Being at Magnetic means that we get to meet a lot of really fantastic and intelligent people within the music industry, and while we've gotten a lot of people to sit down with us for our Industry Insider series, we're particularly excited about sitting down with the team at The Weird and the Wonderful.
The founder, Steven Braines, is most commonly associated with the rise of Maya Jane Coles. If that isn't enough to get you excited, he’s also worked with a whole group of artists and DJs, including Chelou, Tricky, Magda, Tale Of Us, and Catz N Dogz, Justin Martin and KDA.
His partner in crime at The Weird and The Wonderful is co-founder/business partner Sophia Kearney, who saw herself on the 30 Under 30 guide and works in artist management alongside Braines. She’s also on the board for the UK Music Futures Project.
We sat down with the incredible duo to learn about what has made their solo careers, as well as their company, such a success.
How did you start your career in the music business?
Steven: Dancing on podiums in Ibiza one very silly summer which led to working for Kiss running club nights and music journalism.
Sophia: I was going to be an English teacher, but went to Glastonbury at 17 and realised there was no other option for me than the music business, changed all my UCAS options to Music Management after I got home and spent all my spare time at university and holidays promoting club nights and doing internships, the last of which landed me a role at WME.
What is the best part of the business?
Steven: For me definitely breaking an artist who does something truly unique and different. It often takes longer but quality always rises and I have no time for homogenised bull shit or for making the next XYZ; it’s about helping someone extraordinary realise their talent.
Sophia: For me, it’s the music, something incredible landing in your inbox from one of your artists, turning up the headphones loud and knowing it’s huge and feeling excited you are one of the first to hear it. Multiply that moment x100 when they play it at a club or festival months later and you get to watch from the booth as hundreds or thousands of people feel the same buzz you did with those headphones on.
What are the biggest challenges?
Steven: I still find that there is a lack of understanding about the electronic music scene and how much it adds value culturally and financially to different cities. For example, London clubs have really taken a pounding recently, but it’s great to see Amsterdam and Berlin among the cities where local governments embrace, respect and work with the clubs rather than against.
Sophia: Over saturation of the musical market, technology and social media provide more people than ever the chance to have their music and voices heard which is fantastic. However, it means these days though an artist and their teams have to be extremely savvy about their brand and USP’s within that; timing and creativity of content to compliment the music is now extremely important. You have to understand the artists’ vision and musical direction whilst also pinpointing your target audiences and how to reach them amongst all the noise.
What career advice would you recommend to someone just starting off?
Steven: Stay true to yourself and your art. Success any other way just feels hollow in comparison. If you make good art and work super hard, money will follow. No-one should ever feel entitled to success; it’s not a right; it needs to be earned if it’s to be sustained.
Sophia: A career in the music business is a lifestyle, as well as a career choice. There are no set hours, you have to be pliable to working anywhere and at any time and to get far, you will have to get your head around that. Be prepared to start at the bottom and really work to move up, perhaps even for years on end. You have to be either thick-skinned or resilient enough to recover and retain your character through a multitude of professional and social challenges. However, if you have the intuition and determination you will eventually make yourself invaluable to those who recognise your talent, navigating your way to a point when you can look back at previous roles and realise certain tedious tasks or situations you felt were the end of the world at the time were essential building blocks in getting you to where you are today.
As the music industry continues to grow, what do you think the secrets to longevity in this business will be?
Steven: I think it’s about being reliable, helpful and not chasing the money but instead chasing excellence and originality. There’s a reason why an act like Tricky still has a career or why Maya Jane Coles gets bigger every year. They are true enigmas that work bloody hard; I’ve seen it up close!
Sophia: Five points which apply to all artists and industry alike. Pay attention to detail, never assume – double check everything, learn from mistakes you will inevitably make, work hard & be nice to people- this is supposed to be fun ☺
Did you start off as a fan of electronic music and then became involved on the business side, or did business bring you into the electronic music world? Describe that process.
Steven: The first album I ever bought was “Boss Drum” by The Shamen. My sister played rave tapes to me, my dad played a lot Eurythmics stuff to me and My mum showed me Gary Numan, Kraftwerk and Kate Bush so it was there from an early an early age and probably going to Manumisison and then dancing there cemented that electronic music was a world I had to enter. I started running nights with Kiss up in the North East shortly afterwards at 18. I DJed a bit but I was more interested in organizing things than the anxiety of having to find the next tune! Through electronic isn’t the only genre I work in, it holds a huge place in my heart.
Sophia: The electronic musical seed was planted early by my Dad. My clearest first electronic memories are hammering out The Prodigy & The Chemical Brothers on the way to primary school in the car with the windows down, and I used to beg to drive once more around the block before being dropped off and hated getting out of that car and seeing my Dad drive away. “The Fat Of The Land” blew my 10-year-old mind. He also used to play me The Cure, New Order & Joy Division. My Mum's influences made me fall for great pop music also- Madonna, George Michael, Michael Jackson and chart rave tunes like N-Trance & Stardust. I always knew I wanted to work with electronic music and all of my music roles have had at least elements of that.
If you weren’t in the music biz, what would you be doing?
Steven: I’m a qualified occupational psychologist so possibly that or something full time with my writing or fashion.
Sophia: I’m hugely into wildlife and photography so I’d see myself working on producing wildlife documentaries and traveling the world taking pictures.
Where do you see the most opportunity in the music industry (i.e. Music, experience, nightclubs, behind the scenes, etc) and why?
Joint Answer from The Weird & The Wonderful: I think more so than ever, people are looking to bond with others and lose themselves in a collective experience. To create memories and experience moments together with people they love and people they meet. You can combine all the above factors and create a world whereby people feel like they belong whilst at the same time expressing their utmost individuality and creativity of their own characters no matter what their age, race, or sexual preference may be. Opportunity for growth lies in diminishing boxes people tick that define them as a human being. It’s as simple as he.she.they...