In our Meet the Family blog series, we are introducing our family of passionate professionals to you. We would like you to get to know us, connect with us, join our family and let us help you make your dreams come true.
Today we are introducing our Head of Partnerships Jeff Bacon, who is helping business-people to understand music and music-people to do better business with his experience in both the music industry and innovative technology.
UK-born and currently Barcelona-based multi-talented Jeff gives us insights into his life story, his hip-hop career and how he helps artists find international opportunities in the music industry. Let's find out what his career highlights have been, what artists he listens to, what is his role in Family In Music and what advice he offers to emerging artists!
What is your life background (where were you born and where were you raised, what’s your education)?
I was born in the UK, near Brighton, but grew up in the Midlands – the forgotten part of England that gave the world Shakespeare, Black Sabbath and Bauhaus. I attended the University in Reading (40 miles outside of London) where I studied American History, Politics, Literature and Film (with some Japanese and Business Studies for good measure). My real education was starting my first band at Uni which later morphed into Dirtburg, a live hip-hop funk punk 6 piece launched pre-digital and in perhaps the least fashionable time to be in hip-hop.
Was music part of your family life, childhood and growing up? In what sense?
My parents were original 60’s Mods – Italian suits, Vespas and soul music. I grew up with Motown and The Beach Boys, Scott Walker and Roxy Music. To this day my folks are avid music fans, regularly going to concerts for legacy acts and newer artists like Ella Ray, Rumer. I have two younger sisters who are also music nuts, one used to sing and the other was a rave promoter in our hometown and an Ibiza regular. My first studio was my sister’s karaoke machine, a double tape deck and a mic.
You are a British national living in Spain, what led you there? What are the challenges and opportunities for a music creator / professional working in another country?
What have been some of your career highlights?
As an artist I never had more than a local, cult following – but I felt like a success when we played Camden’s Jazz Café, or The 100 Club (following in the footsteps of Django Reinhardt, Muddy Waters, Mick Jagger, Johnny Rotten). Recording in Mungo Jerry’s studio, hearing our first EP on Itch FM, performing at festivals.
Professional highlights that come to mind – meeting the OpenLive team in Brisbane when their HD audio capture tech was just a prototype. A year or so later I was sharing a set of headphones with Willie Nelson’s nephew at SXSW as we listened with glee to Iggy Pop and QOTSA being live streamed to his phone. For me, that is what it’s all about – creating unique experiences in the pursuit of a better deal for creators and fans.
Please name three artists that have inspired you.
Brian Wilson – His music has soundtracked my life, his production and harmonies still sounds like magic to me. Having grown up listening to everything Beach Boys up to and including Pet Sounds, it was a major epiphany to discover all the music that came afterwards, from the bizarre Vegetables to the all-synth Light Album. Taking my parents to his first UK shows in 30 years was unforgettable.
Beastie Boys – Hearing Brass Monkey on a pub jukebox in 1988 changed my life. I formed my first rap group within weeks and dressed like MCA at primary school. I was obsessed with them, The Fat Boys, Run DMC, LL Cool J, Schooly D, Public Enemy. I was the right age for the golden age of hip-hop which felt like incredible audio escapism for a teenager in a rural suburban village where everyone was into metal. When the Beasties broadened their palette to include funk, dub, trip-hop, punk – it was as my tastes broadened too. They were my big brothers; never made a bad album and were amazing live.
George Clinton – I discovered P-Funk/Parliament/Funkadelic and every other permutation of the band through it being sampled heavily in the early 90s by everyone from Ice Cube to EPMD. The music and aesthetic felt like the ultimate combo of prog rock and RnB, to this day nothing sounds like it. Some of my other favourite artists include classic 80s funkers Zapp and de facto king of the LA Beat scene Flying Lotus, also influenced by Clinton. I think I have seen variations on the P-Funk Allstars (including Bootsy Collins) more than any other band live.
Hip-hop is obviously the genre you love listening to, what other genres you enjoy listening to? May I ask, out of curiosity, what do you sing in the shower?
Hip-hop is my go-to genre, for me it’s sort of the centrepoint of my music tastes. I love the genres that inspired it, jazz, blues, soul, reggae; and those that developed alongside or from it like jungle, grime, bass culture, leftfield electronica. In the shower I sing Bobby Womack’s ’Woman’s Gotta Have It’ and Pharcyde’s ’Passin me By’.
What type of artists have you cooperated with and what memorable projects you worked with?
I’ve had the opportunity to work with some of my heroes; facilitating collaboration records for UK artists like PRofit with US legends ChipFu from The Fu-Schnickens or Special Ed. Interviewing ‘the first hip-hop A&R’ Dante Ross (signed Busta Rhymes, ODB, Brand Nubian, House of Pain, De La Soul) for Future Music Forum.
In your opinion, what characteristics does an artist need in order to become successful?
Educate yourself. You don’t need to be an expert in the music business, there are people you can work with for that, but do your homework as you would for any other business you might run.
Be realistic about what sort of artist you want to be or need to be. Do you need to be famous? Do you actually need a record deal? Do you simply want to make a good living by making music?
What's the importance of a strong identity for an artist who's starting out? Would you be able to give some examples of artists that you think have managed their identity really well?
I think a lot artists start out by experimenting with their identity, Bowie went through a few before Ziggy Stardust stuck. Some artists seem to arrive fully formed, others have to work at it but either way it’s an important hook for building your audience.
Kool Keith of Ultramagnetic MCs is a particularly interesting, extreme case. His identity is so strong, at the last count he has around 70 alter egos – including Dr Octagon, Dr Dooom and Black Elvis.
What do you see are the biggest challenges new artists face today? How could they work on those?
The challenge used to be getting your music in front of your potential audience, in some ways that hasn’t changed. Not so long ago, if you didn’t attract a label, get on music television, get the right support gigs, you were out of luck. Now you can do so much yourself but then so can everyone else.
What’s positive about this is that the tools are out there to help you find your audience, in ways that weren’t available to artists of old. Niche is the new mainstream, if you can find a few thousand fans willing to buy your merch, kick into your patreon, attend your shows – you can make a living.
What is the best advice you’ve been given? And, what message or advice you would like to give to music creators, in general?
I started my career as a salesperson and it’s often said that listening is more important than speaking. By the same token I’d advise music creators to read about their business, get along to conferences, absorb what’s going on. The better you understand it, the more you will be able to focus on the fun parts.
Could you explain what you do in Family in Music and what has led you to this point?
My role is Head of Partnerships. For the last 5-6 years I have been operating as a freelance consultant to the music industry (like the people who will be joining our network) specialising in business development for music-tech startups. I get a huge kick out of delivering cool tech and services to creators.
So far my role is primarily about connecting the team with my network of best-in-class technology partners, trade bodies, artist communities and industry stakeholders across the board. By maintaining close ties with the creator community, I’ve developed a good understanding of where the knowledge gaps are, what people need help with.
Music is very relationship driven and I’ve been lucky enough to travel the world establishing a network of creators and providers to creators that I can bring to bear on behalf of FAIM and our members.
Why you joined the Family?
Over the last 20 years I’ve worked across every aspect of the music industry, from digital distribution and royalties software to being an artist manager and live promoter. I carved out a niche as a business development specialist for music-tech companies, I actively seek out those I believe are pushing the envelope and have the right intentions when it comes to the health and future of the music business. Family in Music fits that bill for me, with interest!
If you could change anything about the music industry, what would it be?
Complexity – too much of it and too many organisations exploiting it. I think things are moving in the right direction however, with things like faster royalty payments coming down the line.
Professionally, what’s your dream goal?
In many ways I’m already living it. I’m one of the many people helping artists and creators on both an individual level and industry-wide. It’s always been a dream to be a music supervisor for films and in 2021 my first soundtrack and score, working with independent artists, will be released.