‘Music isn’t a London-centric thing’: Tileyard Music’s Michael Harwood on rebuilding the music industry

Michael Harwood, Co-founder and Director at Tileyard Music speaks to Audio Media International about building a next-gen music hub, dealing with a pandemic, and what’s coming next for Tileyard Music…

Where did the original idea for Tileyard come from?
I was in a band [Ultra], many, many years ago and we were signed to Warner and had a little bit of success, mainly abroad. It was basically a school band and there was there was four of us in it. But after that finished, we started writing and producing for other people. We’d always been very entrepreneurial, so with our publishing money, we bought an old printing works in West London. We gutted it and put six recording studios in, and the top three recording studios became our production suite. The bottom three studios we rented out, and the rental income paid the mortgage. So everything that we did in the production suite at the top became our profit.

Three of us from the band – me (the guitarist), Nick Keynes (the bass player), and Jon O’Mahony (the drummer) had a business called Goldust, where we were writing and producing for pop artists in the early 2000s, like Liberty X. After a few years, we wanted a bit more investment to expand which is when Paul Kempe came on board, and introduced us to the big business park in Kings Cross which is now Tileyard. The original idea was to start a bigger version of what we’d done in West London. 

We built 10 Studios above what is now the Vinyl Cafe. And it just mushroomed from there – we got some great people in it at the beginning. Very quickly, we got Mark Ronson who was an amazing advocate of Tileyard. As well as artists and producers, we’ve now got lots of ancillary businesses, like music lawyers, independent publishers, and other management companies and we’ve grown from having 10 Studios to about 110.

Very soon after starting Tileyard, we started Tileyard Music as a kind of sister company – the in-house branded music company of the Tileyard group. And that’s the bit that I run along with co-founder Charlie Arme, who takes care of the management side. In 2019, we took on Neil Hughes as our new MD, and he’s been amazing. He’s the former MD of RCA Records and we’re really lucky to have him.

What makes Tileyard Music unique?
I think it’s the place and the resource that makes us unique. There’s not many management, publishing and record labels that can literally walk out the office door and go into one of about 20 or 30 studios to visit their clients. Pretty much all our producers and most of our artists have got a studio here. We see our writers every day –  it’s like a family and I think that’s the bit that makes us unique.

How has Tileyard and Tileyard Music been affected by the pandemic?
It’s been tough. We try to look after clients and be as caring and as helpful as possible. It’s great to see it getting back to normal a bit now. You can really feel it tangibly in the place. There’s a lot more people around and the studios are a lot busier. Some people never left Tileyard during the pandemic – those who would potentially work on their own anyway were still coming into work. It was more the sessions that got affected because you couldn’t have several people in a room together and I think that was the most difficult thing. A lot of our writers said it was hard doing Zoom sessions.

In terms of meetings, from a business point of view, it took a bit of getting used to but we adapted to it. And weirdly, for us last year was probably our most successful year ever. We had four top 10 records, Joel [Corry] having a number one for six weeks, and we did our new publishing joint venture with Sentric Music Group – our label’s really grown over the last year. People were streaming a lot more music and we saw our numbers really climbing quickly. But the downside is that people didn’t get to interact.

Are live-streamed gigs are here to stay?
For me, the reason I got into this business was going to see gigs, and having that feeling that you get when you’re next to 20,000 people in a field. That’s the bit that really excites me. With my business brain on, I think there probably is a role for live streaming, but I hope it doesn’t become too prevalent because the bit that I love is actually being there in a pub watching a gig or in a field at a festival.

What was the last gig you saw, pre-lockdown?
We were really lucky that Sigala did a tour, right at the beginning of 2020 and that was the last thing I saw.

What albums/artists are you listening to at the moment?
I love all the acts that we represent and I listen to their music voraciously but I’m so busy that I cherish the times I get to listen to something just for fun. I listen to a lot of classic stuff – a bit of everything really. I’ll be listening to the next Joel Corry record in my car, which I was on the way in this morning, and then I’ll be listening to an Aretha Franklin. I know that sounds corny, but it really is that eclectic.

What’s next on the agenda for Tileyard?
We’re opening Tileyard North in Wakefield [in West Yorkshire in the North of England] and that’s really exciting. We very much believe that music isn’t a London-centric thing. We’re also looking at potentially opening a couple of other hubs around the UK, perhaps even further north than Wakefield. We’d love to do something in Scotland at some point. We’re also looking at opening some hubs abroad.

At Tileyard London, we’re also building a new development which is really exciting because that’s another 70,000 square feet. But it’s about actually trying to do something that’s good for the music community and also for the local community as well.