Staff Spotlight: Professor Jez Willis

By Ali Pritchard


"Studying here is a brilliant opportunity to network, experiment, and explore your ideas – use that time!"

Hi Jez - Where did your musical interests start? 

Hi, I started to DJ when I was at school, with a mobile setup, playing disco and pop at everything from weddings to birthday parties, and the first live gig I went to was Thin Lizzy. Those two things made me want to pursue a career in music.

Tell us about Utah Saints, and your multi-decade friendship with Tim Garbutt?

Tim and I have worked together for over 30 years now as Utah Saints – we still have a formality to our relationship (although we are really good friends) and delegate roles in Utah Saints. Between us we write, produce and perform as Utah Saints, and also manage most of our business affairs.  This has worked well so far! 

Is it true that before forming Utah Saints, you and Tim met while working as music promoters in Harrogate? How did you find this experience?

Tim was DJing and promoting nights in Harrogate, I was doing a similar thing in Leeds. Then I started DJing at his club, and he started at mine.  When Utah Saints started, we had our first top 10 within 6 months, which was unexpected! I carried on promoting in Leeds 4 nights a week, as well as London and York for about 4 years. We then started our brand Sugarbeat, which we promoted weekly in Leeds and monthly in London and Edinburgh for about 10 years.

Promoting nightclubs and concerts can be challenging and there are a lot of things to consider, so the experience was great, and we learnt such a lot about the business. That experience has really helped us as performers, as we can appreciate many facets of a gig, not just the artists’ perspective. 

Utah Soundsystem 2008 Copy

How vital would you say music promotion is to artists and the industry?

Music promotion is very important, and can also be more nuanced than one might think. There are lots of things to consider, and we live in an age where promotional techniques are evolving rapidly. The music industry constantly adapts to these challenges, and quite often leads the way in terms of creative marketing.

You're a keen advocate of the intersection between music business and education. How do you implement this important message into the classes you teach? 

Like most of the staff here at the conservatoire, being both a music industry professional and a lecturer, I am able to contextualise theory with personal experience and  anecdotes. This can be a powerful way to explain concepts alongside the theory. 

We are also very lucky that we can use our personal networks to bring in some high-profile guests for masterclasses, who provide further fascinating insights into the music business.

Is there anything you wish you'd have known before launching yourself into the industry? 

Yes, I would have loved to have the opportunity to study music business. At the time, there were no music, or even entertainment business courses, and I had to read a lot of books to find relevant information. 

Do you have any advice for students who might be wanting to work in the music industry?

The best advice I can give would be (and apologies for bad grammar!) “Do things and things will start happening”. So many times in my career, taking an opportunity has led to more opportunities.  I would also advise that you look at your time as a student as the beginning of your career, and use the amazing resources at the conservatoire as much as you can. Studying here is a brilliant opportunity to network, experiment, and explore your ideas – use that time!

Having an overview of the music business will give you a head start for whatever role you decide to pursue, as you will be able to appreciate the many aspects of the industry and how they interlink.  

By Ali Pritchard

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