Simon Gavin is one of the judges of this years Orange unsignedAct competition, and as head of A & M records, he knows talent when he sees it. I caught up with Simon to find out about what makes a star, the dire state of the music industry and what it’s like having Duffy on his roster.
Hey Simon, how are you enjoying this series of Orange unsigned?
I’m really enjoying this series, it’s going really well and the quality is a lot better than last year.
Is there anyone who really stands out for you this year?
There are a handful of people that stand out really. Tommy Reilly is amazing, Scarlet Harlots are great, Toby Sebastian is really good and Bo Bruce too. I mean it’s those four that really stand out.
How did you first become involved in the programme?
It was a bit of an accident really. I spent most of my time avoiding things like this. I’ve been working at universal for about 15 years and the TV and Music stuff and being on the other side was never really my thing until we did a deal with Channel4 who were looking forward to putting out an artists record and it was something that we were quite interested in because it was a new angle to find new bands.
I went to the meeting and they asked if I wanted to be on it and be a judge because it was my money so I thought “Yeah, that’s a point.” so it was an accident really.
What do you look for when searching for a new act?
I think you need to know what the market is doing. It’s not a question about whether I like it or not, it’s whether it will work and sell records. I look for the quality of the songs, the way they sing them, their looks and who they would appeal to.
What do you think of the state of the music industry at the moment?
I think the music industry is amazing. We’ve got Duffy who can sell 5 million albums, so for me I can only say the music industry is in great shape. If you’re working at EMI or Warner I would say that the music industry is a bad place to me as they don’t have any hits so it’s a good place when you have things that are working it’s a great place to be.
I’m not being flippant because I know the market is down & - 10% by the end of the year but it just goes to show that if you have the right artists with the right songs, you will sell lots of records. Amy Winehouse doesn’t think the music business is over, nor do Coldplay or Kings Of Leon. It’s all about having the right record.
Fair enough, but do you think that illegal downloading is doing detrimental damage?
Yeah, it’s definitely having a bad effect;1 in 10 downloads is illegal and it’s stealing. I think they should send the police round to everyone’s house that does it.
Apart from getting the police raiding everyone’s house, do you think we can prevent it?
I think there are ways that you can stop it but you’re not allowed to use them. It’s like if you shoot a burglar; you have to use reasonable force to stop crime. There are programmes on computers now where if someone downloads something, you can just erase their hard drive but you’re not supposed to use it because you are then damaging their property.
I think people need an education and to realise that if you are stealing music, there are going to be peoples jobs attached to that and it’s just damaging the industry. Especially kids, they don’t know how to buy CD’s anymore, they just go online and get it, they think; “Why should I pay for this when I can get it for free.”
Given the chance, what would you change about the music industry?
I would have to say illegal downloading because then the business will continue to strive. It’s like going to a petrol station, filling your car up and leaving without paying. I think that when you’re sat at home downloading and no-one can see you then people think it’s okay to do it.
Who will the winner of this year’s Orange unsignedAct join on A & M Records?
A & M is a pretty new label which has been around about 18 months, so we’re still growing, our two main ones are Duffy and The Courteeners, but we have this new guy called Dan Black who has a record coming out in January. It’s a good roster and whoever wins the competition is going to be in good hands.
If you could sign any band to your label, who would it be?
In the whole history of time ever, it would be Michael Jackson because then I could be laying on a beach somewhere nice now! In terms of a ‘current’ band I would have to say Radiohead.
What was the last CD you bought?
The Kings Of Leon album.
If you could only listen to one CD for the rest of your life; which would it be?
Songs for Swingin' Lovers by Frank Sinatra.
We ask everyone we interview to come up with a question for the next person and Winston from Parkway Drivewant to know what the longest you’ve gone without a shower is?
About three days.
And why was that?
I was on a SAS survival course and I did a three day ‘live off the land thing’
Can you come up with a question for the next person I interview please?
If you were an animal, what would you be?
FemaleFirst - Ruth Harrison