In the Studio With — Manchester-based design agency Music on maintaining an interactive, hands-on approach

Posted 08 March 2017 Interview by Laura Snoad

CEO David Simpson and operations director Matthew Beardsell set up Manchester-based studio Music in 2008. Despite their numbers swelling to more than 20, this northern powerhouse is still known for its client interaction and hands-on approach. The company culture is fast-moving and puts the needs of each project before a desire for a recognisable style. But it’s not all work, there’s a flexible approach to hours and constant self-initiated projects on the go; two of Music’s designers even hold the World Record for the longest hug. David talks us through the studio’s work, values and turning around the ‘impossible’.

Music

Founded

2008

Based

Manchester, with a London office

Team

22 (14 creative and 8 non-creative)

Hours

9am–5.30pm (flexible)

Clients

United Utilities, Powerleague, Dr. Martens and U+I
Retained clients: Manchester City Football Club, Universal Music, The Christie Hospital, British Fashion Council and New World Trading Co

Website
Social Media

In the studio at Music

The Work

Branding is at the heart of everything we do. We create brands from scratch, evolve them to engage and compete, and bring existing brands to life across any platform. We research, manage UX, design and build websites. We’ve even been involved in sculpture. We don’t operate in any one industry, we solve problems and we’re as happy doing that for the NHS as we are for a global entertainment giant. We also try to have a good mix of large and small projects – the variety seems to work well for the team.

A highlight of the past year was our recent Powerleague rebrand. It was a great creative solution to the clients brief, it’s been a really powerful springboard for their business, and is testament to the bravery of the client and his board of directors. We’re really proud to maintain our relationships with long standing clients such as Manchester City Football Club, Universal, The Christie and British Fashion Council, they are all clients we’ve worked with for over five years and they still feel fresh to us. Some new clients that promise good relationships include Dr. Martens, U+I and British Cycling.

“We’d become disillusioned with the layers of people who sat between the people working on the project and the client, so we set out to change that.”

When we set out we had a dream, we wanted to always ensure that a team working on any given project was in the room with the client. We’d become disillusioned with the layers of people who sat between the people working on the projects and the client, so we set out to change that. As we’ve grown from three to 30 our skill set has broadened, at the outset we didn’t have any admin staff and we’ve definitely grown strategically. Our approach to the work we take on has remained exactly the same though: if it excites and interests us we take it on. The best stuff often comes from the most unlikely places.

We have a phrase ‘will it make the work better?’, which we try and always abide by, it’s a good barometer to making sure the relationship is working for both the client and us. The measure of our work is the impact for the clients’ business. We don’t have a house style and we don’t do work to entertain ourselves or our industry, we want our work to work hard, that’s the measure of success for us. Most of our new business comes from word of mouth and our commitment fuels those referrals.

Branding work for Powerleague

Branding work for Powerleague

Branding work for Powerleague

Rebranding work for United Utilities

Rebranding work for United Utilities

Rebranding work for United Utilities

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The Team

We fluctuate between 20 and 30 people dependent on workload and when people come and go. Like most agencies, on top of our core team we also have a network of freelancers that we use across creative and admin roles. It helps us manage workflow and keep the inspiration fresh. I’m sure we know and work with at least 20 on a regular basis, and we’re always on the look out for more. We use writers, creatives, illustrators, animators, 3D artists and editors.

We’re very much a creatively led agency, so we always make sure one of the creatives is present at the initial briefings, then throughout the strategic stages of a project. For a typical job we’d usually have a creative lead and a client services manager present on the job from start to finish. In addition to this we will bring in any additional team members required to deliver the project. We like to approach a lot of challenges with words, so our head of copy or other writers work with the project team from the beginning. Any illustrators, photographers, animators or filmmakers are brought in if and when required. We have some of these skills in-house but we also bring people in when needed. We also have an exclusive partnership with a digital agency called Anything, who are based in the building next door to ours – it’s a very seamless collaboration and works really well for both of us.

“We do have a London office too, but it would never replace Manchester, which is very much driven by client demand.”

The work flows very fast through the studio – our clients are used to us turning around the ‘impossible’. I think our lead producer role is one of the most individual and demanding roles here; it covers lots of different areas. One day it can be litho printing, the next it can be a retail website, the next a piece of public art. It’s a constant shifting landscape, which requires us to be on our toes all the time.

It’s always about the personality of the individual when we’re recruiting or adding to the team. Of course we look for great ideas, good craft, the ability to use the right tools, but I really believe that Music is an environment in which anyone can thrive, so it’s about the right attitude. We want to create a platform on which people can find their best work. 

In the studio at Music

In the studio at Music

In the studio at Music

In the studio at Music

In the studio at Music

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The Culture

We would never not be in Manchester. We do have a London office too, but it would never replace Manchester, which is very much driven by client demand. We’re in the Northern Quarter, a very independent area of Manchester where a lot of creative businesses live – the best part is the coffee.

Obviously music is very important to us! There’s always something on the stereo. In terms of studio culture, we try to get together at least one lunchtime every month to share work and catch up. We’ll go out for people’s birthdays once in a while and we might have a night out at the dogs for fun. 

People are everything. Without the brilliant people who work here, we’d have nothing and, with that in mind, we try to attract the best and give them the best packages possible. We operate a flexible system where people can manage their personal lives within our working days, we’re open to part-time and time to feed the soul. 

“A few Christmases ago we decided to do a good deed every day for the whole of December – this included decorating the bedroom of a Man City fan and putting on a nativity at a local old folks’ home.”

We often work on self-initiated projects as a studio. We definitely support anyone who wants to do this or bring suggestions forward and think it’s an important part of working in our industry – quite a few of them end up being awarded. A few Christmases ago we created an in-house project called ‘A Little Something’, where we aimed to give back rather than spending money on client gifts or daft cards. We decided to do a good deed every day for the whole of December. The initiative included decorating the bedroom of a Man City fan and putting on a nativity at a local old folks’ home. We currently hold the world record for the longest hug held by two of our designers in Piccadilly Station, the proceeds of which went to National Carers Week. ‘A Little Something’ brought us together as a team but it was also really rewarding, as it exposed us to some of the truly inspirational people who work for charities.

Posted 08 March 2017 Interview by Laura Snoad
Photography: Charlie Hitchen
Collection: In the Studio With
Disciplines: Graphic Design
Mentions: Shelley Wood, Oliver Wigglesworth, Matt Keers, Music

Creative Lives from Music

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