Jake Buckley: “Looking back, my advice would be to say ‘yes’ a lot”

Jake Buckley (Music, 2013) has seen his career and his passion for music take him to lots of exciting places and given him lots of opportunities. After Hull he went to London and worked as a session drummer on number one musicals such as Carnaby Street the Musical, produced by music business legend Carl Leighton-Pope.

His career then saw him start writing bespoke scores for fashion look books, catwalk shows and radio documentaries, which incentivised him to further explore music composition, a decision that took him to Sizzer, a music supervision company in Amsterdam. He is now fouder and partner of a music supervision and production company called Birdbrain.

We interviewed Jake to find out more about the differences between working in the UK and in Amsterdam, his advice for others looking to work in the creative industries and how he overcame hurdles such as alcohol in order to find himself in a much better place as an entrepreneur and a creator.


How does the music, film and advertising industry differ in Amsterdam to the UK?

The UK has some serious chops when it comes to artistic output, and so, very few countries can hold a flame to the country’s music scene – we’re an angry nation and that births proper musical artistry. I think the same could be said for film and certainly looking back over the last 30 years London’s advertising industry has been leading edge. Amsterdam is a city full of makers and doers. It’s a city of less than a million people but I’d say 999,999 of those people have a craft or art. It’s a hub for international business too with Nike, Adidas, Booking.com to name a few having their european headquarters here, and where big brands are big agencies follow. So the advertising scene here is creatively led and hot global campaigns come spinning out the doors of these canal-side agencies. 

Life must be busy as an entrepreneur and a creator. How have you found a good balance & what would you say to others thinking about setting up a business in the creative industry?

It’s a good time to have balance as we’re in quarantine but I’m impatient and frantic and so I try to balance art, writing, Birdbrain (my company) meditation and all the health and happiness stuff and end up tearing my hair out trying to do all of that at once. Not sure that can be called balance. But I’m getting there.

What piece of advice would you give to 3rd year students now, looking to start out in their careers?

Looking back my advice would be to say “yes” a lot. Don’t feel restricted by your degree, feel inspired by it. For me it got me into an industry that shone a light on where my real talents lie. Use it as a key to learning more. And if anyone says you can’t make money in what you’ve studied, it’s a lie. You can. If you want. 

What piece of advice would you give a student who is thinking about taking the plunge and setting up their own business?

Do it when you’re young! Do it to learn about your industry. Few employers can and will teach you about your industry as much as you can teach yourself when you really have to learn. I started Birdbrain with 1/3 working knowledge of how to actually run a music agency and now myself and my partner know every minuscule cog in the machine. Within a year. Hope it goes wrong, too, because then you’re really living. Most importantly, make sure you’re spending someone else’s money. 

What is your most memorable moment in your career so far?

I was living in a tent in Amsterdam and met a person who put me onto a music agency in Singapore who around Christmas time briefed me on a bespoke composition for a Subway sandwiches commercial. In the excitement I spilled a pint of water on my Macbook and had nothing of my own to compose with. So I rang round almost every single person I had met in the previous 3 months whilst living in Amsterdam and used my friends mother in laws computer and midi keyboard in a houseboat in Leiden, finished there and had to record vocals so at 2 am went to a friend of a friend of a friends studio in the north of Amsterdam to record. Mixed it poorly. Submitted by the deadline of 4 am. It sounded like it was written on a calculator and it won the pitch and that money kept me in Amsterdam for a few more months and it inflamed a love of composing music for film. That was stressful. The best was working with a cellist at the Royal College of Music here and scoring a short film. Bliss. 

What hurdles have you come across?

There have been a good few hurdles that I myself put in my own way. I look back at my career and though exciting it’s been an unbelievably and unnecessarily anxious story at every turn. The biggest hurdle has been how do you stay happy and relaxed whilst chomping through life. My answer was alcohol and that answer stopped working quite suddenly last summer. So I’m now in recovery for that and it’s the most dramatic hurdle so far which unlike the other things i’ve had to overcome will take a life time of work. However, once you stop missing Guiness and the shakes calm, it’s offered me a very special programme and design for living which has unlocked a lot of creativity, venerability and overall curiosity in the world. 

Do you have any other long-term goals for the future?

I’m hoping to start a foundation course and ultimately a degree in art and design. I’d like to do some proper hippy stuff of some description. Not magic tea in the forest. But definitely somewhere with jungles, humming and colour. And I’d like to be able to offer help to others in some way. 

Since doing this interview Jake has been accepted into art school to study for a Degree in Art and Design. We look forward to hearing about the next stage in Jake’s story.

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