In times of great turbulence and anxiety, we can be tempted to cast our gaze warmly at the days that are a safe distance away in the past.
Who can blame us?
The future can often be presented as a scary place and the present is doing its best to test our nerve. Bombarded as we are, it’s perfectly natural we’d retreat. Our current destination of choice seems to be the 90s.
For those of us old enough to remember, the 90s was a time like any other really. Some good stuff. Some bad stuff. Some absolutely awful stuff. But time tends to curate cultural and collective memories and repackages them back to us as a golden period worthy of yet another BBC documentary about how much better things were at any other time than now.
Oasis. Blur. Tracy Emin. Jarvis Cocker. Euro 96 (it’s still not come home) and all the wonderful fashion and confidence that put Cool Britannia on the map.
That’s the story anyway.
The person I am interviewing today is an integral part of that 90s story – founder of one of the biggest pop phenomenon the world has ever seen.
In the disturbingly prescient Chuck Palahniuk novel, Survivor, there’s a line that has always stayed with me:
“You realize that our mistrust of the future makes it hard to give up the past.”
Yet, this doesn’t always ring true.
Chris Herbert is a perfect example of this and it is my absolute pleasure to share not only his story but the exciting things he is part of, in the scary, dangerous, exciting, beautiful and unknowable landscape that we call The Present.
1. Let’s start right at the beginning – how did you get into doing what you do and what were your early experiences like working in the industry?
As a teenager, I was massively into my music, and if I wasn’t listening to it, I was reading about it…album sleeve notes, Smash Hits, NME, whatever I could get my hands on; I could tell you who produced what records, the songwriters, the session musicians, everything.
Meanwhile, my Father was dabbling with artist management, aside from his Accountancy practice where he had a lot of music clients. He started managing 3 of my school mates, Matt, Luke & Craig; who became Bros…so music really was the backdrop to my teenage years.
I wanted to get a position with a Record Company, so I went knocking on all the doors but I just couldn’t get employment within a Label, so I decided that it would be easier to discover and manage an artist independently and then hopefully that would get me noticed and open up more opportunities within the Labels.
Around this time, just about every Record Label was looking to sign Boybands following in the success of Take That, Boyzone and East 17, but I decided that these boybands were only appealing to 50% of the audience and if I assembled a fun and sassy, girlband they could appeal to male and female audiences alike and would have a lot more crossover potential, so that’s what I did and the Spice Girls was born!
2. What’s changed in the industry since you started?
I had a lot of success in the music industry in the late 90s and early 2000s, this was a fantastic golden era of pop. It was before the internet had really found its use in promoting bands, and long before social media, so if you wanted to break a band internationally, you really had to hot foot around the globe, spending time in each territory, promoting and building the bands profile from roots up…it was a punishing schedule, but when you got it right we had amazing results.
Then came a period of digitisation, where music could be distributed in digital formats and physical sales where threatened; the Music Industry was ‘out for lunch’ when this happened and it took them a long time catching up and figuring out how to monetise and control this new digital distribution of music. They eventually did, and interest in physical product declined. It changed the way people consumed music, and for me, it sucked the soul out of it a bit; I got into the Music Industry because I was so passionate about music, I emotionally bought into particular bands and it was a lifestyle thing, now it was becoming like the fast-food industry. I’m good with it now but I would say that has been the biggest change in the industry since I have worked in it. I’m excited and inspired by tech now and that’s what has led to my involvement with Audoo.
3. You’ve recently joined the board at music tech startup Audoo – how did that come about and what attracted you to them?
It came about through another investor in Audoo, who happened to be an old friend of mine, he contacted me and briefly explained the concept and told me that it would be great if I met with the Chairman and founder, Ryan Edwards, and a subsequent meeting was organised between us.
There is a gaping wide problem with royalty collection and distribution, and I have never understood in a digital age why the system is so archaic. Up until now, the distribution of royalties has been largely guess work, based on a small sample; Audoo provides a clever solution to this problem by providing a small piece of hardware that listens in real-time, analysis the data and sends it back down the line to a central database so that royalties can be distributed accurately and fairly and in real-time.
It will do for Publishing what the Black Box did for the motor insurance industry. Over the years, I have managed artists, bands, songwriters, producers and I have run my own publishing company so I have witnessed first hand and felt the frustration of not being accounted to fairly. I immediately understood what Ryan and Audoo wanted to achieve and I opted in as an investor, equally Ryan was taken by me and offered for me to come on and join the Advisory Board.
4. How important is tech now in the music industry and what problems do we still need to solve?
Tech is incredibly important in the Music Industry, from how we create, to how we consume and even how we experience live music; we are in a digital age and the rule book is being completely rewritten. Consumers are devouring music and content at an increasing rate, and we need to supply the demand with seamless systems, and in turn, we need to pay those that create with equal efficiency. Distributors and Publishers are adopting real-time accounting systems with instant cashout options, as a songwriter, I would like to be able to wake up in the morning as see what my songs have earnt around the world overnight and I should be able to access that money instantly.
5. What does the future of the music business look like?
I actually think the future of the Music Business looks very healthy, I think we have navigated our way through a very turbulent transitional period and we know where we are heading now. We are embracing technology, rewriting the business model, understanding consumers and their buying habits better, and as a result, there seems to be more enterprise. However, because of the faster pace, I feel that content is being put out with less care and attention and the quality control has lapsed.
6. What has been your career highlight so far?
Wow, there are definitely too many to choose from but seeing one of my bands playing Rockin Rio in front of an audience of 250,000 was pretty mind-blowing, working with Queen and opening the Brits with them was an absolute honour, achieving the ‘Fastest selling debut single of all time’ was pretty spectacular, and being awarded ‘Manager Of The Year’ by the MMF was a proud moment, on top of all this Brit Awards, Ivor Novello awards, tours, concerts & festivals.
7. Finally, what is your favourite all time album and why?
My go to favourite all time album is Michael Jackson Off The Wall, it’s a timeless masterpiece of pop, funk, disco and R&B. Quincy’s production is out of this world, the musicianship is sensational, and Michael set a new standard at this point in his career.