“Modern Music Owes a Great Deal of Current Success to Groups Who Are Unintentionally Shut Out”
As the world’s fastest-growing production music company, BMG Production Music (BMGPM) is at the forefront of the industry. Looking to use its influential position as a force for good, the company has recently announced a partnership with Expand Music, an educational organisation that facilitates interactive music workshops and coaching for schools and businesses in the UK.
The collaboration aims to offer new and emerging talent in the Expand Music network the opportunity to get their music onto the BMGPM catalogue, providing work and development opportunities for young talent aged 16 to 24 from underrepresented and economically disadvantaged backgrounds. Participants in this project will be given tangible means to earn money from their art via professional relationships in which they are treated with respect and paid fairly. It also celebrates the significant contribution that young musicians and creators make to the rich cultural tapestry of the UK.
To find out more about this exciting initiative, LBB sits down with Expand Music co-founders Tobias Silvester and Niall Lavelle, along with BMGPM’s director (creative and licensing) Michael Cromwell, who uncover the issues in the industry they are looking to address and what participants of the programme can look forward to.
LBB> Firstly Niall and Tobias, can you tell us a bit about the two albums - Chiles and OT - released this month as part of the partnership?
Niall Lavelle> Both Chiles and OT were students at Bsix College where we work, with Chiles initially coming through our charity programme, Progression Sessions. As their teachers, we were well aware of their talent but the requirements of the course didn’t allow for the kinds of dedicated time that the creation of a full album of high quality music requires. The partnership with BMG has therefore been vital in creating this opportunity.
Tobias Silvester> Chiles’ EP is the sound of a young woman asserting herself in the modern world through Rap, Afro, Drill and UK Trap. Chiles’ confidence, lyrical sophistication and rhythmic dexterity have already started garnering attention from major labels and freestyle features on radio shows.
OT is an incredibly talented and versatile singer who, having previously focused on live performance, has only just begun exploring the idea of his ‘sound’. We helped him put together an EP that touches on a range of styles within modern soul and R&B.
Both artists stood out to us immediately with their fearless creativity and drive and it has been an enormous pleasure for us to elevate their musical output to a professional level and set them off on the first steps of their careers!
LBB> And Michael, can you tell us a little bit about your partnership with Expand Music - what drew you to them as a company and how do they complement BMG PM?
Michael Cromwell>We were attracted to the work they do across music and content creation, work experience and employment. With the growing demand for content both across TV programming and short-form content like advertising, demand for music has increased as has the need for different and diverse genres. This has driven us to expand our roster of artists and composers, and Expand has some exceptional young talent as well as strong links and collaborations with industry, venues, colleges, music services, online content and charities. The prospect of having their music in our catalogue really excites us.
LBB> What sort of support does Expand Music offer the young creatives that you work with?
Niall> When we come across very talented young people in our network we work out the best way we can support them to release high quality music and take some real steps in their careers. This can be any combination of studio time, songwriting help, beatmaking, guidance on vocal production technique, organisational help and/or help clarifying the creative direction of an EP.
Although many of the young artists we work with arrive to us with a sort of unflappable self belief and determination, we equally have some incredible talented youngsters who just don’t realise what they have got, which leaves us with the challenging but massively satisfying task of boosting their confidence and showing them how good they are!
LBB> What new doors can the programmes open for young music talent?
Tobias> We offer a whole range of support throughout our projects, but in production music specifically, having a full EP of high quality releases with professionally designed artwork is an immediate step up for the young participants of the programme. We come across many talented young people every year but very few of them arrive with the best possible representation of their talents on record.
Niall> Equally, interaction with industry professionals during the production process builds networks both ways ie. a new professional network for the artist and access to potential new talent through the artist’s network. With this project we are also uniquely able to provide a supported non competitive environment that allows artists to stick to their creative vision rather than perhaps adjust to the hard commercial concerns that might be associated with a label deal. We are also close to launching other intended initiatives of live performances, music video creation, work experience, internships and music making workshops run by young people.
Michael> The sync opportunities for their music is very exciting. Our creative and licensing team have actively been pitching these two releases which have been met with great enthusiasm. Our goal is to land big placements for OT and Chiles, grow their exposure and create some more opportunities to earn from their art in the media industries.
LBB> From your experience in the industry, how rare is it for an opportunity like this to come around?
Michael> Within the music industry there is still a hangover from the yesteryear of nepotism. As such, it’s rare to see these kinds of opportunities crop up on a regular basis. In order to create a true step-change one must firstly acknowledge these hard truths and then work collaboratively to evolve this outdated approach.
Expand Music was developed to increase student’s access to varied opportunities which as a result, widens the pool of diverse talent. Whilst this is only the beginning, these first releases demonstrate that this approach is a long overdue step in the right direction.
Tobias> As far as we are aware there are currently no other similar opportunities being created, we at least have not seen any of the hundreds of young artists that we work with take part in a similar project. In our experience with teaching and running youth projects all over London, production music as a way of generating income is generally not known about. Even if young people are aware of production music, they are rarely part of the right network to access the opportunities. On top of this, studio time is prohibitively expensive and talented vocalists often lack network or financial means to pay for production costs.
Niall> BMGPM has taken a real forward thinking step by making this project possible in a mutually beneficial way that solves many of these issues. It does require investment to cover all the time needed to run the project but as we build the catalogue this investment should start paying off in the form of cutting edge new music. We are lucky enough to work in some of the inner city communities that have been responsible for incredible innovation in popular music giving birth to genres such as garage, grime, drum and bass, jungle, drill, afro swing and trap to name a few.
LBB> What are some of the other lessons, skills and contacts participants can expect to make?
Niall> Working to deadlines, briefing and working with graphic designers, and dedicated free time with a producer to explore and direct their creative development are probably the main things that participants get out of the project that are hard to get elsewhere.
Tobias> We also expect networking and work opportunities to increase as the project develops - whereas a typical job interview might involve meeting your future employer two or three times, this is a chance for a music industry company to get to know creative talented young people over a long period of time. Crucially the relationship starts and is built from a position of mutual benefit in a way that plays to the strengths of the young people rather than throwing them immediately into a world in which they might be intimidated and overwhelmed.
LBB> Why are opportunities such as this so important for the growth and future of the music industry?
Tobias> The music industry presents a special case in that it does support diversity at the front line but this is sadly not replicated across the whole pyramid of the industry. An opportunity like this which hopes to open up all functions of the music industry to that diversity and talent is absolutely vital.
Any business benefits from diversity for a whole host of fairly obvious reasons. Diversity of opinions, outlooks and backgrounds makes a business more able to robustly face day to day challenges. Arguably the modern music industry owes a great deal of current success to those very groups who are unintentionally shut out from some areas of the business.
Michael> Without trying to change the status quo, new music will forever sound the same. We feel this can be achieved by growing the pool of talent we work with and by opening up our releases to new and exciting genres. Some of the most prominent releases have come from those who chose to do something different and not follow the trends; the music industry can account a lot of its dynamic growth to mindsets like this.
LBB> What are some of your targets and goals that you’re looking to achieve through the ongoing initiative?
Niall> The creation of library music is just the start of this project and we know that the first two releases are just small steps on a much longer journey. We have plans to not only release far more music from the young people in our network but also to open this up to a much wider group. We are already in touch with schools and colleges across the UK and in different countries to see if they can be included.
Beyond the music making, we have already planned for live events and networking opportunities staffed by young creatives, a structured work experience programme, paid work designing marketing materials for the releases, paid internships and team building workshops led by young people. Ultimately we are working towards a sustainable model where former participants of one or more aspects of the programme can come on board as mentors and tutors and deliver the programmes themselves.
To find out more about the impact the project is already having and listen to the latest releases please visit https://www.expandmusiceducation.co.uk/expandaccess