This report was commissioned primarily to inform potential investment in the West Midlands music industry by Advantage West Midlands between 2008 and 2011.
In particular this report suggested options for projects to be included in the Audio and Music Programme of Activities that is outlined in the Screen, Image and Sound Cluster Plan 2008 –2011.
To do this the report included:
1) A Brief Evaluation of the Music work undertaken by Digital Central
2) An Overview of the Region
3) A Suggested Outline of Activities
The report was compiled using a number of sources of information:
1) Minutes and Documentation from the Digital Central project at Birmingham City University (BCU)
2) Reports, Strategies and Planning Documents for music and the creative industries both National and Regional.
3) Interviews with Music companies, freelancers and organisations and agencies that support the Music Industry
This approach was adopted to gain as many views as possible and to set them against the current context for music. The ambition for this report was to try to set out a vision based on the needs of the industry as a whole to try to build consensus around a package of support for the forthcoming Audio and Music Programme of Activities.
A Brief Evaluation
This section will look at the work undertaken by Digital Central so far and look at the opportunities that arise from thefirst phase of activity (2005 –2008).
Digital Central was a regional development project funded by Advantage West Midlands that worked to help the West Midlands to be nationally andinternationally recognised for its digital media and music sectors. That includes Film, Television, Animation, Interactive Media, Computer Games, Digital Imaging, Music and Radio. Digital Central developed and supported activity against three key strategic themes: networking, showcasing and innovation.
From 2008/9 the funding from AWM that was spent on Digital Central will be split into three pots.
The first will be aimed at support for Film, Television, Animation, Interactive Media, Computer Games and Digital Imaging and will be administered by Screen West Midlands.
The second will support the Business Futures programme and the final pot will be aimed at support for audio and music and will be put out to tender so that it can be delivered by the most appropriate organisation(s).
After reviewing the documentation from the project such as reports and minutes from meetings it is clear that Digital Central has achieved many things during its two years. It is not in the scope of this report to comment on the non-music activity of Digital Central other than to say that the screen and new media sectors do seem to have a more coherent strand of activity in the project.
The music projects that have been supported were all worthwhile and in most cases very successful. Digital Central’s role in these projects varied, sometimes simply adding a small amount of funding support to match a great deal from elsewhere
through to projects where Digital Central took the lead and funded the projects entirely.
Feedback from those in the music industry that I interviewed was mixed. Some of this was due to the high expectations placed on the Digital Central project from the outset set against the relatively small budgets that Digital Central had to implement the many ambitions people had for it. Other issues came out of the way the project progressed and some individuals’ personal experience of applying for funding through the scheme. These are addressed below.
Digital Central has had a number of successes that will leave a lasting impact on the local industry:
A significant strength of Digital Central was its ability to utilise the academic assets of Birmingham City University. As a result a number of helpful reports and studies were published during the project. Amongst the music based research there were three reports that in the end formed a box set of music reports. The first one was ‘Making Money out of Music’ by Professor Tim Wall. This was a very useful document outlining how the music industry makes money and how the international market relates to regional music activity.
The second document ’20 Things You Need To Know About Music Online’ by Andrew Dubber is equally helpful and continues to be quoted by people I meet as useful.
Simon Harper’s collection of views from members of the region’s music industry ‘Music Matters –a regional profile’ was equally useful and was a good basis for this report. This booklet concluded that the priorities for the regional music industry going forward were:
Working with public bodies
Promoting the West Midlands
Capitalising on our heritage
All of these areas are considered again in this report as they came up as key themes in the interviews I conducted with music industry professionals. However, for those of us who like to read these documents they are very useful but
for the vast majority of music industry practitioners their impact is less tangible at this stage. There is a feeling now amongst those I interviewed who had engaged with Digital Central, that the focus of the next phase (i.e. the Audio and Music Programme of Activities) should focus on action leading from those report findings.
The venue development project was very simple: To look at what venues needed to do to improve their ability to host live music and to help a number of venues make those improvements. There was an interesting and helpful music venue survey that lead to a report that informed the funding process. Despite a reasonably small response to the survey this project was successful as it had a very clear vision behind it and garnered good support from the industry.
Digital Central was able to support a number of important and successful initiatives in
the region including:
supporting Capsule to hold the Metal Symposium and a subsequent project on music heritage
enabling music companies to go to MIDEM and to San Francisco for a games conference
Events like Birmingham Jazz Festival, Gigbeth and Rootsville were also supported
Issues for Digital Central
Letting committees get in the way
The most important issue that has arisen from my observations and from people I have spoken to on this subject is the lack of strong direction for the music work that DC undertook. This may well be in part due to a sensitivity that has arisen from the perceived ‘ in fighting’ in the sector. This led to DC holding a series of consultative meetings and forming a number of groups to try to steer the direction of the music work. This approach took in the views of a very diverse group of sector specialists and so there was no shortage of ideas and no real mechanism to prioritising them. DC should have taken a stronger lead so that the parameters of these discussions could be more clearly defined. A common observation was that many projects started and then stalled because of apparent changes of direction during the project. This lead to disengagement by many industry partners and some mistrust that was a result of a simple lack of clarity. Also from the minutes of one of the meetings there was concern raised by those on the committee about the admin spend of the project –however they also wanted those on the committees to get paid for their time. This model was obviously unsustainable but perhaps came out of frustration from those ‘consulted’ that their time was not being well spent.
Lack of joined up planning
Many of the businesses I interviewed observed that Digital Central seemed to operate in isolation to other similar projects, possibly missing out on opportunities to make the Digital Central budget go further through strategic partnerships. This is backed up by interviews undertaken with key agencies during this research that almost universally felt that they had very little involvement in Digital Central and so had not found ways to add value to the project through the work that they were
doing. Most had praise for some elements of the projects work but felt that their own lack of knowledge of the project as a whole was probably evidence of a general lack of a joined up approach.
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