Monday, October 15, 2012

The emancipation of Lemar

By Emmanuel Legrand

If you look at the past ten years, the legacy of shows like 'Pop Idol', 'X-Factor', 'The Voice', and many others, is quite poor – regardless of the countries where TV reality shows have blossomed thanks to the gang of Simons (Cowell and Fuller).

Most of the artists that have been “revealed” by these shows have fallen into the deep abysses of show biz, sometimes after just a single, if lucky, and few have managed to make a career that would last. One of the rare examples of longevity is British R&B/pop act Lemar. It is now ten years since he graduated from the BBC's 'Fame Academy', and he is still around. A new album, his fifth studio effort, 'Invincible', is coming out this week.

Last week, at the invitation of Nanette Rigg and as part of the London City Showcase programme, I did an hour-long Q&A session/workshop with Lemar, talking about about his vision of the business of music. I had never met Lemar before and was never into his music although I did acknowledge his hits. But I was interested in meeting him because he seemed to have a can-do and work-hard approach to his craft.

Our discussion confirmed that Lemar is far more grounded than most of his peers, and also a bit more attuned to the intricacies of this business, which could explain his longevity (he certainly does not seem to have lived the same life as, say, Pete Doherty). He also has a good sense of humour. And unlike most of the other contenders that were on TV reality shows, the big machine (not Florence's) did not eat him, chew him and spit him out.

He said he owed this unusual longevity to several factors. First, the thing about Lemar is that he was not an instant success. He was 24 when he came third at the Academy (which probably saved him from the oblivion where the winner and the runner-up must currently reside), but before that, he had been in the business since the age of 17, learning the ropes, playing gigs in shitty places, building up his songwriting skills, and understanding the business he was in. And more than once, he was tempted to call it a day, but there was always something that brought him back into the game.

Secondly, he did not win, so he did not get priority treatment from Universal. He had to wait patiently for a call from them, and then they passed! Which allowed him to see elsewhere and he found in Nick Raphael at Epic the champion and the A&R executive that he needed. He was also solidly managed by Richard Griffiths at The Firm. (He no longer is managed by Griffiths)

Thirdly, he was not simply a performer of songs written by others – he was also a songwriter, who could make decisions about the direction he wanted to go. This has also earned him much valuable income from publishing (one of the things he understood from a very early age was the importance and value of publishing).

Fourth, he is a natural-born performer. He loves the stage and he's been able to build a following that went just beyond the public watching a TV show.

So today, after a hiatus to see his kids growing, Lemar is still in the loop and he wants to be there on his own terms. After a decade with a major company he's gone indie, which is at the same time commendable and dangerous. But then, these are the right times for the emancipation of artists.

He has now his own label, Angelic Media Limited, which looks more like a boutique rather than an vanity label. With his pal from the early days, Terry Brown from 2beinspired, he picked a few partners (EMI for the distribution), a plugger and a touring company, and off he went, recording and releasing new songs. He will be hitting the road in December. His music may not be cutting-edge but he makes no bones that he is in the pop business.

As he said during our conversation, being independent represents is a greater financial risk for him, but there is also a greater financial reward. His royalty share is much higher than it used to be, and, more importantly, he controls the whole process. So if he gets it wrong, he's got no one else but him to blame. Good luck to him!

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