A year on this is still an important piece of writing…..
Band manager, label owner, promoter and magazine producer, Scott Roe certainly knows his way around the various paths to making a living in the music industry. Scott explains that we need to get our terminology right and then work out who is best placed to make creative use of public funding.
The West Midlands’ music industry – strengths and Weaknesses
The West Midlands’ music industry is a phrase that is used far too often in inappropriate ways. Often the phrase “industry” is used instead of business. My view is that if we truly look at the music industry sector within the region there is little to say or discuss as the industry infrastructure is very small indeed and what we have here is a string of related “music business” set-ups that work loosely within the wider music industry itself.
The success of the region musically need not be tied to how much or little of a music “industry” infrastructure we do or don’t have. It may well be more of a case of how well our music businesses talk to the wider communities.
Despite the major changes and advancements within the wider music industry, the Midlands should be trying to “do it all”. The digital age has brought potential rewards for non-major companies such as greater distribution, recording, licensing advantages etc. However, if the region is to export major amounts of music across the UK and beyond, it must also embrace traditional routes to market.
The traditional methods used within the industry may not be as cost effective as they once were in terms of investment verses profit, but they are still massively powerful. The major players and mid players have of course shifted their focus regarding the “digital revolution” which leaves less of a vacuum than there was at the beginnings of this new period. Whilst middle men can be cut out of the equation now in many ways the key players in a music business team are still required. Breaking a band these days is less done by the majors than the smaller independent companies, but the power of PR, Pluggers and the traditional forms of media are not diminished.
One of the region’s major weaknesses, I believe, is that most people working within the music sector do not understand the basic principles of the business. Knowledge of the business would be a very good first step and of course the other 90% of the mix does not relate to knowledge as much as experience, contacts and a general’s flair for the kind of challenges faced. I am here referring more perhaps to managers, small labels and publishers rather than people dealing with the complex nature of “Industry”.
So the difference between business and industry must be drawn firmly as many newcomers are claiming to be “in the industry”. Having dozens of inexperienced people masquerading as industry does no good for the region’s image or for artists. Many of the music business people are part-time and often working for no salary. Whilst this is to be applauded it would be beneficial for people learning the ropes to engage with more experienced contacts before leaping into the hard-nosed arena of the music industry.
* The region is extremely diverse in terms of musical output, creative business ideas and management styles.
* Good range of small music venues which have always been a good breeding ground for new talent.
* Spirit, determination and passion for succeeding within the music business.
* Experienced music industry players who have a wealth of experience working throughout the UK and abroad.
* The location should be a huge advantage for us.
* The perception of the region’s music scene has risen dramatically over the last five years or so.
* Lack of skilled music managers, skilled business types involved with music business or vision to explore markets outside of the UK by many.
* Inappropriate use of funding on a yearly basis; too much discussion and talk about “The industry”
* Lack of medium-sized music venues (that old chestnut!)
Best practise within the region?
There are many examples of best practise some of which include:
working for many years finding their way through the music industry channels, early work with New Electrics amongst others led the way for them to “break” Editors and now The Twang.
Arthur Tapp – Catapult club
A promoter who has done much for the region’s live scene, consistently putting on solid nights at various venues such as The Jug of Ale and The Academy. His perseverance put him in a position whereby various A&R contact him on a regular basic to see what is happening in the city.
Gavin – Magic Garden
A great track record from working with bands such as The Smiths, Carina Round, Nizloppi, The Twang etc. Gavin has been a vital link man between the wider music industry and a number of the regions acts over the years.
Mark Badger – Iron Man records
The Music network has done some important work in uniting people across the region with a common musical purpose. Through his relentless work Mark has also ensured that certain important artists have gained recognition and signposted people to the right people.
Markus Sargent – Glee club
Provided important groundwork with the Songwriters festival and other key shows whilst promoting at Ronnie Scotts then The Glee Club booking quality international acts generating much media attention – a huge boost for the region.
Andy & myself producing “Media Assassin” fanzine now for five years and this has become somewhat of a barometer for the music industry as regards what is hot in Birmingham. We have dozens of high profile music industry subscribers including, Sony, Warner Chapel, Radio One, Hall Or Nothing, Parlophone, The NME, etc and we have championed many acts such as Editors, The Twang, Liner and Vijay Kishore.
Run by myself, helping to book and promote acts before they broke placing them on the same bill as artists like Mystery Jets, Ooberman, Mark Morris (bluetones), we have carved out contacts overseas with help from Chamber of commerce funding and have now secured a US publishing deal, Hollywood movie sound track and various licensing deals for Birmingham band “Liner”
What are the next steps?
* Less democracy and more firm decision-making.
* Clear accountability for all funding spend.
* Engaging key player within the business.
* We shouldn’t try “to be London”, we must seek the help and advice of music business experts outside of the city and build up strong relationships
* Less posturing and politics.
* We must not look at the UK as being all important, but neither should we haphazardly send representatives around the world on business trips.
* Don’t “out-cool” ourselves. Too many people playing it cool end up isolated because of this. Don’t be cool unless you have the punch to back it up.
* More music managers needed with relevant skills.
* A firm grounding in business practise is needed.
* As a region – stop using unqualified “music lawyers” and engage with the high profile lawyers in London OR develop really good music lawyers in the region.
* Smaller salaries for people working within think-tank style music departments, especially people whose business knowledge does not extend to the relevant music areas and yet they still have power to direct money etc.
The key thing is to empower capable people within the music business to just do it. If a steering group or committee can’t decide which people should be supported or if they can decide but doesn’t make this happen, they should be dealt with. I really do hope that the cycle of steering groups, bumper salaries for unskilled workers, ill-placed trust and fraud is ended soon, I expect it will just move to whatever business sector is receiving most attention and funding in the future.
On a final note, I think that the most important thing at this stage for the perception of the region is for the right people to be seen carrying the flag and approaching the wider music community in the correct way. Someone working for the public sector, speaking to Sony and saying “I’m a leading music industry worker and I have a really good band…” isn’t the way forward. The egos must be left behind and the pots of money must be distributed to people with real knowledge and integrity.
About the Author
Scott Roe manages the band Liner and handles music licensing across Europe and the US. He also runs Solar Creations, a record label based in Birmingham which has released the work of numerous West Midlands acts. Scott also helps produce the fanzine Media Assassin which has accumulated high-profile industry subscribers in the five years since its inception.