15 June 2015

Chapter 11 – The day I was offered a record deal

We sit chatting, casually and comfortably, and I like Muff immediately. He is different from many of the music executives I had met … he’s laid back, warm and there are no airs and graces – we are, after all, a brummy and a cockney having a good ole gab over music, whilst supping coke and smoking ciggies (well me, not him). He doesn’t act or look like your typical suited and booted music exec, as many come across as businessmen first and foremost: and while most are friendly enough, some were just a little arrogant, and seemed to revel in the power their office holds over impressionable young artists.

While Muff is a businessman, and I doubt he would have become the VP of Sony if sales weren’t also high on his agenda, he also seems to be motivated by good music first and foremost. Of course I can’t speak for Muff and I don’t know this to be true, but I suspect he’s never signed anything or anyone he didn’t rate highly on a musical level.

Despite Muff’s easy manner, the gold and platinum discs adorning the walls keep bringing me back down to earth with a thump and I’m acutely aware of the weight this meeting carries. Everything and nothing could change as a result of it, which I found both thrilling and stomach-churningley sickening. Like taking an exam or starting a race … that said I haven’t broken into a run since the early eighties.

We continue to sit and chat about music, about how I see the future panning out and the journey I’ve had with Jud. I make Muff laugh occasionally, whether it’s at, or with me I’m unsure. Then all of a sudden Muff claps his hands together and says “Alright then, let’s have a listen shall we?”

It was crunch time. As Muff puts the CD in the system I light up another Marlborough light in order to calm my nerves and occupy my hands. Muff then picks up a magazine and starts to read as the intro to ‘Walking in your footsteps’ rings out through Sony’s 6th floor. This is that song, and it was recorded 15 years ago …

Walking in your footstep

Written by Jud J Friedman / Jodie May Seymour

Produced by Jud J Friedman

Recorded 2000

Now to be honest, I find listening to my own songs in front of a friend just about manageable. Listening to my songs in front of a stranger I find to be downright cringey. Where do you look? do you get your groove on? are they enjoying it? do I even care?? Aside from just being awkward, having to sit and wait for someone to listen, and then pass judgement on something you’ve poured your very soul is so hard to bear. I realise it’s necessary, but still, it’s hard on us creative ‘soft in the middle’ types. So therefore Muff reading a magazine wasn’t so bad on the one hand because it took the edge off the awkward scenario and I could just look out the window and do my best to not vomit into my mouth, but on the other hand he’s reading a magazine!! why is he reading a magazine??

Halfway through the song however Muff drops the magazine on the desk and is tapping along. I take this to be a a good sign. I later discover the whole procedure to just be a ‘Muff thing.’ I’m not sure why he does it. I’ll hazard a guess that he just finds it easier to listen while doing something else, or perhaps he reads in the hope that the song will be good enough to draw his attention back into the room. Who knows, but as the song comes to a close he simply declares “Now that’s a great song!” I let go of the breath I’ve been holding. We listen through to the remaining four songs then Muff switches off the stereo, swivels his chair to face me and says;

“Well look, I’ll come right out and say it, we’d like to off you a record deal …’

Time seems to stand still, and I feel the blood drain from my face. I had been dreaming of this moment for so long, and I thought it would be one of the happiest in my life … but it just wasn’t. Muff is looking at me expectantly, and I let out a groan as my head falls into my hands?

So here I was being offered a major record deal with Sony and I was sat in silence, looking at Muff with a heavy heart. Part of me was screaming “what are you waiting for?? accept it woman and move forward!” but the other part of me knew that if I wanted a serious career in music, I needed to ‘fess up to how I was feeling, even if it meant running the risk of losing it altogether.

As I’ve mentioned before in this blog, the songs I had written with Jud were commercial pop songs – very different to where I am now some 15 years later but they were the reason I was sat in the office of a major label, and not in the office of an alternative independent label. I had wrestled early on with my conscience in regards to these songs because I didn’t feel they fully represented the music I wanted to be making. I knew they were great potential singles and I was really proud of having written them with Jud, but musically speaking I swim in murky waters, I love alternative music such as Radiohead, Bjork, Jeff Buckley, Kate Bush and Joni Mitchell; artists that reach down deep into my darkest corners, and it’s from those darkest corners that I myself write.

Now here I was being offered a major deal based on these pop songs – so I either had to suck it up, sign the deal and be content with being a commercial pop artist, or I had to confess to how I was feeling and risk losing the deal altogether, which would also mean breaking Jud’s heart. Jud was always incredibly giving and was largely unaware of how I was feeling, since I was only just discovering it for myself. I had been eager to grow and experiment so I had continued on this path with him, but during this time I had also been writing alone, and through that music I felt whole and true – both as a songwriter and as a performer. I just didn’t think that anything I wrote alone was good enough to be heard by anyone and everyone.

Sitting in Muff’s office, I began to realise I had been incredibly naive to think there would be an easy way through this. If I was just looking for a stab at fame, of course I would have signed in a heartbeat and sang whatever it was they wanted me to sing, perhaps I would be a household name today. But ultimately, more than anything I wanted to make music I loved, I wanted to be an original artist, and I wanted to be the best songwriter I could be. That, I decided was worth risking everything for … and despite the arduous journey this decision would eventually take me on, if I had to choose over I’d make the same choice.

Back in the office, Muff is still looking at me. He’s offered me a record deal and is waiting for a response. So I begin … “Well, that’s great an’ all Muff … but I need to tell you something that may well change things.’

“Oh, right … ” Muff looks taken aback “I’m listening”

“OK, so first off, I lied about my age. I’m not 18, I’m 21” I wait for a response but Muff just lets out a big laugh at this.

“Why did you lie about your age? I don’t care that you’re 21!” and I believe him, he’s not that kind of A&R.

“I don’t know!” I squirm “we thought 18 might sound more appealing?”

Muff composes himself “OK anything else?”

“Yes. I … I don’t feel these songs fully represent the artist I’d like to be.’ There. It was out. The elephant in the room vanished into thin air, taking my possible future at Sony with it. ‘But I do like working with Jud, and I get that these are the kind of songs you’d like me to be writing it’s just that … “

But before I can continue, Muff sits back in his chair and holds his hand up “OK, well let me stop you there for a minute, because I need to make something very clear at this point. What we’re offering you here is a development deal: on the understanding that we’ll be signing you, not Jud. Now I realise you have come here as a package so this will throw a spanner in the works for you, but while we do like these songs, we’d also like to put you with lots of other writers and producers.” In an heartbeat, Muff had taken the predicament out of my hands, and put me in entirely new one. He was offering me the ideal scenario; a chance to explore and develop as an artist, but only on the condition that in order to move forward, I would have to let my working partnership with Jud go. A knot formed in my stomach …

“So think on it, and in the meantime bring me something that you do feel is you, just so I can hear what it is that you do, and we’ll take it from there OK?” I left the office and floated towards Soho. I laughed, and then I cried. This should have been a happy moment for me, but it was bittersweet and heavy with heartache. I picked up the phone and called Andy. Then I went home and did what I always do times in times like these – I wrote.