Hitting the high notes

Want to make your mark in the music business? We asked Simon Gavin, head of A&M Records and judge on Channel 4’s Orange unsignedAct with Sony Ericsson, for his tips on getting to the top.

How did your career get started?

I come from Kent and we used to put on nights – hiring DJs and putting on bands – and it was always something I really enjoyed doing. However, there was no way I could get into to job from that point because you have to know people in the music business to know that there’s a job going. So, I ended up working in Harrods but – although it was a brilliant place to work – got really bored of it.

I then decided to go to New York in 1988, where I started working for a management company that ran a hip-hop club in various venues around Manhattan. I was working for free – I’d turn up every day and ask who needed something done, be it answering the phone or getting people lunch. As the company grew they paid me a bit more money and I started to get an address book of contacts together.

How did your career progress once you got back to the UK?

I worked at Virgin from 1990 to 1994, which was a great place to work – it was one of the last true independents really. I got involved with acts like Massive Attack, Neneh Cherry and Soul II Soul, learning my craft slowly and methodically.

Then I came to work at Polydor at 1994, where I eventually became head of A&R. We continued the growth and success of the label, signing Kaiser Chiefs, Snow Patrol and then the Scissor Sisters. About 18 months ago I really felt like I wanted to do something a bit different and on a smaller scale, so I became head of A&M Records. Duffy was the first signing, whose album sales are up to about five-and-a-half million around the world, so she’s the biggest-selling new artist. Plus we’ve got the Courteeners who have gone well beyond their goals, so things are good.

How did you get involved with Orange unsignedAct?

Originally I was just going to put the record out, but then it was suggested that if I was going to put my money into it I should go on the show and make sure I had a say in who wins? The first series was a real experiment and we didn’t really know what we had or what would come out of it, and to be honest the standard of the entrants wasn’t amazing.

Then they commissioned the second series. For the first show we had 1,500 applications – this year we had 9,000. We’ve got a real cross-section of great artists left in the show and we’re up to the semi-final this Sunday – where we’ve got five acts and we’ll get it down to three – and then the final will be the following week.

Who’s going to win?

I think Tommy Reilly’s going to win it. Long term Toby Sebastian is a bigger, more exciting prospect because he has a mainstream appeal and massive potential, but he is 16 and his songcraft isn’t quite there yet.

Is a talent show a good way to get into the business?

They’ve been around for years, they are a uniquely British thing and, in my opinion, a good thing. You have to acknowledge that they are now part of the music business and stop being sniffy about them! If you are you’ll miss something.

You do get laid bare in these TV shows. If you’re good and you’re on it every week you’re on it for 13 weeks, and people will find everything out about you. If you’re not willing for that to happen it’s the wrong route. But if you are an artist, be it Hip Parade or Bo Bruce, it’s a great way of getting recognised.

Another good bit of advice is to be big in your own town. If you’re from Glasgow, for example, do what Tommy’s just done – put a gig on, sell it out and create a groundswell of interest.

How do you find out about up-and-coming bands?

There’s much more word of mouth going on– it’s a tiny business now so there are no secrets. If a band played at the Dog and Duck last night and were good and none of us were there, we’d know about it today.

We’ve also got some internet scouts working here at A&M who are always on MySpace looking at and listening to bands, so it is very valuable to have a good page with some good quality music on there.

What’s your advice to someone who wants to go down your route?

I always wonder why someone would want to work in the business and not do A&R – it’s the best job in the music business! It’s more creative than any creative job in the business because you’re finding new, unsigned talent, helping them make a record and driving it through the company, so you’re doing everything. You also get to drive nice cars – why would you want to do anything else?

Competition time!

Don't miss your chance to enter our competition to win a pair of tickets to the final of Orange unsignedAct with Sony Ericsson on 25 January - click here to find out more. In the meantime, the semi-finals are on this T4 Sunday this Sunday at 2pm, with the live results at 5.35pm - visit the website for more information

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Student

Guru Careers: Junior Designer / Design Graduate

£18 - 20k: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Junior Designer / Design Graduate to...

Guru Careers: Graduate Software Developer / Junior Developer

£20 - 28k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Graduate Software Develop...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Trainee Teacher - Maths

£18000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This organization is the larges...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £45K YR1: SThree: At SThree, we like to be dif...

Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific
In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

Dame Colette Bowe - interview
When do the creative juices dry up?

When do the creative juices dry up?

David Lodge thinks he knows
The 'Cher moment' happening across fashion just now

Fashion's Cher moment

Ageing beauty will always be more classy than all that booty
Thousands of teenage girls enduring debilitating illnesses after routine school cancer vaccination

Health fears over school cancer jab

Shock new Freedom of Information figures show how thousands of girls have suffered serious symptoms after routine HPV injection
Fifa President Sepp Blatter warns his opponents: 'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

Fifa president Sepp Blatter issues defiant warning to opponents
Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report

Weather warning

Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report
LSD: Speaking to volunteer users of the drug as trials get underway to see if it cures depression and addiction

High hopes for LSD

Meet the volunteer users helping to see if it cures depression and addiction
German soldier who died fighting for UK in Battle of Waterloo should be removed from museum display and given dignified funeral, say historians

Saving Private Brandt

A Belgian museum's display of the skeleton of a soldier killed at Waterloo prompts calls for him to be given a dignified funeral