Alan Lawrie is an Entrepreneur and freelance Author living in Worthing, West Sussex, United Kingdom
“I should have pursued a sensible, intelligent and rewarding career that provided me with all the finer things in life, supporting my family, seeing the world in style, and lazing away aimless days in my stone cottage somewhere in the French Alps with my greatest problem being when to stroll into the village to buy wine, fresh bread and vegetables : But I didn’t do that; I stumbled into making a living out of supplying music in one form or another to the licensed trade. Nevertheless, I got to see most of the world, lived for a while in the Alpes Maritimes (06) region of France at the foot of the mountains on the border with Italy and Monaco, got to know Scandinavia down to village level, and learned to love the diverse culture of most of the countries of Europe whilst fascinated by the diversity of music, folklore, language and climate.
I started an agency which eventually contracted nearly a thousand disc jockeys around the world with regular customers in 14 markets, including Europe, the Middle East and Far East. The International Discotheque and Entertainment Agency ( or IDEA as it became known world-wide (and still is…)) was the second largest agency of its kind in the world, second only to JULIANA’s (later Bacchus) which specialised in leasing entire night clubs including the supply of DJs to top hotels around the world. We were never in competition as our formats were entirely different. This original agency supplied a first class DJ service to top Hotels and Night clubs throughout Norway, Denmark, Switzerland, Austria, Germany, Finland, Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, France, Italy, Spain plus Thailand, and Oman. The agency never had any customers based in the UK.
I was partly responsible for the great British DJ invasion (of Europe) during the 1970s and 1980s. The flow ebbed during the latter part of the 1990s and then the world changed, partly owing to the digital age and also due to local DJs mastering new technology and partly because of the rise of mixing music (Pioneered by Tony Prince and his DMC). In the old days, a DJ was a star, he had to entertain, use the microphone and make guests feel at ease, make them laugh, make them dance (how many times have I seen a DJ change a disc at the very last second because he knew that track would crucially keep them dancing). More important of all change the music so the dancing crowd would go to the bar for more drinks, and different punters would fill the floor. Mixing music changed that format; since the 90’s DJ’ing became more and more technical, with mixing and remixesbeing the ‘star’. Microphones were out! My DJs were showmen, entertainers – for me, mixing DJs were technicians.
Sometimes when you have a good thing going you don’t know when to stop. IDEA was running like clockwork, top DJs got rebooked in their favourite venues, we were active in 14 countries and I had by 1988 moved from France (Menton) to London and on to Norfolk and running operations from a 17th century rambling listed estate with a river frontage. But a bomb hit the bliss out of the Norwegian skies. Paul Brighton contacted me stating that he and fellow DJs were thinking of starting up their own agency – so would I sell out to them? Or risk strong competition. There were no new challenges, I sold. Well had to really. I was offered a fair price and two years later I was an ex-agent.
During the period 1985 – 1990 I was also selling music video hits compilation under licence from Diamond Time Ltd, London (Later to become a very large music company called Soundnet). This was going along nicely in parallel to the booking agency (selling mainly to the same customers) when suddenly MTV happened. It was new, it was good and unstoppable. Many of my customers switched to MTV for the latest clips and started to cancel my supply. I got out quick, selling the business to Number 2 on the market who was clueless as to the longevity of the chart video compilations to clubs and bars.
In 1991 Brian Carnegie (A DJ local to me in Norfolk who had been on the fringe of joining IDEA for the past ten years) phoned up to ask me where to get a CD Juke Box from? I researched…and suggested NSM had the smartest machine. “…and would you install one for us please”. I bought one, programmed it and that was the start of Perfect Music ltd. I then challenged Greene King brewery in bury St. Edmunds Suffolk with a one liner…”GET THE MUSIC RIGHT AND ADD 35% TO YOUR WET TRADE”. The operation manager had a good laugh at this, called me into a meeting and the whole team of area managers decided to make a fool out of me. Only trouble was that I increased their wet trade by around that margin through the music alone. (Every pro DJ knows you can influence trade through music…). Furthermore, I doubled the brewery share of cash in box from the juke box. From this, I was offered any Greene King pub in the country, plus an introduction to Charles Wells, Brewery in Bedford, and Morlands in Abingdon, Oxon. At the same time, I went for the capital and the best pubs were owned by Scottish and Newcastle. Within 5 years, I had the cream of the London estate and was contracted by the brewery for three years at their music consultant. This was my financial heyday because the profits funded life in France, property in London, kids in private schools and so on. But operating juke boxes was so so boring – real brain damage spending half my life on the roads in rush hour to service machines that (usually) staff tampered with despite having a fleet of five technicians on the road to handle the installations and service.
Following events in Eastern Europe from 1989 (Fall of the Berlin Wall) to 1993 when Russia was opening up for business with the West. I decided to check it out, went to Moscow to sell music and ended up selling helicopters and decommissioned submarines, plus attempting to trade with NASA. Way out of my depth and very much a bridge too far, but what an exciting project.”