very idealistic and being like “yeah I want to work in music, I love music” and it’s like “That’s nice but that means nothing”. And when I got my first proper music job, marketing music, it’s because I sat down and went here’s what I’d do. And this is why. I outlined it all. And they turn around right “All right great. You’re the guy we want because you got ideas, and you’ve got a vision, and that’s what we need”.
David Weiszfeld [01:05:27]: I think you’re completely right. I remember. I definitely don’t anymore. No I would love to meet them. But I used to idealize some people like Jeremy Ivine, running Interscope, no college. And then I started to read about those guys. I was like “Fuck. They’ve all done so many things before they actually got their big gig”. So Ivine was a sound engineer. He was actually in the studio recording a bunch of music and the day that he started to sign people he probably was extremely credible with a real voice. I think you should probably mix that a bit differently or the emotions that I feel from the song. Everybody wants to be Lior Cohen or a Rick Rubin but nobody, neither you or I have created Def Jam. There is a point of like, some people actually are multitalented, and don’t have precise expertise. That’s usually an expertise in itself. They are fast learners, business acumen. They understand situations and how to create value from them. And they have extremely good personal relations and feelings for people. That in itself is a talent. But for the 99 percent, people like you and, it is about growing and expertise. And actually the expertise you can usually bridge it to another industry. Like you with something else than music and maybe me with something else in music as well. Cool I’m taking an hour and 7 minutes of your time and I have to take a Eurostar to go to London. Last thing I wanted to make sure everybody does is subscribe to The Daily Digest from Motive Unknown. We will link everywhere, we’ll post about it to make sure they know what we’re speaking about. It was great finally having an hour with you man.
Darren Hemmings [01:07:07]: Yeah. Sorry it took so long to get it organized.
David Weiszfeld [01:07:09]: Now it’s my fault as well. Speak to you soon for sure.
Darren Hemmings [01:07:14]: Great to chat. Yeah thanks man. Speak soon. Bye Bye.