London based music company, The Animal Farm, has been working with artists since 2005, from everything to the production side of things to artist management. Set up by Finnish brothers Ville and Mat Leppanen, they have worked with the likes of Everything Everything and The Levellers, with a focus on “music” over “business”, in particular great song writing. We had an in-depth chat with Ville to find out more.
What is the history of The Animal Farm?
I set up the company with my brother Mat in 2005 when we stopped touring as members of a punk band. We had deal in the US and a good seven year run as a touring band. Before that we’d had an equally long stint as songwriters with a UK publisher. And even before that we’d had a brief hurricane of a career in a teenage band in our country of birth Finland. It’s amazing to be able to say that we’ve been making a living in music for 20 odd years now.
The Animal Farm has been active for 7 years during which we’ve grown from a two man production team into a well staffed company that offers artist management services to artists, songwriters and producers, a record label, publishing company and a booking agency.
We started out as artists and have always been on the creative side of the industry. That and our indie punk background colours our thinking and our value system greatly. We’re firmly on the side of art as opposed to commerce.
What makes The Animal Farm different to other music companies or labels?
Four Legs Good, Two Legs Bad!
Having been in the business for quite a long time and having seen it from many sides, we are able to approach situations from many angles. When talking with artists it helps to have successfully made it into the Camden scene and, crucially, graduated out of it into bigger things. It helps to have toured internationally, because having done it for real – in a van, sleeping on floors as well as on planes, sleeping in nice hotels – is very different to talking about doing it. From smaller, grassroots things to bigger stuff, we have a selection of t-shirts to prove we’ve been there before.
We are different to most other companies in that we went into music to MAKE music, not just to sell it. The difference in outlook works in our favour, I would like to think. It’s not to say that people in other companies are any less passionate about music. Labels big and small are full of really passionate music lovers. However, we are in the fortunate position to help our artists creatively, musically, artistically – in practical, hands on ways that most artists need.
How do you think the music industry has change over the last 5 years? Where do you think it’s headed?
Is this the time to go into overdrive to say that everything’s changed, major labels are dead and there’s a new model, DIY, fan funded, new paradigm, artists call the shots blah blah blah.
Everyone knows the list of items and arguments that are wheeled out time and again whenever the question of how the business has changed is debated.
One thing has not changed: this business is based on songs and recordings.
The ease with which artists can create recordings and share them with the world, welcome as it is, has inflicted a massive amateur hour on the world. The old system, whatever its many ills, at least had functioning filters to make sure that the music being offered was fit for public consumption. The problem most artists have is that it’s very difficult to make great art, the kind that gets people out of bed. We creators of art are in competition with other artists and other forms of entertainment for people’s pocket money and spare time. With not much of either to go around and LOTS of entertainment options to choose from, people are incredibly hard to please.
If they are not responding, the answer is not to shout louder. It is to affect change: write better songs and make better records.
It takes a lot of skill to create both. We are able to help our artists do that.
I don’t spend a lot of time thinking where the business of music is headed. As long as there are talented, driven artists with something to say, there will be a business around them. The hope is, of course, that any new business models would be less exploitative than the last. If history is anything to go by, it’s a false hope.
In society we speak a lot about the rich 1% versus the 99% that makes up the rest of us. In music it’s much the same. 99% of artists making music don’t make a living from doing so. The 1% that is able to feed and clothe themselves with music is further split into 99% who struggle to make ends meet and the 1% who get rich. The middle class is very small.
The spin that the DIY movement has on this topic is that there IS a middle class out there. I don’t see much evidence of it.
The comforting thought is that the avenues for expression and creativity have never been better. Now it’s up to us creators of art to create amazing art that makes people appreciate being alive at least a little bit.
Do that and you will get a career.
What type of bands do you like to work with?
Artists who are talented and skilful. Artists who are driven and committed. Artists who persevere through the inevitable pain barrier when they come face to face with the world’s apathy towards their art.
Fun people who enjoy the process of becoming.
Of course, we have to like their music. That’s the starting point. Originality is such a scarce natural resource. We like it when we hear it.
How can an indie band be considered to work with The Animal Farm?
We look at everything from a creative driven management perspective. With our management arm we bring to the table the label, publishing and booking services. But it’s not just business for us, we like to make music with our artists. That’s where the fun is and we haven’t to date taken anyone on who doesn’t want us to be involved in it as producers. I don’t see it changing, either.
We get around 50-60 demos a week and listen to them all. We accept submissions via our website. The best way to approach us is with an email with links to where we can see/hear you.
Anything else to add?
It’s really nice of you to ask me to share my thoughts with your readers. I hope they find them useful. My agenda is low on glamour and high on work ethic…
Keep writing, keep learning. Don’t let the bastards grind you down. Don’t always look for opportunities to gain exposure. Look for opportunities to get better. That way, when you get the opportunity for exposure you are able to capitalise on it. Play every gig you can get. Remember that there’s money in them there hills, we’ve just got to climb there to find it. We have to earn our stripes by doing, not by declaration.
For more info about The Animal Farm, check out their website.