Meet the young Derry creative who makes videos, manages artists and runs a record label plus more besides
Whether he's working with bands or brands, Paul Martin Brown stays busy by not limiting his skill set and bringing the same passion to every project
The phone rings three times and I’m greeted by the heartiest of hellos. It’s as if we’ve been mates forever. Paul Martin Brown is the definition of multi-discipline. Not only is he an extremely talented website builder, photographer, videographer and digital designer, he also co-runs an independent record label in the form of Fictive Kin and an artist management company called Primitive Sound, responsible for one of Ireland’s most exciting breakthrough artists, ROE.
He’s worked alongside some of the best in the business in our corner of the world, including Ireland captain Rory Best, Generator NI, Carl Frampton, comedic concept The Ulster Fry and Northern Ireland’s favourite pint, Harp. I’m keen to learn of the early inspiration for such work.
'I was a musician in my teen years,' Brown explains. 'When I was about 16 I started reviewing bands – I was actually a member of the original team at [local music website] Chordblossom. I was going to go and study music, but then I changed my mind and decided to study media at North West Regional College. From there I really started getting into design, photography and film. I just kept on working with local bands, taking photos and filming. Then my work started getting in different magazines; Hot Press, Q Magazine... Kerrang actually published one of my earliest photos. That’s when I started looking at this seriously as a career option.'
It’s this burning passion for music that was instrumental in sourcing the inspiration to create Fictive Kin, an endeavour co-run with academic music lecturer Liam Craig. The venture is one drenched in selflessness. This isn’t just a case of two guys out to try and sign the next big thing, despite what the ensuing industry attention around ROE might suggest.
'We seen something in her,' says Brown. 'We really thought her career could grow given the right opportunity. That was always the aim for the label; to give careers to artists that maybe wouldn’t have had one otherwise.'
Earlier this year Brown created By Elephant alongside business partner Janice McGarrigle. Think of it as an online abode for their extensive and impressive body of work. A quick scroll through their portfolio brings on images of Carl Frampton dandering past the Duke of York and actor Jonny Everett throwing himself helplessly into the ocean to the soundtrack of [Derry four-piece] PORTS. The work is varied, ranging from creative projects to corporate ventures. Just how does this Derry-based creative maintain such a surge of motivation? Does the threat of procrastination ever loom near?
'Honestly, it’s one of those things that I still struggle with', he admits. 'I think the key is doing something that you love. If you don’t love it you can’t give it one hundred percent. It’ll become a job instead of a passion.'
'Other than just loving it, having a team of people that you can rely on and have a similar vision is a huge thing. Everything comes down to collaboration. You have to trust the people you’re working with. They have to be really professional and really passionate. It has to be people that can do the job, to as high a standard, whenever you’re not available.'
It’s this passion that has led to something of an evolution in Brown’s body of work. He explains that under By Elephant he wanted to create more innovative content; content for social media and brands, not just music videos.
He also has some rather sound advice when it comes to freelancing; advising me to invest in a domain email address if I want to be taken seriously. 'It puts you a peg above straight away. People will respond to you.'
'Be prepared to give up most of your life!' he adds. 'It starts to balance out; you begin to get your personal life back, but at the start prepare to be working 16 hour days. Maintain your professionalism and start creating a brand. People forget that as a freelancer you have a brand. You are the brand. Having a really strong website and logo will help you a lot.'
Brown touches on a subject that I hadn’t even thought of previously. Today, in such an image conscious society, we tend to believe that a good looking Facebook or Instagram page is what is going to catapult us to the top. The truth is, however, that both of these forms of media could become obsolete tomorrow. Who knows when the next big thing is just around the corner?
'I really believe that websites are the most underused tool. People think websites are redundant because they don’t use them correctly or they simply don’t have one', he explains. 'I think if you have a focal point, where all your work and socials are connected, it’s much better. Also, with Facebook’s algorithm changes it’s going to become impossible to develop a decent fan base without shelling out an awful lot of money.'
I’m interested to learn more about the hurdles of the freelancer, a form of employment widely noted for its difficulties. Some fall into the clutches of depression when work dries up or things don’t work out as planned. Brown admits he’s been lucky in this respect, having been extremely busy since he started out, but there is a certain local mentality that brings on its own problem solving initiative – location.
'In Derry there aren’t a lot of opportunities. There’s some great people doing great things, like the crew at the Nerve Centre, but apart from that it was really difficult', he says. 'There’s a mentality here. It might be spiteful in some sense. People think that Belfast gets everything, that Dublin gets everything.'
'I think it would of been the easiest thing in the world for me to say "there’s no opportunities in Derry, this is so unfair", instead of reaching out to Belfast and realising there’s great people there doing great work. It’s just about getting to know those people. I’ve got just as much work out of Belfast as I have out of Derry. It’s not to say there aren’t hundreds of creative companies in Belfast doing great work. There is. It was just a case of me actually putting myself out there and really working hard to deliver a product that I was confident in. You can’t be afraid to get to know people outside of a small community. Just be nice to people. You won’t get anywhere if you don’t get on with people.
As our conversation winds down to its latter stages we turn out attention to the subject of technology. Within the world of filming, photography and digital design, an industry so dominated with technology, there's a stigma that exists whereby many believe that having the best kit means producing the best work. Brown assures this is not the case. Just look at Tangerine, one of the breakout films at 2015’s edition of Sundance Film Festival. The film, which tells the story of transgender prostitutes in a rather un-glamorous area of Hollywood, was shot on an iPhone 5s using an app that cost only eight dollars.
'I really believe that having a great idea is better than having the best camera or the best computer to edit on', Brown clarifies. 'A really good story or a narrative goes a long way. I only recently updated my camera in the last few years, before that it was very basic. I was still able to do work that I was getting hired for though. A lot of videos are starting to look the same. People can get caught up in using drones and what kind of tech they have. Sometimes they can forget just how far a good idea can take you.'
This article has been published as part of Creativity Month, a celebration of creativity and the Creative Industries in Northern Ireland which runs throughout March. This year's theme is careers and skills – click here to read other articles on how to get into various Creative Industries professions. See the programme of events featuring over 150 inspiring workshops, performances, talks and much more at www.creativityni.org/events.
To learn more about Paul's various ventures or get in touch go to www.paulmartinbrown.co.uk.