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About Dave Holley

Despite an almost complete absence of musical ability, Dave Holley has had a 30+ year career in the music industry. 

From early days staging rock concerts in Spain, to working at Parlophone during the Britpop years, to running Abbey Road Studios and today as CEO of one of the world's biggest independent music publishing companies, Dave has had a great time in a career that's taken him into all areas of the music industry.

He has founded gigomi to help young musicians succeed in the business.

My mum says she can’t remember why I was never given music lessons as a kid.


My brother and sister both learned piano. He can also play the trumpet and she the cello, but me? Nothing.


It might be because I couldn’t sing very well. My brother and sister still snigger when I try.

And if you were to stop my all-time favourite record at some point in the middle, I would struggle to work out if the next note was up or down.


In short, I’m not very musical.


Despite this – or perhaps because of it – I’ve always had an intense reaction to music. I became obsessed with records from an early age – Beatles, Motown, T.Rex, David Bowie, Slade.


They blew my mind and I loved them. I remember lying on my bedroom floor, playing them over and over again.

They sounded so fantastic and superhuman that I was convinced they must have been beamed down from spaceships circling the earth.

 

Despite having watched artists write and record songs and then play them round the world, I still think music is a miracle.

 

You can’t see it or touch it or smell it, but you can feel it.

 

And it is literally conjured out of thin air. At its most basic level music – like all sound – is just vibrating air molecules. But how on earth do vibrating air molecules make you want to dance or cry, how is it possible they can excite or calm you?


It really is magical. And necessary.


And humans need music.

 

If you look back in time, all societies in every corner of the world have been making music for as long as we can see.


It’s one of life’s essentials. Like air and water and food and love.

 

It helps get us through awkward adolescence.


We make our friends and find love dancing to it at parties or singing along at gigs.


It draws us together, unites us and makes us feel how much we all have in common.

 

An original voice, making wonderful sounds we’ve never heard before can surprise us, make us feel and think something slightly different. It can change our mood, our day and may even send us down a new path in life.

 

I think we experience and understand the world to – and through – a soundtrack of music. 


It even has magical time travelling qualities. When you hear a song that you associate with a particular time and place, the music transports you back there like a time machine.


Much to my regret, I still can’t play music but I’ve been lucky to work for almost my entire adult life in the music industry.


Helping get other people’s music out into the world.


If you’ve got to be in business, music is a fine business to be in.


Music is a magical product to work with.


And here’s a secret. Although the music industry is often portrayed as cynical and exploitative, that is not my experience.


It’s not perfect, but neither is life. Yes there are sharks in these waters but I’ve found it a great place to work, full of people who love music, just like I do, people who are serious about helping musicians get their miracles out into the world, just as I am. People who can’t quite believe their luck at being able to work in the industry and with the most marvellous of products. People who are much more like dolphins than sharks.


The real reason I started gigomi is to repay my debt of honour to the musicians who have transformed my world for the better.


I hope gigomi will be useful for musicians and help them build a good life and living so that they have the time and energy and frame of mind to make great music and get it out into the world. 


We need our musicians beaming down messages from their spaceships!

 

 

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My career

I began working in the music industry in 1987. For most of the 30+ years since then I have been running businesses in all parts of the industry.

 

My way into the world of music was training as an accountant in a company that looked after musicians, record and publishing companies, studios and festivals. I got to do boring work whilst looking around a fascinating world. And it turned out that following the money is a pretty good way to start learning how the industry works.


I helped set up a music festival in Spain in the early 1990’s, which had Bob Dylan and Keith Richards, Bo Diddley and BB King among many other fantastic performers. Although I was there as the finance guy, the production team was small and there was so much to do that we all rolled up our sleeves and got stuck in. I negotiated fees with some of the artists, worked out how to get them to the festival, contracted with caterers to feed and water them and found them hotel rooms. Experienced people taught me about the production of putting on a show: mixing desk, backline and lighting. I mixed with artists and managers backstage and even managed to have lunch with Bob Dylan one day. It was fantastic. We filmed the five nights and sold the TV show to more than 100 countries worldwide. I made some of the sales myself. It was one of the most intense and exhilarating projects I’ve ever worked on and certainly the most exhausting.

 

My next port of call was EMI Records. I worked as the tame accountant on the Parlophone label when it was at the centre of Britpop with Blur, Radiohead, Supergrass, Pet Shop Boys and Coldplay on the roster. Parlophone was on a roll and I watched artists sign to the label, make and release a record and then – with the right song and an eye-catching video - explode all over the world. I also saw just how much hard work was involved behind the scenes.


There are times in life when lady luck smiles on you. My boss at EMI needed someone to run the studios group which included Abbey Road Studios in London and Capitol Studios in Los Angeles. He offered it to me and I had to stop myself biting his hand off. I call this “The Greatest Job In The World. Ever” and ran it for almost a decade. I had the privilege of being there while artists were making records and orchestras were filming some of the most iconic film music of all time. I hung out with them in the canteen and the bar, watched them work from the control room and sometimes even got to sit in the room while they played. It was a blast!

 

Leaving EMI I tried something completely new. With a business partner I set up a mobile phone publishing business in Africa. This may have been my mid-life crisis. I knew very little about mobile phones and had never been to Africa, but sometimes you just have to leap and have a go at something new. We set up offices in four countries and managed to grow our subscriber base to more than 10 million across several channels including a pan-African music channel.

 

I loved my African experience, and I was proud of setting up a business that is still going strong today, but I missed the music industry.


Returning to the UK, I became CEO of Wise Music Group, one of the world’s biggest independent music publishers. Working with world class writers is an honour and learning how the song is the basic building block of the music industry, feeding both the record and live business – and can generate many different income streams – is fascinating.  

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