The Lowdown: Sex'n'suits and rock'n'roll ... and Strokes of genius

Sanctuary's Andy Taylor has a rounded approach to the music business, as he explains to Jason Nissé
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The Independent Online

He is overweight, balding and rarely seen in anything but a suit and tie. He studied at Trinity College, Cambridge and has his Institute of Chartered Accountants practising certificates framed on his office wall. Andy Taylor is not your typical music company boss. And certainly not the man you would expect to be behind the phenomenal success of The Strokes, the nouveau punk band whose latest album went into the charts this weekend at number one.

The executive chairman of Sanctuary, Britain's largest independent music company, is nothing if not an enigma. And he loves it. Despite leaving Tyneside more than 30 years ago, he retains a strong regional accent. "An accent will only go away if you actively want it to go away," he smiles. "If you have a Geordie accent and say you went to Trinity College, Cambridge, then that's an anomaly. People remember you."

It's also an anomaly that a 52-year-old, straight-as-a-die chartered accountant could be the business brain behind artists as diverse as The Strokes, Iron Maiden, Dolly Parton, Lee "Scratch" Perry, Buffseeds, Led Zeppelin and Beyoncé Knowles. "I work on the premise that what I am offering is professional abilities," Taylor argues. "We have a lot of creative businesses and creative people and it's not my job to be hyper-creative. I'm a businessman who hopes to make as much money as I can for our artists."

Taylor's career started in 1969 at Cambridge when he and a friend, Rod Smallwood, organised May balls. The duo decided they wanted to run a music business, so with Smallwood taking control of the creative side (which he still does for Sanctuary), Taylor decided to get accounting qualifications with the firm of Robson Rhodes. Taylor and Smallwood not only put on concerts, they moved into band management, with early-1970s rockers Steve Harley and Cockney Rebel.

But their big break came towards the end of the decade when they discovered the heavy metal band Iron Maiden playing in a north London pub. By 1983, having propelled Iron Maiden to inter-national stardom, Taylor and Smallwood could turn their attention to nurturing other acts and expanding their business.

Using Taylor's financial expertise, Sanctuary, as it was called by then, concentrated on so-called "artist services", essentially the business management of performers. It was also able to handle tour management and started releasing records on its own label. These days, Taylor says Sanctuary has a 360-degree business model, doing anything in the music trade from publishing to merchandising to making videos and DVDs. It does this not only on its own account but in joint ventures with smaller labels such as the well-regarded Rough Trade, home of The Smiths, The Libertines and, of course, The Strokes.

"Records have grown disproportionately," says Taylor. "In the music industry, only a third of income is recorded music; the other two thirds is merchandising, management, agency and the like. For us, recorded is less than half our turnover but more than half our profits."

Acquisitions such as the legendary reggae label Trojan have contributed to this (Trojan also brought Sanctuary its first Grammy, given to veteran artist Lee "Scratch" Perry for best reggae record) while giving Sanctuary critical mass. It can now feel confident it has enough of a structure around the world to release a record in any major territory.

However, its most recent deal has taken Sanctuary in another direction. The company has bought Music World Entertainment, the management firm owned by Matthew Knowles, who looks after his daughter Beyoncé and her band, Destiny's Child. Knowles is now heading Sanctuary's urban and gospel division. "We were not in urban, and there are a lot of good acts in R'n'B," says Taylor. "I believe there are quite a lot of people in that area who want a stronger business structure."

The deal fills one of two gaps in the 360-degree strategy. The other is in jazz where Taylor is not too sure Sanctuary will be able to find the right sort of deal. More critical, though, is its relative weak- ness in publishing, where companies own and exploit the rights to reproduce music. "The problem is that it's still too expensive to buy in this area, but prices are coming down," Taylor says, hopefully.

His philosophy is to concentrate on what he calls "long-term career acts", artists who are around making albums year after year and, more importantly, touring. "In the initial stages of an artist's career, you can't make money touring because you haven't got the fan base," Taylor points out. "Once you get into a career, touring becomes a greater element of the income stream. I'd estimate that a long-term career act can make four to five times as much out of touring as they make out of a record."

A potential goldmine could come Sanctuary's way if Jimmy Page and Robert Plant, both of whom it manages, decide to reform Led Zeppelin for a tour next year on the back of the chart-topping DVD of their old concerts. But Taylor has no clue whether this will happen: "The whole world would like to see Led Zep tour again. But they will go with their own heart on what they want to do."

Sanctuary works for a host of artists signed to rival labels. Indeed, Taylor has no concerns about telling an artist they would be better off with EMI or Universal. He does not want the uncertainty of releasing singles for high-risk acts where a large promotional budget is involved.

With a market capitalisation of £170m, Sanctuary is a relative minnow. And if one of the rumoured mergers between two of the five majors goes through, it will seem even smaller.

"It doesn't bother me," shrugs Taylor. "At the end of the day, they're going to consolidate. But I don't desperately think there is any need to do it."

As a music executive, he is out two or three nights a week going to concerts. As the chairman of a public company, he has to make presentations in the City. This is fine as long as a 2am finish isn't followed by a meeting with investors less than seven hours later. Now, that would be a rock'n'roll lifestyle.