Friday, 28 December 2007

The Who, the What and the Why


My name is Ben Wardle and I’ve worked in music for most of my life without being a musician. I've been an A&R man for record companies, you see. A&R, for those of you that don’t know, stands for Artists & Repertoire: the job of finding and developing new talent.

I’ve signed and worked with a few artists you may have heard of and quite a lot you've definitely never heard of. It's a brilliant job if you're being successful and the worst job in the world when no one is buying your records. Watching a band I looked after supporting REM at Milton Keynes was a treat; having to tell one of favourite artists that he was dropped, was not. I once signed a band, whose drummer tried to flush the freshly drawn-up contract down the loo, and I once sat in the living room of the drunken singer from one of the UK's biggest bands as he played me his songs and the songs of one of a rival band on his piano and ranted about how they had ripped him off.

Eventually I got fed up with it all and tried to escape the music business. The first thing I did was help compile a dictionary of quotations for a big publisher but my natural tendency for making things up won out: one of the quotations I invented (from Ernest Hemingway) made it into the finished book. I decided to carry on writing and went on to co-author the Virgin Guide to Music on the Web, which now probably reads like an pictogram on a cave wall. After that, I became an online entertainment editor for six years. But, despite trying to focus on Film and Books and Theatre, I found myself eventually dealing exclusively in music-related features and in the end I gave it up and came back to A&R. I'm still writing though, and I'm hoping my latest, Pink Flag, will get a 3 For 2 in Waterstones any day now ...


I live in Walthamstow, London with my wife, our four-year-old daughter Madeleine, my brand new daughter, Esther (born on January 8th!) and our one-eared cat, Tigger. I’m sure there must be some conclusion to be drawn from my cat’s auditory want and my career but I’ll leave you to draw it.


I’m starting again. You've probably read about the demise of the record-selling business recently - Radiohead letting people pay what they want for their album, Madonna signing to a ticketing business, Robbie going on strike etc. But of course there are other casualties - the people who work for the companies. My last employer, V2, was bought in October by Universal and myself and the rest of the staff were made redundant. Soon a similar thing will happen to EMI and there are rumours about Sony/BMG and Universal.

So am I leaving the music biz? Am I going to try and get a job in a more robust industry than the fickle world of rock and pop? Maybe British Rail or the NHS? Hell, no! To paraphrase Village People, I can't stop the music, I can't leave it alone.
And as I hit my 44th year on the planet, I've decided to set up my own music business, to become - or attempt to become - self-employed in rock.

As 50 begins to raise its wrinkly forehead over the horizon, I've decided to manage a band of five 20-something girls from Swindon as well as four art-school boys from Glasgow. Yes, I'm very aware, given the current climate in the music industry, of the idiocy of this- but despite it all, I feel hugely optimistic.


Why do I feel optimistic? I have no idea. I'm normally a devout glass-half-empty merchant. Perhaps I"m having some sort of manic episode ... No, the truth is, A&R people, contrary to the common perception, are mainly naive fools who have an almost religious faith in the power of music. And you know what? I think the bands we're working with are really good and stand every chance of being successful.

So why write a blog? "I’ll never write a blog," I said about four months ago," they’re invariably written by self-obsessed pub bores, who assume that everyone is interested in their tedious opinions.” I don’t necessarily feel any different now; a lot of blogs do seem to be terribly narcissistic, but I now see the point of them: if you have something meaningful going on, then it helps to write about what happens just to make sense of it all. So rather than writing in a diary that goes under my pillow never to be seen by anyone until
I die, at which point some indifferent grandchild reads a paragraph from it before putting it straight in the recycling bin – rather than this, why not do it online so others can read about all the mistakes I’m making and maybe give me some advice?

So there it is, the who, the what and the why. And when, what about when?

Ah, that'd be now