LONDON — For all those industryites tired of the consolidation and corporatization of the music biz, know this: There is life after the conglomerates.
Just ask Paul Conroy.
A seasoned U.K. industry exec, Conroy’s career stretches from a long stint as president of Virgin Records U.K. through exec duties at Chrysalis and Warner Bros. and back to the legendary days of Stiff Records, Elvis Costello’s launching pad.
Today, Conroy is master of his own fate (along with his partner in life and work, Katie Conroy) and boss of label/management firm Adventures in Music.
It took them more than a year — during which time Conroy says, “Katie and I have never worked so hard in our lives” — but at the Brit Awards nominations earlier in January, the payoff was clear in Conroy’s broad smile.
It wasn’t about winning nominations, just savoring a good old-fashioned hit record.
Conroy lit up the ballroom of the Park Lane Hotel with glee every time another industryite said, “Congratulations on your No. 1!”
The No. 1 in Conroy’s life today is “Mad World,” the longest long shot for the U.K. Christmas No. 1 record in memory.
For the uninitiated, there is a decades-old tradition in Blighty to battle for the top of the charts on Christmas Day. It’s big news in all of the papers, and the bookmakers do great business on this contest.
Sometimes it’s a genuine Christmas record; often it’s just a record that resonates during the season.
This year, it looked for a while like actor Bill Nighy’s spoof of the Troggs chestnut “Love Is All Around,” from the movie “Love Actually” would take the prize. Then it looked like the hot glam rockers of the moment, the Darkness, had a lock with “Christmas Time.”
Then, far, far out of left field came the Adventure Records entry “Mad World,” a fairly dark and somber tune originally done years ago by Tears for Fears and redone by Angelenos Gary Jules and Michael Andrews. Prior to its Christmas triumph it was known only as a cut on the soundtrack for the cult film “Donnie Darko.”
It’s the first breakout hit for Adventure, which the Conroys formed 15 months ago. And it’s led to more good news, which Conroy happily shared with each of his Brit Awards well-wishers: “We’re shipping 60,000 units of the album the first week of release!” Conroy shouted above the party din.
The album in discussion is Jules’ solo effort, “Trading Snakeoil for Wolftickets.” Conroy also has Jules booked into several weeks of European gigs, including Shepherds Bush Empire, and “lots of showcases and promotional stops in the key European territories.”
Besides Jules, Adventure Records also boasts Brit music hero Chris Difford from Squeeze and Danish rockers Nu. Adventures in Music also manages the Universal Classics act Duel.
“The worst part of running your own business is obvious,” says Conroy. “No cushions. No salary. No check from the big company every month.”
As for the positives, it’s clearly about emotion and satisfaction, in addition to that paycheck thing. And Conroy says having a personal stake has been “an eye-opening experience.
“We’re wondering why as executives we didn’t have staffers go out and do all this stuff to see what the real world is about,” he says. “But the best part is how immensely satisfying it is when you have success like this.
“I’ve been at No. 1 with lots of acts,” says Conroy, citing Ian Dury at Stiff, Howard Jones at Warners, Sinead O’Connor at Chrysalis and the Spice Girls at Virgin.
“But this means so much more than all of those because it’s my own shop,” he says. “And I’m sharing it with Katie.”