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5 minutes with...

5 Minutes with… Christian Mix-Linzer

Tracks & Fields CEO on the relationship between tech, data and music, and setting up his first business out of a shoebox

5 Minutes with… Christian Mix-Linzer

Entrepreneurialism runs through Christian Mix-Linzer’s veins. Son to two self-employed parents and grandson to a former ad agency founder, his first business venture was selling on coveted records to his pals out of a shoebox in his childhood bedroom. He then went on to run a successful record label, which he launched aged 18 after a short trial period in which he released a sell-out seven-inch. Fast-forward and he now runs Tracks & Fields, a Berlin-based music supervision company which he founded and that has technology at its heart. LBB’s Addison Capper chatted with him to find out more. 

LBB> How important was music to you in your earlier years?

CML> When I was a child, music was not that important - I think my parents didn’t have a very good taste in music! Also, no one in my family played an instrument so there wasn’t much musical stimulation. That changed when I was introduced to skateboarding at the age of 13. I’d had a life of listening to radio music, and then I walked into a skateshop and there was a punk rock record on. I was like, “what is this?!” That changed everything. 

LBB> So did you take up skating?

CML> Yes, for several years. Everyday after school at this point I would go to a record shop and then go skating. At some point I realised that I was actually a lot more passionate about the music than the skateboarding. I quit skating and just got more and more obsessed with music. 

LBB> Do you play an instrument yourself?

CML> I tried! But not so successfully. At some point I played the bass in a couple of bands. But I spent too much time listening to other people’s music than practicing my own. I had a couple of friends that were equally as passionate about music though, so we tried various things together. We did a fanzine - well, one issue as it took so long sticking and photocopying everything! Then we ran a little mail order business. We’d order a small amount of seven-inches by a cool band that we knew and would sell them on to our friends out of my little bedroom at my parents’ house. It was my own shoebox-sized record store - literally. 

LBB> That’s funny because looking at your LinkedIn, your career history is very entrepreneurial. You’ve pretty much been your own boss the whole time. Where do you think that entrepreneurial spirit comes from?

CML> I do come from a very entrepreneurial family. My father had a logistics business and my mother studied fashion design and made clothes. And my grandfather, who I never met, actually ran a small advertising agency. No one was a wildly successful billionaire or anything, but I always grew up with the value that it’s good to do your own thing. I just never really enjoyed working for someone else. I think I have a will to do something without roadblocks in my way. 

LBB> You started your first record label when you were 16 and then launched another after that. How were those experiences? 

CML> The first one was actually just one release - more of a test for me to try the process out. My father had a printing facility and I talked him into letting me print the record sleeves. They couldn’t glue them so I had to hand-glue everything. Then I just called up a record label and asked them how they do their thing. They gave me the details of a mastering studio and pressing plant, so I was all set - I just needed a band. I was travelling all around Germany trying to find bands, funded by my knack of collecting records that I’d buy and then sell for a better price. In the end I found two bands from the kind of hardcore indie scene who had one side each of a seven-inch.

I’d developed a network of people who also collected records and the first press of the seven-inch - I think it was 1000 copies - 80 per cent was sold out in six weeks. I sold the rest in bulk so they were gone. I really enjoyed the experience. 

LBB> How old were you at this point? 

CML> I was around 16 or 17. And then at 18 I launched the ‘proper’ record label. The release party for the first album I released was the night before my final exam at school! 

LBB> What pushed you to make the leap into advertising?

CML> While I had a passion for music, I also always loved film. I did the record label for a few years but I felt that I had to decide to stay in music or move over to the film world. I thought that I at least had to try working in the film industry before making that decision. I wanted to work in editing because I think that’s the sector where you learn the most about film from a creative point of view. I picked out who I thought were the three best features editors in Berlin and applied to them. One of them invited me because she liked that I was into music - she liked picking the music for her films and thought maybe she could learn something from me too. I was sitting with her 100 hours per week working on a feature film, and ended up being her assistant on another film after that. I really enjoyed it - but that meant I still had the tough decision of choosing music or film! Luckily, nowadays I’m in both so it’s a decision I never really had to make. I realised that the combination of those two worlds was where I belonged. After that I did a business MBA degree so here I’m really combining all three things. 

Tracks & Fields still works on features but around 80 per cent of our work is within advertising and I work solely on that side. The reason for me getting into advertising is that I don’t like the amount of time it takes for a feature to get a result. I love the creative challenge of film but I’m too impatient. I like the fast paced world of advertising. It reminds me very much of what I did at the record label. You have the whole process of discovering a new artist, working out what to do with them, signing them, getting them out there in front of the world. At a record label this would take a year or two. In advertising a week. I love the fact that I don’t know what we’re going to do next week. But I know it will be great. 

LBB> What sets Tracks & Fields apart from other companies? 

CML> Music supervision is a bit of a crowded field and I always liked doing things differently. We’re really passionate about technology as a team - my business partner Steve was a venture capitalist before Tracks & Fields - and we wanted to bring technology into the business. I really believe that all tasks that are tedious or a waste of time should be replaced by technology. Every music supervisor has two main things they do: they search for music from their own collection or Spotify, or they send out a briefing to their contacts to see how they can help. That’s a time consuming process, so we built the technology to ease that curation process. 

LBB> You spoke at Adfest this year - it was based on technology and how it can aid creatives in relation to music. Can you tell us a bit more about it? 

CML> You can’t automate great ideas - but when it comes to the execution, there are a lot of things you can automate. I think there are two major things here. 

Firstly you can use data to filter music. It’s been estimated that there are 100 million songs out in the world - you can’t just rely on a Spotify algorithm to make sense of that. They’re not built for this world. That’s something that we’ve been working on for a long time and we’ll continue to try and make sense of this massive amount of music. Obviously you still have to listen to the music yourself, but it’s going to point you in the right direction. It’s getting you to listen to the right music instead of the wrong music. 

Secondly, we built software for the anti-workflow when it comes to collaborating with both the client and the rights holders. The way you get music from a-to-b, the way you store the music, the way you communicate about the music. That might sound trivial but it can make a huge difference. 

That’s what we were talking about at Adfest. I think both will be the future of technology in music supervision, and we will be speaking about them a lot more in the next couple of years. 

LBB> Cannes introduced a bunch of new music-focused categories this year with the Entertainment Lions. Why do you think the shift happened?

CML> I must admit I was surprised there were so many. I would have assumed that it would have stayed more in the branding world. But when you think about it, almost everyone listens to music. Probably 50 per cent of those people really care about the music they listen to. That’s a very big number. People probably spend more time listening to music than they do watching TV. The music industry has advertising at its core. It’s transforming from a creative product to an actual media channel. It’s positive to see that the music industry is keen to be part of the advertising world, and is thinking hard about how they can help brands reach its massive audiences. And also the advertising industry is recognising that there is another massive channel that isn’t a traditional media channel. 

LBB> What are the biggest trends in the advertising music industry at the moment?

CML> This is more a UK trend right now but there seems to be a wave of companies who do exclusive music supervision for brands. They sign a deal and exclusively do work on that brand as a fixed partner. It’s a very UK trend at the moment but it is spilling over to other markets. It’ll be intriguing to see how the future looks.