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The Metropolis Group






Metropolis Group - the most successful independent recording, mastering and production facility in Europe


Digger talked to Ian Brenchley, the MD at Metropolis Group, about their diverse array of activities in the music business.

Both contemporary and retro, Metropolis activities range from studios and providing multi-format recording and production facilities to their own record labels and live events.

Metropolis are pioneers on a number of formats and platforms.

Among their retro output are The British Invasion, Classic Legends & Vintage Vaults series of DVDs and CDs which are designed to bring the best of the archives, together with new content, to fans of some of the most iconic performers such as Dusty Springfield and Ella Fitzgerald.



Metropolis Studios




Digger: Hello Ian.

Ian: Hi David, how are you?

Digger: Great thanks.

Ian: Thank you for the call.

Digger: That’s alright. Shall I dive into the questions?

Ian: Yes please.

Digger: Please tell us about your background.

Ian: I started out life attempting to be a professional musician, but putting my rent on my credit card, it didn’t last long. (Both laugh) 

Digger: What’s your instrument?

Ian: Drums. I got a job at Virgin, in international marketing. With record companies you don’t have to work that hard to stand out from the crowd, so being a bit of an early riser, I kept getting promoted and then worked for EMI after Munns and Levy took over at their global division. I was at their head office at Gloucester Place back then. And then I got a job at Universal, where I oversaw audiovisual for seven years when DVD first took off. I started TV sales and digital sales and for the last two and a half years I’ve been here at Metropolis. We’ve diversified a lot since I’ve been here and, delusions of grandeur you might say, but my ambition is to turn this place into the new Motown.

Digger: That would be good.

Ian: It kind of stands to reason – we can make anything for our clients, so if we can do that why can’t we make anything for ourselves and create our own content? And stop worrying about how much work people give us to keep our salaries paid and make our own content and be masters of our own destinies?

Digger: Would that mean you had your own writers and session musician working in-house as well?

Ian: That’s the ultimate ambition. At the moment we’re creating our own content which is basically lots of TV formats – we have two out there already and a third one just being signed off. We’ve got some catalogue product that we’ve license that we have made ourselves and commercially exploited ourselves. And lots of other things, like stand-alone events that we use to create content, vinyl releases and so on.

Digger: You were looking after my mate Rod Argent not so long ago...

Ian: That’s right. I was looking at the charts and they did very well. They’re in the top forty DVD charts and I think Bill Nelson’s at number ten. That’s a good example of our new 'Motown model' where we’re getting established artists into the studio and doing a gig with a very intimate audience who are paying a high ticket price. This obviously helps to generate more cash than we can make in the recording facility alone. We are cutting out the middle-men, of course. We are venue, we are promoter, we are record company, we are production company and so we are making bigger margins out of all of that. And that money goes towards production costs and then we’re exploiting that stuff any which way possible. It’s a very targeted and focused marketing campaign. Because the fans are still out there, just because there are no retail shops for them to go and make themselves aware of these things is almost irrelevant. If you can put it in front of their faces, they’ll still buy it. So the campaigns are very much online and it works. We’ve got a pretty good track record of doing this kind of thing now and actually it’s an event combined with a commercial release and it works very well.

Digger: If you could only replicate that feeling of fingering through LPs and the rummaging and looking at artwork and sleeve notes.

Ian: Oh, I miss that so much. There’s very few record  shops where you can go and do that now but we’re trying to create rummaging online now so people can discover new things.

Digger: I sort of rummage when I go to some of the online shops and they make suggestions about what you might like or link a title to others of the same genre or era. That works quite well.

Ian: Yes, there are different ways of discovering new things these days, I suppose. But it’s not the same.

Digger: So you’ve given us a bit of a clue about how Metropolis has evolved into what it is today. What sorts of things are you working on at the moment?

Ian: When I got here it was very much a traditional recording studio, so they did recording, mixing, mastering and they had a department that made DVDs. The latter was the first one to change end evolve and it took on lots of different freelancers and specialists – people who made TV ads, print artwork, graphic design, programmers. So that department is probably now 20% DVD and the rest is ads, promotional videos, trailers, website builds, iPhone apps, Blu Rays. And we’re now doing computer games which is a new thing for us where we’re owning the IP. That department shoots all the concerts in the studios…

Digger: These computer games – are they all music-related?

Ian: Yes. And they’re very hard to describe on the phone but it’s quite an innovative business model, as well as a slightly different take on gaming. We’ve started a new company called Blink Digital and we’ve got two guys who are ex-Activision who worked on Guitar Hero, invented DJ Hero and I think had some involvement in Little Big Planet. And, as with DVDs, with computer games there’s no physical market anymore unless you’re at that very top echelon so it’s very hard to make money out of them. So the future that we see is streamed games to mobile handsets, iPads, online. We’ve got three that we’re already working on, one which launches next month called Say What? And then we’re going to do one each quarter going forward.

Digger: Has the music got a retro feel or is it contemporary?

Ian: It’s both. Established artists and contemporary new content that we’re creating with another company. We’re also doing publishing via Metropolis Music Publishing and one of our TV shows had a theme which was the first that we’ve published. And we’re actively looking for new things to publish. We have a new deal with a company called Atlantic Screen Media that we’re doing lots of soundtracks through. With the TV formats it’s one example of new areas that we’re doing which uses the space and the studios that we have to create content and to drive more business through the studios. So it’s back to being masters of our own destiny, to create work that generates not only the studio fees to keep the lights on but also long-term royalties which is really going to create growth in the company.

Digger: What about The British Invasion?

Ian: Yes, we have the label, so we’ve acquired some catalogue content – Dusty Springfield, Herman’s Hermits, Gerry & The Pacemakers and The Small Faces. We released them ourselves, really to prove the point that it pays to do a really thorough job on these things. It’s not rocket science, you understand, but very targeted and focused marketing. Trying to involve the fans and the fan club guys in it and we got them to come in we asked their opinions when we were doing the mastering. That gave them a boost and they plugged it online and spread the word as far as they could and it’s a cost-efficient way of getting the word out there.



The British Invasion series features Dusty Springfield, 
The Small Faces, Gerry & The Pacemakers and 
Herman's Hermits with The Pretty Things and 
The Hollies to come




Digger: What was your experience there in  terms of social networking and viral marketing?

Ian: We created our own micro site that plugged all of those releases and they’re all obviously linked to each other. We did lots of online networking to spread the word and we did some direct to consumer sales which went very well, cutting out the retailer which made us a bigger margins. That certainly seems to be the way to go with these things. We had hoped to do 20,000 units across those four titles in the UK in a three year period and we did that in twelve months.

Digger: Well done you.

Ian: Yes, we're very pleased.

Digger: So is it rolling out to elsewhere?

Ian: Yes, we're doing international licence deals, which is more of a challenge when you're a new company to get these things off the ground but so far, touch wood, it's looking good.

Digger: Any new titles in the pipeline for the series?

Ian: Yes, for British Invasion we're looking at The Pretty Things and The Hollies.

Digger: Excellent, I just interviewed Bobby Elliott.

Ian: Oh did you? Fantastic.

Digger: He's a lovely fellah.

Ian: I'm really excited to get that one out. We're just getting the economics sorted.

Digger: Let me know how that progresses.

Ian: I will. And we have a new Ella Fitzgerald release which came out just before Christmas called Best Of The BBC Vaults. It's a CD and DVD package and all of these come out digitally as well, of course.

Digger: I've got the box set of The British Invasion here now and what you seem to be doing is exploring lots of different avenues as you are doing in your business model generally. You're not just re-hashing old material, you're introducing new interviews where you can with the original creators and finding new stuff from the archives. This gives people something new.

Ian: The thing that always struck me is it's easy to sell a product to fans if it's a good product. The Metropolis name and reputation has been built over the years on sonic quality and we're at the forefront of audio innovation and pioneering new formats. And so once you maintain that and put out a very well-crafted product that does the artist and content justice and package it well...

Digger: People aren't daft. I see reviews and people are very quick to say if they think that it's just the same old stuff being re-released in a new package. Whilst they appreciate that you're dealing with back-catalogue in this instance, they expect something new for their money too.

Ian: You're absolutely right and you watch how quickly sales drop off if you're releasing bad content. That's not how we want to go on and I do want us to be a Motown for the new millennium. It's about doing things in a slightly more intelligent way in business deals, but also in a very thorough way and with good quality products that we're putting out there for people to enjoy them.

Digger: Why is retro so popular - the sixties and seventies are as big as ever and the youngsters are really keen on this but they didn't live through it?

Ian: It's funny you know, because we've also noticed on the mastering side that there's a real resurgence of cutting vinyl - we cut loads of vinyl these days and a whole generation of new kids are rediscovering vinyl. And, I guess, sixties and seventies music - it's a tactile, interesting, novel thing and leading them to rediscover an older generation's worth of music. And it's cyclical isn't it? Everything  comes back round again. I'm 34 and my dad played Jimi Hendrix to death and that's how I got into it and I collect more Jimi Hendrix vinyl than you can imagine. And, saying all that, people who are buying vinyl these days it's more of a souvenir thing. Because where digital is such a throwaway item almost, having something about your favourite band that you can put on your mantelpiece is quite nice to have. I think with most vinyl that people release these days you get a free digital download with it to listen to on your iPod and a piece of vinyl to look at.  It ticks a couple of boxes - I'm not really bothered if people listen to the vinyl or not, it's a shame if they don't because the quality's amazing, but it's nice that it's coming back round again.

Digger: What about your personal retro passions Ian?

Ian: Blues is my main thing, right up to Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin. The older and the more raggedy it sounds the better.

Digger: They call stuff R&B these days and it bears no relation to blues at all.

Ian: Yes, it couldn't be more further removed from Rhythm and Blues.

Digger: I did an interview with Bill Wyman, a real champion of the blues of course these days, and it was great fun talking to him. The interview was only terminated when our respective curries arrived!

Ian: Oh really? I worked with him very briefly on a series called American Folk Blues which was a DVD series when I was back at Universal and he was very kind enough to do a foreword in one of the booklets. They were fantastic.

Digger: What are the best aspects of working at Metropolis?

Ian: It's incredibly varied. It's very directly connected with the artists whereas working at a record company these days you're very far removed from that.

Digger: Can it be confusing because you have your fingers in so many pies and there are so many technologies and formats you're dealing with?...

Ian: Actually, not so much because everything's intrinsically-linked to each other so you have to look at it slightly differently. You have an artist's content and you need to get it out to everybody in whatever format is most convenient for them. So you make a plethora of different ways of consuming that content. It's quite joined-up and makes a lot of sense if you think about it that way.

Digger: Yes, I see. So the medium almost becomes irrelevant and you can just scatter down the content to the different teams to get it right?

Ian: Exactly and everything we're doing here, from creating content, be it TV, audio, audio-visual, physical or digital they're all connected and all the departments pitch in and help each other out. So it's a cyclical 360 thing, I suppose you could call it.

Digger: Is there any rivalry or competition between the teams? As in "Our format/technology is better."

Ian: No, not at all and, whether they like it or not, they have to work with each other because the market is so fragmented and formats are so fragmented these days that they couldn't just put the blinkers on and concentrate on their one thing. Nearly every job that comes through here has a number of different elements to it so they're always crossing over. But, to be honest, that's one of the interesting things for them - that they're constantly learning and it's very varied. We don't have any jobsworths working here - they're all working together and we want to create that family vibe that you have with a Chess or a Motown - that's the way we're going and everybody pitches in, gets their hands dirty and helps each other out. 

Digger: It's amazing that I can remember a world where you had one main radio station and one TV programme a week showing 'popular music' and they would dictate whether something was successful or not - you had audiences in the 20 millions. Now, like you say, it's so fragmented and there are so many ways that content is accessible and is delivered. You don't have to worry about when or how something is transmitted. Eventually we're just going to have one technology, one box if you like, that delivers it all seamlessly to the user.

Ian: If you think about it, it's going to be like it was fifty or sixty years ago where a TV or a radio, like you were just saying, controlled everything. When everything is completely integrated - the phone with the TV and The Internet line, I'm sure it will be the same again. It's just a slightly different way of doing it. Look at how music is released these days, because it's a singles market again exactly as it was fifty or sixty years ago. People would release a single on radio and then they would tour it. It's not much different now.

Digger: And if they were popular then the record company would give them an album.

Ian: Exactly. I dare say someone will come up with a way of monetising albums again in the next ten years but until then... I've been in the music industry working in record companies and so on for thirteen years and it's always 'been in decline'.  All I've ever heard is people moaning about the good old days and I think "Well, actually there's an opportunity now." With the music industry declining - like in the housing market - in that situation, you buy property and wait for the good days to come round again. Here we have an opportunity with all the facilities and resources we have at the moment at Motow... er, Metropolis (Both laugh) A Freudian slip there... to create our own opportunities and make it better. I'm bored with people saying gloom, doom and despondency, we know that so work around it and make your own chances.

Digger: One of my clients was called by a TV researcher and asked how his business was going in the recession. He said it was going very well because he had positioned himself so he had a few different strands to his business and some were actually performing better in the recession. "Oh no, we're doing a story on how badly the recession is effecting small businesses" said the researcher and my client had to explain that he couldn't focus on the negatives or say it was bad when it wasn't! When I talk to hundreds of people in this Retro market, there is a lot of buoyancy and a really good things going on and many of them tell me they're very busy and expanding and all sorts of positive things.



The Classic Rock Legend series of concerts immortalised on DVD




Ian: That's right, there's so many positives and, of course, the recorded music market has shrunk six or eight times in the last ten years or so, but another way of looking at it is that music's never been so popular, it's just that the business model has changed. So how can you make money out of that? There's still plenty, if not more than ever, opportunities to do so and you just have to think a little bit more outside the box. It's not that simple and it's very, very challenging but that doesn't mean there aren't solutions and you have to work harder and innovate. But there are still plenty of people out there making money.

Digger: What's exciting you about the future possibilities for Metropolis Ian?

Ian: We've partnered up with a music college called Brighton Institute of Music and we started an A&R course which is a nice evolution to the service side of the business where we're giving something back to kids who want to learn about being A&R men or producers or in production. The top three kids there get a job at EMI as scouts.

Digger: Looks good on their CV.

Ian: Yes it does. Also, we planted the seed early that Metropolis is at the forefront of all production so that when they go to work at the client side they come back here nice and regularly, or I'd like to hope so anyway. We started building a studio in Qatar in the Middle East which will be called Metropolis Middle East and that is very exciting. We'll be doing a lot of orchestral scores and it has an on-site philharmonic orchestra which gives us the opportunity to do very competitive orchestral work and that will open October/November 2011. And then the TV format stuff - we've got one called On Track which just won an award with Music Week last week for best music and brand. We're joint venture partners with Universal on that one and we had a series of twelve releases go up just before Christmas on Channel 4 that did very well ratings-wise and has been commissioned for a second series in August this year. Bigger artists and more international, so that's exciting. We've got a Classic Legends series which you mentioned earlier, the Bill Nelson, and we're looking at series two of that toward the end of this year.

Digger: Can you say who's going to be on those?

Ian: We don't yet know - we're looking at loads of different artists at the moment and just looking at clearances to find out what's what. The feedback we got from the first one was that the fans loved it and the reviews were amazing so it ticked all the boxes from that point of view and form a commercial point of view, so far, it all looks as though it's moving in the right direction. So we'd like to do one of those a month. And on the label side The Hollies and The Pretty Things on the British Invasion, a few more Vintage Vaults releases and we've got a couple of big, high-end, fan-focused box-sets coming.

Digger: Like what?

Ian: One is a nineties Britrock artist - I can't mention the name because, again, we're waiting for clearance but that is personally very exciting for me. And we've got these very cool events with The Guardian going, which is The Record Producers Live. That is Steve Levene's Radio 2 show, where he replicates live what's going on, and we talk with and listen to live, some really great sixties and seventies rock artists who come down. They're ticketed events and we then create content out of it with our partners Universal where they add bonus features on CDs, DVDs and iTunes LPs etc. Lots of exciting events-based things coming up.

Digger: Isn't it such a shame that so much sixties and seventies video was wiped by the TV companies?

Ian: Can you believe it? it's criminal, isn't it?

Digger: But it made sense economically at the time.

Ian: Sure. So many wonderful things lost.

Digger: I just hope that somehow, like Spielberg thought we might theoretically manage to recreate the dinosaurs via DNA, we might be able to recreate these programmes at some time in the future by picking up the original transmissions on the airwaves!

Ian: That's right.

Digger: I don't know how. But if they can get colour TV back from black and white copies of the original colour recordings.

Ian: Yes, we do a lot of that downstairs in the digital video department.

Digger: I'll have to come and have a visit.

Ian: Yes, come along for a cup of tea. Early mornings are best before the artists get in and I can show you round.

Digger: Sounds good. Thanks Ian, it's been great.

Ian: Well thanks very much for your call, I appreciate that.

Digger: It's been very informational and inspirational. It sounds like you've got a wonderful job there.

Ian: It's not without its challenges but very exciting. Thanks very much David.

Digger: Thanks Ian, take care.


Ella - just one of the nuggets from the BBC Vaults


Metropolis Group Ltd houses the most successful independent recording, mastering and production facility in Europe, offering unrivalled services for the Music, Film & TV industries. 

As well as this, Metropolis are a record label (releasing the British Invasion DVD Box Set (including Small Faces, Dusty Springfield, Herman’s Hermits, Gerry & The Pacemakers) and Ella Fitzgerald ‘Best Of The BBC Vaults’ DVD/CD), a music publishing company, produce TV shows (Channel 4’s “On Track with SEAT” and ITV Legends), and they host industry events and showcases. 

Some of the most classic albums of all time have been recorded and mixed at Metropolis including The Verve’s “Urban Hymns”, The Stone Roses’ “The Second Coming”, Queen’s “Made In Heaven” and “Innuendo”, The Libertines’ “The Libertines”, and Amy Winehouse’s “Back To Black”.

Metropolis Group Ltd
The Power House
70 Chiswick High Road
London W4 1SY

Tel: 0208 742 1111
www: Metropolis Group





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