BDEM Now (Pt 1): The Founder Story
B-DEM Records has existed now for over 7 years, but as of yet it’s not my full-time venture. Inevitably, it shall be, ever sooner than planned with the exponential traction we’re already gaining in 2017. It is my absolute ambition to run a business centred around music.
BDEM is an independent music distributor who transform artist talent & passion into careers. We blend our skills in creative arts, business strategy and technology to innovate and deliver solutions for artists & labels ready to commit to music full-time.
We’re a busy little growing company (like a craft beer brewery of the music world), each with our own full-time jobs as well as our responsibilities as stewards of BDEM.
Where Did DBEM Start?
As we’re yet to officially break into the Music Tech market as a true startup, BDEM probably needs an introduction to most.
I can’t tell this story without telling some of my own, so this post will mainly be my story, sorry to those that know it!
Initially a Music Producer (and still so, albeit a lot less than I’d like), I took the usual path of a young artist after school and pursued my time in artistry through further education.
Unlike with other pursuits in education, where people actually get a job at the end, the idea with education in art is to milk it for as long as possible to buy yourself enough time to learn and create as much as possible with a safety net of parents and some help (in loans, not grants) from the state. I did the full educational career from diplomas to BA Hons degree in Music Production.
However, between school, college, term breaks and during my years in higher education, I also needed money to support living costs as I’d spent my entire student loan on studio equipment and a maxed-out Mac (recently died L), so I took up some jobs in sales to keep me ticking along.
The First Sales Years
All through my student life I was also working in B2C telesales. So, Sales, beginning on the telephone, has been a big part of my life from 15–16 years old onwards, I learnt a lot of the basics here. I did well at what I was doing and moved ‘up the ranks’ in the sales office. Once I’d got a taste of that “if you sell more, you can dictate your own income” mentality, my entrepreneurial journey had begun.
Some Success with Music Production
Somewhere within my time at Uni I started seeing some good results in my production work and was getting plays on BBC radio and support from some of the leading DJ’s in my niche.
The industry was going through some major changes (this was still pre-streaming as we know it, so that era for those that remember) and I spotted that our industry was not only becoming an industry that was losing a sense of being lucrative due to piracy, but also a ridiculously high entry point to obtaining a satisfactory wage in a career.
Even though there were whispers and dreams of still being able to make good money in an independent career in music, the general truth was that good money was reserved for the exceptionally talented and sellable.
This was so frustrating, I’d worked so hard and achieved so much in terms of skill and developing a network, but it just wasn’t massively paying off. I was annoyed, but that was a fuelling energy. My mind set was that I had the tenacity and self-belief to be successful in achieving this vision of some form of label or artist-enablement business, so I needed to find a way to do so.
Founding B-DEM Records
And so, my entrepreneurial instincts began to awaken… I learnt that if I wanted the security of wealth and to build something more than just a day-job, I had to be 100% dedicated in finding how to do that. I had to have strategy, I had to go above and beyond and I had to learn more about business and finance management. No shortcuts and a new laser-focus.
I was studying Music Business as part of my degree and as I’d already started networking and mentoring a few producers I decided to set up a label. From here forward I was thinking religiously about music, business and how the two combines.
I wanted my label to be different from the average EDM net label and so I invested as much as I could into making it professional, well-marketed and seem of a higher tier and calibre to compete with other labels who were occupying our musical space at the time.
I got deeply into this idea of good business understanding being the key to, well… Good business! I consumed thousands of medias on launching a business, marketing and business development in general. In 2010, I strategised & executed the first operational version of B-DEM Records.
Another big part of Uni was my Dissertation. My study was ‘Is the Sale of Music Commodities Soon to be Completely Replaced by Music Services?’ this was a key aspect of what I was already thinking about for the future of BDEM, even as I was building a strategy for the music business market of the time. I had a head start on the way the industry was going — I felt it. Something was happening that was truly disruptive to the music industry.
When Uni finished, I was of course determined to make ‘this thing’ I’d started building real. I now had the foundations of a vessel to take artists other than myself from ‘lost artist’ to career. We put out a number of releases and created an awesome little roster and network of artists.
For me, I was working full time alongside the start of the label and my early twenties kicked in… I needed a car, I needed to escape my small town and to adventure.
I wanted to save money, I had a plan to get some real money behind me so that I could devote myself to working in music for a longer period of time and not be constrained to being a pawn; working to feed somebody else’s pocket whilst my freedom and expression went flaccid.
But things were changing. One of the structural points of our community at the time, Dubstep Forum (and then Future Garage Forum) began to disburse, and our artists weren’t as active and enthusiastic about putting music out with us. There was a hype now happening about how events were where the money was going to be in music. New net labels had come along and propped themselves as good event management labels and we weren’t jumping on this bandwagon. We knew that our strengths and future would be in releasing music and using digital technologies to do this.
We lost contact with a lot of our roster and I took a bit of a step back. I felt that I needed to shake up the way we were operating and build a ‘version 2’ of the label that operated with even more enterprise-level maturity & operations and build a business that systematically sources talent, works true A&R and has the right partnerships to put out music where we know we should be heard.
The balance between progress, patience and seeing results was taking its toll. I went through a stage where I quit jobs every year for around 5 years. I was reading a lot of Fight Club, American Psycho, George Orwell and Charles Bukowski and I was just so tired of bullshit sheep-people and corporative slavery. I did not want to be a slave to corporation, boredom or servitude. So, I walked out of jobs, I kicked off until I was let go and I challenged ignorant inhumane decisions.
Meanwhile, I was feeling shitty in myself. I didn’t recognise who I was and felt like I could achieve so much more. I got hard to work trying to understand myself.
I also carried on dedicating myself to learning more about business (I tried a couple of different little ventures with friends around this time and was learning a lot about developing and running businesses).
This era was the biggest rite of passage of my life and a dark time. I owe something to this time and what I learnt about myself. It set the continuation of a life of structure, vision, tenacity and introspection since.
Recollection and Vision
After myself, my attention went to BDEM. I discovered that the most important lesson in life to avoid getting in your own way is to always dedicate your mind to a mission and try to stay solely focused on reaching goals. BDEM is my mission, all else is a selection of distractions and stepping stones.
“The idle mind is the devil’s workshop” — Proverb
I decided I needed to learn more about the entire aspects of building, running and going to market with business. I got back into the books, incorporated the label as a Limited company and dedicated myself to running it as a side-hustle until the point I was able to jump ship.
By this time, I was a Marketing Campaign Manager at a B2B Marketing agency and being moved into a Business Development role for one of their side projects. This didn’t quite materialise and the strategy and action plans I brought to them were not ready to be implemented, so I left to seek the Business Development role I’d grown into. I found a BizDev role and then that company folded and finally I found Conxserv which was at the time developing into its next stage out of previously being a sole trader-based business.
Walking into Conxserv I was honest. “I’m trying to run my own business as a side hustle and my goal is to run it full-time within 5 years”.
“Fine”, the MD said, “we embrace people doing their own thing as part of our culture.” And so, I got to work, learnt what I needed to in order to be considered an expert in the consultation and solution aspects of this industry.
I cold-called businesses, often 30 an hour at least 6 hours a day and found myself in many 20 minutes + conversations with IT Directors throughout the day. I met with as many of them as possible, in their business, and learnt as much as I could about applied-technology in different kinds of businesses and where there were common issues. I learnt how to properly listen to customers and their business objectives to see what they needed and then built solutions to solve the issues. Because of Conxserv, I understand that tech is probably the most important aspect of business in this age, after people.
Conxserv has by far been the most challenging and educating experience of my career so far. From starting with the business, I was solely responsible for generating new business. I had nothing to work from other than the knowledge and inspiration given to me by the MD, Toby, and my previous B2B Business Development experience. Conxserv are a Network and Server Managed Service Provider, which at the time I knew limited-to-nothing about. I had to learn a lot (in a short space of time) about how the technical solutions worked or I would fail at consultatively selling them. This was real “you’re in at the deep end, you better learn to swim” territory.
I was determined to prove I could build and run a successful sales team and profitable revenue generation under a paycheque so that I knew I could do it for my own business without that safety net later on.
I took everything I knew already and applied it to Conxserv. I generated a load of new opportunities and the Conxserv Business Solutions department and I grew side-by-side at a rapid rate. What I generated in the first 6 months was enough to fuel my pipeline for around 12 months thereafter before drying up.
The freedom and mentorship from Toby allowed me to develop our entire sales and business development department which I now run as Head of Business Solutions, it allowed me to bring a single £500k revenue account into our client base last year and it further strengthened my tenacity to just get shit done, whatever it takes.
Meanwhile, I was exhausting myself daily learning about computer networks, business development, social media selling, relationship building, solution selling, business commercials, business processes and systems, IT infrastructure and operations, business strategy, product development and market intelligence. Anything strategy-related or business-related I wanted to learn everything about, and I was taking this knowledge and applying it back to ideas for what BDEM was to become — forcing me to learn even more about how to apply these aspects to the growth of a startup.
Sacred Vowels — Businesses Are for Life, Not Just Christmas
In Feb 2016, I announced B-DEM as dormant so that I could focus on solely the value I was taking from working at Conxserv. I thought that this would be taking a determined period of breakage from BDEM to focus on my own skill development, whilst hopefully building BDEM as a less demanding side project.
I quickly realised that I had invested myself too heavily to do this and that the market was changing in a way that opened many doors for a business such as ours. Besides this, I’d got other people involved and they’d also become invested in the development of the company and wished to see it continue. What a great feeling to know you’ve surrounded yourself with the right people who will pull you back to focus on your life mission (even when you feel despair) and to know that what you’re building has become something bigger than yourself.
When I incorporated B-DEM Records as a limited company, I realised something, this was no longer a sole-trader setup. We were a company now and that meant that as a Director I have responsibility to promote success of the company.
I needed other people around me to help me make the right decisions, to challenge me and to fulfil actionable goals that I couldn’t do all the time I was building the higher strategy and foundation structure of the operations of the business.
At first, I wanted to ‘give back’ to the people I know and love. Plenty of the people I’d spent a lot of my life with were interested in music and had some skills. But bringing relationships into business is a tricky game and friendships can quickly turn to politics. I had to pick the right team.
Eventually, this was driven naturally by the areas that I wasn’t able to focus on. After Tudor, who has been involved in our design and general consultation since the early days, Dave was brought in to oversee the Music Relationships side of the business including A&R, Talent Scouting and eventually Label Management. Chris came in to oversee Commercial Strategy and Liaison, Finance, Accounts, Business Development and as another Director. We’ve had 3 different Graphic Designers on board, and we’re confident that we’ve found our long-term choice in Charlotte.
We have a couple of other people around the edges that we’re excited to bring on-board officially too!
This post continues to describe where BDEM is now and where it is going in part 2.