Lohan Presencer has expanded the Ministry of Sound into a multimedia entertainment business, guiding its diversification and growth into a global brand as its former Chief Executive and current Chairman. He developed core skills in an acoustical engineering degree at the University of Southampton before joining the rapidly evolving music industry. Most recently, he oversaw the sale of the Ministry of Sound Recordings to Sony Music.
Lohan discovered an interest in music technology as a teenager and learned how to produce and arrange music in a local recording studio. Raised in a talented family that included an opera singer and jazz trumpeter, he jokes that he was destined to join a ‘Failed Musicians’ Guild’ by turning to study the science of sound in an Engineering Acoustics and Vibration course at the University of Southampton.
“I had no idea what engineering was as a discipline, I thought it meant people who fix cars,” he says. “It was much tougher to do engineering that I anticipated, but when things are challenging it forces you to raise your game. I’ve been a real advocate for engineering over the last 25 years because it teaches people to be all-rounders and good at business. I learned acoustics but it also taught me about project management, working in teams, problem solving, accountancy and finance. I like engineers – I like the way they think.”
Lohan used his student experience as a springboard to be elected as Entertainments Officer at the Students’ Union, a role he cherished and used to build contacts in the music industry. “Looking back, that election really was a euphoric moment and a turning point in my life as it gave me a huge amount of self-confidence. I had the coolest job and a team of people around me having a lot of fun. I was the clichéd student who discovered himself at university. There was a great energy and sense of freedom – it was a great time to be here.”
The highs of Southampton were followed by the lows of job seeking. “I sent 100 letters to record companies and probably got about 30 rejection letters without a single positive response,” he remembers. “It was very disheartening.” Eventually, Lohan got his foot in the door in an unpaid opportunity at a record promotions company based in Notting Hill. Teaching piano in the evenings to supplement his income, he learned the ropes manufacturing and promoting small records, liaising with venues and pestering the press. “We released our first record and it smashed into the charts at number 53 and then fell out again,” he recollects. With greater experience came greater recognition and pay, and Lohan built a team as a General Manager for the business which thrived as a National Union of Students endorsed music promotion service.
In 1996, he joined the Enterprise and Special Projects division of the Warner Music Group as a Chart Analyst. Keen to optimise the company’s sales activities from available marketing data, he worked closely on campaigns for artists including Alanis Morissette and The Corrs before being offered a stage to maximise sales of compilation albums from his favoured dance music scene. “That then became the next stage of my career,” he explains. “The template for compilations beforehand really wasn’t sophisticated. You just put three hits on the album sticker and had a TV advert with an edit of six videos. Instead, we found that people were not only buying these products for the content but because they made them feel something about themselves. We designed our albums to be beautifully packaged, mixed by DJs to add a degree of credibility and marketed with TV adverts that were actually inspiring and cool.”
Sales success triggered a promotion to Marketing Director, opening up new joint venture projects which led to a new marketing post at the Ministry of Sound in 1999. “I could see that if you could just apply some of the science of what I’d been doing to the coolness and the zeitgeist they had, you could multiply their success and revenues,” he says. “There was never any question in it for me, I had to go and do it. I just had to explain to my parents that the Ministry of Sound is not a government department.”
Compilations were key to Lohan’s strategy and the business went from producing seven albums in the year before his arrival, to 17 and then 25 in the years after. “We were at the beginning of this real transition moment and I started building secondary businesses,” he explains. “It was a really exciting time but we were super arrogant. Pride comes before a fall and it did in 2001. Dance music started going rapidly out of fashion and a lot of our joint venture labels started failing.”
The Ministry of Sound’s total staff slumped from 200 to 70 by 2004 when the company’s fortunes were again reversed by a shift in the market. The upturn coincided with Apple’s entry into the music industry, paving the way for Lohan to explore future markets in digital compilations. “We created the digital bundle experience which was a really interesting journey over a number of years,” he explains.
Lohan became Chief Executive of the Ministry of Sound in 2008. “It was a real honour to run the biggest independent record label in the world and I felt the responsibility of balancing the creative and operational parts of the business,” he says. After eight years at the helm, Lohan eventually made the emotional decision to sell to Sony Music. “2015 had financially been the best year in our history but the time was right to be part of a major record company,” he adds. Lohan has since stepped into the role of Chairman and is forecasting a bright future for the business within a major label.
“I like meeting interesting, clever people who have great ideas and see those ideas come to life,” he says. “There’s an amazing amount of brilliant work and research innovation that’s taking place in the University. I hope I can provide early stage investment, taking ideas from zero to one and a minimum viable product level so that they can then attract further follow on investment and grow into real businesses.”
Lohan is offering financial and management support to help bring new University businesses to life. “I want to help entrepreneurs find the right people and put the right structures in place to avoid making the mistakes that I’ve made over the years,” he says. You can get in touch with Lohan using the contact form on this page.
Lohan’s advice to future business founders is to listen, learn and absorb. “You’ve got to be prepared to work really hard and make a lot of sacrifices,” he says. “Take a lot of risks when you’re young because that’s a time when you certainly can.”