Interview with PAUL BANES, publisher at All Boys Music for Kylie Minogue, Westlife, Steps - April 16, 2001
“People who send us demos doesn't seem to live in the same world as me”
Paul Banes is a publisher who juggles a variety of tasks. He runs, from London, Pete Waterman’s publishing company All Boys Music (publisher of songs by Kylie Minogue, Rick Astley, Steps, Westlife and many more), as well as the French subsiduary Tous Les Garçons, and from Paris, his own company Editions Levallois (publisher of songs by Toure Kounda, Matmatah, Justin Vali and more). He also works with AZO (David Bowie’s management company).
How did you get started in the music business and what route did you take to become a publisher?
I was a disc-jockey in England in the early Sixties, and I worked for a circuit of big dance halls called Mecca. My collaborator at the dance hall where I worked went on to work with Marianne Faithful, The Rolling Stones, The Beach Boys, and started a label called Immediate. It was the first big independent in England and they had numerous hits with The Small Faces, Chris Farlowe, Amen Corner, Fleetwood Mac, Rod Stewart, etc. When they started the label, I went to work with them.
In your opinion, what skills is it necessary for a publisher to have?
Two things: one attached to each side of the head. When I was a disc-jockey I had 2000 people in front of me, and a disc-jockey’s objective is to get people dancing. If you didn't get them dancing, it meant mostly you got it all wrong, and you weren’t a disc-jockey anymore. Consequently, it made me look out for what was going to happen instead of what was happening. Being selective in your own mind is the most important thing. We basically have to say today what is going to happen tomorrow.
Could you tell us a bit how your different companies work?
My role in Levallois is to find the songs and lock the artist on to the song, as an A&R would. The A&Rs are now more listening to a piece of finished product, instead of going out and finding something. Most of the big acts are created by a satellite - an independent producer, writers or teams of people - and then they take that to the record company. They take something that's already been honed and tuned and they make the decisions about marketing, what they call the product.
At All Boys, Pete produces everything he writes. It makes life a lot easier, because we find more and more that the independent sector of the record business is the creative sector. He has two teams of people who work with him. He comes up with a plot and the ideas, takes that into the studio and comes out with a record. We have very few writers signed to us in London, in fact we have three: Mark Topham, Karl Twigg and Jackie James. Topham and Twigg make up the team that produces Steps, Tina Cousins and Ellie Campbell, three of the acts that Pete has. They’ve also produced Westlife. It's getting more and more difficult for a writer in England, if he or she is not a part of a team. And that team, for the most part, has to be some sort of productive force, in terms of recording.
How, in general, do you work with your songwriters?
We aim the songs at people, because All Boys has never had a policy of writing songs for the sake of writing songs. We write with a specific aim, for a specific artist.
How do you find new talent?
We've always been attached, here particularly, to being on the road. The acts that we've signed to Levallois are based in Brittany, Grenoble, Nancy, and Toulouse. It's very, very rare that somebody walks through the door and plays you a record that's a hit. We find out, we have people all over the place. Somebody says, "There's somebody playing in a club, you should go and see him," and so we do. And we create things from there. We have a group that we’re working on in Paris at the moment. It'll take us a year to filter through the songs and get the first single ready. That's what we're doing as publishers, A&R work. We heard something about two people, who are now a group, we heard a song and now it’s 15 songs. We also have very strong contact-base within radio.
What are you currently working on and how were you approached by these acts?
At Levallois, we're working on a project with an Arab singer called Malik (Adouane). He has already done a number of tracks with different people and he has worked with my team in London. He also did a cover of "Shaft" for the movie, which went well. He's a different type of artist. And we're working on this new French group. They call it "Camembert Reggae". Figure that one out! Paris is buzzing now because of the whole dance thing, and the whole Cuban thing. We've got a guy from Madagascar who has worked with Kate Bush and Peter Gabriel. We've got music from Portugal, Spain, we've got a bit of everything, because it's very cosmopolitan, they're much more open to Latin music in France, for example, than they are in London. And we have rock bands.
What do you look for in a songwriter?
Melody. If you can sing it, you're in business. I think this is the focal point for everybody, you talk to any publisher who has been around the world. Songs with a melody last forever. Sometimes the best thing is not to have any knowledge of the business. What you're looking for is somebody with individual talent. A tendency over the last few years, with the new technologies, is that people make up backing tracks, and forget that it’s the melody that's going to last forever and not the backing tracks. All the big records, you can say what you like, but there's a hook in it that you can sing.
Which different styles do you cover?
Everything. Pete obviously has made records for the last 15 years in England that essentially people can dance to. He found, through Kylie (Minogue), Rick (Astley) and Jason (Donovan), an outlet into the gay market, which is now huge. The gay market is the basis for all big dance records because they like that kind of music. When you play a track at the big gay club in Paris, the Queen, you get the feeling whether it's going to be a hit or not. So we have dance music, pop music, and we've got quite a bit of World music. I always listened to Reggae music, because where I came from in London it was a part of my life.
Do you, or would you work with songwriters, and acts in general, from outside your territory?
We've just been approached by a publisher to work with a big German act, Rosenstolz, which we've given to a writer based in Rennes, Brittany. It’s interesting, they want to do something in French. We represent Saint Etienne in France, and Sarah Cracknell from Saint Etienne has worked with a guy called Etienne Dahou. That collaboration sold a million albums. We do it all the time, we just brought in somebody from Northern Spain to work with our Madagascar artist. He went down there, played on this guy's album, and they sold 100.000. We're always open to listen. We've just received something from our publisher in Hong Kong, who was looking for us to work with writers in Hong Kong. This type of collaboration will spread more and more with the Internet, because instead of them sending me a CD, they’ll be telling me to listen to whatever on the Net.
Do you accept unsolicited material?
For All Boys, no. If Pete records somebody else's song, he's cutting off his own hands, cause he's not writing the songs. Pete is involved in writing and producing everything that comes out of PWL ( PWL = the production company ).
In France, we don't go looking for them but we do receive lots of demos, and I patiently listen to them. What surprises me is that people who send us demos doesn’t seem to live in the same world as me, because what they send us is completely alien to what is going on, outdated for the most part. I'm just surprised they don't put some quality control into their own careers. There aren't very many people that you can talk to in the music business that have actually received a demo through the post and thought, "Jesus!". Because it's another culture. Most people don't know the basics of doing a demo that will attract the ear of the person that's listening to it. When you listen to every song that Stock, Aitken and Waterman ever did, it grabs your ears the first thirty seconds. That's the art of doing a demo, that's the art of making a song.
What advice would you give to an aspiring songwriter?
Consider it a job. It's all right that it’s a leisure job, but it is an art. Presenting a demo and writing a song is an artform, whether you like it or not. With everything that's got some artistic form about it, you've got to reach out and grab the person as fast as possible. And that's part of songwriting.
One hit is better than 150 songs. I think that is one of the points, you have to get in to the writers' mind to hone the talent, which is writing songs. A lot of people forget to tell the writers, quality is better than quantity. Our writers only write to order. Then the writer has to concentrate on writing a hit song. Make sure it's quality that you write, because anybody can sit down and write tralala tralala, that's easy. It's not a complicated thing to do: verse - chorus - verse - chorus, but it is very difficult to do a verse - chorus - verse - chorus hit record.
Can you offer some words of advice to unsigned songwriters, with regards to contracts?
Generally speaking, in Europe the contracts are different to those in the UK. In the UK, a songwriter has to receive legal advice for a contract to be accepted legally. It's stipulated in the contract that you've shown the contract to a lawyer. When people work with Pete Waterman, they're getting thirty years of experience for free. They're brushing off on his talent, he explains to them where to go from there. So the contracts for us, what we're offering is a service, and the service is called Pete Waterman, and definitely Paul Banes. People come to us, if they want to work with us, they do. If not, they go. And the whole point is that no one’s ever gone. They come to us because they feel at home, they feel at ease. There's not one occasion where one of our writers has got a problem and cannot get Pete or me on the telephone.
How has the music scene in France developed in the last decade?
It's developed in so much as writers and artists are now the same thing. Apart from a few exceptions, most of the big-selling acts in France are self-contained, they write and produce their songs. For the bands, their identity is what they write themselves, and the success of a band lies in the identity that they create. We've also had this enormous Rap movement happening over the last 10 years, which comes out of the ghetto. The Arab immigrant community invigorates France, it has created a lot of Rap acts that are really good. It has created a new style. The original acts had a message that might have been socially violent, but big acts have become more popular because of what they're saying. They're not addressing the ghetto anymore, they're addressing the masses. The acts that come through go from talking to 100.000 people, to talking to 55 million people. That's the main change. And obviously the young guys that are now inspired by Dance music. Acts like Daft Punk, Air and Modjo. They're sampling or using inspiration from the music they heard when they were kids at their parents’ place. So we have a great generation of kids who are at home, working in their home studios producing records for relatively little money, and selling millions. It encourages everybody, it shows that there is not a barrier between France and the rest of the world, which there used to be.
Every time I put this bloody thing on, I see my songs all over it and nobody asked my permission to put the lyrics on there or to use our music. I'll be much happier when the law is in place and we’re making money out of it. At the moment, all we're doing is having our songs pirated. Using it as a source of new talent, probably in collaborating, then yes. But at the moment, all it is is a musical dictionary that everybody can consult without paying the people that own the music. One of the things that we have to deal with, and I gather in France it's happening now, is to have a royalty on blank CDs, which we don't really have at the moment. Kids send things to each other all over the place, they download bits and pieces and copy CDs.
Why sign exclusive deals as opposed to a per-song deal with an option? Isn't there a downside for songwriters with exclusive deals, with many songs getting locked and thereby causing frustration?
We do sign an occasional per-song-deal when we hear a song that we love. In England, the writers once they move, they've got a lawyer involved. Consequently, what they request is not just a per-song-deal. We initially started working with Jackie James on that basis, and encouraged her to work with the people we always have in our studio. But yes, there is a downside if you let things go like that.
What has been the greatest moment of your music career?
Hearing my songs on the radio is still something that is important to me. I'm proud of certain things that I've done against all odds, so to speak. I was very proud of the fact that Toure Kunda were on tour with Carlos Santana this year. Carlos recorded a song called "Africa Bamba" by Toure Kunda ( on his multi-platinum album "Supernatural" ). His attitude towards the band and towards us was exceptional. I've never seen an act get up and play with the opening act, never. I've seen most of the major people play in the world, and I've never seen that happen, ever. It's exceptional.
I picked up an award for Elmer Food Beat, which was against all odds, I was very proud of that. They came from Nantes and because of the lyrical content of their songs, which was all about girls and sex, they didn't get any airplay. We sold half a million albums, they were group of the year in 1991, and people came up to me asking how I’d sold so many records with this group that nobody has ever heard of. But every concert they did was sold out.
The records we've got on the wall here are all records that are big now. When they came out, the record companies in France told us that none of them would ever be a hit. The Buggles' "Video Killed A Radiostar" we broke, aswell as Madonna's "Into The Groove", which at the time Warner told me wasn't a hit record. Captain Sensible's "What", Gerry Rafferty’s "Baker Street", these are all songs that we're proud of. Maybe it is that challenge that is important to us. The challenge when somebody says this will never happen, and you believe it will, then you've got to make it happen to prove that what you are doing is right.
If you could dramatically change some aspect of the music industry, what would you do?
Take the word "marketing" out of the equation. If the only thing you've learned about selling records is to advertise your record on TV, then we won’t get very far, because that isn't a question of intelligence, it's a question of money.
We don't necessarily sign records because we think they were made for radio. You don't need to be played non-stop on the radio. This whole marketing thing has become so much bullshit now. Somebody asked me to change five words in a song to fit the quota system we have in France. That's bollocks! Why should I ask my group to put five French words into a song, to come in line with the stupid quota? Since when do I make records for a radio station? But I think what is interesting is the young kids here, they're saying; "Fuck that! We aren't interested, we'll make our records, if you play them, brilliant, if you don't play them, we'll still sell them anyway." Because it costs peanuts now to produce a record, if you've got your home studio, and it’ll cost you 6 francs to press up a CD in France. You need to go back to that square root of things. Do I believe in it or don’t I? And if I do believe in it, let's go for it.
Interviewed by Kimbel Bouwman
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