From redesigning album covers in his bedroom to working with global artists like Drake and The Weekend – to then landing a role at one of the most recognised record labels at Universal Music Group, Mauro’s journey is pretty unique.
Anna-Marie, creative editor and writer at BLUP, sat down with Mauro Fernandes Borges to discuss his creative work at EMI Records. Besides sharing his most memorable moments in his career, he touched on the utilisation of relevant trends to support music artists, the importance of his support system and his excitement in the metaverse/NFT space. We learn how his innate curiosity expanded his horizons into a role he never knew existed in the music industry.
// YOU SEEM VERY MULTIFACETED, HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE YOUR ROLE AT EMI RECORDS? WHAT’S YOUR DAY TO DAY LIKE?
Mauro: It’s really funny because when people ask me what I actually do, sometimes I’m stumped to say what I actually do [because there’s so much] so I just say I create stuff for a living. At EMI, we all have a roster of artists. I’m the Creative Lead and oversee/lead the creative of a number of artists which is quite vast. For each project, some I’m the creative lead, some I’m the art director, some I’m the creative director which encompasses everything so my role very much varies on which artist it is. My days can look different on a day to day but even every half hour!
// WHAT WAS A BIG TURNING POINT FOR YOU?
After university, I was working in security at the time and I was putting out more of my own work and freelance work almost everyday. I was animating album and single artworks, just having fun in my bedroom. I definitely wasn’t the first to do it but there weren’t many works within the music industry of animating catalogue artworks so I kind of fell into that accidentally.
This led to loads of people following and other opportunities started coming through like paid work for the Weeknd, briefs from record labels to animate their artists’ artworks. I got a few opportunities to do work for international clients as well as Republic, RCA, all of those big record labels in the US. I went from posting work in my bedroom to Drake’s team asking me to work on a lot more of their projects, which was amazing.
// WHO DID YOU LISTEN TO GROWING UP?
I’m still a massive R&B head, it’s my go-to. I don’t have specific favourite artists though, the queen is Sade. I used to listen to Jenny Francis on Choice [FM] when she would play old school slow jams. I used to try and open up Photoshop and just create stuff whilst listening to slow jams.
// HOW DO FESTIVALS WORK AT EMI?
A lot of our artists are kind of spread out when it’s festival season as we’re such a big label with so many diverse artists. We’ve got like your indies, pop, rap and so many other genres. Usually, if your artist is performing at a festival, you just go to support and look after your artists or maybe check if the visuals that you’ve worked on are in the right place at the right time.
Especially for new artists that we’ve recently signed, there’s nothing better than seeing them perform at their first festival – because we almost see ourselves like an extension of the artist. They might not be in front of us at all times, but we’re always working on something to benefit them and put them where they need to be. We work hard but we have a great time!
// KREPT & KONAN’S ‘REVENGE IS SWEET’ ALBUM SEEMED LIKE A MASSIVE HIGHLIGHT FOR YOU – WHAT IS YOUR BIGGEST CAREER MOMENT [AT EMI] SO FAR?
I think those moments change, you have different checkpoints at different times. Krept and Konan’s album campaign was a big checkpoint moment for me. Some of these projects you work on for a year so once it’s out in the world, I need a breath to take it all in. I remember vividly being on set when we shot that particular artwork because we had to do a massive set build – it was a huge team making big things happen.
Seeing the set recreated for the show at O2 was a bit of an emotional one, just seeing everyone just looking up and taking it in. I remember my good partner in crime and colleague, Knacai [Ceres-Mcleod] at EMI/Motown U.K tapped me on the shoulder, looked at me and said, “bro, that was you.” The occasion was so big that you just think to yourself, like “how did you go from your bedroom, to then working with artists that you grew up listening to, realising their vision, and overseeing the whole thing?”
// HOW DO YOU STAY CURRENT / ON TOP OF TRENDS?
You have to be aware of many trends because we then need to know what to do with those trends. A lot of the artists that we work on, we like to take inspiration from people doing amazing things outside of our space, and see how we can make it work with one of our artists.
For example, A1XJ1 know their audience incredibly well so we won’t try and take what other people are doing outside of their space and try and apply it to them because it doesn’t live in their world. I also do the creative for Bree Runway – so the trends that work for A1XJ1 may not work for Bree Runway. There’s so many trends at the same time so we think more about how it can translate seamlessly to what we do.
// WHAT ELSE CATCHES YOUR EYE ON INSTAGRAM / TIKTOK?
I get a lot of joy out of bringing people in to work on particular projects, or connecting different creatives together for work and sending out briefs to see if someone might be interested in it. Outside of trends, I actually look at social media to find people that we could potentially commission or collaborate with. This might be an incredible illustrator that maybe only has 1020 followers, or maybe they’ve got 50,000, it doesn’t matter.
On Instagram, I’ve got an illustrator bookmark, 3D artists, photographers – I’ve got them all saved and I’ve worked with a lot of them that I have saved. I know the value of putting someone else on because I was lucky enough to be at the right place at the right time.
// SO WOULD YOU SAY YOU CAN CREATE YOUR OWN ROLE COMING INTO THE INDUSTRY?[For more context] I actually didn’t apply to work here, someone offered me a role. Before then, someone reached out from UMG and asked if I could work on one of the artist’s projects. I then knew I had someone’s attention and time so I just took that energy and said to myself that I was getting in that door some way somehow. Over Instagram DM, we set up a casual meeting and that’s when the job opportunity came.So can other creators outside of the industry make almost like their own job spec or role? 100% We still have that ethos here.
There’s a lot of those creators now that are self-sufficient. They can also be savvy enough to know that they can collaborate with different brands, or different creators or industries. Maybe if I didn’t have this role, I would have just continued freelancing for a longer period of time. But now I think many artists and content creators do have the opportunity to speak to more people like me because you’re easier to find now – or we just find you. The relationship is very much two-way now.
// HOW DO YOU GUYS APPLY NFT/ META SPACE TO YOUR WORK?
The application of what you can do with it now is like a new thing. Specifically at EMI, we’re finding out ways we can apply that technology to our artists but not making something that doesn’t make sense for an artist. It takes time to get to that place where it makes sense for the artist, the campaign and the audience.
For Aitch’s ‘Close to Home’ album campaign, we partnered up with an artist, Funny Tummy to put out a collection of artworks with Limewire and Soga World. Buying one of these NFT pieces gives you access to the musicality of the campaign as well. Personally, I’m curious and go home and look at this stuff religiously. I think about what a UMG world looks like in web3? What does the EMI world look like?
WHAT ABOUT IMMERSIVE TECH / AR?
We’re definitely delving more into that bigger space, like, how can you enjoy AR and immersive technology outside of holding your phone in your hand? Or how do you connect other people from the other side of the world enjoying something at the same time?
The label’s like one big family so if an artist sees that you’ve done something, they can get inspired by it for their own campaigns too. Even if I see something that one of my colleagues has done on the project that they’re working on, I’d love them to share more.
Dinushi [Perera], Creative Director at EMI Records led the way on a massive campaign for Bastille in collaboration with WPP to create an immersive experience of watching Bastille perform and you see people from all across the world also enjoying this concert at the same time. That was probably the biggest thing, most recent thing that EMI have done in terms of immersive / AR tech.
// WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO AN UPCOMING CREATIVE STILL REALISING THEIR WORTH?
I think it’s important that we say you are good enough. Produce the work, express it how you want to express it and try not to chase the validation so much. If you’re going to seek approval, seek approval from the people that you trust, and that you appreciate you. You don’t always have to put your work out in the world to know if it’s good enough, sometimes just sharing amongst your circle is good.
I look at the work that I used to do four or five, six years ago, and I’m like, “ah today, I would have done that a lot better” but you’re always evolving. The creator that you are now…you’re going to be better in a couple of years’ time. I think just be curious and just believe in yourself, which is a bit cliche but if I believed in myself a bit earlier, maybe my career would have started a bit earlier.
// WHAT’S ON YOUR BUCKET LIST FOR THE NEXT YEAR AND BEYOND?
Outside of working at UMG, I also run my own creative studio and still do a lot of freelance work which is really fulfilling.
But I guess I’m always filling this bucket. So I love every time I’m able to connect an artist or creative I’ve had my eye on with a particular project that I’m working on, or perhaps bring two other artists, maybe from different sides of the world together to work on one particular project. So imagine finding a creator from Brazil that’s an amazing illustrator and connecting them with someone from the US that works in AR tech, I think about what do these collaborations look like? I would like to scale this further.
We enjoyed listening to Mauro’s story, more of his captivating work can be found on his Instagram here at @mfbvisuals.