We recently caught up with our client Bucks Music Group‘s award-winning sync team to chat recent signings/placements and the secret to their success as a leading independent music publisher.
(Bucks Music Group Sync Team pictured above, L-R: Creative Sync & Licensing Exec Tom Frank, Head of Creative Sync & Licensing Jonathan Tester, Creative Sync & Licensing Exec Fahima Jan, Senior Creative Sync & Licensing Manager Angus Fulton). Please note – Fahima Jan was absent for the interview.
Hi guys, can you give us a bit of background on Bucks Music Group?
Jonathan: Bucks was set up 50 years ago by David Platz, who is our current MD Simon Platz’s father. He was the first person to sign Marc Bolan, David Bowie, Black Sabbath, The Move, Procol Harum, The Rolling Stones, and many other great artists. Simon has really taken that foundation and legacy and continued to build on it over the years.
Incorporated in Bucks Music are companies like Standard Music, Fly Records, which put out the first T. Rex single “Ride a White Swan”, and BDi Music, co-owned and run by Sarah Liversedge. We sub-publish a lot of catalogue as well, and we’ve got publishing JVs with Nude Records, Heavenly Songs, Full Time Hobby, and Floor Sixx.
Congratulations on winning the awards for Best Sync Team at an Indie Publisher and Best Sync in a TV Show at the Music Week Sync Awards 2017! What does your sync team look like and how do you work together?
Jonathan: We expanded the team last year, bringing in Angus and Tom. Historically the licensing and creative team had been somewhat separated, but we recently created what we call sync hubs. Angus and I concentrate on commercials and film, Tom and Fahima concentrate on TV and games, and we’ve also started focusing more on fashion. The idea is to give our clients one point of contact, which helps us to build relationships. You also get to know the catalogue a lot more, and what you can and can’t pitch for certain uses. We also have a weekly catch up where we go through all our new releases and signings and think, okay, where could that work from a sync perspective?
Angus: It’s such a competitive industry that you can’t pitch songs you don’t know are going to clear. People are going to stop getting in touch with you. It’s also nice for our clients to be able to deal with the same person each time.
Why did you decide to focus more on the fashion side of sync?
Jonathan: We noticed that we were getting a lot more fashion requests, and obviously music and fashion go hand in hand. We’ve licensed music to Topshop, Alexander McQueen, Burberry, and it’s things like make-up tutorials, catwalk videos, adverts. A lot of these short content films have smaller budgets, so it’s a great opportunity for us to showcase our breaking acts. And that ties in with the fashion world, because they want to be associated with something new.
Tom: The Ghetts feat. Shakka – “Know My Ting” placement in boohooMAN’s 2017 Summer campaign came off the back of us pitching to the brand. The advert aired around the track’s release date as well, so it tied in nicely with marketing and PR.
How do you guys work together with the A&R team at Bucks?
Tom: This is essentially the creative floor, so we’re all right next to each other. If A&R are talking about something then we might overhear, and if we get a request in we can tell them straightaway. If A&R are looking to sign someone they’ll get our opinion from a sync perspective. It goes side by side now rather than being an afterthought, so we sit in on a lot of those meetings.
“If A&R are looking to sign someone they’ll get our opinion from a sync perspective. It goes side by side now rather than being an afterthought.”
– Tom Frank
Angus: Bucks really feels like a family company. We’ll be chatting about music in and out of work hours, at gigs, and so on. It’s a very sociable company so we’re always bouncing ideas off each other.
Jonathan: It’s great because the A&R team will receive a song, and the next people to hear it is us. That was the case with “Know My Ting” – we heard that and thought, this is amazing. We have a writers checklist as well. We’ll ask them what they’re into, which film directors they like, whether they support a particular sports team, or like a certain brand. This gives us as much information as possible, and it also helps to tell more of a story about the artist when we’re pitching their music.
How do you think A&R differs when it comes to music publishing?
Jonathan: I think the lovely thing about publishing is that you’re investing in a person’s craft and talent as a writer. It’s like being one step closer to why we’re in the music industry in the first place. An artist might get dropped by a label if a project doesn’t work, but we’re able to say, “Well, you’re still an amazing songwriter, so let’s maybe try hooking you up some up co-writing sessions. Or have you thought about doing bespoke music for film and TV?” You’re not focused on just one aspect of their career. As a publisher we’re not tied to any particular genre, so we can sign whatever we like.
In a recent guest post for MBW, Simon Platz expressed his concerns about increased consolidation across the industry, explaining that it’s the indie labels who often take on artist development duties. Is this something that’s vital to Bucks?
Jonathan: It’s at the heart of it. Without that we wouldn’t have lasted 50 years. David was the first person to sign T. Rex and they were unproven at the time – they hadn’t had any hits but he took a chance on them. I like to say there’s blood, sweat and tears in every single one of our copyrights. If you look at what Sarah Liversedge has done with Amy Wadge, for example. She spotted her talent as a burgeoning singer-songwriter, and put her together with Ed Sheeran. One of the results of that collaboration is the Grammy Award winning, multi-million selling “Thinking Out Loud”.
And our A&R Manager Harri Davies, who signed two writers that go under the name One Bit around three years ago. He’s been developing them ever since and not only have they won a Music and Sound Award for their work with BT Sport, but they’ve just been signed by Ministry of Sound. I think it can be a longer journey with publishing, but the dividends pay off.
Angus: Rather than going for the approach of signing ten writers with the expectation that two might be successful, we really believe in everyone we sign, and we really push for them to have all the success they deserve.
“Rather than going for the approach of signing ten writers with the expectation that two might be successful, we really believe in everyone we sign, and we really push for them to have all the success they deserve.”
– Angus Fulton
You’re also actively seeking out more established heritage acts?
Jonathan: Yeah, we’ve been signing people the other way around as well. We’re working with a lot of bands that were tied into big major deals but aren’t published now, bands that we were fans of growing up. We’ve approached quite a few and we’re hoping we can get their songs back out there.
Tom: He’s basically going through his 90s CD collection.
Jonathan: Yeah. What’s better than owning the t-shirt and buying the record – getting their publishing rights!
Multiple co-writes on a song/album seem to have become the industry norm. How does this affect what you do?
Angus: First and foremost, if great songs are still being made then that’s the fundamental thing. From a sync perspective it can be a headache and it can be off-putting for our clients. But it’s also an opportunity if you have 100% of the publishing, which we have on a lot of pop, grime and hip-hop tracks where traditionally there are a lot of writers involved. We’re always looking to sign people where we’ve got 100% of the publishing rights, and maybe even the recording rights as well, so that we can offer a one-stop shop. When you’ve got a genre such as grime that is so popular right now, you want to make sure that it’s available. There’s pros and cons in each case though. If everything was just 100% under one writer then we wouldn’t have many of the great songs in our catalogue.
It’s been a massive year for grime. Has this been a focus for Bucks?
Jonathan: Yeah. Our A&R Manager Harri was focusing on grime three/four years ago, and he ended up signing The HeavyTrackerz who are massive grime producers. So it wasn’t reactive, he was like, “this is the sound, we’re going after it”. It’s been amazing watching it come to the mainstream. Now our writers have cuts on huge grime albums like Stormzy’s ‘Gang Signs & Prayer’.
Tom: The HeavyTrackerz have recently released their own album, and it’s like 18 tracks of grime royalty – everyone’s on it. They’re doing a show at XOYO in November, and it just really shows how far they’ve come and how big grime is now. They’re playing big shows and releasing albums and they are producers first and foremost.
Do you think grime is the genre in your catalogue that’s seen the most growth this year?
Jonathan: I think if I had to pin down one genre that would be it. We’ve got a JV with Floor Sixx Music Publishing, the company run by BBC 1Xtra DJ Sian Anderson and Jason Black, so that’s really exciting working with guys like Capo Lee.
Tom: Sian Anderson knows everyone, and through this arrangement she’s basically been given free rein creatively. We give her the infrastructure to do what she does naturally, which is find great talent.
Are you noticing any trends with other genres?
Jonathan: We’re certainly noticed a lot more briefs looking for ‘world’ music. Personally I think soul is due a bit more of a revival as well.
Tom: Harri told us about a genre called drill. The younger kids have apparently moved on to drill because grime is too commercial now.
Angus: That’s where we’re at. Bucks will be the face of drill, JT at the forefront.
Excellent. What do you think has caused the surge in briefs looking for ‘world’ music?
Jonathan: I think the world is just so much more connected now. You don’t have to wait 18 months to get a CD imported to HMV, for example. With streaming you can experiment with different music. Back in the days of physical, it was like, well, I’ve got £10 to spend. I’m only going to go buy something I know I’m definitely going to like.
Tom: People are appreciating other genres that they weren’t necessarily exposed to before.
Do you think streaming is having an effect on sync?
Tom: Yeah, we actually had a sync that came out of a Spotify playlist recently. One of our writers Ruelle, who we absolutely adore, had her track “Take it All” featured on an International Women’s Day Spotify playlist. Someone working on a Boots No7 ad found the track and felt that it tied in well with the messaging of the campaign. So that’s how that placement came about, which is pretty cool.
Jonathan: It’s huge for our writers – it’s another way for them to get their music out there. Our A&R team work very closely with the curators at various streaming services. And it’s great because you can keep track of listener behaviour.
Tom: It used to be all about being on a certain radio station or Top of the Pops. Now the biggest thing is being on New Music Friday. It’s huge in terms of what it delivers.
Can you tell us about any other notable syncs?
Tom: I personally love the trailer we did for Ghost Recon Wildlands – Fallen Ghosts. The music was written by Pat Pardy, who is in the band Evil Nine but has another project called Sullen Key. The music from that project hasn’t been released yet, but we’ve wanted to do something with it for ages and it’s perfect trailer music. We put it forward for Ghost Recon and they said yes straightaway. Now it’s got a nomination for Best Sync – Video Game Trailer at the Music Week Sync Awards 2017.
Angus: I think the boohoo deal with Ghetts we mentioned earlier was a great one just because of how it all came about. It really shows off the strength of our team. Another I personally like is the Volkswagen spot that features Dead Prez’s “Hip Hop.”. That ad just keeps on going so it’s been great for us.
Tom: We’ve had a lot of continued sync success with Findlay. They’re an example of an act that for some reason hasn’t had much success in the charts, but does really well with sync. There’s been a worldwide BMW commercial, and this year they’ve had a lot of TV syncs, especially in the States. Their track “Off & On” is also featured in Pro Evolution Soccer 2018. I think the coolest placement we’ve had this year though was a track from Run the Jewels in Baby Driver. We’ve just done a bespoke track with them for FIFA 18 as well.
Jonathan: Going back to what we were saying earlier about breathing new life into heritage acts, we recently managed to get a track by Pop Will Eat Itself in an upcoming independent film called Pin Cushion. That was one of the bands I loved growing up, so that’s been really nice.
Angus: I think we’ve had a nice balance, from newer artists like Findlay and Ghetts to the heritage acts. We’ve just done a big commercial for Dulux with a lyric change for “Kung Fu Fighting”, so that’s been stuck in my head. It’s nice to see a wide range of our catalogue getting good sync action across the board.
How would you describe your pitching process for sync?
Jonathan: We really try to pitch to the brief and to the needs of the client, so we’re quite selective about what we send. We’ll also put together themed playlists based on key times of the year or events – for example it might be Australia Day, so we’ll put 10 great Australian acts together and share that via social media. We also do a monthly sampler which includes all of our new releases and signings.
We’ve got a pool table downstairs so we’ll often invite music supervisors over and play them new releases over a game of pool. Or we might invite people to a gig – it’s really about promoting the music in a subtle, relaxed manner. I think one of the biggest challenges in sync is cutting through the traffic. So again, we’re very stringent when we pitch to a brief. It’s got to be creative because we want people to think of us as a valuable source of ideas.
Angus: We send stuff out to separate media groups as well because we’ve noticed that our TV clients, for example, will want different music to say our ad agency clients.
You recently launched Christian music publishing arm Gloworks. How did that come about?
Jonathan: We’ve worked with a guy called Martin Smith for years. He’s the front man of a worship band called Delirious? who are huge in the Christian market, and he also has a great new project called Army of Bones. He mentioned that he comes across lots of amazing worship singer-songwriters who don’t necessarily understand music publishing, or sometimes feel like they’re a bit confined to that world, so we decided to launch Gloworks. With the artists that we sign we’re looking to work not just within the worship market, but at other opportunities out there. The great thing about that kind of music is that it’s written to be sung.
Tom: Again, it relates back to what we were saying about how a publisher can work with any good music. Martin knows his people and he now has the infrastructure to explore new opportunities.
Can you talk us through any exciting new signings?
Jonathan: Juanita Stein from Howling Bells released her debut solo album ‘America’ a couple of months ago with Nude Records, and she’s just been announced as the main support for The Killers UK Tour. We’ve been working with her a lot this year and doing showcases, and we’ve started to get quite a bit of interest in her. She’s brilliant to work with.
Tom: Kai Whiston is a really exciting signing. He’s a ridiculously talented 18-year old from Devon who sits in his bedroom and makes the trippiest hip hop beats but in a Flying Lotus kind of style. He’s just been signed to Big Dada, Ninja Tune’s sister label. Luke Pritchard of The Kooks is another cool one, that’s through our affiliate Urband & Lazar in the US. Sarah’s also been signing a lot of artists to BDi including Ailbhe Reddy, Oliver Spalding, turan and Novo Amor & Ed Tullett (who have just been placed in a Toyota ad in the US!).
And Bucks/BDi writers have cuts on some of the biggest albums this year (Stormzy’s ‘Gang Signs & Prayer’, Ed Sheerans ‘Divide’ and Jay-Z’s ‘4:44’)
Angus: Yeah, and that’s a great shop window. We’re showing off who Bucks are – we may be an independent but we’re still working on great albums. We have a lot to offer.
Tom: If you look at those three albums you’ve got pop, grime and hip-hop, and that really shows that we’ve got diversity.
How would you sum up the benefits of being an indie?
Jonathan: It’s not necessarily the size of a company that’s important. As a writer it’s about knowing the people within a company. We’ve spoken to writers who’ve had their catalogue passed around, and they have no idea who to speak to. At Bucks all of our writers have a point person. They know that they can pick up the phone and someone will speak to them there and then. It’s an open-door policy really. They’re given welcome packs when they join to help them get to know the company and the people. It’s really important that they feel a part of something.
Angus: You can easily get signed somewhere and go missing if you haven’t had a hit straightaway. At Bucks you’re not going to get forgotten about – I think that’s a huge part of the independent culture. We’re very much about maintaining the integrity and the value of the copyrights and the writers we represent.
Jonathan: The majors might have a slightly bigger cheque book, but we’ve got a bigger heart. That’s how we look at it.
“The majors might have a slightly bigger cheque book, but we’ve got a bigger heart. That’s how we look at it.”
– Jonathan Tester
Can you tell us about any other interesting projects?
Jonathan: Since moving to the Roundhouse we’ve been able to grow, and I think it’s injected Bucks with a whole new vibrancy. Every quarter we put on a gig in conjunction with them called Roundhouse Rising, where we get to showcase some of our emerging talent. We’re also growing our bespoke division, and we’ve got our rights management company as well in collaboration with Absolute.
Tom: Last year we set up the Bucks Music Management division with Anthony Hippsley serving as Talent Manager. That includes songwriters like Dan Weller, who is predominantly known as a metal guitarist but is coming into his own as a producer and songwriter for any genre, and producer and writer Jordan Riley, who has a cut on Tom Grennan’s “Found What I’ve Been Looking For”, which is everywhere on Sky Sports at the moment, as well as on the FIFA 18 soundtrack. That song is going to be the soundtrack of sports for the next year at least.
Angus: It’s nice that Bucks has the freedom to try different ventures like that. It’s not necessarily what you might find at a traditional publisher, and it’s exciting finding new areas to work within.
We’d like to say a huge thanks to the Bucks sync team for chatting with us. To find out more about the Bucks sync department, check out their dedicated Synchtank site here.
Liked this post? Check out our Q&A with the Music Sales creative team here.