This is me: Ben Sumner turned his childhood love of music into a business

There's a huge difference between pop and popular music.

This is me: Ben Sumner turned his childhood love of music into a business

I've always had a sort of entrepreneurial streak. Growing up, I thought marketing and business was cool. I even did my school work experience at Bartle Bogle Hegarty, albeit very briefly, but music was always my first love. 

As a teenager, I recorded pirate radio religiously so I could swap tapes in school. Eventually, a mate of mine got really cheap, horrible belt-drive decks, and I thought they were the greatest thing ever. 

Further down the line I was running a dance-music label when a friend of mine told me about sound imaging – people call it jingles, but I prefer "idents and branding". He had worked on the whole station identity for BBC 6 Music’s launch, the sonics and the music beds. That was one of the first things that opened my mind to music in media. 

There’s more than one way to skin a cat. I didn’t necessarily think it was cool at the time, but I appreciated the hustle, so I got more and more involved with the world of music for media. By this time, the hustle had evolved to working with brands and bespoke composition for advertising. 

I’d been a product manager, a journalist and a DJ. I launched the website for my own label, I licensed my own contracts, and I was accounting for myself. It wasn’t a deliberate plan, but I slowly ticked off a lot of skills needed to start my own music consultancy. 

Remixing has been the bread and butter part of my musical life, so for it to lead to brand-led work with one of the biggest artists in the world is very strange. We worked with Emeli Sandé for a project with Jaguar and The Brooklyn Brothers. The campaign was built around the idea of "exhilaration" to promote the Jaguar XE, so the brand reached out to fans via social media and Sandé incorporated her experiences into a song. The activation came to a head with a grand performance on a barge on the Thames. Cars and helicopters everywhere, the London Eye glowing red in the background. It was a very elaborate production. 

We live in an ever-more convoluted digital landscape. So many things are trying to hold people’s attention, so there’s no point in doing the same shit as everyone else. 

Having been in the business a long time and seen the evolution of technology in music first hand, I’m really interested in the role of personalisation in this space. From a business perspective, it’s important to understand how the sands are shifting, so working with Dua Lipa for Jaguar’s I-Pace campaign was unique. 

When we brought Dua Lipa on board, she was the number-one female artist on Spotify in terms of streams, so we came up with this plan to create a track that could be personalised by listeners. We ripped apart a piece of music that she’d written, remixed lots of the elements many, many times, and came up with all these great ways to recombine it. 

I was at a conference in Germany when the app went live. My business partner and I sat in this hotel room late at night listening to loads of versions as soon as it went live, and now it’s the most remixed song of all time. 

Growing up, everyone is part of a tribe, and it’s awful how narrow-minded this can make you. Once music became mainstream, to me it instantly became uncool, but as you grow up, you realise there’s a huge difference between pop and popular. You can be popular without having to sell your soul. You don’t have to cheapen your art. 

Ben Sumner is the founder and managing director of music consultancy company Feel For Music. Specialising in advertising and gaming, Sumner’s credits include video game Final Fantasy XV and a collaborative campaign for Jaguar I-Pace with Dua Lipa, which resulted in the most remixed song of all time