Let the music play…
16th November 2022
Introducing Paul Pacifico, one of the music industry’s busiest people – and AG’s newest adviser
Paul Pacifico is not just one of the music industry’s busiest people, he is also one of its best kept secrets – at least for those outside the industry. He has been a champion of the independent sector for the past six years, as CEO of the Association of Independent Music (AIM). At the same time, he teaches at Berklee College of Music in Valencia, Spain, and is also a board trustee for English National Ballet.
Paul is about to take up a new role as CEO of the Saudi Music Commission. At the same time, he is becoming an adviser to Ambassadeurs Group (AG) where he will be able to share insights and contacts to help the Group’s giving back strategy. The advisory role is a good match for his skillset, as he explains on the AG podcast. Paul sits at the epicentre of music, technology, education, and enterprise. He is well-placed to talk about diversity, and how to champion it.
The harmonica player is proof that music stars are not always centre stage. And he gives some advice to the next generation of music stars. ‘If you want to play a game, learn the rules,’ he says.
Listen to the podcast or read the full interview below:
Claire: This is the Ambassadeurs Group podcast, where we are talking all things building better futures. It aims to be a celebration of innovation, industry disruption, raising standards and giving back, all of the things that help build better futures for people, the planet, members and communities wherever they are.
Welcome Paul Pacifico. You’ve got a very interesting CV, you describe yourself as a creative and commercial innovator in music and entertainment, and it’s really easy to see why. I have just drawn a bit of a snapshot of some of the things that you are up to; you’re the outgoing head of the Association of Independent Music the UK trade body, you’re also an associate professor at Berklee College of Music in Valencia, Spain, you’re a board trustee with the English National Ballet and you’ve just done a master’s degree. You’re now about to take up leadership of the Saudi Music Commission and you still find time to join Ambassadeurs Group as an advisor. So, we’re going to do a little bit of a work through some of your working life and some of your out of work life, and let’s start with working life and what drives you, and what helps you champion people that might not otherwise get a break, which I’m sure happens a lot in the music industry, and then what’s drawing you to Ambassadeurs Group.
So, let’s start with a pretty easy question, but I bet you get asked it a lot, how did you get into the music industry?
Paul Pacifico: Oh gosh, well first of all, thank you for having me today on the podcast, its great to be here. How did I get into the music industry, I fell into it like most people in music. I don’t think music is a career that a lot of people do an MBA and think, right which sector do I really want to go into. It’s something that comes to you, I think it comes out of passion, it comes out of the sense of what you love and what the world around you sort of means to you, what’s meaningful to you. I grew up in a musical family, a lot of my family were musicians, so I grew up with a lot of music being played in the house. Family gatherings were kind of jam sessions, and I was very fortunate that, even though I didn’t feel it at the time, that there was quite a lot of family pressure to play music and do music lessons, and practice and that kind of thing. And it served me very well through my whole life. I left university and didn’t go straight into music, I went into a career in finance in the city, in London. And after about nearly ten years, kind of sat back and thought this isn’t really what I wanted to do, and that when I kind of turned left at the crossroads and set up a music business and dove back into music and have been there ever since.
Claire: So, you’ve been at the Association of Independent Music (AIM) for six years, that’s quite a long time, quite a lot has changed in that six years. It’s a not-for-profit trade body, is that right?
Paul Pacifico: Yes.
Claire: And it represents now about a quarter of the recorded music market.
Paul Pacifico: That’s right. So the independent music market in the UK and that’s defined as kind of being outside of the major label system, which is Sony, Universal and Warner, the three big global companies. In the UK, that’s now sitting at around 26, just under 27 percent of the market, which is really exciting. So it’s grown, it’s had a net growth year on year of about 1 percent a year for the last five years, which shows, you know, the strength and the excitement and the potential in that market.
Claire: So, for the uninitiated, give us an example of some musicians or bands that would fall into the independent category.
Paul Pacifico: That’s a great question. Most people when I talk about independent music immediately think it means niche, and it does mean niche of course, many jazz musicians, folk musicians, people in electronic dance music and other sort of specialist genres are independent. But independent doesn’t just mean niche, it also is a world that encompasses many mainstream artists. Adele was on an independent label for her first three albums for example. The Libertines have always been on an independent label. The UK rapper AJ Tracey is fully independent, owns all of his rights and his own business. So, it’s an interesting, very broad spectrum of people, genres, styles and scales of businesses that occupy that space
Claire: So, if you look back, which I’m sure you’ve done a lot of once you announced you were leaving, over the last six years, what have your biggest achievements been?
Paul Pacifico: I think for me, when I took the job at AIM, I really knew why I wanted to take it on. It was for me, it felt like an organisation that wasn’t quite connecting with its community in the right way, it had been set up I think along the lines of the music industries as it was in the early 2000s. So, it was an opportunity to refresh what independent music meant, how it was perceived, how it was represented in the UK, and reenergise our relationships with a whole new generation of entrepreneurs who had come up in the meantime and didn’t necessarily identify themselves with AIM as it was. So for me, that was kind of the mission and I think I achieved a lot of that, we did a lot of work on the branding, positioning, our priorities, what we were working on, how we were supporting people, the advice we were able to give, the skills and expertise that we had within the team. And then I think, really the last three years have been an astonishing rollercoaster of you know massive interventions. So, first of all with Brexit, then of course with Covid, the music industry also I think faced a huge reckoning during lockdown in the wake of the death of George Floyd. Looking with very, you know, new eyes and great urgency at diversity and inclusion in the music industry and what that meant to us as an industry and what our voice meant to the world beyond our own industry. So, I would say those two things have gone hand in hand, the kind of the evolution, or the renovation in a sense of AIM, the sort of, I don’t want to say the turnaround, that sounds a bit negative, I want to say the revitalisation of AIM within the context of those huge global themes that we were all facing the turbulence of at the same time.
Claire: It’s interesting that you’ve touched on diversity because that was going to be a question. A trade body has got a big role to play in championing diversity, what did you put in place, or what did you push forwards to really help champion diversity.
Paul Pacifico: My view has always been that a trade body ought to hold up a highly polished mirror to its members as an example of what our best members look like. So, the thought was always that we should lead by doing and bring our members with us, not to sort of stand of a soap box and tell them what they ought to be doing but do it ourselves and start there. So, the first thing that we did was really reach out and form partnerships with expert organisations across a spectrum of different aspects of diversity. So whether that was black lives in music, or the black music coalition, or Stonewall in terms of identity, you know there are some fantastic organisations that look at say disability in music. There are a whole range of organisations with great specialisation that were able to help us understand how we can be effective in terms of fostering diversity, but also enabling as many people as possible to feel as included as possible. So, it’s one thing to work on diversity, its another thing to work on inclusion. And, I think to foster in around a sense of purpose around social justice, to look at the business benefits of being diverse and inclusive, getting the best out of people, showing how productivity increases through taking, you know, an approach to say recruitment that is diverse and inclusive, looking at how you make people feel at ease in the work place so that they are more relaxed, they feel more at home, they’re more productive, they are a better part of the team and they allow the team a broader perspective on the issues of the day. I know when we have dealt with certain issues within AIM and on behalf of our members, having a diverse team has been essential to understanding different perspectives in a debate. And, I think the richness of that has strengthened AIM’s voice and given AIM a better platform from which to speak.
Claire: You’ve touched on another of my upcoming questions, which was around another big global theme that you’ve lived through, which is Covid. And from the outside looking in to the music industry, it felt like there was a big shift, we were all sitting at home and suddenly you had this amazing talent that was discovered because people were sitting endlessly watching their phones and streaming services, and there were lots of, felt like lots of, break through stars. Was that the experience, or was it quite different?
Paul Pacifico: I think when you’re in the middle of an industry, not just music, any industry, you have a different perspective on what’s going on. One thing that always makes me smile is the fact that I think a saw a statistic that something like the average winner of the breakthrough award at the Brit Awards has had a professional career in music for ten years. So, there are so many people, there are so many artists and creators in music, who are well known in the industry, really admired, but who haven’t quite broken through to the public consciousness yet. And so, very often when you’re in the industry and people break, we’ve known about them for a long time, they’ve been around, they’re known. And I think, there was definitely during lockdown, a stillness, a quietness, people had additional time, you know a lot more people were streaming for entertainment, not just music, but you know film and video and other things. And, I think whilst Covid was enormously challenging for the music industry, particularly for the live side, there were at the same time, some that really benefitted from that stillness, that quietness, that opportunity to break through. I think the big challenge for artists in the streaming era, where we have now a hundred thousand tracks a day being uploaded onto platforms like Spotify, is not how do you get to market, but how do you cut through the noise and get yourself heard.
Claire: Yes. I suppose then that’s about branding then, and marketing, as much as it’s about the talent.
Paul Pacifico: It’s about branding, marketing, support, it’s about connecting with audiences, its about finding out who your audience is, how to connect with them. I teach a course at Berklee as you mentioned, and one of the things I talk about to my students all the time is how if you are going to succeed as an artist, you somehow have to find a really unique and authentic voice, you know, a way of communicating a message that resonates with people, and that is you know is unique to you. Because so much music is pushed out there, if you try to chase trends, if you try to copy something else that is going on, you will be sort of just swept up in the tide, it’s a bigger risk to go your own way, but really, I think that’s the best recipe to cut through if you’re going to succeed in the end.
Claire: Yes. I suppose the other thing that we all forget about the music industry because we’re looking at the output and the talent, is there’s a big input as well, which is the business side of it. And I guess as a representative, as a trade body, you’re dealing with the business side a lot. Has that changed as well in the last six years?
Paul Pacifico: Enormously. I mean, I see the cultural and commercial sides of music, the creative and the commercial sides, not as a binary, sort of two sides of a coin, but rather as a continuum. And I think one thing that has become really clear is if you’re going to be successful in music, if you’re a creator, you have to have a little bit of commercial knowledge, and if you’re going to build a business in music, you have to be creative. So, it’s a little bit like the Ying Yang symbol, you know, you need a little bit of the kind of the black and the white, and white and the black, you need to blend those things and find partnerships that really empower both. So, the most successful partnerships I see in music are between creators and entrepreneurs who really accelerate and empower each other and are able to grow with each other and really share a sense of mission together. Those relationships seem to work really really well and endure for the long term.
Claire: You talk really passionately about music and about AIM, and again, as you look back, are you kind of happy that you are leaving the independent sector in a good place? Is that where it feels it is at the moment?
Paul Pacifico: Yes. I mean, I’m proud of the work I’ve done at AIM, I think I leave with a sense of real excitement for the journey ahead, for the community. I think, as I mentioned, the community continues to grow in terms of market share in the UK and that’s reflected around the world. I think the challenge is that in the digital market, because revenues, individual transaction size become smaller and smaller in streaming, and you know the success is through the aggregation of lots and lots of tiny transactions. That is a real challenge in terms of growing your business and getting to scale, and that’s where I think the next, the road ahead will need to have a slight reframing of how businesses are built in music, how artists’ careers are supported. It is going to take a bit longer for artists to come to market I think, when artists do come to market, its not like they have a big release, make a lot of money and they’re done. It’s going to be all about building careers over time, and that takes a slightly different mindset. But, yeah, I leave excited for the community, thinking its in a great place and I think the future for music is very very bright. And I think the future for independent music is extremely bright within that.
Claire: So, let’s turn to look a little bit at the future and your advisory role with Ambassadeurs Group. Ambassadeurs Group is very clearly a company with purpose and that purpose is about building better futures, and it feels from the conversation we’ve had now, that there’s a lot of alignment in terms of value about futures, whether that’s being part of the diversity conversation, whether it’s the education, whether it’s the technology that enables those futures. Is that what kind of attracted you to this advisory role?
Paul Pacifico: It has, absolutely. All of those things that you mention, education, technology, you know, they’re all wrapped up in opportunity and if you’re going to actually help bring about a society that I think we would all like to live in, rather than the one we might live in today, you know we’ve got to address some of those inequalities and we’ve got to address the fact that actually if you empower people who don’t have the same level of opportunity to start with, the outcomes, the results for them can be really exciting, and you know the more support you can give, the more that one success leads to many successes. And I think its that kind of idea if there are role models that young people can look to that look like them, that sound like them, that feel resonate with them in some way, feel relevant to them, they’re much more likely to have confidence to pursue those career paths, that’s definitely the case in music and we see it all over our society, in lots of different paths, in economy and politics and other areas. So, for me those things are intrinsically linked, and I have a keen interest in technology, the direction of travel. Music and technology have always been aligned, you know musical innovation has always pushed the envelope where it comes to technology from the invention of the piano, from the, you know, the harps, the cord, to keyboard synthesisers, through to digital audio workstations that we use today, and so on and so forth. So, whether we are talking about web3, the metaverse, blockchain, non-fungible tokens, whatever it is, music and technology have always gone hand in hand. Music has always jumped on the latest tech, you know, the take up of the internet was driven by entertainment and music was always at the cutting edge because music files are smaller and quicker to download. So even with a dial up modem, you could enjoy music back in the day online. So, music has always been at the cutting edge, and I think if we can deliver effective education to new generation entrepreneurs, artists coming into the industry, empower them with access to technology and sort of help give them access to a market that is meritocratic, then I think that will hold us in very good stead.
Claire: Yes. And again, I look back at some of the work you’ve done, you did a paper on blockchain in the music industry, actually quite early on in blockchains development, when everyone was just going, I don’t really want to go there because its too difficult. So, you’ve clearly got an eye on technology before it comes mainstream, which again chimes very much with what Ambassadeurs Group is trying to do and to spot those trends and be part of them. What does advisory work mean for you? You’ve got so much going on, you’ve got a big new job coming up, but you’ve also got your other interests. So, how much time, or how much will you be able to devote to helping the group.
Paul Pacifico: I think, I mean I see advisory work as the ultimate opportunity to help people who are already doing good work with great intentions and just nudge them to keep them on course to make sure that the impact that they have aligns with their intentions. Music is an exciting space, and many people are drawn to want to connect with the music industry and music artists in different ways, and I see my role as an opportunity to help Ambassadeurs Group really reach and deliver on its aspirations in that regard. To make sure that they’re interfacing in the right way with the right people, that they are able to deliver on their hopes to provide better futures and do that in a worthwhile way.
Claire: Really sadly, we are getting close to the end of our conversation. I’m going to finish with some quick-fire questions.
Paul Pacifico: Ok.
Claire: See how we go.
Paul Pacifico: Hit me.
Claire: So, given all your competing interests, which all kind of come together, which entrepreneur do you most admire?
Paul Pacifico: See, this is something you stump me on. Now, I would describe my interests as complimentary rather than competing. I see them acting as a virtual circle. I have had the opportunity over the last six years, and before that in my probably twenty-year career now in music, to work with some of the most unbelievably creative, dynamic, innovative entrepreneurs on the planet. There are too many to mention, I don’t want to hang my hat on one in particular, but what I do love, actually, what I would say rather than one individual entrepreneur, one thing that I’ve loved about working in the independent music community, is the fact they’re all, I would describe them as social entrepreneurs. They’re building businesses that are successful financial businesses but all of them are built with purpose and passion, and all of them are uncompromising in terms of their vision, So, its not just about can we make money out of this, but its can we do it right, can we do the right thing. You know I see businesses in the music industry unilaterally, for example, raising the minimum rate they’re paying artists, not because they’re obliged to, but because they think it’s the right thing to do for the ecosystem. And that’s the kind of thing I love to see, I think, I love that spirit of you know, I’m sort of a believer in people building their own success, building businesses and reaping the rewards of their success. But I’m also a big believer in people giving back and sharing the wealth.
Claire: Very good answer. Next quick-fire question, favourite musician alive or dead?
Paul Pacifico: Favourite musician, and there are many, but I think there’s one who I have come back to time and time again through my life, actually, there are two, probably more. I would say Maceo Parker, who is an American saxophonist, who has had the most unbelievable career in music over about fifty or sixty years now. He’s in his seventies, he joined James Brown’s band back when he was 18 years old, probably in the early sixties and he’s been in every single major US funk band in history and I love funk music, I love all roots music, sort of blues, jazz, soul, funk, reggae, those are the sorts of music that I really really love, and Maceo has been in all of those bands, whether it’s James Brown, Prince, Parliament, Funkadelic, the most extraordinary career. He is the most sampled sax player in history and the reason is because there are some musicians, you hear them play one note and you know its them. And those are the stand out artists of their eras, you hear one note, and you know who it is. There are not that many of them, Maceo is one of them, I was also going to mention Ernest Ranglin, who’s a Jamaican guitarist and Ernest is credited with inventing Ska, the genre of music that sort of came just before reggae. And, Ernest, actually, funnily enough, there’s a Les Ambassadeurs connection to this, Ernest Ranglin was the house session musician, sort of musical director if you like, of Chrysalis Records when that was first formed out in Jamaica. And As result, Ernest Ranglin did the Dr. No soundtrack, which I know had some scenes filmed in the club in Les Ambassadeurs. So, there you go.
Claire: That’s a very good connection, and of course, its just celebrated its 60th anniversary.
Paul Pacifico: Absolutely. So, anyone who hears this, if they look up Ernest, Ernest’s got an album called Below the Baseline, which is an album I come back to time and time and time again. It’s a sort of fusion of Jazz and Dub and Reggae, and anything by Maceo. But if you listen to his track Soul Power, you’ll hear a lot of dance hits and other things that you won’t realise sample his music, still to this day.
Claire: I feel really inspired after that answer. Two more to go. What instrument do you play?
Paul Pacifico: I play the harmonica. I play the, technically the diatonic harmonica, the blues harmonica.
Claire: And was that the instrument you played when you talked about growing up with music, when you did your sessions with your family?
Paul Pacifico: No, that was a rebellion. I got really torn a strip off for playing a toy. I started on the violin when I was three and then started the saxophone when I was about thirteen. Then the summer I turned sixteen, I remember watching some late night tv and there was an American comedian, and he would tell these jokes, the jokes were terrible, but between every joke he played a riff on the harmonica, and I had never heard anything like it. And, I was just obsessed with that sound, and the next day I went to a little music shop, and I bought a harmonica and a tape and book as a set, instant harmonica it was called. And I spent the rest of the summer trying to get a sound out of this thing, and I’ve played it ever since.
Claire: Amazing. Final question, what would be the one piece of advice you’d give to someone wanting to get into the music industry, whichever part of it they were looking at?
Paul Pacifico: That’s a really good question, and its very hard to think of one, only one-piece of advice. But I think it would have to be, like with anything in life, if you are going to play a game, learn the rules. The music industry is exciting, it is full of passion and creativity and art and feeling. It’s also complex industry with a complicated rights landscape, and many moving parts. So, I’d say if you’re going to try and play the music game, definitely learn the rules.
Claire: Paul, it’s been a complete pleasure, thank you so much for joining me.
Paul Pacifico: Thank you for having me.
Claire: You know, I think you’re going to do brilliant in your advisory role for the group. Thank you very much.
Paul Pacifico: My pleasure.