Hamish Duff, head of FAM’s European office in London.
The IMI 9th Nov 2021

'If big companies are serious about helping composers, they need to give them creative control of their releases'

Composer talent agency First Artists Management has launched a label. Hamish Duff, Head of the company’s European office, says that First Artists Recordings is in part a response to a reluctance from big corporations to release soundtracks that could boost composers’ careers…

Founded in 2003 in Los Angeles, family-run talent agency First Artists Management has built a reputation representing composers for film, TV and video games. In 2019, the company went transatlantic, opening a European office in London run by industry veteran Hamish Duff.

The company’s roster includes both established and emerging talent including Oscar winners and nominees such as Carter Burwell, Vangelis and Javier Navarrette.

In September this year, First Artists Management undertook another expansion with the announcement of a record label, Frist Artists Recordings, alongside distribution partner MNRK (formerly eOne Music).

Significantly, FAR has interdisciplinary ambitions, with plans to release both composer soundtracks and studio albums from those on their composer roster looking to crossover into the recording artist space.

The first FAR release to carry the new label’s name was Joe Wilson’s soundtrack to the second season of Emmy-nominated TV series Back To Life. The second release, landing on November 19, will be the debut artist album from British composer Emily Rice.

We sat down with Hamish Duff, who’s tasked with running First Artists Recordings with his UK-based team, to talk about the new label and its ambitions going forward…

Why a record label and why now?

Hamish Duff: It’s something FAM has been looking at doing for a while. Our composers are constantly looking for label partners to release music and so we wanted to offer a solution. Having music that people can discover can be a really important tool for composers in generating score work. We’re always looking at different ways to generate business for our roster and setting up a label to market and promote their music was an obvious step.

Over time we’d love to create a community around the label where we cultivate fans of the label who will be able to discover new music knowing it’s being carefully curated by us. We’d love to create a ready-made audience for the amazing artists we want to release. I think the most successful small indie labels in the modern industry are curators who have an engaged audience.

Emily Rice photo: Anna Azarov

In the case of Emily Rice, we’re going to see a composer release an artist album. What’s your ambition for her? What’s her potential?

HD: The sky is the limit for Emily. I have no doubt she will be one of the new generation of top film composers scoring big studio films. It’s now about the journey to get there. The album gives Emily the opportunity to present her own music, which is different to releasing soundtracks, where it’s always someone else’s vision to an extent. Releasing your own music is a great tool to position yourself as a composer, it will help get you hired as a composer to write the music you want to write. So, cynically, I see the album as an amazing tool to market Emily as a film composer. Of course, with any artist there is also that creative itch that needs scratching. That is important too.

How do you bridge that gap from composer to recording artist? Does the approach change?

HD: The approach is really driven by what you want to achieve from putting out music. A composer will often have different goals from a traditional recording artist. That will then change the approach for releasing a record. It can also be a very different audience you are targeting with the music. Even amongst recording artists I see very different approaches, those where it’s all about streaming numbers and others where it’s about building a loyal following creating a healthy cottage industry with recorded revenue as one important part of the business.

What do you think the potential for composers is more generally when it comes to crossing over in 2021?

HD: There is some cross over but, if a media composer thinks they can make the transition quickly to becoming a touring, recording artist, they will need to understand it will take years of hard work to build a fan base. Just as it is the other way around.

I do, however, think that recorded music should be an important stream of income in any composer’s overall business. Composers will create and record a lot of music in any given year, and that catalogue has a value – especially now, with streaming. Commercial aspects aside, releasing music and building a profile as a recording artist is a very useful tool for generating more score work.

"It can be very important for a composer to have a soundtrack out in the marketplace. Big companies preventing soundtracks from being released, or not giving any creative control, can be a hinderance to the composer’s career."

In terms of soundtrack releases, how have things changed over the years from your POV?

HD: I hear about the glory days of releasing soundtracks, although I’m not that old to have experienced working in the industry at that time. I have however seen how streaming has changed the landscape and continues to. Streaming has made everything available to everyone whenever they want it. That’s amazing. I can listen to weird ambient soundtracks from the ‘80s that I would’ve had to dig around in crates for to discover previously. However, this does have big consequences for releasing soundtracks now, making it very hard to make them commercially successful if you’re not a blockbuster movie. There is also so much being released, so it can be hard to break above the noise. But, for a composer, there can be many other important reasons to get a soundtrack out. It’s just a shame not all film and TV companies see it the same way.

Can you tell us a bit more about that?

HD: Just a general gripe at big corporations – naming no names – who insist on holding the soundtrack rights for their properties but have no release commitment and give very little control to the artist when a soundtrack is released. I get there is a level of protection they want over their titles, but when they don’t release a soundtrack because they don’t see a commercial gain or they just don’t have the resources, that’s very frustrating. It can be very important for a composer to have a soundtrack out in the marketplace, especially at crucial points in their career. Big companies preventing soundtracks from being released, or not giving the composer any creative control over its release, can be a hinderance to the composer’s career. They say they want to support talent and one way would be to see more control on soundtracks been given to the talent! I suppose that’s my job – to get those rights!