‘I was speaking up in high-pressure environments, in meetings, trying to make an impact.’

Travis Beckford

Our latest feature in partnership with the brilliant Did Ya Know? podcast sees Adrian Sykes talk to Travis Beckford. They discuss his experience across labels and management – and a backstory that has prompted him to co-found THE FUTURE IS, a series of events designed to find, encourage and connect the next generation of young execs, artists, producers and writers…

Travis Beckford has not taken a conventional or easy route to success in the music industry. Some of the detours have been dark, some of the obstacles have been major – but, at key moments, mentors and helping hands, allied to his own drive and determination, have also been there to make sure the journey continued.

These have included well-known industry names such as Darcus Beese, David Joseph and Benny Scarrs, campaigners like Baroness Doreen Lawerence and, when most needed, two largely unheralded teachers working in a notoriously tough prison.

It’s a background that perhaps helps explain why, at the relatively young age of 31, Beckford has prioritised providing pathways and guidance for young executives and those on the outside looking to break into the business.

After an apprenticeship at the BBC (which came via a placement on a Stephen Lawrence Charitable Trust-funded internship), he has already worked at Epic, Polydor, Modest! Management and Disturbing London, as well as consulting for Island Records.

Along the way, he brought Ay Em (who collaborated with Dappy on the platinum single Oh My – 79.8m Spotify streams) to Polydor, drill rapper Poundz (29m YouTube views, 37m+ Spotify streams) and singer-songwriter Eight9 (who worked on Kaytranada’s Grammy-winning album, Bubba) to DL/Warners, and was instrumental in taking Knucks, Miraa May and 23 Unofficial (combined Spotify streams of 80m+) to Island. He also plugged Central Cee and Skepta into Italian mainstream media in collaboration with Francesca Bondioli. 

It was between stints at Modest! and Disturbing London that he, along with friend and artist manager Ashley Cox, plus Event Co-ordinator at The
Hospital Club, JJ Antwi, created THE FUTURE IS. 

Originally conceived as a talent showcase night, Beckford decided to develop it into a more rounded platform that includes seminars and other events designed to give aspiring executive talent the tools to hone their skills and the opportunities to expand their network.

He has subsequently extended the brief to include songwriting camps and studio time for writers, producers and artists – already Lauren Keen has signed a worldwide publishing deal as a result of a TFI camp.

In his first major interview, he talks about his experiences in the industry so far, the changes he’s trying to make – and the struggle he went through just to get to the start line…

Why did you choose music?

I feel like the music business chose me. It wasn’t something that I necessarily went out looking for. My background growing up was definitely more about football.

I came from quite a negative background, but if it wasn’t for the experiences that I had growing up, the circumstances that I was in, I wouldn’t have landed in the position I’m in now, being one of the young people championing the UK music scene.

To put it bluntly, I made a lot of mistakes when I was younger. I made a lot of bad decisions, but with the right intentions. I always had that hustler spirit where I just wanted to win. I wanted to look after my family.

We didn’t have much, we grew up with not many options. And I think most people who are in that predicament tend to make decisions based on their environment and based on what they have access to – and what they don’t have access to.

“I ended up making a few bad decisions that led me into a lot of trouble.”

I was just one of those young guys who’s hungry to win, and I ended up making a few bad decisions that led me into a lot of trouble.

Ever since then, I’ve been trying to correct it, you know, move more official and help people to get to where they want to get to.

Growing up, I used to love music, I used to love rapping with the boys on the block, rapping with my friends. That was a release for all of us, a gateway to expressing ourselves.

Ten years after that experience, I landed in the music industry. It took me by surprise. As I said, it wasn’t something that I went looking for. I didn’t go to uni, I didn’t go studying, I didn’t read any books about how to get into the industry, it kind of fell into my path.

I was working at the BBC, as a young apprentice, in the radio space, not just TV, I managed to wriggle my way in.

It was quite a long journey even to get there though, wasn’t it?

From about 12/13, me and a few of the other boys that I grew up with were involved in a lot of serious stuff. We were acting as if we were 18 when we were 13; we were serious about making money. I’m going to do whatever I need to do – sell this, sell that. That’s how we grew up for a few years.

I unfortunately got stabbed when I was 14, and at that point, my mom was telling me that I wasn’t focusing on what I should be focusing on, and at the same time my pops asked me to come and live with him up north. I didn’t necessarily want to leave the manor, this was my home. But I knew it was getting very dangerous. Some very serious things were happening to people around me.

My pops said, ‘This is a fresh start, you know, you’re not running away from anything, you can always come back whenever you want to come back. But you need to start taking yourself seriously.’

Because I never did. For someone who was so confident and outgoing – and I still am – I had very low self-worth.

So I moved up north for a year, but my sister, Sabrina, bless her, she got very, very ill, so my mom asked me to come back to London, when I was about 15.  And I was back in the mix straight away.

I want to ask you about what you said about having low self-worth…

I feel like if I respected myself more, when I was younger, I wouldn’t have been so easily influenced. Because although the baseline for everyone was, we’re all broke, we need money – that doesn’t mean you should go out and sell drugs.

Be patient, put your energy and your skill set into other things. No one forced me to do what I was doing. 

Be patient, put your energy and your skill set into other things. No one forced me to do what I was doing.”

And I think that my mentality as a young boy was someone who was very upset, angry and just misguided, easily led astray by the 18-year-olds who are fully out there, making more money than you can imagine.

You know, you go to the local chicken shop, and you’ve got boys pulling out 10 grand in cash just to give the guy a tenner. You’re thinking that’s mad cool.

If I had a little bit more self-worth and a bit more self-respect, perhaps I wouldn’t have gone down that road.

That last time you returned to the streets ended up with you doing time, right?

Yeah, I went to college for a year, I was trying to get into sports science. I was applying for jobs. It wasn’t like I had given up on life. But it just didn’t happen for me. Or it didn’t happen quick enough for me.

“Life slapped me in the face and I realised, I’m at rock bottom now, the only way is up.”

I ended up getting in real trouble. I got caught and sent to prison. At first I got sent to Feltham for six months, while they decided what they were going to do with me. That was proper sobering reality. Life slapped me in the face and I realised, I’m at rock bottom now, the only way is up.

What was that experience like – and how did you get through it?

It was difficult because you’re spending 23 hours a day by yourself. I’m cool with being by myself, but you’ve got to dig deep and look inward.

I saw a lot in there. I heard a lot. And I had to basically tell myself: that’s it now, whatever time they’re gonna give you, you better make sure when you come out, you’re going to fix up, because I ain’t coming back here again.

I turned 19 on the 14th September and I got my sentence on the 16th. Initially it was much longer, but we ended up appealing and got down to six years and eight months, I ended up serving three years.

So from 18 to 21, I was in a headspace of like, you’ve got to improve now, you’ve got to fix up, you got to write down what’s going on in your head, make plans.

When you come home, make sure you’re moving official and proper. And whatever you do, whatever you fall into, just give it 100% and see where it
takes you.

And, actually, it was in prison that you got that new start, wasn’t it?

It was. I met two people who changed my life.

I was moved to a prison in South East London called Isis and I was there for two and a half years. 

It was very, very, very violent. It was recorded as the most violent prison in the country while I was there. It was crazy.

But I met these guys called Jason Mitchell and Chris Chalaye who were in the music production and radio broadcasting courses.

They really took time with me, they supported me. But my headspace was a lot different to what it is now. I was a completely different person.

I didn’t want to hear anything, you know, no one could tell me anything. I was just like, ‘No, I’m here, I’m going to get on with what I need to get on with it – F it’.

But they stuck with me, they told me I needed to change the way I was thinking – and eventually I opened up to them a lot more. They became mentors more
than teachers.

Then Jason brought in DJ Target, which was another eye-opener for me. He [Target] didn’t have to do that, he knew what he was stepping into; it wasn’t a very safe environment. And he was just super cool. We spoke about everything.

Eventually he said, ‘When you come home, we need to link up’. The next thing that happened was Doreen Lawrence wrote to me – bless her, and Rest In Peace to Stephen every time. She said she’d been hearing great things and that she wants to give me the opportunity to be one of the interns on the Stephen Lawrence programme when I get released.

That became something I really wanted to concentrate on. So I stopped the fighting, I stopped all the madness that I was doing in there, and I focused on that. I put all my energy into making sure when I come home, I got that locked in, which I did.

Tell us what happened when you got released?

It was quite weird at the beginning. I missed the boys I got close with in there, they were like family to me.

But I knew that chapter had to close. Now it’s all about levelling up and being grateful to Doreen and the BBC for taking a risk on someone who’s going to be on probation for another three or four years. They gave me an opportunity to learn and network and be in this corporate environment, which I had zero experience with. It was a different world to me completely, a culture shock.

The Stephen Lawrence internship led to a year-long apprenticeship scheme at the BBC, which was paid. That put me in different rooms, and I ended up really excelling there.

I worked with Panorama on a documentary and a BAFTA-winning film called Don’t Take My Baby, I was working with BBC 3, The One Show – but I wanted to get back into music.

Luckily, I bumped into DJ Target outside Oxford Circus station. I told him what I was doing and he took me into 1Xtra and introduced me to everyone, including Austin Daboh. We all got on straight away, and Austin asked me to finish my apprenticeship at 1Xtra – and said there’d be a job at the end of it. I’m forever grateful to all those guys.

What sort of things did you learn from Austin and the team and how important was their support?

I can’t even put it into words. I was still local, still around all my friends and things were happening. I was away from that, but still part of it.

I remember one time me and Austin went for a walk around Central London for an hour. He was just speaking positive things into me, really giving me that energy. He was saying, ‘Look, you can do whatever you put your mind to, you don’t have to go back to that. And I can see that you’re stressing about one or two things, but I can also see you’re incredibly energised about being here, so whatever I can help you with, I’ll help you.’

“These people remind me, ‘Nah, you didn’t fluke it, you deserve to be at this table’.”

Target was the same, Sarah-Jane Crawford was the same. There were so many great people who had my back. That gave me confidence and made me feel really good about myself.

I wanted to make them proud. I still want to make them proud. Because although I’m 31 now, I still feel at times that I shouldn’t be here because I kind of fluked it. But these people remind me, ‘Nah, you didn’t fluke it, you made the right decisions, you put the work in, you deserve to be at this table’.

How do you feel about that now? Because you’ve mentioned your self-worth issue before, so do you feel you deserve a seat at the table?

I do and I don’t. I feel I deserve a seat because I did put the hours in. I did a lot that other people weren’t necessarily doing. I was networking with everybody. I was really taking the time to meet everyone on a personal level, and adding value through my ideas. I was speaking up in certain high-pressure environments, in meetings, trying to make an impact.

But then the other half of it is that I still have that thing in my head where I’m just this young guy from West Ealing, and maybe I don’t know what these guys are talking about, maybe this isn’t for me, maybe that role isn’t for me. There’s that little bit of self-doubt.

But I think 90% of me feels I am ready to level-up in different areas and be present. If you asked me a few years ago, I would have been bit more shaky at times. It’s a journey.

Travis and his brother Marci - Creative Director of THE FUTURE IS
At what point did you start thinking about wanting to give back? And what prompted that?

Let me just rewind just a little bit. I was working with a woman called Tamara Howe at the BBC in Business Affairs and Commissioning when I was a young guy fresh out of prison.

She was this woman of colour who was just a boss. She brought her own energy into every room. In Business Affairs and Commissioning, as you can imagine everyone’s middle-aged and white.

So I’m in there with my Jordans and my hoodie, feeling way, way out of my depth, but just listening and learning.

On my lunch breaks, I used to write a lot of lyrics and, you know, make music in my head. One day, Tamara pulled me to one side and said, ‘Travis, every time I see you on your lunch break, you’re sitting in a corner, you’re writing bars. If you’ve got an interest in music, you should chase that and not necessarily be in TV.’

But I told her I was grateful to be there, grateful to Doreen and the opportunity she’d given me. I wanted to do the honourable thing.

But she persisted. She said, ‘I’m gonna get my brother to speak to you, because I really like you and I think you’re gonna have a bright future.’

I get a phone call two or three days later, and it’s someone called Darcus. I’ve got no idea who that is! I don’t recognise the number or the name. He is straight away just a ball of energy. He tells me he wants to meet me, goes off on a tangent for 30 seconds and then hangs up!

I’m like, who is this guy, calling my phone, speaking really loudly and aggressively, but in a positive way?!

About an hour later I get an email from his assistant saying Darcus really wants to see you, come down to High Street Kensington.

At this point I Google him, and I’m like, wow! He worked with Amy and he’s the president of Island. I’m heading to the big leagues!

I meet him, he’s all energy, he made me feel super comfortable and relaxed. I played him some music, he really liked my ear – and he wanted to give me a job as an A&R.

Again though, I said I can’t turn my back on the BBC, I can’t turn my back on Doreen, just allow it for now and perhaps in the future we can do something. He totally respected that.

Fast forward to when I left 1Xtra, at the same time as Austin left to join Spotify. I had got an email from Sony offering me an A&R internship. I asked Benny (Scarrs) and Austin about it, because I wasn’t really sure what A&R was, and they both said take it, this is a great opportunity for you.

So I took the interview, and big-up Dougie Bruce [then MD of Epic], the first guy who gave me an opportunity in music, super-grateful to him forever.

It started as an internship, but he gave me the job after three months. He said, ‘Don’t worry, you’re here now’.

I cried in the car when I got that phone call. Because I felt like I was so far removed from where I was. I shed a tear because I was so happy.

What happened next for you?

I was at Epic for a year, but then my world kind of got flipped on its head. The gaffer got relieved of his duties. Mr Iley was definitely moving things around in 2016, put it that way.

I was in limbo. I felt a lot of pressure and I was just very frustrated.

I spoke to my mentor, Danny Cohen, and he was upset about the situation. He said, ‘Look, I’m going to introduce you to a few people, just see how it goes’.

From there, I got an email from David Joseph. Again, I didn’t really know who David Joseph was. I knew who the A&R guys were, the managers, booking agents, lawyers, but I was still very, very green. But David hit me up and said, ‘You’ve come highly recommended. I want to spend some time with you and just have a chat.’

And then I had an email from Max Lousada, who said the same thing! So now it’s going from me trying to get a job back in the industry to this! Man, you know how the game goes [laughs].

Both those guys are real gentlemen, genuine love and time for them. I ended up going to Polydor. Big-up to Ben Mortimer and Tom March, they gave me a great opportunity and I was super grateful to be in a space where the label and the team was much bigger than at Epic.

I had a great time there, semi-frustrated with a few things, a few acts I brought in and didn’t get to sign, but it’s all love man, your time comes when your time comes. And Polydor is still one of the best labels in the country, hands down.

Char Grant was at Modest! Management and they reached out to me. Ben didn’t want me to leave, but I knew I’d get to learn about publishing, about management, you know, it was a new journey for me.

So I took that opportunity and that was dope. But Char, man, she left me in the lurch, I can’t lie [laughs]! She left to join BMG and she was my big sis, I wanted to work with her.

I really enjoyed working at Modest!, but again, the vision didn’t necessarily align completely. I was trying to sign Jae5 and Nafe Smallz, and they were still very much in the pop space.

So I took a bit of a break, did some travelling, spent more time with my son and started thinking about creating a future.

When I got back, myself and Ashley Cox, who manages Aston Rudi, Tamera and Owen Cutts, we sat down together and came up with THE FUTURE IS. 

Grammy-winning producer Maestro The Baker at a TFI writing camp
This is something people should know more about, so explain the concept for us.

The original idea was to start putting on club nights, just showcasing talent that we like, because we both have a really good eye for spotting talent really early.

But then I thought, why don’t we aim for something between ILoveLive and the Ultimate Seminar. And that’s how it started.

The first one we ever did was at the Hospital Club. I put together a panel that had some amazing people on it: Rachel Campbell (Wired PR – Stormzy, Central Cee, Jorja Smith), Lucy Francis (17Days Music – Jessica Agombar, GG Stök, etc.), Jasmine Dotiwala, Sarah T Smith (manager of Fraser T Smith) and Milly Allen (0207 Def Jam).

It was called THE FUTURE IS Female, because so many talented women were coming through at the time and we wanted to highlight that.

It really blew up and took off. Ashley wanted to focus more on the management space, but I ended up putting on more events. It was a real snowball effect.

We worked with the Royal Albert Hall, we worked with Black Music Coalition, TikTok, Nike… Most of the people on the panels have been people of colour, and that’s very deliberate. Because there are so many great people in this industry who look like me and look like you, but not many people know who they are.

It has been a serious blessing for me and I can’t wait to share with the world all the things we’ve been secretly working on for the last six months.

What are the specific tools you’re arming them with to set about this business?

I guess there’s two sides to that. The first side would be just to give them an avenue, somewhere to go where they can learn from the real ones in the industry. And then that marries well, with celebrating those who are the real ones in the industry.

I got into the industry super-green and late. I had no idea what A&R was. So I wish I’d had something like this. People come and spend their own time and talk about their journey and their stories, the things you should do and things you probably shouldn’t do. And it’s been incredible.

Along the way, I wanted to create a writing camp for all the performers that we’ve had at the events and, through that, they get to work with more established writers and producers.

“I got into the industry super-green, so I wish I’d had something like this.”

I reached out to a bunch of different studios, and they were just stringing me along, telling me what I wanted to hear, but not giving me dates and times.

And then I got connected with Alys [Gibson], who works down at Church Studios, and she – along with Paul Epworth – has just been incredible.

We’ve done a few writing camps together and there’s good things happening. People are getting signed, there’s connections being made. It just feels like the right thing to do and keep doing, giving people opportunities.

Motown reached out, Rob [Pascoe] hit me up and said, ‘I love what you’re doing, let’s do it together’. David Joseph knows about it, all of these cool things are happening.

Where do you go next?

I want to take it to a bigger stage – more seats, bigger venues, amplify the vision. We’ll just keep pushing it bit by bit.

What about you, your own career?

I think just to keep moving in the right direction, keep levelling up. I want to keep on developing my skills. I’ve met so many great people, I’m going to maybe look into getting back into A&R in a little bit. It depends on the role. It has to be a bit flexible, because I don’t want to stop working with THE FUTURE IS and building that.

This interview is taken from a brilliant podcast series, Did Ya Know?, which tells the often unheard stories of key figures in the British music industry, focusing initially on pioneering executives of colour. The team behind the pod includes Stellar Songs co-founder Danny D and Decisive Management co-founder Adrian Sykes. Music Business Worldwide is proud to be partners and supporters of Did Ya Know? You can listen to it wherever you find your favourite podcasts.Music Business Worldwide

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