With an extensive background in composing for different library labels, Nigel Brown has found significant success in the world of production music. Examples of his clients include De Wolfe, Universal, Lake7, Rouge Music, Plan8, and Felt Production Music. Alongside that, he’s recorded ten solo albums of his own, some of which have also secured placements in visual media.
Nigel was kind enough to jump on a call with us to share his journey thus far, how he got acquainted with so many labels, the work he’s done for TV channels like Sky and Discovery, and the ups and downs of making albums for libraries.
Hi Nigel. Thanks for taking the time to speak about your music work. Is it true that you got into music through the trumpet and piano?
Yes, I did. I was given obligatory trumpet and piano lessons and was pretty hopeless at both of them (laughs). Eventually, my dad let me sell the trumpet, and we bought an electric guitar when I was fourteen, which was much easier to play. In contrast, the trumpet had always been a struggle.
As a teenager, I lived in the middle of nowhere in the Devon countryside of southwest England, but my brother and I moved to London in my early 20s with the idea of playing in bands. I did a lot of recording during that time, particularly with a band called My Sweet Fear. We recorded an album, which led to me spending a lot of time in studios. Even though I’d lugged my guitar and amp around London for a few years, I always preferred recording and writing over playing live, and the experience of making that album reinforced that.
Were any of My Sweet Fear’s albums commercially successful?
No, not really. We played a lot of gigs, but things fizzled out after the album. However, being in the band allowed me to meet other artists, and one of them ended up introducing me to production music. His name was Andy Hamilton, and he was a great sax player who played for artists like George Michael and Duran Duran. We worked on some records together, and he asked, “Do you want to try writing production music?” He then introduced me to the guys at De Wolfe Music in London, and I ended up doing three albums with them in 2006.
Around that time, I had a friend who worked for a film company as an editor, and he asked me to make some acoustic guitar music for a fishing program. His company did a lot of programs for Discovery Channel, and they said to me: “Good job on the fishing track. Next, we have a program about classic British aircraft”. I ended up working on fifteen to twenty series for them, mainly on Discovery, and it kept me busy for a while.
I also wrote tracks for a company called Focus Music, which was later acquired by Universal. Those tracks have done quite well placement-wise, especially after the acquisition a few years ago. Most recently, I’ve done an EP for Adam Wakeman’s label, which APM distributes.
What are some examples of films you wrote music for with the Sky TV and Discovery channels?
I did some series for Discovery called Classic British Aircraft, The Compleat Angler, and Supermodels. The stuff I did for Sky TV was quite different. It was all set in Indonesia and had a different vibe. To be honest, I didn’t really know how to proceed. I just collected a palette of sounds I thought would fit and started with that. It ended up working, and they brought me back for a similar series. That was about ten years ago.
Can you talk about some of the music houses you’ve worked with?
Sure. The first one was De Wolfe, thanks to the Andy Hamilton introduction. It wasn’t easy to get them to listen to what I sent in, but I was a bit more persistent one day on the phone. I said: “I’m thinking of sending the music somewhere else, but I wanted you to hear it first. How long will it take before you listen to it?”. That’s when they gave it a listen and said: “We could do an indie rock album with this." Interestingly enough, they didn’t want the tracks I thought they would and chose the ones I wasn’t sure about. We went to Angel Studios in Islington to mix it. Most of the library music I submit to other labels doesn’t get that treatment; they accept whatever mixes I give them, whereas De Wolfe was willing to spend a bit more money to polish things up.
I’ve also worked with labels like Plan8 and The Funky Junkies. There’s another one called The Music Supervisors, which has around 150 albums. Plan8 had less than 50 albums when I first worked with them, but since then, they’ve grown to over 100 albums in a short time.
How did your relationship with Adam Wakeman come about, and what prompted him to launch his AWP label with your album?
It was just luck and yet another relationship that came through Andy Hamilton. I realized that he was writing for Adam's library, and it led me to contact him. I offered him an album of ten songs, so he came back to me and said, “Can I use four of the tracks for an EP?” I initially thought it would ruin the album to chop away the other six tracks, but I just went with it. In hindsight, I think it came out pretty good. Plus, I was able to place the six other songs in other libraries, so it all worked out.
Given how active you’ve been with music houses, are the TV stations no longer asking you to compose for their shows?
It’s been a while since I talked to them. The stations found other ways to source their music. Back when I made music for the Discovery shows, they had a reasonable budget of a few thousand pounds, but an executive recently said to me, “For our next program, we’re going to spend about £70 on the music”. So things have changed, and I knew I couldn’t compete with that. Obviously, people still write music for TV shows, but I think the number of jobs has shrunk.
You’ve clearly made a name for yourself in the production music space, but you’ve been releasing solo music, too. When did you start doing that?
I started writing songs when I was young and only released a little solo material due to my work with production music. I returned to that in 2010 to record ten albums, which I finally completed in 2022. I self-released those albums alongside doing production music, but now I’m starting to get placements for some of them, which was unexpected. I’ve recently placed three albums since last December and hope to do the same with the remaining seven. They’re not doing much by being on Spotify, so it'd be preferable if I could get them into a library.
Do you play all the instruments yourself?
I’m not John Mayer, but I can play the guitar reasonably well. I can also play bass and some keyboards. The only other person who played on my solo albums is my son, who is a really good drummer. I started recording him when he was around thirteen and was finally able to work with him at sixteen. He’s twenty-six now, and we just bought a new kit for him. Having someone that can play the drums is a real boost. I've used drum software like BFD in the past, but it’s not the same as having a real drummer.
What does your recording setup look like? Or do you go to commercial studios to record your albums?
No, all my albums were recorded at home. I’ve got a small basement in West London where we live. I’m just using Pro Tools with some not-amazing mics. I’ve got reasonable guitars - a decent Stratocaster, a Rickenbacker, and things like that. I have a drum kit there, too, and up until recently, I was miking my amp, but it would get quite loud. So, I’ve stopped using the amp in favor of a virtual one and some pedals. I don’t know if the sound is as good, but I’d like to think it is.
Thanks for the interview, Nigel. It’s been great talking to you. What's the current trajectory for you for the rest of the year?
A decade ago, production labels didn’t have much interest in EPs, but I've got three who recently asked me to make some for them. Some libraries are also making their albums shorter - I made an album for Felt Music, and they used to have twelve-fifteen tracks, but now they’re asking for about six tracks. I think EPs over albums allow them to do more consistent releases throughout the year.
In the future, I'd like to secure placements for more of my solo stuff just sitting on Spotify. I was able to place the “Something Good Will Come” album with Plan8. I might redo some of the other albums with better drums and send them to different companies. Basically, I just intend to keep writing and putting out new stuff.
Check out Nigel's music all available for licensing through APM music.