Get To Know: Dean Bryce, the A&R specialist behind Peggy Gou’s rise to fame
The music executive and Soho Works London member ‘rises to the challenge’ with his new music management and records venture, Don’t Sleep
By Gisselle Babaran
With a career spanning 21 years, A&R specialist and Don’t Sleep founding director Dean Bryce has helped to bring some of the most exciting underground artists to the fore. The London-based entrepreneur started his career as a management assistant for acts such as MJ Cole, Roots Manuva and The Cinematic Orchestra, before joining the A&R team at the iconic independent label Ninja Tune. While there, he helped launch the agency’s club-focused offshoot record label, Technicolour – a venture that catalysed tech-house It girl Peggy Gou’s rise to prominence.
After a year-long stint at Boiler Room as global head of music, Bryce went on to establish his own music management company, Don’t Sleep, in 2019. The business is already pitted for success with a recent Mercury Prize nomination through rising star BERWYN’s debut mixtape.
We caught up with Bryce to discuss what putting his values into practice looks like, the things he looks for when signing new artists, and his upcoming projects.
How would you sum up Don’t Sleep’s objective in three words?
‘Pushing culture forward. These three words are our mantra, and one of the fundamental factors that help us navigate and decide which artists to work with.’
When did you first have the idea to launch your business?
‘I’ve always wanted to run a music venture. I’ve been in the industry for 21 years and picked up a wide range of skills, which have helped me realise this long-standing aspiration. Growing up, I was inspired by a wealth of iconic record companies, such as XL, Bad Boy, Locked On, and Def Jam, alongside some really inspiring executives. When you’ve worked a few different roles in the business, the natural next step is to rise to the challenge and start your own thing.
‘There’s a distinct lack of Black-owned companies in the UK music business, and I’ve achieved some good things in the industry, which I never really got my flowers for. So, the name “Don’t Sleep” (meaning don’t underestimate) made sense, especially for the artists we’re empowering. We set out to address those imbalances.’
How do your personal values inform the objectives of your business?
‘We’re big believers in the idea that how you do something is how you do everything. The music industry has a reputation for bad deals and exploitation, so we’re actively trying to make things fairer for music creators. We never seek to own artists’ master recordings in perpetuity; instead, we aim for partnership deals. When we work with artists on the recording side, we offer a 50/50 net profit partnership – not the typical low royalty rates that are still common.’
What do you look for when taking on new artists?
‘We look for people who are actively “pushing culture forward”. Whether it’s techno, rap, pop or jazz, we’re interested in artists creating on their own terms and pushing the creative envelope. Art is very much at the centre of what we do. Sometimes you can’t put your finger on it, but when you’re in the room with great talent, you’ll definitely know.’
You’ve clearly had multiple career highs – what have been the best?
‘Hands down Don’t Sleep is the ultimate career high. I wake up excited about the projects we’re working on and it’s a genuine labour of love. All my previous roles have had their perks and moments of success, but having a vision and getting a chance to realise that vision is a phenomenal feeling.’
What projects have you been most proud of?
‘A great moment was when one of our former artists, BERWYN, was nominated for the Mercury Prize in 2021 on a record that we developed. We don’t do it for the accolades, but when you get a co-sign from the industry, it’s always a nice little nod. I also signed Peggy Gou’s first big record and it’s been great watching her journey to become a big name in the dance music world.’
How valuable has Soho Works been for you?
‘We love the flexibility of having our dedicated enclosed office space with the option to hot-desk at one of the other Works spaces, or use different meeting rooms if needed. We’re currently big fans of the Studio room at Soho Works Dean Street. We have our A&R meetings there, where we listen to demos and new productions. Those Genelec speakers sound so good that we actually purchased a pair for our own studio.’
What’s next for you and Don’t Sleep?
‘Right now, it’s about us cementing ourselves as a creative, dynamic place to find great artists and music. There are lots of legendary UK record labels with a heritage that we really admire, and if we can find our place among those greats, then it’s a job well done. We have a lot of plans for 2022, watch this space.’
You’re also known by your DJ moniker, Fotomachine. Are you planning on playing at any events in the near future?
‘I’ve taken a little step back from that at the minute to focus on running Don’t Sleep, and occasionally working on producing and co-producing for other artists. I love DJing, so I’m sure you’ll see me behind the decks again soon.’