October 6, 2008

‘It’s Rewarding to See Our Work Used in Films’


"We had around 13 pieces of music featured in Sex and the City, Jon Hopkins wrote the music for half of Wayne McGregor's current touring Random Dance ballet, Entity, and there is a worldwide DKNY advertisement at the moment featuring the Honeyroot's music," says John Benedict, MD of Just Music. He is listing just a few of the many areas in which his label's music is used. That is besides the albums, of course, which Just Music is keenly releasing as part of its campaign to preserve the album as an art form.

It was this wide variety of uses that Benedict had in mind when he and his business and personal partner, Serena, founded Just Music in 2000.

"I had a clear vision for the company," says Benedict. "I wanted to create a 360 degree music company, with a publishing arm, rather than just a label." Benedict also wanted the company to have a strong identity. "I decided it would be a brand that had a generic feel to it so that people who liked one of artists would like the rest. And I was willing to develop original artists on an album by album basis without the concerns."

Just Music's rota includes classically trained and modern musicians, music from beats to Americana; but it all comes under the umbrella of "cutting-edge electronica, acoustic, ambient, down- tempo laid back grooves and chill". The ethos, explains Benedict, is making great music with integrity.

So, with his brand idea in hand Benedict's first port of call was Ibiza. He stayed several months and signed his first two artists - Michael Crger, a spiritual singer and composer, and Italian guitar player Ivano Bogino.

With the first two artists signed up, Benedict went to the City to get investment, only to find they weren't interested. So he and Serena decided to go it alone.

Next to be signed was Jon Hopkins, who is now touring with Coldplay and making his third album. He's one of "the" rising artists and composers coming out of the UK, in Benedict's opinion. Just Music then snapped up Honeyroot, formed by founder member of Heaven 17, Glenn Gregory, with whom Serena had worked several years earlier. Then came Leo Abrahams, who has collaborated with Brian Eno, David Holmes and Brian Ferry. And so the roster continues, to the tune of about 15 current artists.

Jon Hopkins' first album was released in 2004 to critical acclaim; the second followed two years later. Honeyroot's music was used in the film Red Road and the album was licensed in Europe last year. With such an emphasis on syncs for adverts, games, television and films, many of Just Music's successes have been less lauded than labels attaining high chart positions or Brit Awards, but that hasn't caused discouragement. "It's so rewarding to see music in television and films," says Benedict.

The company has been in the finals of the Zinc Music Synch competition at MIDEM for three years in a row. On the publishing front, it has just done a worldwide representation deal with with Kobalt Music, one of the world's biggest independent music publishers.

In 2007 they spotted Future Loop Foundation at the Big Chill and signed him a few of weeks later. "It's hard to find real quality as lots of people are making music in their bedrooms," says Benedict. "But we are very conscientious about giving everything a listening shot as you just never know."

Just Music's releases are often described as spiritual, but what exactly does that mean? Is there an explicit religious belief behind it?

"Just Music produces music that is aspirational, in terms of a belief in music's potential for spiritual nourishment and the ubiquitous human search for a better world," says Benedict. "We're often accused of being sandal-wearing lefties. And we are. When we're not working we spend time surfing in Cornwall. And of course some of our artists have their own specific religious inspiration: Padma is a Buddhist, for example."

Benedict says that Just Music tries to be a slightly nave innocent label, with a focus on quality albums rather than sales, spending more on delightfully illustrated recycled album packages. Which does mean they have to be innovative to ensure sales.

"The loss of independent retailers and lack of space at HMV means that without the internet we'd be struggling," says Benedict. "50 per cent of our sales are outside the UK. The disparaged reputation of 'ambient' music here means we need the West Coast of the US, where that's not the case. And we're also popular in Europe, Japan and Australia."

Combine that with campaigns in Caff Nero - Dan Arborise and Honeyroot - 20,000 samplers given out at a shop last year, and the new Just Music Cafe evenings, the label is pleased with its coverage. With the first Just Music compilation album being released as a showcase for the label's artists, Benedict now hopes to take the evenings on the road rather than confining them to London.

"I want to take the company to a place where we have a sufficient interested audience in Just Music as a brand that we can introduce them to new artists in a way that won't bankrupt us and will allow artists to have a fair outing," says Benedict.

How long will that take? "We're only 25 per cent of the way there. But it's exponential growth. I think it will snowball very soon."

Vital statistics

Introduction: Just Music releases a range of chill music, from electronica to beats through acoustic. The emphasis is not on short- term reward: instead it spends time developing its artists, encouraging them to release albums while also providing music for films, television and games.

History: John and Serena Benedict set up Just Music in 2000. They signed singer Jon Hopkins and then Honeyroot, Dan Arborise and guitarist Leo Abrahams.

What they say: "We look for original people. People who are ultimate musicians and composers of music who can write to a brief, be it an album or music for a film." John Benedict, MD of Just Music.

Top tips for 2009: Marconi Union, an electronica duo, and the Dials, an Americana band from Brighton. Second albums from Dan Arborise, Leo Abrahams and Loner.

Pub fact: They have a song on the Coldplay album, Viva La Vida, which has sold well over five million copies worldwide so far.

(c) 2008 Independent, The; London (UK). Provided by ProQuest LLC. All rights Reserved.