16 January 2015

Chapter 7 – The arrival of Muff Winwood

So before I started contacting labels I needed a plan. First, I made a list of the labels I thought would be a good match for me. I decided this based on the artists they already had on their roster – as it would be pointless contacting a label that deals only in death metal. I put together a package containing our demo, photographs and a covering letter. Sending this alone would not be enough, as it could easily end up lost in a very large pile of demos. So I decided to call them …

I knew that in order to be heard I’d have to win over the secretaries first. People highly underestimate the power of the secretary in an A&R’s office (or any office for that matter). Behind every successful businessman/woman is a successful secretary. They are the GATEKEEPERS. They serve, protect, and make a lot of decisions on behalf of their boss, for example whether or not you’re important enough to bother their boss with. In short, if it wasn’t for one particular secretary, I never would have been signed ….

So I wrote a rough script containing all the key information in the first 10 seconds … I thought if I don’t pique their interest by then, it will be a lost cause.
I always asked to speak to the head of the label. I could have aimed for a lower ranking A&R but since any decision made would have to go through the president of the label anyway, I decided to cut out the middleman and aim for the top. I made sure I sounded professional but always warm and friendly, I‘m an artist after all, not a high flying CEO .… and you’ll be surprised just how far some cheeky-chappy cockney charm can get you in these types of situations. In fact, if you ask for the person like you already know them, sometimes the secretary will actually assume you do and put you straight through without asking questions. A bit “Derren Brown” I grant you but if it works, then hey ho! Otherwise I had to put my case forward, and hope for the best. If she gave me the go ahead I’d send the demo then give it a week or two, and if I hadn’t heard anything I’d follow it up with another call. Some of these calls came to nothing, and not all the secretaries were nice … some wielded their power over me like He-man with his mighty sword, but one secretary in particular was just lovely. Her name was Dawn John. Dawn John was secretary to Muff Winwood, who was the head of the record label Sony S2. She told me to send her my demo and she’d make sure Muff received it, and it was a promise she kept. Thanks to her, everything was about to change. 

I was biting my nails waiting to hear back. I had chosen which A&R* to target with my demo quite carefully, and Muff Winwood was top of my list. This was because Muff was no ordinary A&R executive, he was a well respected veteran within the music industry and for good reason, so before I continue my story I’d like to tell you a bit about Muff, as he became quite an important part of my story… and he let me smoke ciggies in his office. 

Mervyn ‘Muff’ Winwood had started out as a songwriter and record producer. He and his younger brother Stevie Winwood formed the Spencer Davis Group (along with Spencer Davis) in the 1960’s, in which Muff played bass guitar. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the Spencer Davis Group, you should check them out. They were a hugely successful beat band, who had great success with monster hits such as ‘Gimme some Loving’ and ‘Keep on running’ which features one of the most famous bass lines in musical history. When the band parted ways, Steve Winwood continued to make music and Muff began working within the music industry.

He became an A&R man at Island records, during which time he went on to produce some great records, including; Dire Straits, Sparks, Bay City Rollers, Marianne Faithfull, Traffic and many more. before moving on to CBS/Sony. The record label ‘Sony S2’ was a subsidiary of Sony music entertainment, and founded by Lincoln Alias. It was formerly knows as Sony Soho square, as it was situated (funnily enough) on Soho square, but it was more commonly known as S2. Muff was made President of the UK division of Sony in 2002. Sadly, this label no longer exists today, as Sony merged with BMG in 2005, a merger which saw Muff retire, many jobs get cut, and many artists dropped. But back in 2000 the company was thriving, and had a healthy roster of successful artists to match.

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I’ve no doubt Muff’s success as a musician and producer contributed to his success as an A&R man, but there was an even better reason why I was making a bee line for Muff Winwood … to be continued.

* Definition of A&R: Artists and repertoire (A&R) is the division of a record label or music publishing company that is responsible for talent scouting and overseeing the artistic development of recording artists and/or songwriters.