For three days last week, The Great Escape took over Brighton, with over 30 venues playing host to more than 350 bands. There is also, of course, the music industry convention part of the event, programmed by the team at CMU Insights. An opportunity to hear key figures in the industry discuss where we’re heading and how the future of the music business will affect everyone in it. Producer Dan Le Sac asks why more artists don’t join him in watching them.
For most musicians, whether you’re a band, DJ, producer or rapper, The Great Escape is a delightful weekend by the sea, a couple of gigs, maybe a pint in the sun and some grumpy moments lugging amps through some of Brighton’s best venues. It is your first taste of the coming festival season, and the first feeling of the buzz it will bring. But if you talk to anyone who makes his or her living making money from music, rather than creating it, there is a great deal more to it than that.
Due to it’s proximity to London, to the beach and the summer sun, The Great Escape convention is one of the few moments in the year where you can’t throw a pair of stinky knickers without hitting someone who’s business is music. Festival bookers, live agents, managers, publishers, journos and record labels are all out in force, not to mention the myriad ancillary services and websites who also show their faces.
Granted, a proportion of these industry bods are in Brighton to behave like stereotypical mid-90s record execs, all cocaine and no trousers, but on the whole these people are looking to find bands, learn something new from the convention panels and keynotes, or just simply make new connections within the industry. If you look at the list of delegates, the live side of the industry alone is covered by more than 600 people.
Yet somehow, no matter how diverse the delegation is, no matter how useful the panels are, the most important part of the music business, the component without which the industry could not exist, is rarely found away from stages and smoking areas. How can all this music business be happening without the musicians?
As the music industry evolves, musical creators are gaining greater control over how they run their careers. They no longer need to rely entirely on others to provide a gateway to getting their music out there. But while it is far easier now to self-release and promote your music, the future of the industry is still being formed away from the music; musicians for the most part aren’t taking part in the conversation. The Great Escape is an opportunity not only to get your music heard, but your voice too. With such a huge range of people coming to TGE from around the world, it is a chance for musicians to shape the conversation and ultimately sell themselves without barriers and bars to the people in the industry who matter.
Now, as I write this I am fully aware that selling yourself isn’t something that most musicians are comfortable with. It feels grubby to be constantly shouting “Buy my shit yo!”, but it is a reality that self-promotion is now as much a part of a musician’s career as touring or recording. If you want to stay independent you have to accept that being in a band isn’t all about sweaty transit vans, sweaty gigs and trying to cop off with sweaty girls (or boys) in sweaty dressing rooms (although from that last sentence I must admit the music industry is certainly about getting sweaty).
Accepting that you and your music are a product isn’t necessarily a bad thing. You don’t have to be a pack of Tesco value processed mystery meat slices. You can be a slightly bruised fair-trade organic banana grown by one legged midgets in Guatemala if you like. Selling isn’t a dirty act as long as the product you are selling is good in the moral sense.
During the convention this year I visited various panels, alongside catching as many gigs as I possibly could. What struck me most was how under-represented the music creating community were. In a panel entitled “How To Hit The Road”, I heard Joanna Ashmore and Rob Challice from Coda, alongside one of the Lucy’s from Eat Your Own Ears, talk about how new bands should go about putting together their own tours. It was an interesting panel and I learnt a little something but this discussion happened in front of managers, promoters, agents, a lad from Bandwagon and me. No band benefited as no band was there. It might sound extremely dry listening to a panel chat about the importance of ‘Marketing In The Streaming Age’ or ‘New Artist Deals’ when you could be hungover in a hotel room after putting on the show of your life but I honestly believe that the more an artist knows about this industry, the better equipped they will be to survive in it.
I don’t believe it’s the cost that stops musicians attending either. Every one of the 300+ bands that played the festival this year could get access to the convention for free, and that includes access to the list of delegates. So, even if going to a panel about ‘How To Use Data’ sounds like the geekiest version of hell ever imagined, you can still look down the delegate list, find someone interesting and arrange to meet up. Who knows, you might even get a gig out of it. If an artist wants to grind out a career for themselves, it’s all about one cringeworthy word, a word that sets my teeth on edge. Networking. Shudder.
Over the past few years attending TGE, I’ve met all sorts of people. From Polish promoters to US live agents, a guy trying to get his tour management app off the ground, to the head of one of the most important publishing companies in the world. I learnt that if you have a good idea, the PRS For Music Foundation and Arts Council England might give you the money to fund it, and that some people are a damn liability. I learnt why Spotify payments aren’t anywhere near as low as most musicians think they are and how to make sure I earn something, no matter how small the amount, from every one of my gigs.
I’m a musician and without us the industry would have nothing to sell. I believe it’s time we take our place at the table and influence the conversation.
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