Ben Turner co-founded Muzik Magazine, he’s a director of Bestival, the International Music Summit and the Association for Electronic Music (AFEM). He’s CEO of the music management and brand services company Graphite and artist manager for a number of leading electronic music artists.
Brais: Ben, how has your viewpoint of the music industry changed pre-Muzik Magazine, as from when you were a fan until now, as an artist manager?
Ben: In my days pre-Muzik Magazine at Melody Maker, and in my years during the magazine, I realise now what a blinkered view of the music industry I had as a journalist. It is very clear to me that journalists only see a certain side of how the industry works, as being a journalist everybody wants to be your friend; win you over; and ensure you have a great experience. It was only when I stepped into my first job outside of journalism at Deconstruction Records at BMG as an A&R Manager that I started to understand how the recording business really worked, and then very quickly publishing and the live industry. I always had a strong fascination with how the industry operated, but it was shocking to look behind the curtain back in the 1990s to see the struggles that go on. All of this was pre-internet really, so the transition has been vast. I always campaigned for change in my journalist days – initially for electronic as a whole to be embraced by rock newspapers; large media publishing groups; broadsheet newspapers; for free water in clubs post-Leah Betts. I think this fight came from being constantly told electronic music wasn’t real music by people around me at Melody Maker, right at the time when it was filling me with warmth, passion, emotion and a purpose.
Brais: What fuels your love of electronic music and why did you move into artist management?
Ben: The music always moved me emotionally. I was always drawn to deeper shades of electronic music or melancholic styles of guitar music. To me, there is a direct link to the emotion of The Cure as there is to early electronic music from Detroit or Sheffield. I fell in love with the futuristic nature of the music of electronic but also the positive outlook of the people driving the music and the industry forwards. Having been a journalist for so many years, and having assisted so many careers, and then looking behind that curtain I mentioned before, I just realized I had a very strong network, a lot of trust and respect, and felt I could put that to use to artists around me. Rob da Bank and A Man Called Adam were the first two artists to really trust me to help take care of their work opportunities and open up new work projects or record deals. Of all the different hats I wear, management is what I call my day job. Except for the problem with management is it’s a day and night job. It’s definitely what I enjoy the most out of all the verticals I operate in.
Brais: As an artist manager, what’s your main concern?
Ben: To protect the artist’s image and reputation; to ensure they don’t get screwed over in a deal; to keep their careers going north; to make sure they get paid, always to keep one eye on the next big project and always trying to think of new ways to join dots. Unlike other verticals I am in, with management, your work is never done. There is always another phone call you can make to try to open up a new opportunity. Your mind and body can never sit still – all challenges which over time we have to take into consideration when trying to find the perfect balance of work-life.
“Electronic music gave me a purpose and compass to feel part of a community of like-minded people who continually wanted to see things move forward. It remains hugely exciting to be a part of something that was built around a passion”
Brais: Is there one key factor stimulating you to start these projects?
Ben: Electronic music gave me a purpose and compass to feel part of a community of like-minded people who continually wanted to see things move forward. It remains hugely exciting to be a part of something that was built around a passion and to help take it into new places as there is no precedent to this culture we’re experiencing. People whom I respect hugely helped kick-start this industry, and I like to feel I’ve played some role in helping take it to the next phase. The Association for Electronic Music is designed to allow others help take it to the next stage after that, and survive and thrive well beyond my lifetime.
Brais: We hear that AFEM is celebrating its 5th anniversary – congratulations! What were the circumstances surrounding the founding of AFEM and what was your goal?
Ben: To help ensure that the industry could learn to speak with one voice on key issues. To bring together the community; to put rivals in a room together to work together; to help ensure money is being paid to the right people; and to create a body that could serve the best interests of a music that comes and goes in terms of popularity, and to be there through the good times and the bad. AFEM has a lot of work to be done, and we need continual funding to increase our ability to make change, but it’s been a very positive first five years putting all the infrastructure in place so it can really start to implement change.
Brais: How do you evaluate the results so far and what would you like to achieve in the next 5 years?
Ben: Reaching five years is huge for me and my co-founder Kurosh Nasseri as there have been tough moments financially where it’s been hard to keep things going. We feel like we’re way past those days, but it still needs significant additional support to help it really reach its potential. We can see the results already of Get Played Get Paid – money is being distributed directly from our efforts – we have first-hand evidence of this. It was one of the main reasons to launch AFEM. Again, a long way to go but progress is being made. The next five years we need to increase our service to the regions and empower key personnel to be autonomous, and we want to get as close to gender parity on our boards as much as we can. I also think there is a need to protect our history and educate the new generation through a number of initiatives.
Brais: Among the various initiatives lead by AFEM is Get Played Get Paid. In your role as artist manager, how – if at all – do you think your point of view of royalty distributions is changing with the work being done here?
Ben: Like I said, we are seeing statements coming to artists with new revenues. This is a great start. We are one-by-one engaging with the PROs, and we’re pleased at the dialogue with countries like Canada, Australia and the UK amongst others.
Brais: The team at BMAT know the importance of metadata to ensure that collective management organisations can distribute royalties accurately. Do you think Richie Hawtin and producers, in general, are aware of this when producing tracks?
Ben: I think somebody like Richie absolutely is. He’s been a trailblazer for recognizing talent and offering transparency in the DJ booth with his RADR Twitter project. I think many other artists are less aware and AFEM’s role is to educate talent and management about this stuff. I remember in 1997, PRS doing an event at AKA at the End to encourage this thinking. I recall the industry turned out more for the party than the education. We’ve not actually come very far in twenty years when I think back to that event, but we’ve come a long way in the last five years if that makes sense. I am confident for the future that this kind of data will be the norm and at source all created music will immediately have such data attached to it.
Brais: What do you think would be a good way to make sure producers worldwide are managing their metadata properly?
Ben: Education is the key. Artists, managers – everybody needs to understand the flow of money. I think all the technology companies that are used to create music need to have an industry standard mechanism on completion of a track to immediately register its existence and give it an identity that is then tracked throughout its entire life. Tell me that’s not possible in the future. I also think Blockchain could play a huge role, and people whose opinion and vision I really trust, are big believers in this approach. I’m very fascinated by how quickly now things will change. It is time for the music industry to take control of its own assets and not be reliant on fat cats running PRO’s who’ve just had it all too good for decades. They are not all bad – they are doing an important job. But too little money is reinvested into fixing how music is tracked and played out. I feel the electronic industry has shown great pro-activity in helping address the issues technologically – but now we need to see full support from the PROs to help unblock the pipelines.
“We need the co-operation of the technology companies and the collecting societies – the two sides of the process holding all the funds in my opinion.”
Brais: If we gave you a magic wand, what would be the one thing you personally would want to do to upgrade the music industry and why?
Ben: It would be to create the above situation so we as representatives don’t need to wake up in the night worried about chasing down money for historical or modern works. I have total faith that day will come very soon. But like I said, we need the co-operation of the technology companies and the collecting societies – the two sides of the process holding all the funds in my opinion. AFEM has to play a pivotal role in driving this agenda forwards and ensuring people are paid fairly. It’s time to redistribute the money to where it belongs.