Because Music’s Jane Third on making great videos and the importance of visuals in promoting artists

Independent record label Because celebrated its 10th birthday last week with a BUG music video event at London’s South Bank. We spoke to SVP Jane Third about commissioning great music videos, working with artists and how investing in visual creative has helped the label stand out.

Because was founded by Emmanuel de Buretel, who previously held senior positions at EMI and Virgin. It now has offices in London and Paris and artists on its roster include Django Django, Metronomy, Nicolas Godin, Justice, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Major Lazer and Sébastien Tellier.

Many of these artists have a reputation for releasing great videos and album art: Metronomy has collaborated with directors Michel Gondry, David Wilson and Edouard Salier on some surreal and beautifully shot promos, while Tellier’s recent videos include a joyous animated spot set in the Garden of Eden for track Love (below) and a funny, bizarre and NSFW disco orgy film for Cochon Ville. Django Django’s Reflections promo saw the band turned into kinetic sculptures, while Pause Repeat (directed by Daniel Bereton and James Dixon) featured some lovely stop-motion footage of food, flowers and grassy parks.

At last year’s UK Music Video Awards, Godin’s video for track Widerstehe Doch Der Sünde – a cinematic affair starring surfing zombies, directed by The Sacred Egg – was nominated alongside Kendrick Lamar and Flying Lotus for Best International Video (Alternative) and Best Cinematography in a Video, while SVP Jane Third was nominated for Best Commissioner. An interactive site set up to promote the label’s 10th anniversary, meanwhile, which allowed users to interact with artwork and music by completing simple tasks such as hitting a space bar or clicking a mouse, was named Site of the Year by FWA.

With that in mind, we caught up with Third, who runs Because Music Ltd and oversees A&R and creative (she previously ran her own label and joined as an A&R consultant in 2007), to talk about the label’s approach to visuals. Third was responsible for signing Metronomy and Django Django, and works alongside head of marketing and sales Johnny Brocklehurst to lead promotional campaigns, videos and creative. 

CR: A lot of your artists have a very distinctive aesthetic. How important is this to Because?

JT: I’d say we’re a very aesthetically driven company. The acts we sign in the UK have a very progressive bent. …When we set up, we were very aware of the fact that there are so many great independents in the UK already, so we needed to create our own distinctive aesthetic.

We have really diverse artists but a lot of people tell me they can see how they connect – they’re artists who are doing something different, they’re not part of a scene, and that tends to bring a need for a strong aesthetic. Working with a band like Metronomy, you want videos to look as exciting as the music sounds aurally.

I think it helps that everyone who works here is really passionate about art and design.

We often hear creatives at major labels discuss the difficulties of getting innovative artwork and videos signed off – that visuals and videos now have to be analysed to the nth degree, and agreed on by marketing, management and PR teams. Do you think this is a real problem for labels, and do you think indie and smaller labels have more freedom when it comes to how artists are presented?

We’re a one-stop-shop – I head all the A&R and creative and that creative drives the marketing. Nothing is done by committee, because I don’t think art can be made by democracy. It’s collaborative – we all work together on music videos and album art –  but it has to be one person’s vision that comes through. At a major label, I imagine you have opinions from people all over the company on what’s good or not, so it will come down to mediocrity, the most watered down version of an idea.

How much input do your artists have in their artwork and videos?

It varies. Django Django went to art school and were artists before they were musicians [the group studied at Edinburgh College of Art], so we give them pretty much free reign when it comes to music and videos. But then you have artists like Nicolas Godin who will come to us and say, ‘I’m a musician, I know nothing about visuals’ – and that’s great too because we can work with them on concepts.

With [Godin’s track] Widerstehe doch der Sünde, for example, the song initially made me think of something evocative or terror or horror … but then we also talked about creating something with a comedic twist. We sent out the brief and ended up with this zombie video shot in a super stylised way, with no kind of explanation, just a beautiful harmony of music and visuals.

How does the process work when developing a concept for a video? 

Artists might have seen a director or someone whose work they like but more often than not, we just start by talking to them and drilling down into what they want to get across and how they’d like to be perceived – a new developing act might not want to real what they look like at first, for example. You also have to think about who their fans are going to be and what will appeal to them. So usually, we will sit down and brainstorm all these things together, rather than sending lots of emails and links back and forth.

Once we have an idea, we’ll put out a brief to say five or six directors and see what comes back. It’s very rare that we’d go with a completely open brief, as it doesn’t usually generate great work – often, people try and second guess what you like and create things based on your previous work.

And a lot of the videos you’ve commissioned are quite abstract or surreal. Is this a conscious decision?

I think if you look at a lot of the videos we make, they’re much less narrative driven than the kind of stuff the major companies tend to do. A lot of major companies just hand the video over to the artist – but I don’t think you need to … we just try to make something that fits the music and will make a real connection with [an artist’s] fan base.

And why did Because launch Recollections for its 10th anniversary?

We wanted to do something a bit different to celebrate. It was something Emmanuel’s always wanted to do – he’s always pushed for us to be at the forefront of digital media and is really willing to invest in things like that and experiment with new types of content. 

Do you actively try and work with new directors?

I’m always searching for new talent and I think we have quite a good track record of working with people quite early in their careers – like David Wilson [who directed the video for Metronomy’s Bay] and Megaforce [who directed Metronomy’s A Thing For Me video in 2009 and have since worked on promos for Rihanna, Madonna and Tame Impala, plus ads for Volvo Trucks and GiffGaff] … I’m always asking production companies who they’ve got coming up who isn’t on the books yet.

Are labels still investing in music videos?

I think major companies will definitely have felt the hit, because they had such big budgets before, but we still spend a lot on music videos. I don’t think it would be unfair to say that we spend a bit more than other indies. That could be because we’re less established – we’re quite new, whereas other labels have a huge legacy – so we have a lot to prove and investing in aesthetics is really important.

There’s also a lot of pressure to create more content now though [for social media and the web] and you’ve got to keep it visual, which does stretch budgets.

And what’s exciting you about the industry right now?

I’m interested to see what’s happening with VR. If you can shoot live performances, and backstage footage, you have the opportunity to create some great content around that, but it could also take some of the budget you have for making beautiful videos.

One of the other things I’m really excited about is cross pollination: we’re seeing a lot of hip hop artists working with some brilliant conceptual directors and a lot of directors moving in to new genres, which is great to see.

What kind of videos would you like to see more of?

I really want to strive to make work that reflects society today. I want to see stronger females – to counteract some of the videos that you see coming out from other parts of the industry. It’s down to the artist and what they want to convey, but I’d never commission something where I thought it was objectifying someone. I’d also like to see more racial backgrounds represented, in a way that completely avoids stereotypes, so that’s on my mind on a lot when I’m commissioning videos.

How has the way you promote artists, or the creative you have to produce to promote them, changed in the past few years?

 Print press is less of a priority nowadays. It’s still all about conditioning – when the marketing and creative teams come together and think about who fans should be, how we can reach them and how we tell them this artist is for you – and that’s the fun part of the job. That’s done through music videos, social media and stylised press shots. Things like this are more important than ever, because there is so much noise to cut through.

What kind of impact has streaming had, when it comes to developing  acts?

Major Lazer’s Lean On is the most streamed track of all time, so his music has just taken on a life of it’s own, but the challenge is developing new acts. You need the leverage of major players [Buretel has previously spoken about how streaming services need to do more to support smaller, indie labels].

Plays do clock up over time, but it’s really about volume – where you might have sold 10,000 albums, it’s more like 2000 now. The rest is made up through streaming, where the income [for musicians and labels] is a lot less. Major Lazer is doing brilliantly, but with more niche artists, you need much more perseverance – and you have to invest a huge amount more to get artists off the ground.

Bug’s Because Music Special took place on Thursday, 21 January. The next event will be a David Bowie special – details here.

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