In this series, we're passing the mic to some of our wonderful Youth Music Awards sponsors. Get an insider's perspective about what it's like to work at a leading music industry business and learn how to navigate your career as an emerging creative.
This year, the Youth Music Awards afterparty is being sponsored by the modern global music company, Downtown. In previous years, Pa Salieu, Jordss and Yung T & Bugzy have all closed the night with afterparty performances. Expect more surprise talent this year, thanks to Downtown.
Wrapping up our Sponsor Spotlight series, we sit down with Gareth Mellor, the Global Marketing and Communications Vice President at Downtown.
Gareth oversees the marketing for some of the industry's most renowned independent music companies, including FUGA, Songtrust, CD Baby and Downtown's Music Services, Publishing and Neighbouring Rights divisions.
With 15 years' experience, he's has held senior marketing roles at FUGA, Kobalt / AWAL and Tunecore, and he sits on the Board of Trustees for Music Minds Matter, the UK industry's mental health charity.
We caught up with Gareth to hear his career reflections, and why setting boundaries and building a network is key to success.
With such a rich experience working at the likes of AWAL and Tunecore, what attracted you to work at Downtown?
I joined FUGA in June 2021 to launch their B2B marketing team and at the time, their acquisition by Downtown was still relatively new. Part of my role was to build up the relationship between the two companies and so I got a first-hand look at how Downtown was operating. I had a great deal of respect for Downtown anyway, but seeing how they worked from the inside gave me even more. I could see what they were working towards and when Molly, Downtown’s CMO, reached out about joining her team, it was an easy decision.
Downtown is something of a quiet giant. After the pivot away from catalogue ownership it has become the largest music services company in the world, representing, distributing and administering the music of millions of artists and songwriters, and working with thousands of music companies. There are so many stories to tell, which means I’m never short of work. One thing I’ve really enjoyed here is that when we say we’re doing something - for example, all the work we’re doing to improve Trust and Safety and fight fraud - we actually mean it. This means my work is less about chasing clout and spinning up headlines and more about telling a broader, more authentic story. Sometimes that’s slower work, but it’s more rewarding in the long run.
What career moment are you most proud of?
There have been a few. I think the work the marketing team and I did at Kobalt and AWAL before the Sony acquisition genuinely changed not only AWAL but also the industry. We framed AWAL as more of an aspirational lifestyle brand than a distributor and I think that really tapped into the music zeitgeist back then. We were also super fortunate that AWAL represented some exciting artists at that time and had an incredible team all over the world. I also ran some great events there, with AWAL’s end-of-summer rooftop party getting a nod as a ‘summer highlight’ in Music Week (and nearly getting us banned by the London City Council in the process).
On a more personal level, I’ve given a lot of talks and sat on a lot of panels now, but giving a keynote at London Olympia or speaking to artists on stage in Medellín with the British Council were great. They helped me raise my public speaking game.
I’m always really happy when the work I’m doing ties into advocacy. At AWAL, the partnership I launched between Zoom, the UN and AWAL’s artists around COVID response was a definite highlight, I only wish we’d been able to do more. I’m always really interested in trying to help develop the music industry into a more diverse, more progressive version of itself. So, working with organisations like The Prince’s Trust, Black Lives in Music, or Youth Music has always been top of mind.
And finally, being asked to join the board of trustees for Music Minds Matter was a real honour. As was being asked to be the Executive Sponsor of Downtown’s mental health ERG, CARE. Improving mental health in the music industry is such a critical thing, I’m proud I get to do something about it.
You have achieved so much in your career - is there anything you still want to accomplish?
Well, I think I’m still in the first third of my career, so I hope I haven’t peaked yet! There’s still lots to do and lots to improve on - having spent most of my music industry career on the recordings and distribution-side, I’m now learning more and more about publishing on a daily basis.
I’ve always known I want to be a CMO, so it’s all about learning, growing and developing my skill set on the journey there. After that, we’ll see, but end goal - I want to be a writer. One day I’ll finish the novel that’s sitting on my computer and maybe, just maybe, I’ll write a couple more after that.
Looking back, what has your career taught you so far?
- Make every call worthwhile. If you need to be on it, make sure you’re learning something, getting more information or helping someone else. Once that call stops serving those purposes, get off it. And it’s never too late to realise that a call could be an email. Everyone will appreciate the extra time you give them back.
- Own your mistakes and give credit where it’s due. You’ll get the respect that you’re owed for your work, and you’ll come out of it respecting yourself so much more.
- Be kind. And if you slip up, recognise it, apologise and move forward. Everyone gets stressed, has moments of being overworked or simply has bad days, but once the days turn to weeks and the weeks into months, the industry and the people in it will have a whole lot less time for you (and rightly so…).
What do you wish you knew about the music industries when you were starting out?
It’s a pretty relentless industry sometimes, and I think the best thing I learnt to do (eventually…) is set boundaries as to what is work and what is fun. For me, it’s probably one of the few, if not the only industry, where these lines can get inexplicably blurred and that leads to a pretty unhealthy relationship with work and can eventually lead to burnout.
I came into the industry having spent a while working in tech, which meant I had to start my music network from scratch. That network has now led me to jobs, to opportunities for travel and some incredible friendships, so take the time to grow yours and make sure you give as much as your take.
What makes someone stand out from the crowd and succeed in your line of work?
A lot of my work is actually done in the background, so if I’m doing my job well, you probably won’t know I’m doing it. Much of that comes from introducing process where it doesn’t yet exist - this will help you in the long run and is a core part of any effective marketing team.
Always be asking questions. Marketing often ends up as a central point of truth, simply because we’re connected with everyone, so ask questions and constantly be learning.
I also think you also need to be very self-aware and be a critic without being continually critical. Everything can improve and the vast majority of marketing is public facing, so you’ve got to have high standards while also giving room for your team to grow and test things. It’s a very fine balance and I don’t always get it right.
Lastly, do you have any advice for other young creatives looking to enter the marketing and communications side of the music industries?
The main thing is to learn your craft and put the time in. Read a lot, learn from other campaigns, especially from outside of your industry. Review your own work and take a critical stance to knowing what you could improve. As cliched as it sounds and as often as it is uttered, everything that happens - good or bad - is a learning opportunity.
And also don’t get caught up in “needing to be a voice” before you’ve done the work. Save your hot takes on LinkedIn until you can back it all up!
Find out more about the Youth Music Awards sponsors and categories: youthmusic.org.uk/youth-music-awards-2023-categories-sponsors