Jane Third is co-founder of independent artist services venture DreamTeam, where she works with artists including Yung Lean, Tove Lo, Jungle and Steve Aoki, and companies including Mom + Pop and mtheory. Previously, she was CCO at [PIAS] and SVP at Because Music. Here, she recalls the lessons learned across her career…
The first thing I wish I’d known is that record labels will be worth a fortune one day. I got into the business in the very early noughties, so I was there for the peak and then the decline. After that, the attitude was always that there’s no money and there will never be any money.
I joined Because Music in 2006 and that was still very much the doldrums for record labels. Physical sales were falling, downloads weren’t making any money and streaming didn’t exist. It was all about penny pinching, doing everything on a shoestring and hoping you might have enough success that something would break even.
That was the level of pessimism that existed and the hard work that went into everything – knocking on the doors of gatekeepers and getting rejected over and over again because you didn’t quite fit and there weren’t any other avenues. If you didn’t get the gatekeeper support, you were nowhere.
It was basically impossible to do what you can do now by just building through audience development. So it was really tough, especially because we were starting something new; nobody knew who we were and the company didn’t have a reputation. But if I had known then that what we were doing would end up being worth millions one day, I would have had a lot more fun and would have demanded a lot more money!
The next thing is that not everyone has creative vision – and your quick idea could be worth a fortune. When I started out, I always had
taste and was good at predicting trends. Because that just came naturally to me, I thought everyone was like that.
I’d be intimidated by the more analytical people in the industry who knew their stuff and were really studious about it. I thought I wasn’t studious enough, needed to try harder and that you couldn’t just rely on instinct. But, as time went on, I realised that instinct is a hundred times more powerful than being studious.
Those little ideas I had, the ones that just came naturally, can change everything in a campaign. It’s quite easy for people to tell you that’s airy fairy nonsense and you just get lucky; sometimes you’re right, sometimes you’re wrong.
And once something works, nobody remembers how you got there. You know it was your idea that made it come together, but everyone else has moved on.
I wish I’d been more assertive about the fact that if you have creative vision, it’s a real thing. Creative vision is powerful, it’s spiritual and it should be valued more. I would have a lot more confidence in that if I was starting now.
The next thing I wish I’d known is to enjoy the moment and have fun, because so much is outside of your control. I was really tense a lot of the time in my early career, wanting everything to be perfect and working around the clock, having very high stress levels and taking all of the responsibility on myself, whether something worked or didn’t.
The thing I learned gradually is that sometimes you can put everything into a project and it just won’t work. And sometimes something will happen without you doing anything. Those are the things you get credit for – and you [often] don’t get credit for all the hard work you do.
“I would have had a lot more fun and demanded a lot more money!”
Being a video commissioner was a big part of my job for a long time. You’d be on set with an artist and everything would be going so well, the artist would be looking at the monitor saying, ‘Oh my god, I look amazing’, and everyone would be super-excited. Then, when you see the first cut, everyone hates it and it ends up getting panned. You’d think, ‘How could that happen? It was so much fun on the day.’ And then [conversely] you’d have a shoot that is really stressful and it works. So, enjoy the video shoot, enjoy the press day, enjoy meeting with the artist, because that’s the fun part. It doesn’t matter if you’re hyper-stressed and hyper-focused because, at the end of the day, the audience is going to decide whether they like something or not.
Try to bring excitement rather than stress into what you do – those two things are very closely linked. If you’re feeling stressed, try to flip it to excitement, it will be infectious and everyone will have a great time. And if something doesn’t work out, you can say, ‘Well, at least I had a good time doing it.’
Professional courtesy is something that, as I get older, I find myself talking to younger people in the industry about quite a lot. I always
aspire to practise it myself and assumed everyone else did, but actually I feel like it should be taught to people more.
Let’s say you have an artist who has a collaboration or a remix with another artist, there’s always this attitude of, ‘Let’s go for the timeline that’s best for us, screw the other artist, we don’t care about what they need.’ It’s that ‘we have to be first’ competitive thing.
I was always more like, Can we just have some professional courtesy? Can we be more spiritual about it and do the right thing? Not just because it will benefit us, but because it’s the right thing to do. Wouldn’t it be possible to have a
music industry that behaves in that way? Would it be so terrible, would we all lose drastically,
if we had professional courtesy as a motto and if the industry was more like a community rather than, ‘If you’re losing, I’m winning’?
This industry has a hoarding attitude — if I hoard everything and everyone else loses, then I must have more. But that’s actually not true. When you look at marketing, all boats rise is the truth. If the artist’s campaign that you’re collaborating with is successful, your campaign will be more successful.
By hoarding all of the control and hurting them, you’re just hurting yourself. That’s something I saw over and over again when I was younger. At the time I thought I guess I just don’t have enough of a mercenary attitude, I need to be more like everyone else and not be so courteous and concerned about other people. I thought it was a negative trait. Now I look back and think, no, that was actually right; everyone should have thought like that.
A core tenet of marketing and audience development is to understand that. Back in the day, when we used to do free downloads, people would say, ‘Oh, I don’t want to do this free download because it’s going to hurt my iTunes sales, I’m going to sell less if people are getting it for free.’ Time and again you saw that if you give something away for free, you end up selling more, because you’re spreading it wider, you’re getting access to a bigger pie. So, even from a business point of view, that mentality makes more sense.
I also wish I’d known that people probably respect you more than you think they do. When I got into the industry in the noughties, it was a very different place. There was genuine sexism around. It wasn’t necessarily that people wouldn’t hire you because you were female, it was more about a rudeness and dismissiveness that you had to deal with.
When you move through the industry and you’re 20 years into your career, sometimes you have to remind yourself to shake that off, because it doesn’t serve you, it was a long time ago and the industry is not like that anymore.
I have found myself being hyper-concerned about perfectionism. I would be very stressed if I was one minute late for a meeting, because I was convinced that people would think I was being flaky instead of just busy. I had the sense that I didn’t have respect in the industry and I had to constantly prove myself and fight for it.
“You don’t have to make up for other people’s lack of competency, empathy or rudeness.”
It was only when I left Because Music, where I’d been for 10 years, that I spoke to people in the wider industry and found a lot of people saying to me, ‘You’re an inspiration’ or ‘We always watched what you did’. I was like, Really? I had no idea that anyone knew my name.
Some people have tonnes of credit and notoriety and actually, on paper, what they’ve done maybe doesn’t stack up. I wouldn’t want to be in that position. But I wish I’d had a healthy sense that what I was doing was getting recognition and that people thought I was good at what I did, that I was working really hard and people were noticing. I would have enjoyed the last 20 years more if I’d had some sense of that.
Tying into that theme of perfectionism is this idea I had that every problem was my problem. But now I know that you don’t have to fix everything. You don’t have to accept every challenge. You don’t have to make up for other people’s lack of competency, empathy or rudeness.
I had this attitude that no one can help me, ever, I must do everything alone. That served me well in lots of ways, because I was willing to work harder than other people, but actually it’s a really bad career move to do all the work for everyone; it holds you back.
The most successful people in the industry know how to delegate. They focus on the strategic side of what they do, which is what they’re good at, and don’t feel the need to clean up everyone else’s mess. I definitely had the sense that I had to fix absolutely everything for everyone and that I had to put myself and my career last.
At DreamTeam, I’ve discovered that the strategy side is always the bit I’ve enjoyed, that I’m best at, and the company is going to do better if I do more of that. I’ve been so blessed to have a business partner like Vincent [Clery-Melin] because we’re total opposites. He’s fantastic at strategy too, but he’s much more the analytical type and I’m much more the intuitive type. Feeling like I don’t need to be both of those people now is great.
It’s such a relief to know all I need to do is come up with the vision and Vincent will figure out if it works on paper. Between the two of us, we’ve hired some brilliant staff, trained them up and we’ve recently hired a senior person to manage them. So we’ve been able to remove ourselves even more from the day-to-day and focus on the real value add, which is our core skills. But it’s taken me 20 years to work that way and I wouldn’t have been able to do that if I hadn’t had Vincent being the yin to my yang, coaching me out of some of my bad habits and to believe in myself and my convictions more.
My final two lessons don’t need too much explanation. Firstly, everybody wants to be famous, which is a useful thing to understand about artists — no matter which artist you’re working with, and how much they tell you they don’t want to be, they do. The other one is that the digital thing is going to be big…
This article originally appeared in the latest (Q3/Q4 2022) issue of MBW’s premium quarterly publication, Music Business UK, which is out now.
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