For this month’s Job Envy feature, we sat down with Wez Saunders, the managing director at Defected Records.
Ask anyone working full time how difficult it is to make music on the side and you’ll get the same answer. Is it more difficult when your job is releasing some of the biggest dance music anthems? Are your ears not shattered after rummaging through a plethora of demos?
Fortunately, Wez Saunders is here to let us know. As managing director at the behemoth that is Defected Records, he’s also managed to write a number of records throughout the global pandemic, most recently with Reza ‘Beat Won’t Stop’, the second ever release under the project L.I.T. Released earlier this month, it’s a classic 125bpm vibe with all the hallmarks of classic house – filtered drums, vocal hooks, risers, snare rolls and reverse cymbals all neatly assembled to a positive vibe.
We caught up with Wez and asked him to run us through his job.
Place of work?
How long have you had the job?
Nearly eight years. Since March 2014
What does a typical day involve?
Lots of meetings! as Managing Director, you are essentially responsible for overseeing the entire operations of the business. I’m overseeing our record labels, publishing, events, artist agency and merchandise businesses, as well as giving strategic guidance and direction to the board to ensure the company and its individuals achieve their objectives, whilst maintaining the healthy wellbeing of staff and associates.
Highs of the job?
Getting to do something I love for a living.
Lows of the job?
There are not lots of lows in this job, to be honest. I love it.
But, if I had to say one, I would say: working remotely. It’s definitely something I love about the job, but at the same time, it’s good to have that personal touch that you get. Also, not having enough hours in the day, or days in the week.
How did you get the job?
Where do I begin?
Back in the late ’90s, I used to DJ for well known touring brands such as Renaissance and Global Underground amongst others. During this time, I met my (now) wife and we fell pregnant and were married with two children by April 2002.
I focussed on what my mother-in-law called a ‘real job’ and worked in investment banking for Deutsche Bank for 12 years between 1998 & 2010. I was on my way to becoming the youngest director in Deutsche Bank’s history back then (probably very different now!) when my brother, Jamie, died of Leukaemia in June 2008. 23 days from diagnosis to death left a lifelong mark on my career path.
Thankfully with a strong support network around me, especially my wife, and a drive and determination to make use of the one life I have, I left Deutsche Bank to pursue a career in music once again in the Summer of 2010.
Over the next 3.5 years, I ran independent labels, DJ’d, produced (for myself and others), managed artists (including Darren Emerson, formerly Underworld), helped establish a charity organisation in Stratford, London which saw the likes of J Hus, Not3s, Jae 5, Monkstar, Prince Rapid and more either working with or as students at APE Media. It was here, I worked with Jae 5 who co-produced a couple of records with myself and Sherri Ven Dyer around the same time I was co-producing some of the remixes of Inner City ‘Good Life’.
I had written a deeper, soulful record with Sherii with Soul Heaven in mind, and Kevin Saunderson kindly introduced me to Simon Dunmore, who actually rejected the demo.
Shortly after this, I was sat at home late one night, thinking how I wanted to focus on the business side of things, and felt that I needed a mentor and reached out to Simon with a heartfelt email explaining who I was, what I did and how I would like the opportunity of an hour to meet. Simon kindly obliged, and after 2 hours or so together at the end of February 2014, I thought that was that.
A few days later, I received a call from an unknown number. It was Simon (Dunmore). It was around the time ‘Wolf of Wall Street’ was released and Simon said he believed I could ’sell him this pen’ and offered me the position of Club Promotions Manager.
I have a simple life ethos of trying to be better than the person I was yesterday. I don’t compete with anyone, and believe the harder you work, the luckier you are. When I started working as Club Promotions Manager (promoting club records to DJ’s), it wasn’t long until I took the position of Radio Plugger as well. Then Executive Producer of the Defected In The House Radio Show (since losing the ‘In The House’ moniker). I then became Label Manager, then Head of Marketing for Recordings then Head of Marketing for the Business, all whilst retaining all of the previous responsibilities.
In the Summer of 2016, when the previous Managing Director was about to leave, Simon asked me what my career ambitions were and if I wanted the role of Managing Director. It was at this stage that all of my career experiences, managing people, promoting and marketing music & events, had led me to the point where I felt like the timing was right. 5+ years later, here I am.
How can we get your job?
My advice to any young aspiring music professionals/execs is simple: pay your dues, be patient, keep your head down, work hard, play hard, be seen and work harder. Don’t compete, be humble, treat people how you want to be treated and if you truly love the music and work hard, I am certain opportunities will present themselves.
Who are the people who’ve had the biggest influence on your career and why?
Norman Hines (Stripped Muzik Club) taught me the very basics (and more) of label management.
Matt Jagger (Europa Music Management) seemed to always believe in me and provide glowing references which have undoubtably opened doors.
Pete Tong MBE, who recently added a MITS to his fireplace. This is a guy that used to be a plugger, a journalist, has worked on BBC Radio 1 for over 30 years since 1991, is on the board at Pacha, a partner at William Morris, co-owns TSZr with Mark Gillespie and many more. At the end of his speech at the Music Industry Trust Awards he said ‘Music is the Answer, Keep on Moving’. He has no intention of slowing down. For me as a music executive, he is a role model just as he is for every young aspiring radio DJ..
Simon Dunmore (Defected Records) – Simon & I are alike in many ways, and I am extremely lucky to have worked and learned from him during some of the finer days of Defected’s recent history.
Have you ever thought about going it alone?
Sometimes the sum of all parts is greater than one.
What’s the one bit of advice you wish you’d known at the beginning of your career?
How would you like to see your industry develop over the next five years?
I think we are at a super interesting time, not just in the music industry but across the World.
Improvements in diversity & equality continue to evolve, and now we are about to enter the new phase of technology (the Metaverse, NFT’s etc). It’s interesting times.
As long as DJ/Producers continue doing it for the right reasons (the music). That’s the main thing.
L.I.T – Beat Won’t Stop is out now via Techne.
Find Wez Saunders on Instagram