Our next Expat Filmmaker in Berlin heralds from the Australian surf scene and now runs his own music production company, helping filmmakers score their films with his music licensing platform startup called gnarles, based in Berlin.
James Watkins grew up on the beaches of Perth, Australia, before he started learning music production and studying at UNSW in Sydney, after which he moved to Berlin. 5 years later he has a finger in many pies. A self-confessed startup geek, James chats to DUB about his company that strives to make affordable music accessible to filmmakers all over the world.
What were you doing before you left Australia for Europe?
James - Before I left Australia I was working in the surfing industry for a surfboard manufacturer Haydenshapes. I was basically born into the surf industry as my parents owned a surf store in Western Australia and then in Sydney. I lived a very different life before I moved to Europe. I have always loved music and played various instruments. Before I left Australia I was spending most my spare time learning music production and that path led me to Berlin.
Are you a musician yourself?
James - I would never call myself a musician but I make music =)
Had you worked in the music for the film industry in other capacities? How did you get into it?
James - Through the surf industry I was introduced to many filmmakers who struggled to find music for their projects. It was around the time where blogs were coming into fashion, there was an influx of professional athletes (surfers, skaters, snowboarders) trying to outdo each other with cool short videos using the latest music. At that stage, the music industry had not kept up with the times. Music labels were trying to charge thousands of dollars for the use of their music on projects that had a very low budget. On a few occasions I helped out my filmmaking friends to find music for their videos and this is where I started learning the ropes of music licensing.
Around 2010 I started getting into music production with my friend "Melon". We had lots of fun making music for small film projects. We started a company called Kenichi Wolfgang where we would create music for films. Creating music for these projects was really fun and I learned a lot about a filmmakers audio needs. The learnings inspired me to create gnarles.com.
Why the urge to live and work in Berlin?
James - My "move" to Berlin was not really a move initially. I had never intended to stay longer than 6 months nor did I intend to enter the startup world. The urge to stay came from me going back to Sydney for a few months and realising that it was not very stimulating. You are so spoilt in Berlin with the crazy nightlife and daily events I felt like Sydney was not really the place I wanted to be anymore despite it being such a beautiful city. I came up with an idea (gnarles) that would keep me in the city and here I am 5 years later.
And who are your partners in crime?
James - gnarles would not be anywhere without my team. We have Spike and Tim who built the platform and Victor who is the director in Australia. All of them are Australian. Then we have our music scout team who find the music for the platform. Cor, Roman, Manu, Ewan, Rohan, Sarah, Billy, Ava, Karla, and Jon are the current music scout team and they are from all over the world, most of them living in Berlin.
You also have another business in Berlin, NOFOMO, tell us more about this, and which one came first?
James - NOFOMO.TV is very new and was organically created whilst we were looking to enhance events that gnarles was running. At the time I had Alistair running marketing and he was really keen on doing a live stream at our first event. I did not see the point but he persisted with it and although the stream was of fairly low quality we were able to get some really great exposure for the event. We were then approached by other events to do streams for them and our founding team has grown to 4 people in the space of a few months. We have now streamed some pretty cool events including two protest marches Zug Der Liebe and AfD Wegbassen to help raise money for the cause. Our aim is to create our own concepts and we have some exciting streams lined up this year with a few corporate partners. NOFOMO.TV partners in crime are Spike, Chris, and Alistair with shoutouts to our production team, Ranav, Trent, Fred and Yannick.
What is the startup scene like in Berlin?
James - Large and helpful! It seems like every second person you meet on the street is involved with a startup of some kind. There are so many startup events, festivals, co-working spaces and communities it is really hard to know about them all. I do most of my work at The Factory as most of our clients are members there. It is an extremely helpful community where you can find many fellow startup founders as well as freelancers and mentors. The startup scene can get pretty overwhelming here with so many events on. There is a term that I have heard in Berlin a lot lately and that is "Freizeitstress" (free time stress) as you really have so many events on that hard to say "no" to. I know these are massive "first world problems" here but you can really get sucked into the startup vortex and not end up doing any work!
Any further plans and dreams for gnarles to grow and thrive in the industry?
James - Oh yes so many! We are updating our website to help filmmakers find music easier and have some very unique features on the way. For musicians, we have started Facebook groups to help them find paid work in different locations all over the world. We have the Berlin Musicians Circle and just launched Sydney, Philadelphia, Dublin, and Kiev which is run by our music scouts. gnarles' major focus is on helping emerging artists and we will continue to support them through our industry networks around the world. We will also be launching some really fun music live streams featuring gnarles artists using the NOFOMO.TV platform.
Thank you, James.
DUB is very happy to announce that gnarles is a DUB 2018 award sponsor! The Best Film and Best Short Film of the festival will receive a year-long membership to the gnarles music platform. See the program here, voting happens at the cinema after each film is screened.
All images ©James Watkins
Info on the band featured, Raw By Peppers, here
Charmaine Gorman is an Australian actress and writer living in Berlin with her family. As a content writer and editor, she works for many clients around the world, and along with her husband, is the founder and content manager of the online travel guide My Guide Berlin