Olivier Deguernel, CTO and Record Label Founder

Hi, my name is Olivier Deguernel, I am 37 years old, and I have worked in software (from development through to sales) for over 10 years. I just left my job as a manager at IBM, and I am now about to join a start-up as a CTO. But essentially, I am between jobs right now – and that feels good. In this industry, we are lucky enough to be able to afford that. Besides, I am a founding partner at Forgotten Records, a French music label specialised in classical music.

What inspired me in software are its many creative qualities, and the fact that we are able to build and deliver something tangible straight out of our mind. Another strong incentive for me has been the range of opportunities that the industry offers. I enjoy the subsequent freedom, as much as I enjoy not having to wear a suit!

I have moved around quite a lot. I attended 5 different universities across France, US, and Ireland. Upon graduation, I moved to Italy to work for the EU, before joining a fantastic software company in Paris, which then brought me to London for a few years. I am now living back in France, as I wanted to be close to my friends and family. This location also allows me to enjoy the family farm out in the country.

I guess music runs through the family’s blood. I feel my whole life revolves around music. Back at uni, I wanted to make a living as a musician. Having unwillingly dismissed the idea, embarking on a music-related project was just the natural thing to do.

I work on Forgotten Records a few hours every week at the moment. But there are times (such as the recent website and branding revamp) when I would be busy full time over several months. My partner (my dad!) has worked with the label full time since the very beginning, though.

Forgotten Records was my dad’s idea originally. He is a former academic, but above all, a music lover – like father, like son. It all happened over Christmas a few years back. He told me about this project of restoring and publishing rare classical reissues, and I loved the idea. He had the artistic as well as the technical skills, but he lacked the channel to actually get the music out there. So I suggested that I could build a website to showcase the records (CDs) and sell them online. By the end of the holidays, we were publishing our first record, and this is one of my greatest accomplishments. Not only was this about doing something I was passionate about, but also, starting the label was, in itself, a creative experience – and it still is. This project sort of makes up for not having a career as an artist. It just makes sense to me, as opposed to many aspects of the corporate world I must say. I have always felt some degree of alienation in that space, so working in music balances things out. The label acts as a place of personal expression, and we all yearn for that.

I actually don’t think this type of activity can have a significant impact on my career in technology. Technology operates within the framework of business, and this context arguably does not allow much space for genuine self-expression. In the corporate space, art remains a source of subversion in a way. I see great antagonism between arts and IT.

Most of our activities consist of restoring very old recordings, and this is what my partner is responsible for. It is a lot more than re-mastering. While we use best-in-class equipment, there is still a massive amount of manual work involved in this process, like tweaking the actual sound curve so as to repair the damage of time. No other firm does it this way nowadays, and this is why our records boast the very best quality on the market.

Another part of our activity consists in signing new classical artists. We receive a lot of requests, and we are therefore very picky. We are one of the few record labels that do not require artists to actually fund the recording and overall production themselves. Sometimes, we think of Forgotten Records as a philanthropic organisation. This is not good for business, but what matters to us is the artistic contribution that we are making and all the fun we have doing that. The Classical music world is a very small one. We get to meet many promising musicians through our network here in France, and we usually end up developing a personal relationship with them.

Social media is a great way to connect with the artists and their work. I would also recommend following music venues specialised in classical music. There is no better way to learn about classical music than attending a concert.

Classical music is hard to approach for young people – that is for sure. It is referred to as the music of the elite and, sadly, I tend to agree with that. I feel that too much emphasis is laid upon the artists’ academic background. Critics should be focussing more on the emotional character of the music. I believe a shift in language and culture is a necessity in order to make this music more widely accessible and relatable. How about showing up at a concert in a t-shirt and sneakers to begin with?

Feature photo credit: François Parvex.

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