Music Glue Meet... Solomon Grey

Joe Wilson and Tom Kingston aka Solomon Grey have enjoyed success with two major TV soundtracks: BBC mini-series ‘The Casual Vacancy’ in 2015 and more recently ‘The Last Post’ which was broadcast on BBC One throughout October and early November 2017.

The London duo now returns with a new studio album, Human Music , released via Mercury KX on February 16. We chat influences, dream sync and advice for artists getting started today with the band and their manager, Hamish Duff.

Can you give us a bit of background on Solomon Grey, how did you get into music? At what point did you get Hamish, your manager, on board?

Solomon Grey: we were in a covers band for a few years playing funk and soul. We started writing together during that time and now here we are, 15 years later. Tom and I both studied music but Tom is much more proficient than I am. We both played a few instruments and came from very musical households. We started trying to be Nightmares on Wax and then ended up being Solomon Grey.

Hamish Duff: I knew Joe (singer) from school days. The guys had been away in Ireland and Australia for a few years writing and recording what became the debut album. I heard the first Solomon Grey tracks at the very end of 2012, loved what I heard and wanted to be involved.

How would you describe your sound? 

Solomon Grey: we’re often described as cinematic. We write for picture a lot now but even before that we would describe the images that went with what we were writing in a very detailed way. It was a good tool for discussing the music. We like to blend electronic with classical and we also love creating sample instruments from vocals or sound recordings. We build a wall of sound that fills most of the sonic spectrum and like to play with the way you build and drop from that point. 

What sync successes have you had and how did they come about?

Solomon Grey: We’ve been lucky with sync. Our manager has a history with sync and we have a very good team that have been great at getting our name out there to supervisors. Sync seems to be a lot about just getting people familiar to your name. It can be hard to tell sometimes exactly how the sync came about but we’ve been lucky that the people wanting to license music have listened to our music. We’ve had our music used in a variety of TV shows, films and film trailers. We’ve also composed original music for TV and film including the recent BBC drama series The Last Post.

Hamish Duff: The first sync we got was for a Ukrainian ad. We got that through a sync agent I brought onboard in the early days. Even though I worked in sync I’m a believer that you increase your chances of getting syncs by having more good people pitching your music. The first big sync was for Tourism Ireland, which went from being a license to a composition job. Looking back now that really changed things. It brought the guys to the attention of supervisors not only as a band but also as composers. Often in sync one placement can lead to another.

How do you handle the practical elements of licensing? What’s your team like?

Solomon Grey: we are extremely lucky to have a manager who has a history in sync. His relationship & knowledge with all the licensing people have been paramount. I have some contacts as well due to my background in film and tv so we seem to cover a lot of ground together. The team at Universal Publishing and Globe (our label Mercury KX) are now an essential pin in covering and building the name. They also now handle the paperwork for our licenses but it’s also the hard work they put in getting our music out there that’s been a real help. Getting a good team around you is important and that goes for sync as well.

Ultimately if you are original, have a distinction between yourself and other music and have good attitude you can be successful in many different areas of the music business.

Hamish Duff: now the band is signed, the master license is arranged by the record label sync department and the publishing license by the publisher. Before the band was signed we would negotiate both the license agreements direct with the client or via a 3rd party sync agent if they were the one to procure the sync placement. If you are unsigned and need to draw up a license and don’t have a sync agent you can always ask a music lawyer to help (at a cost).

Diversifying your income streams as a musician is obviously more important now than ever before. How have these placements helped to fund your career as a musician?

Solomon Grey: they have helped no end, so much so that now we are diversified and expanded what we do as composers. We both have families and we need to bring in a certain amount just to justify the time we spend in the studio. It needs to pay the bills and sustain our family life so just struggling in one channel of the music industry didn’t make any sense and wouldn’t be making the most out of our skill sets. Writing for TV soundtracks has helped the band which has helped with sync which in turn helps the composing and that feeds into the album and so on. I’m being simplistic but it illustrates the point of how it has feed each other. You can see it in our revenue that the diversifying has helped all areas of our business. Ultimately if you are original, have a distinction between yourself and other music and have good attitude you can be successful in many different areas of the music business.

What would be your dream sync?

Solomon Grey: something for a good cause which is ground breaking in its campaign and vision. Something weird and different. Like a bespoke film which works on its own and is quite subversive in its message. It needs to be brave and challenging to be different and even better if we could write something original that was entwined with the campaign to make it really impactful and different.

Don’t get side tracked by people telling you what you should do. Everyone will.

What would your advice be for artists getting started today?

Solomon Grey: Figure out what you like to do and do it. Don’t get side tracked by people telling you what you should do. Everyone will. If you can make money out of what you love it might take a little longer but it will be so much more rewarding and enjoyable.

Hamish Duff: I would recommend getting a sync agent onboard to help pitch your music. No sync agent will ever be able to guarantee that they’ll get you syncs but having them put your music and name in front of key tastemakers (music supervisors) has to be seen as another important way to market your band. A sync agent should be seen as an important member of the team alongside your publicist, radio plugger, distributor, etc. There are however plenty of bad sync agents so always ask to see their sync reel before committing to work with them. Either get them to work non-exclusively or if they insist on exclusivity, limit the period to 6 months and to the territory they are based in. LA is the mecca for sync so its worth getting a LA based sync agent for the US.

Make sure you get instrumental versions of your tracks. They are often used more than the vocal mix.

Also, make sure you register your music with PRS and PPL. Most TV production companies in the UK won’t use your music (via the blanket license) unless it’s registered with both companies.

And most importantly, make sure you get instrumental versions of your tracks. They are often used more than the vocal mix.

Tell us about your new album, Human Music, and how is this influenced?

Solomon Grey: The new album is the soundtrack to an event in our lives. We can’t tell you all about it yet but it really helped working on it at the same time as a tv soundtrack. They fed into each other and each provided a good alternative when one was driving us mad. We got to work with Dave Fridmann who has produced albums for flaming lips, mogwai, tame impala and he brought it all to the next level. We can’t wait for it to get released. Playing it live will be fun. See you there!

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