As Posted on NeonNettle.com
Neon Nettle Caught Up With Talented Composer Dexter Britain
As he talks us through his musical journey
25-year-old Dexter Britain is a trailblazer within his field and one of the UK’s finest young composers. Confident in his talent and originality, he has spearheaded his own career in the music industry. At the tender age of four, Dexter taught himself how to play the piano and has since composed by ear.
Driven by his passion for storytelling, Dexter creates emotive, multi-faceted compositions across the mediums of film, television and advertising campaigns. He has worked internationally for major brands like NASA, O2, Kelloggs, Nike, Ralph Lauren, GoPro and BVLGARI to create some of the most recognizable themes in advertising and prove his versatility as an artist.
Despite his commercial success and massive fan-base, Dexter is still yet to be published and is currently working on his latest album. Neon Nettle spoke to Dexter Britain about his rise to fame, the power of social media and the risk of using creative common licenses.
NN: I read that you began teaching yourself to play the piano aged four. Did you always know that you wanted to work in music? What age did you start writing music?
DB: My mother tells the story of me being two years old and miming playing the piano on the back of the sofa (she wanted a musical son, as my brother was sporty). My parents encouraged me with toy instruments and I always wanted to play them. I think by the time I reached secondary school I knew that a career in music, soundtracks specifically, was the path I wanted to follow.
I would get out of P.E. to go to the music rooms at school and play about on the pianos. However, as I couldn’t read music and had no training, I thought that being a composer was out of reach and it would only be a hobby; so I started looking at theatrical lighting design as a career instead.
It was 2004, when I was 15, that I started making music on my computer and that’s really when it all began. I knew I had to follow music, it was my real passion, and as something I could just do, it felt inappropriate not to go with it.
NN: At what point did people start noticing your talent?
DB: When I started making music and putting it online, it was [during] the days of Myspace, and I was able to achieve a bit of a following (about 14,000 people, if I remember rightly). This was huge for me and gave me the boost to keep trying. Although, it wasn’t until 2011 that the ball started rolling to where I am now. That was when I released my work for free under Creative Commons and when I can say that my career began.
NN: Did you ever consider signing to a record label as a solo artist? What made you choose the advertising and soundtrack route?
DB: When I left school, just after my GCSE’s, I really tried to get a record deal. I worked constantly on making music and getting contacts in the industry. At one point I even set up my own label to try and push myself. It wasn’t the right time though, my work wasn’t at all the standard that it is today, and I was still learning about how the industry worked and trying to find where I fit in.
The progression of social media and the growth of user-created content sites, like YouTube, gave me the idea to release my work under creative commons. It seemed like a great idea for some free marketing and to allow people to make use of the music that otherwise was just sat doing nothing and going nowhere. Although I always wanted to make soundtrack music, it was 2011/12 that it became a possibility and the route that I would focus on.
Now I can actively do both without the need to be signed to a label or publisher. I can release my own albums and work on films and commercials.
NN: At what point were you approached by advertising companies?
DB: I was approached [in] early 2012 by a director who was working on a low budget short for McLaren. It was my first paid placement and I was elated. The requests kept coming in after that, mainly from those who used my creative commons work and now wanted to use it in commercial projects. By early 2013 I was receiving requests from the likes of GoPro and BVLGARI.
NN: What has been your favourite project to work on so far and why?
DB: This year I worked on a spot for Brain Games, National Geographic’s highest rated show. The work I did was an adaptation of my original Utopia Part Three, but was made much more dynamic for the project.
It was my first time working on something that was definitely going to be broadcast and had a lot of people working on it. I could feel like I was part of the team, working towards the big finished product.
My favourite placement is Whale Fantasia, created by GoPro. It is a fantastic use of my album “Light Of Life”.
NN: What role has social media played in your success?
DB: Without social media I think it’s fair to say that I wouldn’t be in the place I am today. Without SoundCloud allowing me to easily share my work online and get picked up by the Free Music Archive and blogs no one would know about me. Social media is my market place. It is my only presence in the world. As I do not tour or perform live, I don’t release music videos or material that is available anywhere else, the internet and the connection it offers is vital.
NN: A lot of composers usually stay under the radar, kind of like ghost songwriters, but you have a huge fan base. How did that come about? Do you worry about staying relevant and in the public eye?
DB: The fan-base had a huge boost when I released the first Creative Commons album. It was picked up by the Free Music Archive and a couple of blogs, which lead to an influx of people liking and downloading my work, sharing it and then joining me on Facebook and Twitter. I think one of the reasons my fan-base exists is through the use of my music in YouTube videos, like the “cute animals video”, which, although kept being taken down, reached at one point millions of plays. Then there is the GoPro “Fireman Saves Kitten” with its 20+ million plays.
I feel some pressure to remain relevant and sometimes have little panics about what to do next. It seems unfounded though, as my fan-base continues to grow, the use of my work expands and everything seems to be taking off in a very organic way.
NN: Can you explain what a creative common license is? Do you ever worry that others will benefit from your work at your own expense?
DB: Creative Commons allows people to use the work of others under specific terms, without needing to pay for rights or royalties. I use a non-commercial, share-alike Creative Commons license on some of my music. This means that people have to attribute me to the work, [they] can’t use my music in commercial projects with this license and they should share their work in the same way. The issue with this, is the definition or interpretation of “commercial”, so I set out clear terms on my website. I want my work to be accessible, but also protected.
Given the wonder of the internet, it is impossible to fully protect your work and I’m sure there are many commercial uses of my music that people are benefiting from. I have to be happy that they have chosen to use my music and only occasionally get frustrated at them doing so without permission.
NN: You also do film soundtracks, are there any new ones coming up?
DB: I’m working on my next album at the moment, so I don’t have a soundtrack project coming up too soon. The last soundtrack I worked on was “The Trench”, and should have its premiere next year. I will be very happy to finally show off the film that goes to the soundtrack I released earlier in September. I hope to get my first full feature length film next year.
Need help sussing out your future career plans? Look no further.
Another young go-getter in the music and film industry is Jay Cass, check out my interview with him below: