behind the music with marc brown

Posted: 27th July 2021

Ever wondered what it's like to own your own business? We got a chance to speak to Marc Brown, CEO and founder of Byta, about how he ended up in his position.

Read time: 10 mins

What experience have you had in the music industry? Where did you start?

I was going to school on the east coast of Canada, and I was not enjoying it - this was back when you couldn’t go to school to get into the music business, that wasn’t a thing. I was going to lots of gigs and lots of shows and that’s when I decided that actually I’m not going to stay in University, I wanted to work in music. That’s where it started really, that goal encouraged me to go and start volunteering at a small independent, artist owned, record company and I learnt a lot there, I even ended up running a festival!

Soon after, I moved to London, England and I worked for a record distributor in North London, essentially what that meant was that I’d go around and pull records off the shelf and I’d pack them up and send them to record stores, back when everything was physical. Whilst I was in London, I was looking to get a proper job for a record label and that’s when I actually ended up going to work in A&R for Creation records - who are certainly one of the most important independent record labels in British music… ever. So, Creation was started by Alan McGee and Dick Green and they signed people like Oasis, Super Furry Animals, Primal Scream and so it was great to work there. I ended up working there for about a year and then I went off and became Alan McGee’s PA at his new label and honestly… I wasn’t that good at being a PA, that wasn’t for me. So, I left that and started doing radio promotion, that was where I just had to go in and be like ‘Hey! I’ve got this new record, you don’t know about this band yet, but I can tell you they’re going to be popular for this reason’.

I actually ended up doing that for around fifteen years and then we started to make the move from physical to digital. Through being in that industry for so long and looking at how these files were transferred I started to find issues and the more I saw it happening the more I thought this is terrible! So I decided that I was going to build a platform for sending and receiving digital audio, and that’s what Byta is! So that’s really the story of how I ended up where I am now.

"There are loads of people who have so many good ideas and sometimes it’s very hard to figure out the way forward"

What does your job involve and what are some typical tasks for you?

So, I’m the founder and the CEO of Byta. My job can be anything really! I always like to think that I do the most important stuff and the least important stuff. When we started, I was a lot more involved in how the product worked and exactly what it did and the things like that. However, about a year ago we raised $1.9m CAD in funding and with that we were able to build our team, our staff has tripled in a year! So now we have a lot more people doing more specialist things and people who take care of all elements of the business, so what do I do?

A lot of my role now is about planning and supporting my team and what they’re doing. I have to make sure that there’s communication between all the departments that make up my team, and I have to make sure that everyone understands not only their own role, but what everyone else is doing and how that may also affect their work.

I also have to be outside of the company and talk to people about what we do and get the word out.

What was the driving force that made you start up your own company?

I saw a problem, a gap in the market, and I decided to do something about it.

Sometimes I say to people that I was just dumb enough to do it. You don’t know what you’re getting yourself into when starting up your own company. So, I developed my idea and I started to talk to more and more people about it and get some feedback and the more people I was talking to the more I realised that actually, it was a problem and more and more people had also discovered this.

So, I found people to work with to solve it because you can’t do something like this singlehandedly. I needed a team to be able to support me because something like this is super complex and I had to have a lot of people with different types of brains to work in different roles but also collaboratively essentially.

What I’ve found as I’ve continued in the industry is that it’s not uncommon for people like me, who have a history in the industry, and have found issues within it who then go on to start up their own companies to fix the issues that they’ve found.

What was it originally that made you want to start working in the music industry?

I loved music. Something that was very obvious to me I guess was that I’d end up working in music. I’ve never been a musician or anything but it’s something that’s fascinated me, it’s something that I care about, and if you feel like that about something it’s important to contribute to it.

I’ve always liked the idea of supporting artists; I knew that my role wasn’t going to be the centre of attention, but I liked the idea that I was there to support the artists and to help them to make good decisions. Being successful is all about making decisions, and I’ve always thought that I’d be good at providing a good insight to people to help them with things like that.

"You learn to wait, if you want something you have to wait and pick the right opportunity"

Do you think that not being a musician has held you back in anyway?

If you look at what I do then I could see how someone might think that, but in all honesty, I don’t think it has. I’ve toured with a lot of bands, so I understand what it’s like to be in a band in the middle of nowhere and be playing gigs to 5 people. I think if you understand that then you have a pretty good understanding of what it takes to be an artist, the ups and downs.

However, if you think about where I am currently and what I’m currently doing with Byta, I don’t write the code to make the app work and people could look at that in the same way, is it a disadvantage that I don’t have experience in that area of the business? I see it in the same way that there are other people who are really good at that on the team, and they do that. I recognise that we don’t need everyone doing the same thing, the key to success is that you have a lot of different people with different perspectives.

So, the fact that I’m not a musician can actually help in a way, it certainly helps in my current role because I can offer a different perspective. I think that the key is even though I’ve not been a musician, I have an insight into what it takes to be a musician. It’s very important that someone has that understanding of what an artist goes through to be successful both the good and the bad.

What’s been a personal career highlight for you?

I’m going to say, perhaps a little controversially, getting my first volunteer job. I didn’t have any goals past that at that point! So when I first got the opportunity to work in the industry that was the biggest highlight… I’d already accomplished everything I wanted to achieve at such a young age.

This is a question I find quite hard, if I’m being honest, because I’m not the sort of person who thinks ‘wow look at everything I’ve accomplished!’.

Something I find very rewarding about my job is getting the chance to work with bands and to watch them become successful, that’s a great feeling. People often think that being successful is all about becoming a number one band but it’s not, success is different to everyone.

Do you have a favourite part of your job? Is there one element that makes you think ‘this is why I do this job’?

With the work I do now I get to do all these talks and workshops, from that I get the chance to talk to a wide range of artists and sometimes I’ll meet someone who don’t really know what to do. If they’re confused I’ll work with them to get them ‘un-confused’. I’ll sit with them to allow them to figure out where they are now and what it is that they want to do. After we’ve established that I can talk to them about what steps they need to take to get to their end goal. I feel like after that’s happened it’s a much more manageable process and things start to become a lot clearer. I love this side to my job because there are loads of people who have so many good ideas and such big goals but sometimes it’s very hard to figure out the way forward.

It’s not only with artists that I actually get to have these conversations. I also get to have them with people within my own company, to see how they can progress and develop their ideas further.

I strongly believe in DIY; you can definitely do it yourself if you have the belief that you can.

Do you feel that your previous experience in the music industry has enabled you to help other people with their own journeys?

Yes, I think it’s very common in music for people to work in music their whole life and then on reflection look back and say… ‘I don’t know anything’ and that’s not the case at all! It’s because these people know certain things inside and out, and they know them so well that they feel like they don’t know anything, but when you start to talk to newer artists and say things or give advice they start to realise that the information they’ve learnt has actually become more like instinct for them now. They know what a good idea would be and what would be a bad idea almost without even thinking about it.

A big thing about what I do isn’t to instruct people on what to do. I never say ‘do this’ or ‘you must do that’. I tend to ask more ‘what do you want to do?’ and then from that I’m able to guide people and give advice, so my time in the music industry definitely plays a massive part in that.

"I strongly believe in DIY, you can definitely do it yourself if you have that belief and that you know you can"

What’s one skill that’s essential to your job role?

Patience! And that’s definitely something I was lacking when I started… not now, now I’ve got loads of it! It’s not something that has come naturally either.

You learn to wait. If you want something you have to wait and pick the right opportunity. Something I find myself thinking a lot is 'be careful what you wish for' because there has been a lot of artists who become really big really fast. It’s very stressful and it can go really wrong and not the way they planned at all.

I think things coming in and taking their natural time is not a bad thing, I had so much to learn making the move from working in music to working in tech. As much as everyone wants things to go faster you have to just wait and think about the quality of the end result.

What does the future look like for you?

Personally… I’d like to have more time to do nothing. I go to school at the same time as going to work which leaves me with no free time, so it’d be nice for me to be able to have a free weekend. My new goal in life is to have a free weekend!

In terms of work, we’ve launched a complete redesign of the way everything within Byta works. It’s something we worked on for 6/8 months, it’s been the first release since we received our funding.

There’s then another side to the business called '#HowWeListen' and that’s the education side that we’ve started doing. It's workshops online and other things, and I want to do more of that! So that’s also expanding and developing.

What piece of advice would you give to someone looking to start a career in the music industry?

Go for it, and never give up. It sounds cliché but it’s true - anybody can do it, anybody can work in music! It’s a hard business and it’s not easy but if you’re into music then it’s brilliant and it’s worth it. You just need perseverance. It’s good to do something that’s perhaps a little out of your comfort zone. I think that taking that risk is a good thing.

You’ve just got to get into a role and work hard to get to where you eventually want to be. In that way I think it’s similar to any other industry. Something to remember is that nobody really knows what they’re doing when they start, people will tell you that they do but they don’t, it’s one of those things where you've got to be in it and experiencing it to really learn it and understand.

How would you describe your job in one word?

I could say exciting or something but that’s not enough… I’m going to say complex. It’s a complex job to describe and it’s complex to do, because you don’t ever really know what you’re going to be doing.