Day In The Life: Serena Benedict, co-founder and head of Just Music

'Music is my first and last thought'
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The Independent Culture


I'm an early-riser and after a walk along the river near our house in Putney, John, my husband and business partner, and I go for coffee on the way to work. We review the busy summer in which our artists have appeared at Secret Garden and Big Chill festivals and prioritise the day's work. On a day-to-day basis, John runs the law firm whilst I deal with the record label, publishing and management side of the business. We usually go to Caffe Nero: at the moment we've got a promotion on there with our artist Dan Arborise, who's taking over from Ray LaMontagne as their artist of the month. It's great for us as, being a small independent music company, we don't have huge marketing muscle.

I don't find it difficult working with John; we've done so since we met working as lawyers. I left to work for Richard Branson when Virgin was in the early stages and couldn't think of anyone who liked music as much as him, so we used to go to these dreadful gigs at 2am or 3am. John moved to be the managing director of China Records and when that was sold to Warner in 1999 we had a window to do something ourselves. We walked along the Cornish cliffs for inspiration and decided to start a music company: Just Music was officially born in 2001.


When I get to the office I deal with the new orders and hundreds of e-mails I receive each day. It's often quite chaotic and I dedicate 80 per cent of my time to the important things and sweep up the rest when I can. That's one thing I learned from Richard Branson - there are three categories of work: urgent, very urgent and extremely fucking urgent. Although electronic filing does make it a bit easier now: in the early days of Virgin we worked out of Peter Cook's house and very important files were kept in the bath and not-so-important ones on the cooker.

The rest of my morning is taken up with meetings. First up is one with an advertising agency about a track they have cut to use for a big advert. They seem happy with it but these things can often take ages. The DKNY Be Delicious fragrance features a track by one of our artists, Honeyroot, and although we started work on that in March, we didn't get confirmation of the worldwide deal until November. Our music is very dramatic and cinematic so it gets used a lot in adverts, programmes and films. In America you would describe our vibe as "ambient" but that's a dirty word here. It's a range of cutting-edge electronica, down-tempo, folk and chilled, loosely based on the music John and I enjoy and feel we can grow old gracefully with.


I get the tube to Soho House for the next meeting, this time with our press company, Impressive, to review the Dan Arborise campaign. He's our current release so we're doing a lot of promotion besides the Caffe Nero project. Most of our artists approach us, often through friends or people signed to our label. Dan was a friend of one of our artists, Jon Hopkins, and came into the office with his guitar and sat and played. We just thought yes, this is an exceptional guitar player with a beautiful voice, but he wasn't ready for an album so we put him on the road for a year and now he's produced a great album. The press company are happy with how much coverage Dan is receiving and so I dash back to the office for a quick sandwich at my desk.


I like doing face-to-face meetings as you get to see what other people are doing and pick up on new ideas, but in the afternoon I have a conference call with Verve Pictures. They're distributing Red Road, which won the Special Jury Prize at Cannes and features a hauntingly beautiful version of "Love Will Tear Us Apart" by Honeyroot in the final scenes. It's an absolute tear-jerker of a film and a track: when it showed in Cannes there wasn't a dry eye in the house. It goes on general release at the end of the month and there's a special screening at the Odeon West End with a VIP reception, so we spend the call sorting out dates, availability and checking who can make it. Both my sons are studying philosophy at university and I think they find us outrageous as parents. But they're both very into music and I take a moment before the next appointment to text them the latest developments and check how they are.


I talk to our musicians almost every day to consult with them and as they're mainly self-contained they feel in a vacuum if there's no contact. Meetings, of course, always have to be in the afternoon as they're never up in the mornings. Today I'm speaking to Jon Hopkins about scheduling his workload. He's doing remixes for the artists King Creosote and John Metcalfe and has the offer of a US tour supporting Imogen Heap. We work through the logistics as he's about to start work on his third album and needs to fit in the writing and recording for that. We do touch on artistic issues too, but I respect the artists and assume that what they do will turn out well. This is by far the most pleasurable part of my day as the rest of the time is spent selling our music or battling for retail space with the likes of HMV.


Once the West Coast music supervisors wake up, I can get on with synchronisation with Los Angeles. The conversations mainly revolve around music for the American series: we've had tracks used in Sex and the City and Grey's Anatomy to name but two. This is our primary market rather than England, but we've done the likes of Location Location and Gardener's World here. Because a lot of our music is instrumental, there aren't vocals to get in the way.

It's at this point of the day when sometimes it can all get a little overwhelming and I throw up my hands and think this is all too much. But then I think of the alternatives and don't know what else I'd do. I absolutely love my job. You'd have to to be involved in the independent music industry, but I feel very privileged to be so. Music is the first and last thing I think about and I get to spend all day listening to it, too. My five-year pipe dream is to open the Just Café on a beautiful beach so that we can operate from there and after work I can walk down the beach and listen to the waves.


We go to gigs four to five times a week, which might not seem relaxing but most of our friends are in the business so it's a chance to socialise. Tonight is the launch of eMusic, the independent music rival to iTunes, at the Watergate Club in London Bridge. Basement Jaxx are playing and there's a great atmosphere, as everyone cares about what they're doing in the independent music business and puts their lives on the line for it. The IRL label has got an artist to No. 7 in the Irish charts and I feel like I'm at No. 7 - that's the sort of sense of camaraderie there is; it's nothing like the corporate world.