At just 24 years old James is the Founder and CEO of Nouvague, a new marketing agency based in London and Los Angeles, specialising in classical music. In 2015, he also joined the founding team of LA start-up Global Image Music; a songwriting academy offering real-time experience to aspiring songwriters and producers. James didn’t take the education route he had initially planned, yet like many entrepreneurs, James has soared past traditional expectations. He has not only represented independent artists, but also worked alongside artists on Universal & Atlantic Records, as well as contestants from The X Factor and The Voice. Now dividing his time between London and Los Angeles, here’s how he did it and how his journey unfolded:
Getting to Know James
What was your journey like from leaving school to founding two companies?
I’d probably say the key moment for me was failing to get my grades to go to my first-choice university! Instead, I was lucky enough to get a job working for a television company. I was lucky as the company was pretty small when I joined, and as they grew I managed to take advantage of the opportunities around developing my marketing techniques. At the time, I was in my first year at The Bach Choir – with whom I have been singing for 5 years. I remember staying up until 1am to finish the preparation for a particularly project meeting I was attending with the General Manager and one of our agencies, and when I put forward my work at the meeting, the agency admitted that they couldn’t add anything to what I’d prepared. I thought ‘damn, I’m not being paid half of what the agency is getting for this’.
So, something clicked. I started helping artists with their social media and album campaign work outside my full-time job, and eventually I decided I wanted to take this forward as a career. It was a huge turning point but I knew there was a gap in the market for marketing classical music, and so I just threw everything at the wall in the hope it would work!
“It was a huge turning point but I knew there was a gap in the market for marketing classical music, and so I just threw everything at the wall in the hope it would work!”
Who has inspired your love for music?
My head of music at school, Alan Murdock. He introduced me to music I never otherwise would have listened to on my own, and it literally changed my life. I remembering find the themes and ideas running through the music intellectually challenging and adventurous. He was pretty aggressive in his encouragement, with long rehearsals and early morning starts every day, but I think that ended up contributing to my serious attitude towards making the best music that I can.
Did you seek funding or investment when founding Nouvague?
It would say that it was about 70% self-investment and 30% from the enterprise scheme ran by The Prince’s Trust. I joined the Prince’s Trust programme in 2014, and whole process lasted about 9 months before I received my Prince’s Trust affiliate status. They matched me with a business mentor who I stay with for 2 years, which has proved absolutely invaluable in helping manage cash flow and identify new clients.
I’d worked incredibly hard for the money I saved, taking a second job working in my friend’s restaurant five days a week, including working there all day Saturday and Sunday. I used my birthday and Christmas money that year to pay for my flights to LA – that was the first time I travelled abroad for business.
“I’d worked incredibly hard for the money I saved, taking a second job working in my friend’s restaurant five days a week, including working there all day Saturday and Sunday.”
How did you come to join the team at Global Image Music?
It’s a bit of an odd one, because I actually met my business partner through Twitter! I had tweeted about a song he had written, and he replied; we both stayed in touch and every time he came to London on writing trips we hung out and talked music. It’s crazy – I’ve heard so many artists rant about how they hate social media, especially Twitter, but it’s probably been my most useful tool as an entrepreneur. Most importantly, Twitter is free to use, and is the only marketplace where you can directly communicate with people who share your influences and passions. You just never know who you’re going to meet.
One trip he asked if I could help him to put together his business plan, and that’s where our business relationship started. James has had a hugely successful career so far – he has recently had new singles out with Justin Bieber and Keith Urban, and last year achieved successes with Fleur and Rita Ora – so to be able to shadow his creative process has been a total privilege. It’s incredible the amount that you can learn from writers and producers, and I wholeheartedly believe they are the cornerstone to our industry. We just wouldn’t have great songs without them. It’s the sole reason I joined the programme; James and the boys had a brilliant idea that we all felt strongly would provide a platform for aspiring songwriters and producers to develop their talents into successful careers.
“It’s incredible the amount that you can learn from writers and producers, and I wholeheartedly believe they are the cornerstone to our industry. We just wouldn’t have great songs without them.”
What was the biggest challenge you faced as a young entrepreneur?
Going up against people who have been in the industry for a long time. It never seizes to be the most intimidating thing. You’re competing against people with 10 – 20 years of experience and significantly more contacts. That’s why it’s so important to find your USP: what you can bring to the market that others maybe aren’t able to do so easily. Whether you’re an artist, songwriter, manager or industry personnel, you must have a unique selling point; if that’s missing then I think it’s hard to survive in the music industry. It can be incredibly frustrating going through the process of finding what your definitive selling points are as a brand, but once you do find it your confidence will grow with time and helps drive your business forward.
“Whether you’re an artist, songwriter, manager or industry personnel, you must have a unique selling point; if that’s missing then I think it’s hard to survive in the music industry.”
What is one of the misconceptions of the music industry?
That it’s about who you know not what you know. This really frustrates me! I find that it’s always more of an excuse for why someone hasn’t had certain opportunities made available to them. People will say ‘I haven’t tried it because I don’t know anyone’… yet all the successful entrepreneurs I’ve met started out exactly the same as me, knowing no one!
I think there’s also a huge underappreciation of how powerful it is to be well-read and stay up to speed with what’s happening in the industry. When you come to meet people, whether it’s 5 or 10 people in a room at a music conference or someone from a major label or company like Spotify, you won’t be able to engage at the level you want to unless you understand their language, and the things they’re talking about. What you know gives you a business proposition, and who you know helps develop these ideas into a successful career.
“People will say ‘I haven’t tried it because I don’t know anyone’… yet all the successful entrepreneurs I’ve met started out exactly the same as me, knowing no one!”
Where did you meet your most significant contacts?
I was going to a LOT of gigs from about 16/17. There was a couple of venues down the road where we would go, including The Bedford in Balham. We saw some amazing artists play there right at the start of their careers, including Ed Sheeran and Jamie Lawson. There is so much free music in London to be consumed and if someone is passionate about music, the best place you can end up is actually in and around people performing music. You end up meeting people over a pint who are just as passionate as you, and you never know who in the room will take off – it’s important to keep that dialogue going. I’m also hugely thankful to a few people in my life who have recently opened up a load of doors for me; namely The Prince’s Trust, Bill & Anna at Tête á Tête Opera and Chris Carey and the FastForward team – those three days in Amsterdam have been so valuable to me in terms of finally establishing relationships with people that were on my radar for a long time.
How do you balance your work with your personal life?
If someone is passionate about doing something, their nearest and dearest will understand that they’re going to put everything they have into doing it. I think my friends forgot what I looked like for a while, but both they and my family have been incredibly patient with me. I’ve had things in my diary such as birthdays and nights out that I’ve had to cancel when something’s come up. There was a period of over two years when I was working at the restaurant and couldn’t say yes to anything on a Friday or Saturday night. For a long time it was a case of me working all the hours I could, particularly when I was there. You have to make sacrifices, but if you do it right, they will pay off and it will be worth it.
Rebel Wrap Up
What advice would you give to entrepreneurs wanting to partner with big brands?
The main thing to remember is to engage with brands who have something tangible to offer you. In the case of Nouvague and Global Image Music, we thought long and hard about the kind of brands we would partner with. The biggest mistake you can make is wanting to partner with as many people as possible. There’s the danger of people throwing lots of money at you from the outset, but you might actually need resources and brand visibility more than you need the money. You need to be sure that the offer is lucrative throughout the whole journey. Some partnerships can even turn out to be detrimental to what you do.
Don’t be tricked into thinking it’s all about the big brands; growing alongside a small brand can also be a powerful thing and it’s definitely something I’ve taken advantage of as a start-up.
What advice would you give to entrepreneurs as a whole?
When you meet people, be generous with your time. Be interested in others and what they do. The strongest relationships come from those that are not necessarily made through formal networking. You might discuss what’s on someone’s CV at a networking event, but if you’re going to cement a business relationship it will more than likely be the result of going for a couple of beers and slowly starting to work on projects together. Even if someone is in a different sector and you can’t initially see how you might end up working together, appreciate that person for the skills they have and what they might be able to offer later down the line.
Find a cause or an idea or project that is completely personal to you, which means something and is key to your strengths. The people who manage to do this successfully are the ones who stand out. Take everything in as you go and don’t forget to read lots. Subscribe to as much in your field that you can. Enjoy the journey and be grateful for what you achieve along the way.