The Ivors Academy x London College of Communication- Composers Against Buyouts Campaign

In March 2021, The Ivors Academy partnered with the Musicians’ Union to launch their Composers Against Buyouts campaign, which opposes unethical business practices affecting the rights, earnings and careers of composers and songwriters within the media industries.

As part of the campaign launch, students from the BA (Hons) Animation: Animation Arts pathway at LCC were invited to develop a short film illustrating what a buyout is and what music creators should do when faced with such deals. The winning project, Keep Music Alive, was developed by Lucy Wei, Ying Zeng and Rusnė Dragūnevičiūtė, who chose to explore the theme through visual metaphors of plants, bouquets and gardens as a way to visualise and encourage long-term investment over short-term gain.

We caught up with the winning students Lucy, Ying and Rusnė to discuss their creative practice and the inspiration behind their concept.
How did you find out about the collaboration, and why did you decide to get involved?

Lucy: We were given this opportunity by our tutors as a project option for one of our units. I wanted to work with The Ivors Academy and the Musicians’ Union as I’m interested in the music industry and had heard of this issue before.
I also wanted to choose a project that would be more challenging to me personally. This collaboration had a more specific client-need that we had to aim for, and since I’d never worked on something like it before, I knew the project would be a great opportunity.

Ying: The project was part of our assignments from last term, where all of us on the Animation Arts pathway had to work on a short animation for either the Ivors Academy or the Horniman Museum. The Ivors Academy project was about educating young media composers on the rights they have over their work, and how clients can use the buyout process to exploit young talent for cheaper rates and agreements that don't benefit them. I chose to work on this brief because the audience was mainly young adults, which I felt allowed me freedom to progress creatively.
I was open to collaboration, but it was hard in the beginning because I’d just transferred to BA (Hons) Animation - I didn’t know anyone in the class, and many people has already paired up. When I was about to approach it solo, Lucy Wei contacted me, and then Rusnė joined us. I feel lucky to have collaborated with my amazing teammates. Our communication always goes smoothly, and the 3 of us share common interests in visuals, so usually agree easily too.

Rusnė: I took on this project because I wanted to gain experience in working with a client who has specific goals, and also in designing work for social media.
The topic resonated with me because I think we’ll have to face the problem of managing intellectual property and fair payment in our own future careers as well.
Tell us about your creative process - what inspired your idea, and how did you develop it?

Lucy: I began by developing a visual style before the actual storyline. I knew that I wanted to work towards something out of my comfort zone, and to take inspiration from graphic design and commercial works. This resonated with both Rusnė and Ying when I approached them for a collaboration, and we later developed our work based on one of the ideas that Ying came up with. We then made adjustments to the story to bring out the information more clearly, since that was the crucial aim of this film.

Ying: My starting point was visualising the target audience: musicians. I was first inspired by Édouard Manet's oil painting, The Fifer (1866) and drew an original version of the character design. However, later in the client meetings, we came to realise that the animation should be more about the media composer, so we changed our character ideas.
The most challenging part was visualising the buyout process. I thought flowers could be a representation of musicians' creative outputs and my team liked the concept, so we explained the buyout through flowers being picked by a giant hand, representing the exploitation that doesn't benefit music artists.

Rusnė: I came to the team when Lucy and Ying already had the initial idea for the film; however, after a review session, we decided to change direction. We had a lot of brainstorming sessions where we looked for a suitable metaphor to present a rather complicated topic. Ying suggested using flowers as a symbol for the work that media composers create, which we further developed into a choice between giving away the seed and receiving a short-lived bouquet - which stands for accepting a one-time payment, a ‘buyout’ - or planting the seed and growing a garden, only giving away the blossoms that regrow later, which represent royalties.
Then, we created a storyboard with the narrative, I put together the animatic, and all there was left to do was to animate the whole thing.
What were your roles on the project?

Lucy: We didn't have very specific roles in the pre-production stage but rather worked as a team. I worked on some character design and storyboarding etc. When it came to the production stage, I mainly worked on the character animation and communication work with the other collaborators.

Ying: I mostly worked on concept art, character design, environment design and the final composition.

Rusnė: We developed the idea together: Ying was in charge of art direction, environment design and background animation, and me and Lucy were character animators.

What were your project highlights?

Lucy: Working as a team on a more professional project and using industry-standard software was really important for me – a lot of it was a first-time thing, so this has been a precious experience.
I felt lucky to be on a team where everyone treated the project with a full sense of responsibility and professional spirit, and that we had mentors who gave us a lot of valuable feedback. It gave me a better idea of the industry and the workflow of projects like this.

Ying: To me, my highlight was the teamwork. The collaboration was unexpectedly great!

Rusnė: It was our first time of working in a team, and it turned out great! I think we had really good energy together - I enjoyed sharing ideas and feeling inspired by my teammates.
It was also lovely to discuss our ideas with people from The Ivors Academy, who were all very kind and as excited as we were by this collaboration.