THE BUSINESS OF MUSIC

Turning a conservatoire education into a growing viable business

We met up with Ben McAvoy (BA Music Production 2007), Director at W-M-P and Leeds College of Music alumnus. Set up in 2007 W-M-P provide bespoke music composition and sound design services to advertising, television and non-broadcast media creators. Taking some of the College’s ethos, they are “driven by musical collaboration, innovation and appreciation.”

Ben setup up WMP in 2007. He is passionate about creating evocative, well-produced music and audio that builds an emotional link between the audience and the subject. Originally a pianist, he brings an instrumentalist’s ear to his production and is a versatile composer across a range of styles.
 

What was your earliest musical experience?

Blimey – I think I was probably seven when I started learning the cornet or trumpet. My parents weren’t really into music but my Dad had this really old record player, and I remember sitting in front of it playing his old records without him knowing. There was this band from the 80s called Sky, which rearranged all these old classical tracks for synthesizers. It was instrumental prog – amazing.

Also I did that classic thing of listening to the radio and making mix tapes – trying to record the track before the DJ started talking again. There was a point in time where things split for me where all kinds of music changed. I remember buying a Roni Size album and some hip hop, and then I went through the standard tuition of music: GCSEs then A Level Music Tech and History of Music. My secondary schooling became very one-track minded, totally music, it might have been good to do something else but then I came to Leeds College of Music and the rest is history…

Who/what motivated you to pursue a career in music?

I’ve got no idea! I think I knew that it was possible to earn a living from music, and I knew that it wasn’t going to be easy but I also wanted to give it a go. The idea of earning a living from writing some kind of music was pretty much the cornerstone of why I set up my company WMP. That came before knowing what area of music I was going to get into, trying out the concept.

I guess the guys who came in to do industry masterclasses during our final year were pretty instrumental in showing us that it was possible to have a real career, and I used that as a catalyst for giving it a go – but also I think other composers motivated me, in a really clichéd way. Film soundtracks were all I listened to in my final year – Ennio Morricone, Hans Zimmer, Harry Gregson Williams.

So I guess the answer to this is three-fold – visiting lecturers, composers and the concept of trying to earn a living. Things were very much money orientated for me – I always thought “if this is what I want to do it has to be how I earn my living, and I have to earn a decent living from it rather than a hobby”. People who have it as a hobby may be more enthusiastic about going to rehearsals than I can be running a business! And I couldn’t be in a band, I like to be in bed by half past ten!

Who’s your greatest inspiration?

That is a really tough question. I guess the people who we work with are my greatest inspiration in the sense that we write with some great music sync companies in London who do a lot of ads and promos for brands and such. But the companies don’t use us all the time, they use other composers who are really good at what they do, but it all keeps me going. It sounds weird but our competitors are massive inspirations of mine, it’s a really small industry so when there’s a big pitch on we’re all pitching for it at the same time, we all know one another. I’ve always maintained that there are better people out there who are doing the same thing as us. You’ve got to stay challenged in order to keep growing. I write with other people in our own studio now who work with us, I have a writing partner who is full-time and he’s a massive inspiration, we keep each other going now and he’s really good at what he does.

In terms of more abstract inspirations, I really think anything could be an inspiration; the problem for me now is finding time outside of the business to be inspired. I work such long days and sometimes weekends, listening to a track all the way through sometimes is really difficult. We do a Monday ‘show and tell’ now, where we have to bring a track each to listen to, to start our week off. My relationship with music has totally changed, the way I absorb it, now my relationship with the industry and inspiration is completely different to what it was when I started college – in a good way though!

What is/was your favourite thing about living, studying and being a musician in Leeds?

I’ve been here 10 years now and Leeds is really changing. People always say that about cities but Leeds is changing rapidly, and I really love the feel of the place, and the people.

I spend an awful lot of time in London right in the centre, but it’s a different kind of music industry down there. Everything is much more intense, there’s a need to make more money for obvious reasons, and we’re involved in that more than we ever have been but we’re still really separate. It’s helpful because as a business we’re on a different path, we don’t have to grow so quickly in order to survive, we can take our time with stuff and do what we want to do, and Leeds allows us to do that. We can make bespoke music without being pressured and focusing on really high overheads that you might elsewhere. Stuff like that is awesome.

I don’t think you can ignore London or Manchester, you have to be connected with those cities. It’s a mistake to focus on one city, but this place is completely different to what it was when I first started here. There are great opportunities in the city, there’s a whole fleet of creative industries that are making the place buzz. The city has a lot of young professionals who are sticking around as it grows and develops. We’re really happy here, and also it’s the place that I set up my business which we’ve been running seven years this month. It wouldn’t feel the same having built the business anywhere else.

How would you describe the challenges and joys of living / studying / being a musician in Leeds?

A joy is being able to stay in touch with my tutors, having an ongoing relationship with them, being able to return as a guest lecturer and see the new students, giving something back to the place that set me on my career path with the people who helped me out is great.

As I said Leeds has a lot of creative stuff going on, a lot of nice people, and its growing, if you go down to London one of their big focusses is art and creativity there’s been financial support outside of the banks for creativity there for a long time, and it feels like Leeds is going that way too. Maybe not a lot of financial support existed when we set up but we started on a road that was more evolutionary and I had to subsidise my income by doing another couple of jobs which was the challenge, but being in such a creative city is what kept the light at the end of the tunnel. We did find it really difficult to find studio space to run a business from, so we ran from my house for five and a half years, we’ve been in the studio just over a year now, but that is a situation which is changing for new businesses, with the development of new spaces and hubs, although I don’t think a lot of people actually need music studio space as we did. The biggest joy of working in Leeds to add another thing to the list is Eiger Studios, it’s got live space, studios and we’ve met more people being there bands and creative people than ever, it’s really awesome. It’s been pivotal to our recent development, and yes an absolute joy.

My whole entire life revolves around my business, it’s my baby, everything I have, I’ve got no Plan B, and that is great when its good but when it’s not going so well and there are periods of time when they don’t it can be really stressful. The business is all-consuming and can get intense, but worth it, that is the key thing. One of the biggest challenges or decisions for us being in Leeds that we’re noticing now we’ve grown is whether to be based in London in the future. People ask us when we’re moving to London, people we work with down there ask a lot, and in our industry there is definitely a gap between London and the rest of the country. We could really be down there more to make contacts with the ad agencies and such, there’s the social aspect we miss out on with clients and potential clients, and that’s the way creative find business, but as we’ve grown we’ve found our time there each month is more focused, people ask to see us when we visit, it’s as though we’re more wanted. Until now tis not been a problem and it isn’t really yet, but we’re trying to figure out how we can further develop those relationships without actually moving there. London is an exciting place to be, every time I go I’m excited about being there and I’m passionate about our clients, but I’m unsure yet about being there more, that’s our challenge. Maybe we can have a satellite office…? Because being in Leeds, and out of the rat-race, really does allow you to have some head space, it allows you to remain creative and relaxed enough to work properly, instead of being so stressed out and distracted.

Who/what would be your dream collaboration?

Another good question! I think, well, it’d kind of split into two parts really. There are projects that I’d really like to work on, so trailers for us have become a little bit more of a possible collaboration, trailers for feature films, there’s something about them that really excites me so I’d love to do more of that and definitely bigger brand ads for TV. I’ve become obsessed with advertising, I love music for ads, it’s something that’s going really well for us and I really want to pursue those project collaborations more.

In terms of artists or composers, well, we’re just about to start a collaboration with a band on a short film. I’d love to do move like that, where we work with an artist on a film, it is kind of cool. There are artists like John Hopkins and Laura Mvula who have a cinematic spec on their work, Laura has just released the album with the Metropole Orkest, she said she’d always envisaged her tracks played by an orchestra so I’d love to work with her as that’s how I envisage things we write. That’d be a big tick in the box and have a 50 or 60 piece orchestra play our work. I’d really love to do that!

I do love working with other people, setting up the business on my own in 2007, well I probably wouldn’t do that again, I’d probably find someone to do that with from the start. It might be a good idea as I was working by myself for so long.

How has your career developed since leaving LCoM?

Fantastically, in a nutshell! It has amazingly gone from being a part-time career to being how I earn my money, and alright money sometimes – I’m about to buy a house! The business has grown from being small to being relatively medium sized, I have my business partner Kamal and we’ve got 2 other people working with us, Pete from Leeds Uni 3 days a week and Kim who has just started, so WMP has gone from me to 4 people and with regular work. It’s really gone from something that I wondered whether it would work out to something that actually is working out and is realizing the potential I’d hoped for.

How has your study at LCoM aided your career so far?

There is definitely still interest in what we’re doing, and keeping in touch with Jez, Craig and Danny has really helped in a way, they really care about what has happened to students, they want to know what students are up to. It’s definitely changed through being post grad to being alumni to being friends with the tutors now; they’re not teaching us now we’re helping one another out. We’re growing the industry in the city.

In terms of practical stuff the production course has really changed my work, not just financially, but there are tools and techniques that we use every day which is the foundation of what I built my business on that I wouldn’t have as in-depth knowledge of if I hadn’t done my course. The Music Business modules were essential, I wouldn’t even have considered setting up my own business and focusing on music if I hadn’t had that guidance.

What has been your greatest achievement?

I graduated with a first, and I am still to this day incredibly proud of that because I really didn’t expect it! I remember being in the lift and opening the envelope and it being a letter signed by the Principal, because I was working and getting married the same year I thought I’d lost my focus, but I hadn’t and it really was unexpected. I remember handing in my final project and Craig taking the mickey out of me because it was presented so nicely.

Outside of college in terms of setting up my business, we’re starting to employ people that’s a massive achievement, being in the position to give people security and protection in their work is great, I love being able to pay people for what they do for us. Moving into Eiger Studios and getting our second studio space is a huge achievement as well. Every year we’ve grown, we’ve made more money and secured more clients, so lasting for 7 years is huge, and doing projects in the last 12 months with some really big brand which we’re also really passionate about, Adidas, Unilever, Innocent Smoothies, brands that seemed a million miles away from what we could achieve, well we work with them now. We did our first and only feature film called ‘I Am Nasrine’ directed by Tina Gharavi, and it was her first feature film too. It got nominated for a BAFTA last year which was fantastic, so we went to the BAFTAs in 2013, and I have to be honest that was so cool, red carpet and everything; we were on TV walking down the red carpet. I would love to do another but I’d be really scared now it wouldn’t be nominated for a BAFTA!

But without a shadow of a doubt my personal achievement has been two-fold I guess, personally my greatest achievement has been earning enough money from my passion to look at buying a house and starting a family off the back of something I’ve built. That’s so far off the radar for me it’s like pipe dream stuff, but it’s happening, it’s very real, and a very surreal experience but it’s inextricably linked with my business. I really didn’t think this would be possible.

 

My greatest achievement is not giving up I guess then, sometimes we have some great projects on and everything goes well, but sometimes we make mistakes, sometimes we need a new projects and I’m always looking at the project pipeline, what our profit is for the month, I must drive Kamal insane. I’m very proud of where we are now.

Being married is also an achievement for me; would my wife kill me for saying that? It’s all because of her, I’ve been so focused on the business over the last seven years and at times I'll admit I've put the business first, yet she is the most patient and forgiving person I’ve ever come across. Without her I’d not be running the business at all, she really has kept me focused. It sounds ridiculous, but it’s true. Whenever I say I’m going to quit she asks me what else I would do, she knows this is my passion, the support she gives me is unwavering.

Where would you like to be in five years?

I’d like the business turnover to be bigger, obviously. I’d like to be actually employing a few more people; it makes such a difference to the business. In terms of projects I’d like to be working on more ads and trailers, as I’ve said I’ve always loved films, bigger and better and cooler projects. Keeping going on the same trajectory we are now really, that’s all it needs to be really. Whether we get there is another thing. We’re better than ever at the moment, so all we can do is hope we do our best to build new relationships. Up until now that’s not failed us, we’ve done alright!

"Since 2007 we have been providing bespoke music composition and sound design services to advertising, television and non-broadcast media creators.

We are passionate about creating evocative, well-produced music and audio that builds an emotional link between the audience and the subject.

Our composing team (Benjamin McAvoy and Kamal Kamruddin) are instrumentalists as well as producers and are accustomed to writing to picture and specialise in writing to brief across a range of genres and styles. We also regularly collaborate with a range of musicians and songwriters.
"

Have a look at some of the work W-M-P have done over the years...

Clarks

adidas

Cif

 

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"Being able to stay in touch with my tutors, having an ongoing relationship with them, being able to return as a guest lecturer and see the new students, and giving something back to the place that set me on my career path with the people who helped me out is great".

Ben McAvoy (BA Music Production 2007),
Director at WMP

See Ben's work:

Watch and listen to some of the work Ben has done with his clients at WMP:

Clarks

Adidas


Cif

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