June 10, 2009

Unconvention Manchester... Saturday afternoon Sparkle.

Saturday afternoon was an action-packed discussion focusing on small independent promoters, and touched on their relationships with bands and artists, as well as how they conduct their work in the ever-changing music business.

It was clear from the start that it is an entirely different market for small and large festivals; the smaller events offer their shindigs as a platform to meet people and network as well as an exposure to new art and music on many levels. Moderator Howard Monk, of live music promotion The Local, asks if the panel feel that they can deliver a lot of value for small amount of money, especially in relation to bigger festivals. The panel certainly agrees, and enjoy the fact that they can be a little more leftfield or off-the-wall by booking a bunch of artists yet to earn a nationwide audience but who may go on to play bigger stages.

Anna Moulson shares that The Great Escape like to try and support local Brighton acts, and that as Brighton has strong, healthy music scene then the Brighton people appreciate and support that fact. The idea of a local scene that fans embrace is an appealing one, but one that has certainly declined in recent decades, with the UK being a small island and people being able to travel greater distances to concerts with relative ease. I’d be keen to see if this may be a resurgence in certain cities and towns, as it certainly seems strong in Chicago, especially coming from my native but saturated London scene.

The struggle for small promoters is to offer quality artists reasonable fees and minimal demands. Having discussed several ways that less scrupulous promoters will avoid and even exploit such difficulties, my experience of both holding events and looking for gigs in London kicked in, and it occurred to me that promoters wanting credibility and longevity have to stick to their beliefs. This is true even during the tough times when “mr promoter down the road” is pulling in more people and possibly making more money (/breaking even). ‘Paying to play’ and ‘Battle of the Bands’ style events are sometimes a necessary evil for artists, but long-term relationships will not develop, and ultimately no-one becomes a fan of those event brands.

It is a tough call for artists to make when offered gigs with unfair pay and conditions, but one that should be given different conditions each time, re-evaluating their ‘position’ in the market and how much ‘clout’ they have, along with considering any positives or opportunities could come as a result. Secret Garden Party's Freddie Fellowes offered that boutique festivals can sell tickets based on the strength of their brand value, therefore becoming an attractive prospect for indie and new bands yet to develop a huge following. Not piling on the pressure is a great way to build a relationship with the artists.

Discussing which types of promoting events work, both panel and audience chipped in with stories of posters creating an appealing front, relevance of text messages and success in various online and printed listings. However, the split in the audience response regarding which marketing types attract our attention, say to me that you still have to cover all possible areas in any marketing plan. Supporting any online work with a good offline strategy, be that word of mouth or handing out flyers etc, is a crucial part of developing this all-round attack and improving your chances of reaching your target market. You know how a funny sticker in a venue bathroom attracts your attention and the next day you Google the band? Yep, that’s how it works. Vijay Nair shared that there is an increase in the use of mobile phone permission-based marketing India clubs. Open bluetooth tactics, plus direct visual aids for text services are becoming more popular, as they can then be targeted to specific areas, and several business are looking at how to pull further data from current databases.

We moved on to the subject of secondary ticketing, and whether the promoter panel were developing any new interesting strategies to prevent re-selling (and touting). Jay Taylor describes how he goes to eBay and report sellers charging ridiculous fees for tickets. He also earned applause by stating that he has approached ‘touts’ outside and confronted them during the act of selling, often asking the punter “How much did that tout charge you? 25? i’ll let you in for 20 and buy you a beer”. A great idea, obviously completely impractical, but amusing nonetheless.

On a final note, when asked what was the best ‘item’ for a band to send to various promoters, the panel was a little split, with some people getting so many emails and links that a CD and half decent press pack will gain more attention. Others have cluttered desks and hate the excessive paper and plastic that a physical demo causes, so a personalised email has more value. My final piece of advice here would be that when you approach press / radio / club contacts with your music, you should offer “Would you prefer a CD or a link to an mp3?”, removing the option of a “no, thank you”.

And so, with that information-overload finale, Unconvention Manchester came to an end for me. I had to hop on a train and miss the last few bands performing at the Blueprint Studios that evening, but managed to buy a cake or two on my way out. Similar to supporting new indie artists by buying their CDs and T-shirts, I firmly believe in supporting great events like this by purchasing the BBQ lunches, pies and cakes, alongside several pints of bitter, cider and (predictably), coffee the following morning(s). The team put on such a great event and I am already hoping to return next year. Here’s to Unconvention Manchester 2010 with pies, cakes, and a bright future to offer the independent music industry.

Lee Jarvis.

June 09, 2009

Unconvention Manchester... Saturday morning sleep-in

Saturday morning, like so many mornings, began well. I awoke at 9am, got myself a glass of water and... promptly fell back to sleep. Being late for the 'Bands as Enterprise' panel was not good move - it was one of the most popular of the weekend. Lack of being able to get a seat and plug in my dying laptop meant a lack of notes on my behalf, and with Martin Atkins on the panel, there were plenty of golden nuggets of information worth re-publishing.

Luckily, several other attendees did just that, and I was even able to catch up on the parts i'd missed via the wonders of technology and Twitter. This is probably also a good time to share links to fellow unconvention-ers and their websites, projects and Twitter handles, so here we go....

"Don't give up your day job - just keep going until you get fired."
- Steve Lawson via Twitter

"Live contracts are a red herring. You need an audience to get paid."
- Steve Lawson via Twitter

"At the moment it feels a bit like 1977 again."
- Just Press Play blog

"You need fans before you need the guy that is the laywer for The Eagles."
"Build momentum, before you start thinking about business structures."
"If you can sustain you can succeed. You will need to focus and make choices. When your bet on everything it will blow up in your face."
"The moment you have the leverage to get the deal you think you wanted, you don’t need the deal any more."
"There simply is NO ONE WAY to ‘monetize’ making music. There are a million different ways. Find the way that suits you."
- Dutch blog Lopend Vuur (Dutch for 'Walking Fire')

Also, I'm happy to share this video from Unconvention organiser Ruth Daniel (great work, and thanks for an awesome weekend, Ruth!)

Martin Atkins at Un-Convention Salford 2009 from Ruth Daniel on Vimeo.

After a short while, Martin's passion and knowledge of the music industry, as well as his no-holds-barred attitude is obvious. Even Andrew Dubber has to agree that he can see why people have described Martin Atkins as "New Music Strategies with swearing".

After checking out the other Unconvention attendees linked above (all knowledgeable and passionate also), I strongly suggest you research Martin's Tour:Smart website and purchase his Tour:Smart book, as it'll teach you more about touring and the dynamics of a band than I could hope to summarise in this post ;)

Lee Jarvis.

June 07, 2009

Unconvention Manchester... Friday Afternoon Fieriness!

‘The Modern Role of Collection Agencies’ was a heated debate on what the collection agencies are doing to collect and manage their data accurately, and how to simplify the processes of applying and maintaining correct accounts for artists.

Granted, the societies have to deal with huge numbers but simple and secure systems should be in place, and the data should be automated from there to the respective departments. One unfavourable point that was raised, and was the cause of much criticism throughout, was that of escalating admin costs for the societies - a valid point when they deduct their admin fees from members’ royalties and operate as a non-profit organisation.

Steve Lawson offered a constructive and educated view, raising both that there is “little sense of you [the PPL / PRS] working on our behalf” and that “accountability and transparency are key critical points now and moving forward”. Again, the issue of expenditure was raised, with reportedly 200,000GBP spent on the PPL website without members’ consent. The PPL say that they sent every one of their 38,000 performers a letter inviting them to attend and contribute to the annual performers meeting, and it was also web-streamed, to which one long-term member said that he received no letter or email invite, and the fact that the PPL were using the postal service and were reliant on pieces of paper to communicate in 2009 was crazy.

The discussion almost ended in a bit of a Stalemate, with PPL and PRS representatives feeling that they are doing enough to move the payment and communications systems and admin fees forward and downward respectively. There were a number of fiery interjections debating about the efficiency of the organisations, and many audience members have varying contact, unsolved payments problems and were ultimately dissatisfied with some of the societies’ answers.

I managed to throw in the last query, which was a change of topic, welcomed by the moderator at that point(!), being: In developing nations, i.e. India, Thailand etc. there are millions of mobile phones / devices are being sold, and therefore there will be millions of music downloads and streams as a result. How do you plan to retrieve data and ultimately collect royalties in these new emerging markets? The PRS rep was keen to point out that they would be limited by the respective parties in those countries, where many associations exist but laws are often vague, rarely followed, and never enforced. Every foreign agency, the PPL has a reciprocal agreement with to collect foreign royalties, and the PPL guy will be travelling to numerous places in Africa and the Caribbean and starting to develop relationships with various artists and organisations, by starting at a grass roots performing level and hoping to build from there.

I think that some of the best comments came from the audience in this section of the conference, and the key point that stuck with me was that people’s perception is an obstacle for the companies to overcome so that more performers feel that they should join them. Attending events such as Unconvention and listening to audience feedback may be one way that they can move forward in this respect.

Lee Jarvis.

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June 06, 2009

Unconvention Manchester... Friday Morning Fun!

The day kicked off on a very different level to yesterday's panel. Andrew Dubber of New Music Strategies is moderating a panel of artists and label owners with the topic: Outside The Box.

Thinking outside the box should not just be interpreted as inventing a crazy publicity stunt to sell more records. The 'box' in this case is what is left of the traditional music industry. The one that was lining the pockets of many non-musicians for the last 70 years. Diverting away from the box, means taking advantage of new technologies and access that is available in the modern digital world. There is no 'new model' that artists follow; just because The Arctic Monkeys were discovered via Myspace doesn't mean that you should operate that way. Sure, Myspace can be part of your arsenal, but being aware of productive and popular sites in general can help you create your own plan of attack. Of course, tying it all in with a good OFFline strategy, be that touring, printed publicity, giving away CDs outside other concerts, creating a buzz so that your fans partake in word of mouth, or all of the above.

It was very interesting, encouraging, and somewhat indicative of a new generation of musicians, to hear the whole panel's interpretation of success: making a living from music. Not trying to sell 100,000 records and go on a 50-date tour of the US, but being involved in music, being happy, composing, sharing and creating ways to draw income from their passion. If they draw enough to pay rent and eat, they will be satisfied. Of course, there's nothing wrong with building on this and working hard to move further forward /upward /onward (/inward? /outward?), and Abigail Seabrook commented that she constantly re-evaluates her connotation of success as her career moves forward. Indeed, it should be a fluid thought, and the idea of an ever changing business plan, with no finite date was put forward as an example of the extreme.

The panel discussed some of the advantages of not being 'in a box', with many artists loving the control that they have over their own career paths. If your next album wants to be weird and wonderful, you can do so, because you are not trying to regurgitate your last works or re-create *insert popular band here* for your major label puppet-masters. Steve Lawson points out that being unique and pioneering your own sound, style and character can lead to many opportunities. If no-one else plays 18th Century popular music live on harpsichord and cello, then Lady Georgianna are in a strong position for anyone involved in that market. Choosing your niche has always been an important part of finding your musical sound, and now it is just as important to consider that when presenting and promoting yourself - not least so that your target market can discover you.

Does the internet favour the remarkable? A great question from Dubber, and one that brought out many an adjective from the panel. The internet can certainly favour the industrious, the cheap, the curious and more. Conversation favours the remarkable (Stef Lewandowski) and with the internet being many ever-evolving conversations, there is an element of 'yes', there.

A certain amount of overexposure in the online world can possibly deflate the 'Rockstar myth' of artists (read part of my Berklee Music assignment "Internet Music Promotion" for more), but at the same time, people crave authenticity; new media is a great way to create that. Prioritising what works for you and finding your own median is the key to help you connect with effectiveness.

Where does the 'fun' part of Friday morning kick in, I hear someone at the back ask.... Well, being at such a positive and intimate event means that I have met many people that are willing to share, offer and possibly most importantly, ASK for information. Connecting with people (some I'd previously 'known' online, others never before), has been a great influence and motivator. Top marks to the whole team at Unconvention Manchester for just about everything to do with the event. Heading outside for some sunshine (yes, sunshine in Manchester!), some great acoustic bands and a BBQ added to the 'extended family' feel greatly.

I also saw one of the most fun bands I've ever seen at the lunchtime Graveyard BBQ; Louis Barabbas and the Bedlam Six. The afternoon food and music was a really nice touch to the event, and a nice informal place to further network or unwind with new friends.

The afternoon panel was a heated debate, engaging representatives from the PRS/MCPS and the PPL, as well as many audience members. I'm still writing that blog ;)

Check back for the rest of the show soon!

Lee Jarvis.

June 05, 2009

Unconvention Manchester... Thursday Opening Thoughts

Thursday afternoon got off to a great start, meeting up with a couple of people whom I've been in contact with but not met before in person. Putting faces to blogs and tweets is always a nice thing, and at a relatively small event like this, it is easy to go around and introduce yourself to new faces too.

The artist's panel on Thursday afternoon was a lively one. The discussion seemed to start from building a buzz around your music / band / etc, touching on PR companies and if they offer value for independent artists. Cutting through the networking and get those CDs to the all-important ears of magazine and radio tastemakers is an crucial matter. Personally, I would say that if you are truly dedicated to your niche genre then you should already have been in touch with these people directly. You listen to the specialist podcasts and shows with similar sounding artists, go direct, send an mp3, send a CD, chase it up, meet the people at shows and events, build a relationship DIRECTLY with your industry peers and the job of PR companies is not only defunct , but you can do a better job by being genuine and approachable.

The topic of musicians 'working' for 'nothing' was brought up; in other words, free downloading. I have to say that I think a couple of the artists missed the point of how to reap not only useful information but also indirect revenue from free downloading, be that legal or otherwise. Some of the older artists (no offence, but there is a certain amount of generational differences relating to how to conduct your online strategies), were sticking to the old mantra of 'if you don't pay for the musician's music then they will not / can not make any more music'; believing that you cannot build a successful project from giving your music away for free means that you should re-evaluate your ideas of 'success'. Success is not just about selling records anymore. If you do not consider other factors such as building extensive mailing list, concert ticket sales, a busy gig diary, steady merchandise sales and a strong online presence (be that youtube views, twitter followers etc), then you are missing out on great opportunities to build your reputation and career. As an independent artist, you should relish the fact that you can distribute 10,000 digital copies of your song for the same cost as distributing just 1. The tools and advice are all available online to help you promote your music to an immense audience, and you should try and learn to see success in the fact that if, after giving away 10,000 copies, some of those will pass onto friends, create further fans and so on, to the extent that your music can reach more people in more places than ever before. Just because you don't receive a measly sum from a profitable record label in return doesn't mean that you are not achieving results (many of them tangible, too). Following the artists panel, I stuck around for a few of the bands, chatted with the Un-convention Belfast contingent for a while, and then headed off for dinner.

On a side note, I didn't quite expect so much swearing at the discussion - not that i'm adverse at all, but our venue for the discussion is The Sacred Trinity Church in Salford(!) Then again, I had been drinking beer throughout.

Stay Tuned for Friday's thoughts :-)

Lee Jarvis.

June 03, 2009

I'm back! ...and I'm off again, to Un-Convention Manchester

Apologies for a lack of blogging recently, a number of reason, and all music-related so I'll fill you in...

I've been DJing a fair bit, at a label showcase in a warehouse in Chicago, a fun trip up to Madison, Wisconsin, and then back to Chicago again for my debut at Smart Bar. That soon eats away at your working / sleeping regular hours. Then I flew to London, and tomorrow I'm on a train up to Manchester, then over to Newcastle and back south again. phew.

But, all is well, and tomorrow will see the start of Un-Convention Manchester, hence my continued travels. The Un-Convention way of thinking is something I latched onto very quickly, and why I am so excited to head along and get involved with the like-minded folk there. In their words, "Un-convention is a new music industry event. It’s about being independent. It’s about facing up to the current changing music scene and looking for innovative and creative solutions. It’s about discussion, debate and most of all – meeting new people with different perspectives and sharing knowledge, experience and contacts". You can see why I'm so keen to get there ;-)

You can still buy tickets and I strongly suggest you get along to any part of the event that you can, even if it's just one day panel or networking, although if you can't, then check back in at the blog here, or follow my Twitter or Facebook updates, as I'll be attempting to document as much of the idea-sharing, trend-mongering and ground-breaking collaborating as possible.

Oh yes, and there will be cake.

Lee Jarvis.