Vertigo Smyth featured on Future Sounds 33

June 30, 2009
Future Sounds 33 - Vertigo Smyth

Future Sounds 33 - Vertigo Smyth

The folks at Future Sounds recordings have seen the light that is Vertigo Smyth. Nice timing too, as we kick of what looks to be Vertigo Smyth week here at Penny Distribution.

Vertigo’s track “Comfort Me” is featured along side bands like Mumford & Sons, Django James and the Midnight Squires, Local Natives and Avi Buffalo on Future Sounds 33. Previous iterations of the FS series featured bands like Cat Power, Bonnie “Prince” Billy and Lykke Li, long before these artists gained the recognition they have today.

You can stream the entire album via the Future Sounds page at internet radio superstation, or check out the gorgeous new video for “Comfort Me” via YouTube.

The album is also available on iTunes.


Notes on Music Licensing from Film-Maker, Colin McIvor

June 28, 2009

Colin McIvor is an independent film-maker based in Downpatrick. He prioritizes the use of local music and artists in his productions and has created TV and online ads for companies such as Sony Playstation, Lucozade, Northern Bank, Easyjet and has worked with artists such as Sinead O’Connor and Larry Mullen, Jr.

You can view Colin’s work at his Vimeo page or on YouTube

• Most commercial scripts that I’d receive from advertising agencies the audio column on the script generally say the following – ‘generic upbeat music’.

• Usually the agencies locally don’t put a huge amount of thinking into the music on a commercial but focus on the ‘message’ of the ad.

• At the point where I enter I am asked to do a ‘director’s treatment’ where I outline usually on a single A4 broken into paragraphs how I will approach the commercial. This is where I begin to plant the seed of a particular type of music into the ad agency’s brain.

• One thing to remember before anything else is that ALL ad agencies are heart-scared of losing their client no matter how small! They will do nothing that they might consider will be at odds with their client’s profile.

• At the treatment stage also I am beginning to think of music more specifically. As you know I am very keen to use local artist’s work for a number of reasons; primarily uniqueness and the fear of the dreaded ‘library CDs’ (elevator music!) but also cost-wise.

• When I get the gig I am usually asked to do storyboards – drawing out the various scenes to give the agency a sense of composition and general flow of my vision. At this stage I am now very much planting the seed of music deeper. However, there is always a certain amount of danger at this stage because if I’m saying to and playing an agency something like Jose Gonzalez ‘heartbeats’ I need to be damn sure that I can deliver that type of music for the anticipated price.

• Unless a track has already been chosen and the ad has been written ‘around’ the lyrics the agency has an expectation to pay for a library track. I can’t be certain but its usually in and around £500.

• This is NOT always the case though as the budget sometimes allows £200 maximum which in that case they usually ask the in-house sound mixer to lash something out which is usually heartless and not even as good as a library track, and that’s saying something!

• If I get the go ahead to go looking for a track locally I would probably go looking on the NIMIC website. I also have quite a number of local artist’s CDs which I’d go through.

• Here’s the important bit which sometimes can be at odds with the artist’s plan. Because I am looking for a track that has not specifically been commissioned I quite often am looking for a suitable melody sometimes ignoring the lyrics. Unless the lyrics are relevant to the ‘message’ of the commercial the track will immediately frighten off the agency no matter how hard you point them at the melody.

• 9 times out of 10 the lyrics will either need changed or taken out entirely. You’ve got to remember that ad agencies and post production houses receive anything up to 10 library cds a month from which they have the choice of a piece of music with or without lyrics and with various elements stripped out and of different lengths 30secs, 40secs and 60secs. My point is if local artist want to compete this must be willing to use their music in different ways.

• The ideal scenario for me is that I find a local artist track. I speak to the artist, ideally I send him a rough cut of the commercial (unlikely though as the deadlines for delivery don’t allow for any time to send off rough cuts) the artist then sends me 3 versions of the same track – 1 full with lyrics, 1 minus lyrics and 1 with certain instruments stripped back or boosted.

Merchandise: “Lies Like These”

June 18, 2009

Personally, I think that there’s too much made of D.I.Y. At the end of the day, a good quality sound recording of your music costs a fair chunk of money, as it should. People who are craftsmen of sound recording (producers, engineers, mastering studios) are, for the most part, costly because they are experts in their fields.

That said, the land of UGC (user generated content) is ever expanding, especially in the world of video. A Case in point: At UnConvention Salford at the beginning of the month, emerging artist Merchandise (fronted by songwriter Brad B. Wood) was discussing the cost of creating a decent video – and how it could be cost-prohibitive at times.

The person he was discussing this with was the ever positive Andrew Dubber – who proceeded to shot a one take, no rehearsal video for Merchandise’s new single “Lies Like These”, synched to Brad’s iPod which was playing the track in question. The result (which also feature the lovely Tracy Dempsey of is a wonderful, touching and funny video which suits the song perfectly – have a look:

Just like everything else D.I.Y., when done right, can *really* pay off.

Peers, Friends & Fans – Why Bands Should Avoid The Myth of the Rockstar

June 11, 2009

This is a re-post of a blog we contributed this week to

It’s one of the most memorable scenes from “This Is Spinal Tap” and marvelously summed up the prima donna cock-rock superstar. Tap’s guitar player, Nigel Tuffnell, draws his managers attention to the buffet plate back stage, complaining about the size of the bread, and that he can’t make a sandwich with tiny bread – “It’s a disaster!” he squeals like a 5-year-old.

Rightly or wrongly, the mythos exists that being in a “successful” band means being waited on hand and foot, being lord over all you survey (labels, partners, peers and fans) and that hissy-fits and difficult behavior can be excused because you’re an “artist” – some would even say that being difficult is a pre-requisite of being a true artist.

The truth is that working in music is essential working with people. Despite the appearance that a musician has single-handedly conquered his particular domain, there is a subtle and intricate network, usually numbering into the hundreds of people, who’ve all played their part in propping up this particular house of cards.

If you operate under the assumption that success in this industry can be achieved by you alone, you’ll probably last as long as one of Spinal Tap’s drummers.

And this applies to music businesses, too. Working as a label or promoter is such intensive work that it can be far too easy to become absorbed with your work, never looking up or taking time to see if there’re other businesses or individuals involved in similar or possibly complimentary activities.

With that in mind, I think we can divide the types of people that really matter into 3 groups.


These include artists, songwriters and other music businesses. The myth exists most strongly here – other businesses are the “competition”. (for the sake of this piece I’ll call all artists & music enterprises “businesses”). They might steal your ideas.

In today’s music business, I think we need to blow this thought out of the water. Ideas are so numerous people are giving them away. Whatever the idea, it’s the execution, not the idea, that matters most.

Not only that but interaction with other businesses is begun in the spirit of co-operation with the goal of mutual benefit or the achievement of common goals.

Of course you need to work with people you trust, with companies who share your outlook and ethos – but pulling down your shutters to the outside world because the chance exists that things may not turn out well is a sure path to failure.

Get out to networking events or start your own. Anything that gets your peers into a room together, talking to as many people as possible is of benefit. That was a main motivating factor behind UnConvention Belfast (and, I believe, Un-Convention in general) as well as the now-monthly Northern Ireland Music Industry Meetups in Belfast that followed on from UnConvention.

It’s not a question of competition or stealing ideas. It’s simply a question of optimism (think of what we could achieve together!) versus pessimism (they’ll abuse my trust and betray me somehow). Where do you stand?


These include bloggers, interviewers or radio – anyone who, for whatever reason, is interested in your music and is taking the time to talk to you about it.

Research the company behind the interview, find out who listens or comments on the content but above all else be enthusiastic.

I’ve heard so many stories from people in radio where the rock ‘n’roll ethos is so prevalent (among established and emerging acts alike) that the band or songwriter treats the interviewer with indifference, or worse, with “don’t-you-know-who-I-am?”-style contempt.

The truth is, no matter how successful you are, every person you interact with as a business has the potential to change the game for you and your endeavors. The problem is that there’s no way to tell who that’ll be – by acting like a Rockstar you’re basically destroying any chance that one of these people will help you in the future.


I’ve talked quite a bit about how to treat your fans, but the basic tenet to understand is that they have as much control over your success as any writer from Pitchfork or WOXY.

The amount of times I’ve seen bands treat their audiences with contempt is beyond count and, although disasters like Wavve’s recent meltdown in front of an audience of potential fans at Primavera are rare, there’re plenty of other missed opportunities.

Most bands will say “thanks for listening” after a show, but are they really thankful? If they are, how are they showing it? How about writing an email the day AFTER the show to thank attendees, including a demo of the new track you just wrote? Or making sure fans leave with some music as a tangible “thank you”?

The goal in all of this is that the next time you’re working on a new business idea / have a tour to promote / playing a show in someone’s town, you’ve earned the loyalty of people you interacted with the last time you were there.

Do you think you’ll have that loyalty if you run step-by-step through the Rockstar playbook?

I’d say if you toss aside the Rockstar shit, if you act with genuine enthusiasm, humility and with a sincere recognition that it’s a privilege to work in music, you’re much more likely to have that loyalty.

UnConvention Delivers…

June 5, 2009

I have a confession to make – I wasn’t sure if I was ready for another music conference. SXSW was enough for me this year – the general listless nature of the panels was such a disappointment I was genuinely getting disheartened about having inspiring conversation with musicians and music businesses.

The monthly Northern Ireland Music Industry meetups continue to inspire, but to a large extent, it felt like we were collectively spinning wheels in being truly innovative.

Un-Convention has flipped that on it’s head. The people here are motivated, and motivating each other, to truly change the way they’re approaching every facet of their business as artists or music-related enterprises.

But don’t take my word for it – Go check out the Un-Convention Twitter Stream

If you’re a band, artist, manager or label working on an indie level, you need to be here. And if you can’t be here, you still need to have these conversations. Go start a meetup in your town, or run an UnConvention. It’ll do you good, and it’ll do good for everyone who loves music.

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UnConvention Salford!

June 4, 2009

UnConvention Salford kicks off today in Salford, UK. You can follow everything as-it-happens right here.

If you don’t recall the madness of UnConvention Belfast or even the original Un-Convention Event back in October 2008, it’s a music conference aimed specifically at the grass roots of the music industry – bands, labels, publishers, distributors (yay!) and new music businesses gather for education, inspiration and cake. Or pies.

Have a listen to listen to the mighty Tom Robinson’s BBC Un-Convention Special (BBC iPlayer) – or check this Spotify playlist for a taster of some of the amazing talent that’ll be playing over the weekend.

The full band lineup is here.

Penny’ll be represented by attendees Tom McShane and Amy McGarrigle, the creative force behind a collaborative musical effort between Penny Distribution, Big Sky Studios & Volte Face Records. Rich Dale, founder of Volte Face and bassist of indie rock band Escape Act, will be speaking in more detail on the project at the first of Saturday’s panels, “Bands as Enterprise”.

I’ll be updating the blog daily so keep it right here…