Album Rescue Series: Big Audio Dynamite ‘This Is Big Audio Dynamite’

Its 1985: Ronald Regan is president; Margret Thatcher is Prime Minister, monetarism rules, capitalism is king, the miners are on strike and This Is Big Audio Dynamite. Despite what many people think, Joe Strummer wasn’t the perfect human being. Joe made some huge mistakes in life, no one’s perfect; probably the biggest one was firing Mick Jones from The Clash. Later in life Joe would admit that the one great regret he had in life was firing Mick Jones as he fully appreciated that this single action effectively finished the band. Like exiting any bad relationship the sense of release can be overwhelming and often results in extreme experimentation.

In Mick’s case this led to a very brief period with The Beat’s Ranking Roger and Dave Wakeling’s new band General Public. My ex-class mate of Kelvin Hall High School (Hull), Roland Gift, was responsible for taking bassist David Steele and guitarist Andy Cox from The Beat to form his new band The Fine Young Cannibals. A classic case of one door closing, another one opening. The analogy here is that it’s very similar to dating a young inappropriate girlfriend after a long marriage. It’s great fun for a couple of hot dates but its certainly not going to constitute a long-term meaningful relationship. After this short affair Jones formed Top Risk Action Company (TRAC) with some former collaborators including former Clash drummer Nicky ‘Topper’ Headon. This collaboration soon fizzled out partly due to that old uninvited guest, heroin.

The antecedents of This Is Big Audio Dynamite’s (B.A.D.) experimental funk elements were beta tested on The Clash’s Sandinista and Combat Rock albums. Working collaboratively with Jones on B.A.D. were video artist and long time Clash associate, friend and filmmaker Don Letts (samples and vocals), Greg Roberts (drums), Dan Donovan (keyboards), and Leo ‘E-Zee Kill’ Williams (bass). Another important ingredient was Basing Street Studio’s sound engineer Paul ‘Groucho’ Smykle, B.A.D.’s very own ‘dread at the controls.’ Smykle had a serious dub mentality, having previously worked with the likes of Black Uhuru and Linton Kwesi Johnson. Adding samplers, dance tracks, and movie sounds to Jones’ concise pop songwriting, B.A.D. debuted on record with the single The Bottom Line in September 1985 and the album This Is Big Audio Dynamite later that year. The singles E=MC2 and Medicine Show became sizable hits in England, and reached the dance charts in America. The album did not sell well only reaching number 27 in the UK charts and a lowly 103 in the USA.

This Is Big Audio Dynamite is a futurist piece of modernist audio art terrorism. As is often the case with modernism, what was once forward-looking seems inextricably tied to its time. It had one foot in the present and the other firmly in the future. The clanking electro rhythms, Sergio Leone samples, chicken-scratch guitars, bleating synths, and six-minute songs of This Is Big Audio Dynamite evoke 1985 in a way few other records do. This is definitely not a criticism; on the contrary 1985 is a good year for me as my son was born, probably the greatest event of my life. Any record that captures the zeitgeist of 1985, by my reckoning, is a good one. Big Audio Dynamite’s boldness remains impressive, even visionary, pointing toward the cut-n-paste post-modern masterpieces of the late 1980’s and early 1990’s. Breaking new ground opens up the creative highway for other artists to follow.

One reason that this album took some flak is that it doesn’t sound like The Clash. There was a long shadow cast by The Clash that B.A.D. could never fully escape from. We shouldn’t think badly of this album for that reason. If anything Jones builds on the foundations that he laid with the Clash, he was prepared to move on and develop. At the time of its release This Is Big Audio Dynamite sounded like the future, it was a soothsayer for what to expect over the next two decades. B.A.D.’s philosophy was to utilize all the elements of the media to create a fuller sound and write songs that were about something. A combination of New York beats, Jamaican bass, English rock ‘n’ roll guitars and dialogue from spaghetti westerns and Nick Roeg films all found a place on this album. Mick Jones did not abandon his innate gift for hooks, if anything, he found new ways to create rhythmic hooks as well as melodic ones, it’s quite accessible for an album that is, at its core, a piece of modernist avant-garde rock. This Is Big Audio Dynamite is the album that The Clash should have released as the follow up to their last album Combat Rock but didn’t. It certainly stands as a monument to the times and as a musical signpost for the way things were heading.

Mick Jones and film/documentary maker Don Letts are both visual artists to varying degrees. Jones always had a keen eye for fashion and visuals, his influence upon The Clash, and in particular the notoriously scruffy Joe Strummer, was instrumental in their look. Letts’ scopophilic regime was to view the world as though it was through a movie camera lens. In an article for The Sabotage Times (1/10/11), Letts recounts that during the writing of the album (and with Jones’ guidance) he had thrown himself into co-writing lyrics, which he approached in the same way as writing a script or treatment for a film. With Jones’ wide-screen vision for the band, the songs soon took on a cinematic quality. The songs featured heavy sampling of film dialogue. A good example is the 6 minute 31 second opening track Medicine Show which effectively sets the scene for the rest of the album “Wanted in fourteen counties of this State, the condemned is found guilty of crimes of murder, armed robbery of citizens, state banks and post offices, the theft of sacred objects, arson in a state prison, perjury, bigamy, deserting his wife and children, inciting prostitution, kidnapping, extortion, receiving stolen goods, selling stolen goods, passing counterfeit money, and contrary to the laws of this State, the condemned is guilty of using marked cards. . . Therefore, according to the powers vested in us, we sentence the accused before us, Tuco Benedicto Pacifico Juan Maria Ramirez (‘Known as The Rat’) and any other aliases he might have, to hang by the neck until dead. May God have mercy on his soul. . . Proceed“. This whole scene is re-appropriated from the 1966 film The Good, The Bad And The Ugly. As writer, arranger and producer of this album, Jones is aware that the songs must be able to support this heavy use of sampling. Songs on this album are constructed in such a way that in the words of Bob Dylan “they have legs and can stand up and walk”.

Jones brings at least one Clash track with him; track four, The Bottom Line. In its Clash form this song was called Trans Clash Free Pay One, much better with it’s re-titling. Rick Rubin loved this track so much that he produced a 12” re-mix, which was released on his Def Jam label. I am sure that The Clash’s 1981 17-day residency in support of their Sandinista album at Bonds Warehouse in New York City provided Jones with material aplenty. Jones is the classic autodidactic, someone who has learned a subject without the benefit of a teacher or formal education. Jones took much of the same raw material that influenced hip-hop artists, such as The Beastie Boys, and processed it in his own special way. I don’t think there’s anyone who would dispute the claim that the Clash where musical pioneers. This Is Big Audio Dynamite could be offered as evidence in support of the argument that B.A.D. were far more forward thinking, cutting edge and perhaps more of their time, than Jones’s previous band. They were much less confined by the Stalinist constraints of punk rock and were determined to try and shake off the Clash’s formidable legacy. Mick Jones, the member who brought hip-hop beats into the Clash’s repertoire and wrote their sole No 1 hit single, set out to create a new sound that employed the emerging technologies used by dance and rap music. He could have simply formed a crap Clash cover band, like Joe Strummer did, but he made a decisive decision not too. Spoken in the best spaghetti western voice of Clint Eastwood “For this reason, consider this album well and truly rescued”.

Naomi Edwards Is Creating Happy Beaches

Naomi Edwards lives on the Gold Coast, a popular Queensland coastal strip on the east coast of Australia. Naomi’s passion and drive translates into a number of diverse roles including: Young Social Pioneer for the Foundation for Young Australians, National Landcare Ambassador, Founder and Researcher for Happy Beaches and a Griffith University student and coastal community advocate and expert.

Naomi chats with Dalton Koss HQ about her passion for beaches and her drive to empower the people around her to have ownership of their dreams.

I always wanted to be a pilot. The idea of flying through the clouds enchanted me. But during my high school years at Keebra Park SHS, I went to Queensland’s south-west outback for 10 days on a science school trip to work alongside Peter McRae, a lifetime campaigner and conservationist for the endangered bilby. Peter inspired and transformed me to live a life with purpose where sustainability is at the heart. His passion for world sustainability led me to study environmental science and post-graduate degrees in international and community development, and coastal cultural studies to refine my purpose. I preferred to be outdoors, volunteering and looking after coastal environments. It didn’t take long to discover that my purpose was to inspire communities to care for beaches and influence coastal management decisions having grown up along Gold Coast’s beaches.

My journey really began with volunteering at my local beach with watering native dune seedlings during south east Queensland’s decade-long drought. The Friends of Federation Walk have been restoring the dunes at The Spit for over 15 years and my experiences volunteering with them changed my life – again. As one member made quite an impression on me by stating, Naomi, it is up to you what you want to do with your life but why not create a masterpiece.” And there I was standing on a sand dune creating a masterpiece. What was once a bare sand dune is now a thriving coastal rainforest, a beautiful ecosystem for native biodiversity.

Yet, I recognised that only a small group of dedicated people volunteered and wonder what difference we could make if more people supported the cause – perhaps more positive outcomes for the sustainability of the coast. I shared the possibility with my fellow science students and academics at Griffith University. What started as four university friends turning up to volunteer, evolved into twenty undergraduate students consistently volunteering every month, planting trees and keeping up with the restoration maintenance. We called ourselves Griffith University Science Maintenance Team to help support the small group of volunteers. Despite the less-than-engaging name for the group, this was the launching of my first coastal community project – without even realising. Then all of sudden I saw plenty more gaps, patched them up and inspired and supported other’s to do so too.

After completing my Bachelor of Environmental Science, I planned to study an Honours vegetation ecology, specifically, carbon sequestration. However, I was having too much fun on the beach working with volunteers and in between researching various forest structures measuring over 15,000 trees for the Program for Planned Biodiversity and Ecosystem Research (PPBio) project. It was these experiences that opened a world of opportunity, fuelling my passion for community wellbeing and the environment – particularly, beaches and dunes.

As I believe where there is a need, there is an opportunity, where there is passion, there are people, and where there is a dream, there is hope. My dream is to transform the sustainability of beaches to be happy beaches, so there is hope for the coast and the future of beaches and coastal communities around the world.

I have never really considered myself to be a leader, rather an instigator for progressive change for the environment, particularly beaches. There has been a lot of learning along the way; there was no strategy and there is no strategy. Luckily, I had wonderful support and mentoring to guide my spontaneous acts of action. As I just did things, didn’t wait and thought about it later.

I would probably put myself in the change maker category. As our future is today’s experiences and if want to see change we have to be in action. That means we are always setting ourselves up for the next thing even if we fell like we are in limbo.

Every possibility presents an opportunity to act.

The five key words I use to describe effective and successful leadership include:

1. Passion – Passion is the key driving agent for all change makers. It fires up the heart and soul and keeps you grounded and focused. It is important for leaders to have a passion to drive energy, a vision, ignite others, influence and open opportunities.

2. Plan – I was fortunate to be guided early on by leading change makers in my community. They encouraged me to package my dreams and desires for every idea – too many ideas – into an achievable plan. This has also helped others and myself stay on track and work towards common goals and objectives to achieve and complete projects and lasting successes.

3. Integrity – Integrity is the foundation of leadership. Yet it can be overlooked or not recognised as it shown through the small actions. This involves keeping your word and helping others without expecting something in return, and always living by your values. People will believe and support you when you have integrity. Do not compromise your values.

4. Commitment – You have to be accountable, do the hard work and create a community full of leaders in their own right, which takes commitment.

5. Consistency – Consistency helps you get over the line to reach success. It helps establish your reputation. It also makes you relevant, and maintains and helps you refine the freshness of your message.

I have experienced a number of key successes and challenges in my leadership journeyBeing creative, having fun and working with the right people has led to many successes in my life. I can’t really pinpoint any specific key successes rather I simply acknowledge the entire journey. In the beginning the biggest challenge was overcoming the overwhelming state of the environment when learning about climate change, marine debris impacts, species extinction etc. You can’t let the negative side of things get to you or else they will bring you down. You have to maintain a positive outlook and act on what you can do. 

I don’t really believe in failures as every action and project occurs the way it is suppose to be. It is about learning from every experience and building your experience bank for next time to do it better, bigger and most likely more innovative. “And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should” (Max Ehrmann, Desiderata: A poem for a Way of Life).

My success is attributed to inspiration and support. I am continually inspired by others, from Peter McRae at the beginning of my journey to the many community champions I come across in my work. I love hearing about other people’s ideas, dreams and hopes and where I can offer my experience and support. Without my support base I wouldn’t be where I am today. I am thankful for the support my family, friends and close networks.

I have been fortunate to live a life where as one door closes another one opens. I think staying true to my passion, being committed and consistent has laid a fun and creative journey filled with endless possibilities!

I apply a holistic approach to maintaining my mental and physical health and wellbeing. I am happy, positive and optimistic and stay true to my passion. I support my support network and encourage others around me to live a powerful life, a life they love. I go to the beach – a lot! I enjoy eating wholesome food but also indulge in sugary sweets when I want. I enjoy walking my dogs and exercising.

You have to think and act beyond your own capabilities to grow, learn and reflect. This begins with dreaming up boundless possibilities and opportunities, sharing them, and then inspiring others to follow and be part of the journey as anything is possible! Leadership is helping others to take ownership of their ideas.

Two organisations I recommend for others to join are:

Landcare Australia – there are many opportunities for all walks of life to get involved in caring for the land and sea.

Foundation for Young Australians – delivers a range of initiatives (co)designed with and for young people to deliver change across Australia.

To learn more about Naomi and her Happy Beaches vision, please click on the links below:

Naomi’s blog – http://coastaltangents.com/

Naomi’s latest project – http://www.happybeaches.org/

Exploitation in Disguise

Over the last six months I’ve spoken at numerous music industry conferences and have met many young early career music industry professionals all seeking my advice. The ‘always’ question that arises is the one of how to get started in the music industry, and it normally goes along the lines of “I’ll do absolutely anything to get a job in the music industry”, a quote that I’ve come to loath. While sitting on various music industry conference panels I appear to be the sole proud pariah who is totally against unpaid internships. Nothing seems to invoke such passionate arguments as when unpaid internships appear on the agenda. To state my position, so that I am absolutely 100% clear, I am totally against unpaid internships. Over the 34 years that I’ve worked in the music industry I’ve never NOT paid an intern at any of the companies that I’ve owned or managed. Let me explain why.

There aren’t many pieces of copy more depressing to read than job advertisements for unpaid internships. Like the ads for other menial jobs, they use absurd and insulting hyperbole in inverse proportion to the quality of the position, as though reading the words ‘superstar’, ‘legend’ or ‘rockstar’ numerous times will make them forget how boring the duties will actually be. These adverts normally state that they will receive an amazing experience to kick-start their career; sorry but this is complete and utter rubbish. Compounding this misery is the knowledge that whom-ever drafted the advertisement was probably an intern.

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I’ve met lots of young Australians trying to start and build their music industry careers. Piles of these demining, insipid and often patronizing job ads confront them every time they go looking for work on the various web sites. Most companies seeking interns attempt to frame themselves as a service for junior workers, as though the company is providing experience out of the goodness of their own hearts, like an act of charity or benevolence. This sort of sophistry neatly inverts the actual benefactor-beneficiary relationship: for-profit companies are attempting to save money on entry level positions by extracting unpaid labor from a population of vulnerable young people, many of whom are unaware that these arrangements are often illegal.

The Fair Work Ombudsman’s fact sheet is reasonably clear on what constitutes a legal internship. Usually these are provided as part of an educational course, don’t last very long, and don’t involve the intern performing the duties of a paid employee. However, an increasing number of companies are advertising for internships that involve long hours and real work. Recently formed internships advocacy body Interns Australia found in their National Internships Survey that 65% of respondents reported internships lasting longer than three months, and 36% reported working five days per week. Three months of Australian minimum wage work is valued at $7,466.40, which ends up looking like a real bargain if you’re a business who used to offer junior jobs instead of unpaid positions. Some companies even use internships all year round and employ multiple interns at once, which can represent a sizeable saving on their wages bill, all very bad news for graduates hoping to earn real human money for doing real human work.

There are a number of factors contributing to this internship plague, including the normalization of unpaid work among students and recent graduates. ‘Experience or Exploitation?’ a report by University of Adelaide researchers for The Fair Work Commission, notes that the term “intern” has crept into the Australian lexicon as a recent Americanism. It lends an air of legitimacy to a dodgy practice. Saying “I’m doing a three month internship” sounds a lot less exploitative than “my employer has decided not to pay me for three months work“. The Fair Work Commission also found that internships are extremely common in media, entertainment and design, all sectors in transition (or decline, depending on your outlook) that nonetheless receive a glut of labor from popular university programs. Qualified and desperate young people are walking dollar signs to a cash-strapped industry, and it would behoove universities to endow their graduates with knowledge of their legal entitlements before turfing them out of the nest into a wilderness of financial precocity and un-employment or under-employment. Indeed some unscrupulous higher education institutions use internships to inflate their figures when they discuss students working in their given field after graduation. This is wrong; if they are not getting paid then they are not technically working, so stop claiming they are.

Apart from the intern population, the people who suffer most from this arrangement are those who can’t afford to work for free. Candidates for unpaid roles necessarily self-select along economic lines: those who need paid work to survive won’t apply for internships. This process is deeply anti-meritocratic, and entrenches social privilege at the bottom rung of many industries. How are you supposed to get a foot in the door as a poor person, when doing so requires you to have the same level of financial resources that entry-level jobs used to provide? The practice is also bad for industries, in that they are possibly excluding their best and brightest potential candidates from entering. Businesses committed to fair hiring practices and the promotion of talent regardless of its source should stand opposed to unpaid internships.

This extension of student poverty post-graduation represents another difficulty imposed on young people trying to start their adult lives. Between soaring rents, impossible house prices, HECS debt, high youth unemployment and the expectation that early career work will be performed for free, Generation-Y is living out a very real set of inequalities with which their parents never had to contend with. The ridiculous rhetoric around internships as ‘opportunities’ rather than exploitation is symptomatic of the lines fed via the media (the biggest users of interns) by politicians and employers about young people’s supposed entitlement. This is a pervasive environment of classic hegemony, and it stops us from being able to recognize and articulate the raw deal that interns are been handed. It’s time interns were given the tools to stand up for themselves and demand the basic fairness that everybody should receive in the workplace. The future of the music industry and its very survival rests in the hands of the upcoming generation of youth, young professionals, and developing leaders.

These early career music industry professionals need the highest quality mentoring and to be paid a minimum wage too, just like medical doctors and nurses. Would a hospital use a surgical intern to work for free, of course they wouldn’t? Our industry contributes much to society in the way of financial income and in the cultural enrichment of people’s lives, it’s much to fragile and important not to pay people to work in it. The word amateur comes from the French word meaning ‘lover of’. The opposite of an amateur is a professional, someone who does it for money. The basic difference in today’s common usage is that the professional does what they do for money while the amateur does it for the love of doing it. This usually implies that the professional makes money because they adhere to recognized standards, while the amateur stands outside the accepted standards and probably doesn’t deserve to get paid. The music industry should be about very high standards, not standardization.

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Rosemary Owens, a University of Adelaide Law School Professor, stated that the practice of using young people and not paying them was common in many industries. “It entrenches disadvantage, because only someone who is well off can afford to work for nothing“. The first push against unpaid internships started in Europe, a trend that soon spread. In the United States, news media organizations including Hearst Magazines, Fox Searchlight Pictures, Gawker, Cond Nast and Warner Music are facing lawsuits over unpaid internships. In Europe, where more than one in five young people in the labor market cannot find a job, governments have passed legislation on internships. In France, for example, youth unemployment hit 23.2% after the 2008 financial crisis. Under the Hollande socialist government employers must offer interns payment after two months of sweat equity.

In Australia, short, fully supervised unpaid work trials to test a job applicant’s skill are legal, as are college-backed, short-term student placements that allow students to accrue course credits for a term of work. At the various higher education institutions I’ve been involved with I’ve overseen the work related learning unit. Work simulation for a limited time defined period in order to produce a portfolio of professional practice reflection is a great tool. In essence this is paid work, the student receives credit for what they do and hard work is rewarded by a higher grade. Even unpaid internships are legal. A benefit test, showing whether the intern or the employer gains the most from the work completed, is one factor that determines whether a worker should be paid. “If a business or organization benefits from engaging the person, it is more likely the person is an employee and should be paid” according to the Fair Work Ombudsman’s Office. Joellen Riley, the Dean of the University of Sydney Law School, said relying on unpaid workers “is a creeping problem. It is gaining bigger and bigger purchase. And as soon as you go down that path of not paying, when do you ever pay? You end up creating real labor market problems“.

So where is the starting point, probably the minimum wage of $18 per hour? If your business can’t afford this then you probably shouldn’t be in business or the word “business” shouldn’t be applied to your endeavor. As I stated earlier I’ve always paid interns that have worked for me. I often empowered my interns by asking them to price a job I have for them e.g. “how much is it going to cost me for you to do . . . .?”. I instill a level of professionalism and accountability in them and encourage them to take professional pride in the work they do from our initial meeting. By paying an intern you can demand certain behaviors, through the monetization of a set task you can install a minimum level of quality or service and introduce some Key Performance Indicators. Paying interns is good for a business and its good for interns. By not paying interns businesses are open to the accusations that they don’t care for the longevity of this industry that they love some much.

Steve Jennings is Creating New Value Through Entrepreneurship

Steve Jennings lives in Malmö in the south of Sweden. He’s the Entrepreneur in Residence at Lund University Open Innovation Center, Sweden. This is the oldest university in Scandinavia. In addition to this role, Steve advises CEOs and company leadership teams inside and outside of Sweden. He mentors students enrolled on the Masters of Entrepreneurship program at Lund University, and is a keynote speaker at international conferences. More often than not, Steve is usually hands-on involved with at least one new start-up venture.

Steve talks to Dalton Koss HQ about his leadership journey, describing how his passion and excitement for creative entrepreneurship has evolved through his life journey.

“I create moments that give me a lot of freedom; physically, emotionally and creatively. The only way for me to remain relevant is to consistently help other people and companies to create value. For this to happen, I need to be out and about in the world, travelling, meeting and talking with a wide range of different and highly diverse people. It is a way of thinking, and a way of being as a person.” – Steve Jennings 2015.

I grew up in Hull in the 1960s and 70s during the golden age of pop culture and the massive explosion in consumer goods. I vividly remember the street where I grew up. No one owned a car, but then with the arrival of mass consumerism, every neighbour began to own a car. It was a time of opportunities; we began to believe that anything was possible. We even landed men on the moon. The late 60s and early 70s laid the foundation for how in many respects we define the world today. Pop culture, music, fashion and the arts saw a burst of creative entrepreneurship during this time period.

I was incredibly lucky to grow up in a home with parents who loved all genres of music. This privileged exposure to music helped to lay down my blueprint for understanding the creative process. I wasn’t academically inclined. Even though I got through school, I never felt comfortable. I always wanted to be outside playing, exploring, I had an abundance of energy, and we’d probably call it ADHD, today. I realised at quite a young age that I didn’t function well in a formal environment with a repetitive structure.

From around the age of 9, adult issues really impacted me, e.g. Martin Luther King, The Vietnam War, the hunger in Biafra. Absorbing these adult images, words and thoughts created a different worldview for me. When I was growing up I was quite lonely in some respects because the things I was interested in didn’t interest most of my friends at school. I wanted to be out discovering the world. And as soon as I got a bicycle, I was out the door. It was a revelation for me. The bike facilitated the journey of finding myself. I was getting out of Hull and riding further and further afield, exploring, experiencing and learning. This way of being has carried me forwards during my adult life.

This image captured in 1964, shows Steve out exploring on his first bicycle at the young age of 3 in Hull, UK.
This image captured in 1964, shows Steve out exploring on his first bicycle at the young age of 3 in Hull, UK.

After finishing school, I began the process of studying to be an engineer. When I was 19, I was given an opportunity to become a professional racing cyclist on a Pro team based in the Netherlands. So I left Hull and headed over to the Netherlands with a one-way ticket. This was my step from being a boy to quickly becoming an adult. I had to figure out how to bootstrap my life so that I could race my bike and support myself. This meant taking on part time jobs so I could continue to compete in bike races. And this is when I realised I could stand on my own two feet with no instant connectivity to my parents, our family home, and my friends. This experience is what set me up for my life journey.

Steve winning a race during his time as a professional cyclist in Continental Europe.
Steve winning a race during his early years as as a cyclist.

After my pro-cycling career ended in 1984, I started to work for Lloyds TSB. Between 1984 -1990, I fell out of love with cycling for a number of reasons. I didn’t own any bikes during this period. I felt I needed to go on a new journey that resulted in me becoming a yuppie, in the world of finance and insurance. I channelled all of the energy from my cycling days into business and making money. It became something of an obsession. I was trying to prove myself. This need to prove myself is something that I’ve had to do a lot in my life, especially when the odds are stacked against me. I found myself in a highly competitive business environment where I could earn a lot of money based on my work ethic. I did this for 6 years and during this period of my life I didn’t take very good care of my body. It was an unhealthy and unsustainable lifestyle. I ended up returning to the bike in the early 1990s to reverse the impact of these 6 years of abuse.

I eventually left Lloyds TSB and started a business, the Maxim sports nutrition brand, and it turned into quite a successful company. In 1990, I was introduced to a sports nutrition technology that wasn’t commercially available. I quickly saw an opportunity to start a company, build a brand and get into the food industry. I had never started a company before Maxim. This was before the days of the internet, and I had to build the company using resources from the Chamber of Commerce and the local library. Once I laid out what I wanted to do, I received a lot of support. And I quickly built a network of advisors and mentors that enabled me to make sense of how to get a food company off the ground. Within 1 year, Maxim went from an idea to a product. And became the official energy food for the British team at the 1992 Barcelona Olympic Games. The business took off and I travelled all over the world as I set about building Maxim and establishing the brand by attending global sporting events and expos.

This was when I realised that riding my bike had created an internal toughness. Building your own company is similar in many respects to sport. There is no such thing as an overnight success. I drew on my cycling experiences to grow the business. I learnt early on to take criticism and to try and ignore self-doubt. Surrounding myself with supportive and good people helped me. Over the years, I’ve had lots of self-doubt, and at times I’ve felt as if I was on the edge of a black hole looking down at a bottomless pit.

After I sold the Maxim business, I moved into the world of technology and the internet. Innovating in the food industry is something that I really love to do. In 2002, I was presented with an opportunity to help start a new ‘good for you’ nutrition business with PepsiCo in the USA (products such as Quaker and Tropicana are owned by PepsiCo). I took all my entrepreneurial experiences to this big global food company, and once I established myself within the organisation, I felt relaxed and had the confidence to be who I am, which is not a suit wearing corporate guy.

Whilst we where living in the USA, my father passed away. He was my cycling coach, and the person who always encouraged me to stride out on new adventures. My dad gave me many of words of advice and encouragement, but what stood out for me was that you shouldn’t be afraid. If you are a good person and you do good in the world, no harm will come to you. His passing at a relatively young age was a big wake up call for me. I reappraised what I was doing with my life. It made me realise that I wanted to make the world a better place. Following his passing, I immersed myself in philanthropy, microfinance and trying to understand how NGOs function. The inefficiencies and seepage of resource from NGOs is shocking, so I started to look at new and disruptive innovation opportunities within the NGO and Corporate Social Responsibility space. This lead to me founding a youth empowerment initiative called The zyOzy Foundation.

The 5 key words I use to describe effective and successful leadership are: 

  1. Resilience: you need to be extremely resilient and capable of bouncing back from one set back after the other.
  1. Belief: you need to believe in yourself, in your idea and most important in the people you choose to have around you. You need to believe that you made the right choices based on the information that you had at any given moment in time.
  1. Love: you have to be willing to give the best of yourself to others and not expect to get anything back in return. If something does come back to you then that’s great, but you can’t only think about ‘what’s in it for me’. The real magic happens when you give the best of yourself, share everything you know and do it unconditionally.
  1. Humility and Humble: This is how I was raised by my parents. When I built Maxim, and it took off, I didn’t feel worthy of what was happening. I struggled with the PR, media hype and the press. It made me feel very uncomfortable inside. It took me quite sometime to learn how to balance being humble and having humility with the confidence required to be a leader of a business and the spokesperson for a global brand.
  1. Privacy: It is important to acknowledge that people have a right to privacy and are not always available. The human condition necessitates the need for private moments of deep reflection.

A key challenge in anyone’s leadership journey is fear. I regularly meet people across all age groups who have really good ideas. One of their challenges is fear, that is, they are afraid and unsure about how to make the first step. The fear that holds back entrepreneurs especially those in the 40 to 50 year age bracket is that of not being able to provide for their family. This juxtaposes the need for freedom to do what makes them happy. When you conquer fear it is liberating. When you put everything on the line and you try your best to make something happen, that’s what defines you as an entrepreneur and a person. My kids know me for being someone who’s not afraid of trying new things and wanting to help others.

The foundation of my success comes from the bicycle and cycling. I am now 54 and I feel very comfortable with whom I’m becoming as I grow older. This comes from the journeys and experiences I’ve had on my bicycle. Exploring new worlds allows you to meet diverse people, opening up opportunities to share knowledge about the way you think and what you do. As a young kid, I always had a lot of confidence in completely new environments, and used to relish the opportunity to listen to conversations about subjects and topics that I knew very little about. It is these new conversations that provide new data and create new insights. I’ve always used simple tools – paper, pens, post it notes to capture new thoughts, ideas and learning’s. I like to interpret and analyse these comments and quotes, and then map this data to try and find things that connect conversations that can range from biotechnology to sustainable fabrics to urban farming to packaging design. From these insights I connect new people, create new moments and start new conversations that in turn creates new value. For me it’s about a way of thinking. But there is always the risk that these new conversations can turn out very different to the way you envisaged. And sometimes that’s not such a bad thing. I liken it to free form jazz.

The bicycle taught Steve resilience and built his internal toughness. To this day, Steve's bike journeys continue to be filled with excitement due to new potential opportunities to discover, explore and meet new people.
The bicycle taught Steve resilience and built his internal toughness. To this day, Steve’s bike journeys in Sweden continue to be filled with excitement due to new potential opportunities to discover, explore and meet new people. It also contributes to Steve’s mental and physical health and wellbeing.

I approach my physical health and mental wellbeing from a holistic perspective. I ride my bike, meditate and run in the sand at my local beach. These activities keep me grounded while maintaining my physical health and mental wellbeing. I like getting lost in my thoughts when I’m out exploring the forests here in Sweden on my bicycle. I like having the opportunity to meditate in the outdoors, this is becoming increasingly important for me. I place a lot of importance on the food I choose to eat and its origins. Nutrition is becoming more important as I become older. I tend to compromise on my sleep so I need to look after other aspects of my life. I also drink a lot of water.

My sense of curiosity is what keeps me ahead of the game. What is around the corner? How does that work? What is under that rock? The human creative process truly fascinates me. For me, science is an art form and art is science. Humans have a need to express themselves creatively. We do it naturally as children and it is part of our DNA. I like to meet and have in depth conversations with people who create art (music, literature, painting, poetry, dance, sculpting). I feel very comfortable in the company of highly creative people and left-field thinkers. If I had a little bit more confidence and self-awareness as I was growing up I would probably have pursued something where the creative arts meets the worlds of fashion and music.

Entrepreneurship is an art form, a way to express yourself. I’m not really that interested in business; it actually leaves me cold. It is creating art and going out on the edge and discovering new revelations that interests me. I just happen to be doing this most of the time in a business context.

I need my private space. Privacy is important to me, especially in an era of the always connected society. Our privacy is rapidly being eroded and that is something that gives me concerns for the future.

There’s beauty to be found in most aspects of everyday life. Life is the most beautiful thing. Beauty is everywhere. Everyone with a little bit of help, encouragement and luck has the capacity to unlock his or her own potential. I truly believe we are becoming overly dependent on technology. I’m deeply passionate about developing solutions, tools and safe spaces that enable people to reveal their vulnerabilities, share their ideas and thoughts, and realise their potential. We don’t create enough opportunities for people to seek out others who can help them in times of need. We’re going to see a lot of growth in the creation of safe spaces, where people are able to share their emotional intelligence. People are feeling more isolation and loneliness, and this is when we are supposedly more connected as humans than ever before. This change in our social fabric has occurred very quickly. The internet isn’t the answer to everything, but it is an enabler for new kinds of solutions that would previously have been impossible to bring to life.

Steve's creative entrepreneurship is inspired by outdoor journeys, meeting new people and engaging in diverse conversations.
Steve’s creative entrepreneurship is inspired by outdoor journeys, meeting new people and engaging in diverse conversations.

Creativity tends to happen in very diverse and unusual places. For anyone wanting to connect with other creative entrepreneurs, I suggest joining a Fab Lab, which provides a physical hacking space to create new ideas. Attend events such as weekend hack-a-thons, find out about what’s happening in your local start-up scene, make contact with start-up incubators, and find out what’s going on at your local university campus.

Art is the set of wings to carry you out of your own entanglement.” – Joseph Campbell

For more information about Steve’s work in creative entrepreneurship and what inspires him, please follow these links:

About Me

https://about.me/stevejennings

Crowd Expedition talks to Steve Jennings at the Crowdsourcing Week Europe 2014 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GXKd-5Q9GV4  

Steve Jennings talking about trust, privacy and data at Oredev 2014 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PnCO_f4Zaus

Getting Started in the Music Business

As 50% of Dalton Koss HQ (DKHQ), I spend much of my time speaking to young people who want to work in the music industry. Most are aware that there are no regular, standard jobs in the music industry. There probably aren’t even any long term careers. More likely it’s a lifestyle of freelancing and projects. As such, it’s highly unlikely that there will ever be an advertisement in the jobs section of a mainstream newspaper for a high paid, permanent job in the music industry. But do creatives actually want bog standard ‘jobs’? I think not. I’ve always maintained that clever, creative and entrepreneurial people will always be in high demand, this is probably more so in the music and creative industries then any other sector.

When I mention the word entrepreneur people’s eyes begin to glaze over as they think of Richard Branson, Mark Zuckerberg or Steve Jobs. I once worked at a creative arts educational institution with a remit of educating the new wave of performers, audio professionals and music industry free thinkers. I embraced this remit and provided creative solutions through, what I thought, was inspirational leadership. My job was to provide leadership, facilitate creative solutions while enabling and building a knowledge economy for the next wave of creative entrepreneurs, the radical free thinkers that the music industry desperately needs. I saw opportunity and value in students playing guitars and singing in the reception area, watching and editing audio/film on their smartphones and interacting via social media. I actively encouraged students to be creative at every opportunity regardless of physical location. The Dean of this institution stopped staff and students interacting and being creative in these unconventional learning spaces, as he believed learning could only effectively take place in a classroom. Apparently the ‘correct’ way to teach creative entrepreneurship is the schooling of students in Boston Consulting Group (BCG) quadrant charts, etc. He even went as far as buying a job-lot of white boards and marker pens with the direct instruction to do “the traditional stuff”. Another can of beige paint added to an already vast ocean of beige. I was out of that place as quick as you could say, “asymmetrical repurposed collaborative content with frictionless deliverables ”.

Sitting around and waiting for things to happen is not a good strategy in the creative arts and music business. In Malcolm Gladwell’s 2008 book Outliners: The Story Of Success he repeatedly mentions the “10,000-Hour Rule“, claiming that the key to success in any field is, to a large extent, a matter of practicing a specific task for a total of around 10,000 hours. Interestingly Malcom Gladwell’s theory can also be applied to professional sport and in particular cycle racing. Going back to music, lets look at the 1960’s popular Liverpool beat combo The Beatles. Prior to leaving for Hamburg, The Beatles were arguably a second rate cover band who were not very musically proficient. Fast forward to Hamburg and as John Lennon noted “we had to play for eight hours solid a day, every day”, this was the inspiration for the single Eight Days A Week. This postwar model of an artist’s progress was a type of professional development. Artists didn’t burst from obscurity to celebrity with a single astonishing piece of work. They slowly climbed the ranks. They accumulated credentials and amassed a creditable résumé. Artists learnt their trade and craft, that’s how The Beatles became really, really good at what they did.

One of the most conspicuous things about today’s young creators is their tendency to construct a multiplicity of artistic identities simultaneously. You can be a musician and a photographer and a poet a storyteller and a dancer and a designer, a multiplatform artist. This means you haven’t got the time for your 10,000 hours in any of your chosen media. But technique or expertise is not the point. The point is versatility. Like any good business, you try to diversify. This is why I like the current buzz term “creative entrepreneurship”, or as academic Jeremy Tunstall calls them “media workers”, to describe the artists, artisans and collaborators of today. Creative types are no longer interested in putting in their 10,000 hours. We are sold the dream that today’s music business is about instant gratification. You appear on a Saturday night TV talent show and boom you instantly become a star. Sing a really crap song about going to school on Friday on YouTube and have millions of ‘hits’. Today’s creative entrepreneurs mostly shun the 10,000 hour theory believing that 10,000 social media contacts is much more important. I believe that there are three core elements to success in the music industry and creative arts: –

  1. Creativity – generating new ideas, evaluating them effectively and critically, and taking action to turn them into new products and/or services.
  2. Collaboration – connecting and working with partners, clients, stakeholders and other significant players in your network, which will probably be scattered across the globe and contain more ‘virtual’ relationships than face-to-face ones.
  3. Entrepreneurship – identifying opportunities in the marketplace and using business skills to monetize ideas into products and/or services.

These three core facets are best taught in a real world simulator or even better in the actual real world. They do not lend themselves to the strict beige classroom environment, flip carts and marker pens. Ask any young band out on the road, playing gigs, selling shirts, communicating with their audience via social media and sharing their music via on-line platforms exactly what it is that they are doing and I guess they won’t reply with “being entrepreneurs”. In actual fact that’s exactly what they are.

On my visits to various educational institutions around the world I regularly give master classes and lectures on careers in the music and creative industries. Over the years I’ve earned a living as a live sound engineer, tour manager, studio engineer, record producer, artist manager, A&R consultant, rehearsal studio owner and record label executive. Discussions with early career professionals nearly always focus on how I got started on my 34-year career in the music industry. What was my personal journey?

Space, place and time are extremely complex mediums and trying to make any sense of these independently, let alone in combination, can be infuriatingly difficult. As I stare at the picture below of a much younger version of myself, it is difficult to unravel the truth from the myth. If memory serves me correctly, this picture was taken in 1983 when I was just 20 years old. I had left school in the heat wave summer of 1979 and went straight to work in the local music scene. Initially, this was with a rag-tag and bobtail collection of ex-school mates and bands where my brother, Nick, played drums.

This PA system comprised of:- Two 1x15
This PA system comprised of:-
Two 1×15″ scoop bins, loaded with HH speakers.
Two 2×12″ mid cabinets, loaded with Celestion speakers.
Two 1″ RCF compression drivers loaded onto some fibreglass flares.
18meters of 12 way multicore with three return lines (left, right & holdback).
Foldback amp was a McGregor 120 watt power amp with 6 band graphic EQ.
Main PA was powered via a Traynor x3000 bi-amp amplifier. This was supposed to give two channels of 300 watts for the lows and two channels of 150 watts for the mids/highs. Originally the system was powered by two HiFi amplifiers in a home built, fan cooled plywood box, the ‘Rabbit hutch’. This died on the second or third gig, so I invested the first few hire fees into the purchase of the Trainer amplifier; money well spent.

Back in the early 1980’s, music industry/audio university and college courses did not exist, so entry into a career in these fields took a more ad-hoc and self-driven approach. Originally I played rhythm/2nd guitar in long forgotten ska-punk outfit before getting ‘promoted’ (due to musical differences) to roadie. This opportunity in disguise led me into a still continuing 34-year career in the music industry. At the start of this journey there was no business plan of what I was going to do or what the various career options were going to be, I just did it.

Very quickly it became clear that I had a particular interest in the audio side of playing live. All of my early work took place in the city in which I was born, Hull located in East Yorkshire within the UK’s northeast. In the 1980’s, Hull had the most fantastic underground music scene, partly due to the high unemployment rate and its geographical isolation. Prior to this period, Hull’s only claim to rock ‘n’ roll fame was that David Bowies’ backing band The Spiders From Mars featuring the world’s 64th greatest ever guitarist (Rolling Stone Magazine 2003) the late great Mick Ronson, came from Hull. This was set to change in the early 1980’s with the onset of the ‘Humber Sound’ and a flurry of band formations. Bands like the Akrylyk Vyktymz, Red Guitars, International Rescue, House Martins, Pink Noise, Everything But The Girl, King Maker and Les Zeiga Fleurs, all of which I worked with, made some type of impression on the UK music scene.

A reoccurring problem that I faced during this period was the PA system, or rather the lack of one. Either the system was of dubious quality and/or were ridiculously expensive to hire. That was because there was no local PA company based in Hull. All PA systems had to be brought into the city increasing costs for the live music scene and a logistical nightmare. Adversity often drives people into unconventional behaviour patterns and this is probably what happened here. Unable to source a good quality but reasonably priced PA systems for the bands that I was mixing, I took the massive jump to build my own system. The logic here being that I would learn about PA systems from the ground up, I’d get exactly what I wanted and upon completion I could hire it out allowing me to build more equipment. In late spring 1983, I had saved enough money, though not enough, and I went in search of a bank loan. Luckily a local bank decided that I was one of Mrs. Thatcher’s new breed of entrepreneurs. At the time I didn’t think so, but in retrospect maybe I was? Armed with an £800 ($1,540 AUS) bank loan, to be paid back over the next three years, and lots of magazine articles and books on PA cabinets, speakers and amplifiers, I set to work in my dad’s garage. A ‘Fab Lab’ long before they became trendy and ubiquitous.

Building monitor wedge speakers in my Dad's 'Fab Lab'. Each comprised of 1x12
Building monitor wedge speakers in my Dad’s ‘Fab Lab’. Each comprised of 1×12″ Celestion woofer and a 2″x5″ 200 watt piezo tweeter horn.

I arranged for a local timber company to deliver numerous sheets of plywood, lots of lengths of 2”x1”, wood glue and several large boxes of No. 6 screws. The only power tool my Dad owned was a very old, knackered Black & Decker electric drill, which I managed to spectacularly break in a hail of orange sparks after a few days. All the cutting of timber, screwing, filling, sanding and painting was done by hand; only the first few days of drilling were electric. After a few days of 10 hours shifts my PA was complete as was my new company Blind Entertainments. So named because I was doing this entirely blind, metaphorically, and it was also fairly entertaining.

Once I had built this PA a massive oversight came to the fore, how was I going to transport it? Maybe a flip chart and some marker pens would have helped me overcome this oversight? A PA system that couldn’t move from my Dad’s garage wasn’t going to generate much income. Luckily a very tired, ex-supermarket delivery Ford Transit van was sourced, re-sprayed plain white and I was in business. The PA fitted in the van perfectly, almost as if it had being designed for it (it hadn’t of course). The gigs came thick and fast, not because the PA was particularly good, more that I was young and was very enthusiastic about the bands I worked with. I totally embraced the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle, I put the hours in and it felt good. I also found that owning a van provided a sideline income e.g. I got to drive bands all over the UK and mix them, a sort of start to my live sound and tour managing career. The PA system and Blind Entertainments grew in size and eventually led to the formation/evolution of my production company Total Concert Solutions (that’s a different story). It goes to show that a rag-tag, no experience and unconventional but enthusiastic school leaver can become a successful entrepreneur by doing what you love.