All about publishing: Stuart Knight, Toolroom

Find out why songwriters and producers still need publishers in the DIY era & learn what you should expect from yours...

Anita Awbi
  • By Anita Awbi
  • 14 Jan 2014
  • min read
Formed in 2003 by Stuart (left) and Mark Knight, the company set out to build a lasting market for UK dance music against a backdrop of naysayers who spent much of the early noughties predicting the genre's demise.

At the time, vinyl sales were plummeting, electronic music magazines were folding and iconic clubs were closing - all signalling the end of the nineties' British electronic boom.

Fast forward a decade and the UK's dance scene is stronger than ever and Toolroom is an international brand boasting a roster of top notch producers, DJs and songwriters including Adam Walder, Paul Thomas and Funkagenda.

We caught up with managing director Stuart to hear why songwriters and dance music producers still need publishers in this DIY era and to learn what a good publishing company should be doing for you…

Why should a dance music producer sign with a publisher? Can you outline the benefits, considering we are in the middle of a huge ‘do-it-yourself’ movement?
Publishers are there to support their writers’ careers and ensure that if they have given their time and creativity to a song, they are recognised and compensated for their work.

Dance music has one of the quickest turnarounds on songs, more so than any other genre out there. There are so many new and ever changing options on how to sell and promote artists and records. Therefore, anyone who has creatively contributed to the process of making a track needs to be aware of how they can make the most of each song and exploit every avenue. If you write music then a publisher is most definitely one of the best ways to ensure this is being done.

If we're honest, a producer/writer gets into music to be creative, artistic and to envelope themselves in that world… Not to take on a business role. If a writer decided to ‘do-it-yourself’ and be their own publisher, I'm sure they could do just fine, signing up to their local society and registering each track as they go.

But then as a publisher we take time to maintain those registrations, we have strong long standing relations with collections societies, established publishing partners worldwide who know how to make the most out of our catalogues in their specific territories, access to rosters of artist and other writers for collaborations and direct relationships with synch supervisors and agencies.

As I say, a writer could do fine on their own, but why should they spend all their time working on everything above when they need time to be as creative as they possibly can be, making the best records they can?

I only wish more dance music producers would look at publishing as something to benefit them. If you have a good publisher they will only work to enhance your career whilst you are free to concentrate on the music.

What are the biggest challenges facing dance music producers in 2014?
For producers I'd say making something original is getting harder and harder, given production has been opened up to the masses with the impact of cheaper technology.

Where are the main opportunities for composers and producers, and how can they tap into them?
I still believe the main opportunities are with a record label, as this is still ultimately the best vehicle to get your music out to the masses. I think it's a lot easier now to approach record labels, many A&R decisions are now made from approaches on social media, so it's not the closed shop it once was.

What forms of electronic music do you find particularly suited to synchronisation, and why?
I think drum ‘n' bass lends itself more to synchronisation than house music (sadly for us). I think drum ‘n' bass records have a bit more inherent movement in them which probably compliments film and TV advertising more. Also electronica, with its more dreamy and introspective soundscapes, tends to fit well. But having said that, house is making a bit of a renaissance, with Ben Pearce and Breach both getting big synchs recently.

Toolroom is now 10. How has the company changed since it first started out?
When we started it was just myself, my brother [DJ/producer Mark Knight] and our business partner Owen, all cramped in my parents' study. We each did a bit of every task – from A&R, to licensing, even to flogging the records ourselves!

Cut to 2013 and we have 20 staff, all of whom specialise in their particular area. We've also diversified hugely – as well as selling music, we have a publishing company, an events team, and we produce video content too. So it's a completely different company to the one I started 10 years ago, but I hope we've kept the same ethos throughout – which is that it's the music which ultimately matters.

The past decade has been phenomenal for dance music. Why do you think that is?
We just released a documentary on this very same thing. When we started Toolroom in 2003, I remember reading an article by Alexis Petridis in The Guardian claiming that dance music was dead, and at the time he had a point. Vinyl was dying, clubs were closing, and fans were jaded with the average music and overpaid DJs.

But the scene just did was it always does – it went underground again, back to its roots, and I think a number of labels that started in 2003, such as Cadenza, Buzzin Fly, Size, Armada, Crosstown Rebels and ourselves – helped make the music fresh and exciting again.

The key thing is that the music has constantly evolved and pushed boundaries, bringing new fans to dance music. Then of course there's been EDM and the explosion of dance in America, which has resulted in huge opportunities for our genre and brought a new generation of fans in.

Do you have any advice for upcoming producers?
Don't follow trends in the hope to get signed. Know your sound, be true to it, and be the best at it. That's when you'll get noticed by labels.

To mark a decade in the business, Toolroom commissioned a 20-minute documentary about the last 10 years in UK dance music. Watch it below.