Big George uses this month's column to present his very own media Who's Who.
How do you spot a TV industry professional? They pay more attention to the end credits of a programme than they did to the show itself. How do you spot a successful player in the music industry? They know which record company department deals with delivery expenses.
Knowing who does what is an essential part of making your wayin the entertainment industry, and helps you to work out who you should be working with/for/alongside. So here's a handy glossary detailing the key players, with their job descriptions. Of course, it's filled with sweeping generalisations, prejudice and personal bitterness, but if you feel that there are categories missing or a more detailed approach should have been adopted, you really ought to get out more. (I have dealt at length with many of the issues here in past editions of SOS. For access to most of my previous scribblings, check out the SOS web site, www.soundonsound.com, or www.biggeorge.co.uk/articles.)
- EXECUTIVE PRODUCER
The Executive Producer is the head honcho who answers only to the broadcast commissioner, a man (all broadcast commissioners are men) you will never meet. Executive Producers occasionally come into the place where the work is being done and demand changes to things (like your music) that have already been fully discussed by all the relevant people on the production. Perhaps the best way of describing the Executive Producer is the spanner in the works who either takes credit for a successful programme they didn't manage to mess up, or apportions blame for programmes that would have been fine but for their interference.
The Producer pulls everyone on the project together and does the hiring and firing. Producers all have completely different approaches; some second‑guess everything that everyone suggests, while others are totally invisible throughout the production — until there's an award to collect. Mind you, it's the Producer's responsibility to bring a project in on time and within budget, which is not an easy gig.
The Director is the person who discusses colours and angles, tells the camera where to point, decides where everybody should stand, screams blue murder, and says "one more take". They have a 'better' opinion than anyone else, so the trick is to make sure that all your great ideas sound as though they are the Director's great ideas. By the way, if the Producer is in the room when the Director is talking to you about something, the two will always start to politely disagree with each other about whatever it was you were agreeing about. When they do, keep your mouth shut.
- PRODUCTION MANAGER
The Production Manager is probably the only person who knows exactly what's happening on the production at all times — check everything with them. And be friendly: they make out the cheques.
- PRODUCTION ASSISTANT (PA)
The PA organises the Director's every move, times everything, logs rehearsals, and basically controls all of the statistics of the programme when it goes out on air. In my experience, PAs also know the best jokes and most salacious gossip.
- ASSOCIATE PRODUCERS
The Associate Producer does the groundwork for a programme, checking locations, booking guests, and dealing with bizarre requirements. Like the Sound Department, Camera Operators, Floor Managers, and so on, Associate Producers are your best mate, even if they do get a bit grumpy now and then. And like you, the aforementioned are all at the bottom of the food chain — at the moment!
Like Associate Producers, today's Runners are tomorrow's Spielbergs and Scorseses. They are the youngsters who get in early, stay late, go to the shops, make coffee, get jerked around by tyrants and tossers, get sandwiches, then go back and get another sandwich with a different filling, as the Director changed his mind, wash up, hang about doing nothing, collect and deliver tapes... and so on. Their pay ranges between less than a supermarket checkout‑assistant's wage and nothing at all.
- A&R (ARTIST & REPERTOIRE)
Traditionally, this title denoted someone whose job was to find the artist, choose the song, hire a producer/musical director, put a band together, hire an arranger, and book a studio to record it. In truth, their job hasn't changed an awful lot in the past 50 years. Of course, that shouldn't stop me (on behalf of everyone who has ever been slagged off by, ignored by, or condescended to by A&R personnel) having a serious poke. But let's get on.
- LEGAL DEPARTMENT
This department takes care of every contract, clause and litigious matter. You don't really have any personal contact with it, as legal people only want to talk to other legal people (your solicitor). And speaking of solicitors, it is recommended that you seek independent legal advice before signing anything. Getting out of a contract is possible, but can consume your life and destroy your every dream. So read it out loud to yourself before visiting a legal eagle. And here's a simple rule of thumb: the thickness of a contract is directly proportional to the size of the investment the company is making.
Which demographic does your image appeal to, how can the public's desire to shell out their hard‑earned on your product be maximised, exactly what photo and logo defines you? Marketing has become the new rock and roll. It used to be the music that was the most important element in the music industry; now it's how to promote the act.
These are the people who go into radio stations and play new records to the staff in order to secure a spot on the A‑list. They will also plead with TV types to have you on the show, as visually the way you stand motionless, staring at your feet, will keep the nation enthralled. Newspapers and magazines will know your favourite colour. For every minute the Plugger is in your service they sincerely believe every word they say, even if it is the same stuff they said about the last 100 records they worked on.
Publishers take care of copyright issues and collect money from sales and performances. A publisher takes a percentage of your songwriting earnings (2055 percent) and in return is committed to advancing you money, finding ways to exploit your work and, most importantly, believing in you. You can survive without a publisher, but ask yourself why everyone who makes music that sells has one.
In simple terms, the distributor owns the vans that deliver records to the shops. Now, as anyone who has ever pressed up some records knows, selling them is not an easy matter. Of course, if you sign up to a £50 million deal with Sony Records you will never have to dirty your hands with distribution, but if you're putting out a record yourself and you want more people than your Mum to buy a copy, you'll need to know how to get it distributed.
Distribution companies are independent entities, and therefore open to offers. Their service varies from simply distributing a stack of your records to handling the entire process — pressing, international licensing, and so on. But my guesstimate is that less than two percent of their business comes from non‑established record companies, and they take less than one percent of the self‑released records they are offered. (NB. It is possible to make a quick couple of grand by selling your specialist material direct to the limited outlets who stock your sick brand of music, but you must know your market inside out.)
- FIRST‑CALL SESSION PLAYER
The sort of player that makes you ill. They pick up their instrument and can play anything, not just brilliantly, but as if they've been playing the piece all their life. There are great players everywhere, but the cream is drawn to London, New York, LA and Nashville. They're well paid (£1000 per day isn't a rarity), but it takes iron balls to survive.
Producers differ enormously in how much influence they have on records — some decide what mic to use and the decay of the reverb, while others pop their head in every couple of days and change the second line of the chorus. Their job is to condense all the ideas and excitement within the project (that includes the band, the record company, and possibly the composer) into a saleable product.
Engineers route mics to channels, patch in compressors, and hit the record button without losing the greatest solo ever played. Here's a simple way of thinking of the difference between Producers and Engineers: a Producer puts his feet up on the mixer and says the snare needs reverb; the engineer says "how much?" and then makes it happen.
- TAPE OP
Tape Ops get in early, clean up the debris from last night's late session (which they themselves locked up after), make tea, go down the shop, produce tape copies, and, if they're clued up, turn into big record producers themselves. These days, the number of places for tape ops is dwindling, while the number of hopeful candidates is increasing. But for anyone wishing to get into the recording industry, that couple of years spent sticking labels on boxes and sweeping up far outweighs any amount of music technology education, if you keep your eyes and ears open and your mouth shut.
If you're ever confused about anything (like who deals with delivery expenses), here's a tip: call the accounts department of the organisation in question, be very charming (they don't get many nice calls; most people ring accounts screaming "WHERE IS MY MONEY?"), and they'll point you in the right direction.
Much of the infrastructure of the advertising industry is the same as in the TV and music industries. The following two, however, are exclusive to advertising.
- CREATIVE DIRECTOR
The job of the Creative Director is to hold meetings where they 'paint pictures' of their overall vision for an ad campaign and then watch the assembled team of experts struggle to measure up to their ill‑defined expectations. They don't talk in practicalities; they are motivators (mainly in convincing the client that the campaign for which they are shelling out this extraordinary amount of money is worth every penny).
- COPY WRITER
The flow of the campaign and the direction of your musical contribution to it is dictated by the copy writer, whose job it is to 'sloganise' the brand. They come in two breeds. The first is the hacks who bang out ideas and treatments while watching the horse–racing on TV and spitting venom about every subject going. Their plus side is they don't go in for intellectual analysis of your contribution to their masterpiece, as they are too busy.
Then there are the 'artists', whose every act in the campaign is ripped from their very soul — and you have to go on their journey to reach the same plateau of perfection. These people are Creative Directors in the making.
Just Throw Money
This column is my chance to mouth off about the subjects you want explained and, occasionally, to deliver sad showbiz anecdotes. If there is a burning issue you want me to get my teeth into, the best way to get my attention is to send me a huge suitcase full of used, unmarked £10 notes. Even a copy of your music would do, plus your ideas on how to make the industry of music a safer place to inhabit. This is our industry, but if we're not careful the number‑crunchers who control the means of commerce will dispense with us altogether. Contact me at: Big George and his Plastic Donkey, PO Box 7094, Kiln Farm, MK11 1LL. Email: email@example.com; web site www.biggeorge.co.uk.