I usually get woken up early by my two-year-old daughter Rosie, but today I'm getting up for a different reason: I'm in a hotel room in Tokyo about to go to the airport to catch my plane back to the UK. I've been in Japan on business, having meetings to find a licensing partner for Brownswood Recordings, the record label that Gilles Peterson and I set up about six months ago. I've known Gilles for the past 20 years: we were on pirate radio together and I used to run club nights in London and book him to play.
Since he got a show on Radio 1, he constantly has people contacting him with new music and a lot of it is very good so he decided there was room to set up a new record label. He was looking for someone he knew and trusted who could run it and I was looking for something new to do. At my management company, Heavyweight, we had just stopped managing Roni Size after 10 years - it was an amicable split, he wanted to stay in his drum and bass world and we wanted to do different things - but you can't just replace an artist the size of Roni, so the timing was perfect.
Last night was a bit crazy. Gilles was playing at a club called Yellow and I'd gone down there to see him. He's a star in Japan so the place was absolutely rammed with 12,000 people. Just by coincidence I had Dynamite MC, who I manage, also playing in Tokyo so I was running over to a drum and bass club called Unit and then back again to see Gilles!
Before boarding my flight, there are dramas in London to sort out. Freestylers, a band I manage, are doing a tour of Europe and the Amsterdam promoter is trying to change the date and reduce the fee. This isn't totally unexpected, there are so many things to organise and so many people involved that there is always some last minute problem. That sorted, I have to call New York to give the hotel my credit card details to guarantee a room for another of my artists, Sway, who's flying out there tomorrow. It's the evening in the UK and he's performing at the Mobos after being nominated for Best Hip-Hop Artist. I try to call Emily, the only other full-time member of staff at Heavyweight, to see how it all went. He didn't win the award but we aren't too disappointed because he won last year and there are a lot of new people coming through who we knew were more likely to scoop the prize.
Once on the plane, without e-mail and a mobile phone to distract me, I have a chance to assess the trip. I probably spend about half my time working on Brownswood and half on Heavyweight, which I set up 16 years ago. My time in Japan was mainly taken up with meeting record labels, both independent ones such as JVC-Victor and the Universal-type majors. It's important that we choose the right Japanese partner as they'll be representing our label out there. A number have made offers and when Gilles gets back next week we'll sit down and make a decision. We'll probably go for a small, independent label who are into the music rather than just want a deal, although a large company would obviously be advantageous for its stronger market position.
V2 are our company in Europe and they just felt right, I suppose because they're what you could call a large independent.
We're very lucky to be able to branch straight into other markets without building up in the UK first. A version of Gilles' Radio 1 show is licensed around the world and he's been popular in Japan since the acid jazz explosion, so the contacts are already there. It's really exciting as there are so many opportunities now that the major labels have become conservative and are signing fewer people outside of the mainstream.
I get something to drink and eat and watch Dave Chappelle's Block Party. I haven't seen it before and it is a great film, really entertaining. On a normal day in the office I'll be doing more or less what I'm going to do for the rest of the 12-hour flight - working. Although I would usually have two or three meetings a day to attend, either at our office in Kensal Green or in town.
Before I came to Japan, I had our weekly label meeting to discuss forthcoming issues and started negotiating a contract to sign a new jazz artist from New York. We sign whatever Gilles gets excited by and so a lot of it is like the stuff he plays: soul, jazz, hip-hop and house. So far we've signed a Japanese young punk jazz band called Soil & Pimp Sessions, The Heritage Orchestra (a 43-piece jazz orchestra of Guildhall graduates) and Ben Westbeech, who was our first single release back in July. He's a singer-songwriter from Bristol who has been likened to Jamiroquai. I listen to the final version of his album, which will be released next year, and it sounds good.
Turning back to the management side, I read through Dynamite MC's Fresh 40 radio show contract. It starts in October and is going to be networked across Kiss, Galaxy and Vibe. We do use lawyers for legal issues but I've been working with contracts for 15 or 16 years so I do a lot of the negotiating and drafting myself. It's the final version so there aren't too many changes to be made - one about how many days off he can have and another clause to do with pre-recorded shows.
I managed to sleep on the way out here as I upgraded with my airmiles, but I'm in Virgin Premium Economy on the way back because Brownswood is a small company and can't really justify unnecessary expenditure. Although we want to be successful and make money, the vision of the label, like the company, is to run something that we're excited about and that we think will be successful. Independent labels are about a love for the music, which is what I like about it. I worked at Universal for a brief period, but I much prefer working for myself in a less commercial environment.
The UK. My partner, Marie, is here to meet me at Heathrow, which is great as I thought I was getting a cab home! We met in the music industry and she now runs her own PR and marketing business so she understands my job. We pick up our daughter from nursery: it's a bit early to tell if she's into music too but she does like a good dance to the Freestylers.
Once home, the enjoyment of being out of contact is over when I see the 129 emails in my inbox. There are also a couple of urgent phone calls to be made, one to Sway who's still having problems with the hotel in New York and one to Aston from the Freestylers, who has a hundred issues surrounding the new album and tour to sort out. It's nice to look forward to an evening in, though, as most of them are taken up with gigs.Reuse content