What is your view of the West Midlands’ music industry? by Mark Iron Man Records

What is your view of the West Midlands’ music industry? In particular, what are our strengths and weaknesses?

Here’s something I wrote in 2007, if anyone would like to take the title of this blog post and write their own version then please do, the more thoughts and opinions the better. I don’t know it all, I am only familiar with my small area of activity within the so called “Music Industry.”

Written by Mark Iron Man Records, Birmingham, June 2007

Wikipedia defines the Music Industry as “the business industry connected with the creation and sale of music. It consists of record companies, labels and publishers that distribute recorded music products internationally and that often control the rights to those products. Some music labels are “independent,” while others are subsidiaries of larger corporate entities or international media groups. The world music market is currently dominated by the “big four” record groups, Sony BMG, EMI, Universal and Warner, each of which consists of many smaller companies and labels serving under different regions and markets.“ (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Music_industry) As far as the West Midlands is concerned, I would suggest that The music industry is a term most people use to describe a range of music-related businesses and organisations including community groups and not-for-profit organisations and others such as Musicians’ Unions and writers’ copyright collectives and performance rights organisations.

In order to look at the West Midlands Industry I sometimes find it helpful to imagine what the “West Midlands Music Industry” might consist of (in general terms) in a simplistic, imaginary world and then look to see if this is demonstrated to be true in practice.

My definition of the West Midlands Music industry is based around the typical Income streams that might include record sales, digital sales, publishing sales, ticket sales, merchandise sales, investment, funding or sponsorship and also services provided. I also include music related activities that often do not produce any revenue at all but make valuable cultural contributions to the region.

The music industry, should in theory consist of musicians, bands, acts, musical ensembles, Musicians’ Unions, composers and songwriters, publishers, writers’ copyright collectives and representatives of or members of  performance rights organization like PRS and MCPS, record producers/engineers, record labels, record distributors, A&R, music/band managers, venue promoters, event organisers, booking agents, crew and all related service providers like van hire, Sound hire, staging, lighting, rehearsal studios, shops selling musical equipment, shops selling records and cds and a multitude of online entities and the rest. The Industry generates wealth in both economic terms and cultural terms, by all of them interacting with each other and their markets, external networks etc.

My view of The region’s music industry appears to be based around my personal experiences and observations in the alternative guitar, rock, punk and metal world over the past 15 years. I’m someone who has been running a local independent record label called Iron Man Records since 1996, I set up Birmingham Music Network in 2000 and someone who has organised over a 1000 gigs in Birmingham between 1994 and 2004. In addition I have played in many bands and some of them have taken me up and down the country and to parts of Europe in the back of a van. I tour manage bands, and run a music distribution shop online, I have also been working as a mentor for Birmingham City Council Equal Project helping people to develop a sustainable income from their activities in music. Recently I have started lecturing at UCE as part of their music business degree course, and I’ve spent many years engaged in mental chess with local funding organisations, sometimes I’ve been successful, sometimes not so successful. This last week I’ve been working as part of the team delivering the Rootsville Festival at The Custard Factory. I can’t comment on the worlds of classical music, jazz, dance or electronic music but I do have some small amounts of experience in the alternative guitar based music thing, so here goes.

I perceive the West Midlands Music Industry to be dominated not by the major companies or labels but by an abundance of small enthusiastic and entrepreneurial music businesses starting with bands, musicians, singers or acts trying to reach a point where it is no longer costing them money to pursue their music. The vast majority of those I have worked with may not produce any significant revenue from their music related activities but make a healthy and valuable contribution to the regions cultural diversity and heritage.

There are several small record labels, venue promoters, event organisers, music managers, people aspiring to offer A&R, record distribution, engineers and producers, studios, websites, composers and songwriters who are all trying to do the same.

There are a few who make a reasonable living from their music, I know because I’ve met some of them but none of them found it easy, they have had to work hard to get to where they are and there are no easy short cuts. But having said that, I don’t think I know many other people who actually earn sufficient money from their music activities to rely on it as their only source of income. Many people appear to borrow heavily, many have sought investment based on their business plan, some have had to make personal and economic sacrifices to keep their music business on the road, some have had to maintain a second income source to subsidise their activities until they become sustainable. Of course many would argue, like myself, that it is possible to survive on what money is being generated but the income generated in many cases is not significant or enough to facilitate the effective growth or development or diversification of the business to any great extent over any meaningful timescale.

Many of the people I have spoken to need at least one other source of income to sustain them and their music related business. Sometimes this income is from a completely unrelated activity, sometimes it is possible to take their existing music activities and generate income from outside of the region.

Generating sufficient capital to make a start and then income and cash flow over a given period to pay off the capital costs appears to me to be a common problem. Many music related businesses fail in the first few years due to cash flow problems. How do you take 100 small businesses that may wait significant periods of time to generate cash flow, a number of income streams that are sometimes unrelated to one another, who are struggling to break even and who rely on a “second source of income” and turn them into sustainable businesses from only their music related activities? And once you’ve done that how do you help them to initiate their own growth and development.

In short, I perceive the Midland Music Industry to be dominated by many entrepreneurs, many enthusiasts, many working part time, and many with little or no officially recognised qualifications relying on only personal learning experiences and existing knowledge and skills. And this problem is not just the case in the music industry, but I think it is also the case in many of the organisations that seek to engage with the music industry in the midlands region. Many of the people I have met who appear to be running, managing, leading or facilitating financial or even knowledge based support for the creative industries do not have the sufficient skills, knowledge or expertise to engage effectively with the music industry and its constituents. They may be ideal to administer or manage a project but they may have no understanding or qualification to engage the music industry. These people often have no real idea whether or not their interaction is doing any good or not, they don’t fully understand how their beneficiaries perceive or engage the market and they only have good intention, standard examples of business practice and funding criteria to work with.

On this basis, it has always been a difficult task, in my experience, to get any form of meaningful dialogue to occur between regional development agencies, local business support organisations, local funding organisations or the rest. The way that these entities perceive and engage the world is very different to the way the music industry and its constituents engage and perceive the world.

This problem is made that much worse when you understand that a large proportion of the music industry is made up of small enthusiastic entrepreneurs following their own agenda. These Entrepreneurs find themselves meeting the managers and administrators of funding organisations, themselves being enthusiastic self styled entrepreneurs seeking to engage the music industry with no extensive or detailed experience within the field and who also follow their own agenda.

West Midlands appears to me to be made up of what might be termed “a long tail of small music businesses” whose combined financial potential and cultural significance is far greater when added together than any one “Big Name” act or even “flagship funded project”. It is these small businesses that I have spent most of my time with and it is with these that I do business with. In amongst these small businesses is the future of The West Midlands Music Industry but the process by which a small business grows from its current position to one of the “big names” or “culturally significant” or “Flagship businesses” for the region is something else altogether.

My own view is that when it is done properly, self managing artists, record labels, music Managers or production companies could make a valuable contribution to the local Music industry and economy. Artists, Labels and managers can coordinate the production, licensing, and copyright protection of sound recordings & videos and maintain contracts with those they engage in the process as well as provide or engage potential distribution structures for their various products. In simple terms Record labels, music managers, production companies sign artists, (when Artists aren’t managing themselves of course) market, publicize, develop and promote. However it is easier than ever to release your own material and do so without any need of a record label or a manager or production company, and here is where the problems start. Many self managed, self promoted, self released artists and groups do not fully understand how to generate a sustainable income from their music activity. They may know how write, record and perform their music, they may know how to set up a myspace page, or distribute their music digitally, but generating a sustainable income and career from this basic starting point is something that many do not understand how to do at all and they may not be realising their true financial or cultural potential

My own record label and management experience has built up contacts, knowledge and experience over the last 10 years that as a local artist I would have really struggled to reproduce or access. I set up The Music Network to try and take the knowledge, contacts and experiences generated by my activities as a Record Label, live music promoter and music manager and distribute this knowledge amongst other like minded individuals and those wishing to gain access to basic principles, contacts, resources and support. In doing so I wanted to try to encourage others with knowledge contacts and resources to do the same. My view was there would always be more acts in the Midlands and the rest of the world than I could possibly work with at once so the sharing of the knowledge, contacts, best practice, experiences etc was something that could generate a more effective and competitive music environment to work in for everyone. I admit my knowledge, contacts and experiences are mostly on the lower rungs of the imaginary music industry ladder but I have always hoped that by generating networking activity, experts on higher rungs of the ladder would also contribute to provide opportunities for individuals or groups to either learn to climb the ladder or even make their own.

In reality over the past ten years or so something very different has happened. There has been a proliferation of funded projects and organisations, often with huge budgets, that have sought to deliver activities for the benefit of the local music industry. I don’t seriously consider any of them as having had any real positive effect on the local music industry(ok there are a couple of exceptions) and I don’t think the money has been effectively spent in many cases. Some of the projects have coordinated production and even licensing and copyright protection but they have not contributed to a distribution structure. In addition I don’t think they have effectively marketed, publicised developed or promoted any of the real talent in the west Midlands either. I make this point based on the amount of money that has been spent versus the income generated as a result so far by the beneficiaries they engaged. I may be proved wrong in time but at the moment the outcomes do not look satisfying to me.

Think of the most successful acts to emerge from the west Midlands in the last few years. What part has a funded project played in their journey to success? With a few exceptions, most of the successful artists to emerge from the region have done so without any local funded project support. In a similar way think of all the funded projects currently under way in the West midlands, what part have already successful acts played in bringing kudos or some form of credibility to those projects? I’m sure this discussion could continue for sometime but a few things I would say about the above. First of all real talent is emerging from the region regardless of any local funding and support. A larger quantity of real talent would be emerging from the region if the funded projects set up to help and support the local music industry actually did their job properly. And thirdly traditionally, real talent has not looked to funded projects for help and support, there has been a complex web of interaction amongst music related businesses that has produced success for artists and companies in the region and it is this interaction that is important, not subsidy from or support from funded projects.

Bill Drummond wrote a piece in 2004 as a contribution to a book called “One Man and His Bog” about the story of The Hull Adelphi. Bill Drummond suggests that:

….music (or what ever sub-genre title you feel comfortable using) should never be subsidised by the state. The Arts Council or similar bodies must never be allowed to get near it. If any particular form of pop music can not survive in the cut and thrust of the market place it should be allowed to whither and die. The same goes for all the rooms above pubs and dodgy clubs. If people don’t want to pay the price for the ticket and would rather spend the night down the local Weatherspoons drinking cheap lager, so be it. Culture has to be on the move, in a state of continual flux or it is nothing, fit only for the museum and the text book.“

I still think that the piece demonstrates the point that popular Music should not be subsidised in any form but I would go on from that and say that if subsidy is to be made available to The Music industry in the region, then it could be provided in a more effective way than current provision is demonstrating.

If the region is to take advantage of funding opportunities from Central Government or Europe then changes must be made to ensure more effective investment and not subsidy is put into the regions Music industry. There must be an end to the current spending frenzy based around satisfying criteria that appear to me to be more about numbers of beneficiaries and postcodes. There must be a fresh start to finding the regions best ideas and practice and generating investment to ensure they are realised and sustained.

Our Strengths? What have we got in the West Midlands?
I will list a host of examples of best practice later but here, in my view, are some areas in which the region has demonstrated strength. Individuals working in these areas have demonstrated innovation and developed significant expertise against the odds: Production, marketing and promotion of Bhangra, punk, metal and alternative forms of rock music. Studio engineers and production, Independent record labels, new music events, finding new places to use as music venues and innovation in new music promotion. The region has some strong examples of music management, music business education(in particular Online Music promotion Strategy) Music Support and networking, Musicians Union, Artwork/Graphic design, Legal Services, Film making and Video, Networking, Music Accountants, Pod casting, Fanzines and new music related websites, Music Retail, Staging/Sound hire, T-shirts, poster, and promotional flyer printing.

Our Weaknesses: What haven’t we got in the West Midlands?
There is no current source of financial support for effective artist development. Local Newspapers, Radio and local TV do little for local music. Same goes for local magazines. Whilst we do have good music management in the region, there aren’t many and effective management companies are few and far between. I don’t know of many effective local publishing companies, booking agents, press, PR, Plugging or promotions companies. Good Local independent music shops appear to be on the decline and many talented individuals and groups still perceive London as a more attractive career move than remaining in the West Midlands. Whilst the region continues to generate inspiring new music, new activities, innovative new companies and organisations, few of these entities seem to last long and like most pop acts; they struggle to last longer than about three years. If you look at any scoping documents or mapping exercises that try to document what we have or haven’t got in the region, look at any document older than three years and you will notice a vast number of those listed are no longer in business or have moved on to other things. Like any band, the regions music industry is always generating new supporters but at the same time it is always losing others too. The trick to the west Midlands Music industry is making sure that new sustainable contributors are generated faster than existing contributors go bust, give up or move elsewhere. I hear quotes like the regions music industry is growing by 8% a year or 11% a year or 14% a year or by whatever % a year. But what is generating this growth? Isn’t everything growing by a similar percent anyway, regardless of the intervention? What I want to know is what percentage would the region be growing at if all support was removed tomorrow, would it remain the same? Probably. I never hear figures quoted for the numbers of existing businesses that collapse or are struggling to make ends meet, or have to generate more than half of their income from other sources or numbers of bands that give it up or move to London etc. Who is calculating the number of meetings it takes to get a simple decision made or how many people earn more than 25,000 a year working for or administering a local funded project but do less than 5minutes work a week. Joking aside, who is calculating the numbers of music related businesses who do not generate significant economic growth but who make significant cultural contributions to the region? What rate are they growing at and how do you measure cultural significance? Does it even matter or have a value to the region?

Moving on I think another thing that may be of significance is the approach taken by many individuals, groups, companies and Organisations to their activities on a strategic level. I may be alone in this view but I suspect this is more widespread than many people believe. Many of the people I meet these days involved with the so called “Music or even Creative Industries” tend to carry out activities based on what they want to do or what they enjoy doing. Very few of them do anything based on any research or formulate any strategy based around what is the most effective or commercially viable way of doing things. A Way around this is encouraging people with creative ideas to educate themselves increase their awareness of the commercial and strategic implications of their activity. If they still want to go ahead then they can do so with a far greater understanding of what may or may not happen. At the moment many individuals are being encouraged to start businesses or pursue their ideas or “dreams” by some of the regions music support programmes with little care or attention being placed upon what the situation may be in three or five years time or what they will have to deal with to remain sustainable for that time. Some people have even suggested to me that some local music projects are not really about helping people make a start towards a sustainable career in music but more about using European funds to employ people to help increase the numbers of people visiting our public libraries.

Another problem appears to be the proliferation of funded projects that serve no apparent purpose other than to spend the funding. Why does the region spend vast sums on employing one set of people to signpost another set of people to music related opportunities when anyone else can pick up a copy of yellow pages or access the internet or even pick up a phone or attend a networking event or pick up a flyer or read an advert or make their own contacts that may lead them to the opportunities anyway. The idea that someone will not initiate an activity either for commercial purposes or cultural purposes until a budget has been supplied by a local agency to me is absurd. The idea of helping existing activity access new markets, or diversify, or try new methods of working, or marketing and promoting their activity seems to me to be a much better idea.

For example, take a local record label like mine that has a limited budget to work with. It doesn’t have the luxury of choosing the most commercially viable act to work with as it has insufficient funds to pick and choose which acts to work with. It defaults to working with acts it has the financial resources to work with and most usually the relationship between the label and the act is based on trust and enthusiasm. By this I mean the label will in most cases work with an act it already knows, perhaps has worked with before to some level, perhaps an act that is a good friend of someone they already know or has been keeping an eye on for some time. This is all about trying to make something happen with limited funds where a great deal of trust is invested in all parties. Compare that now with the situation of a funding programme that seeks to set up a record label, produce market and promote recordings that satisfy some European funding criteria. Whilst the project may satisfy the criteria it completely ignores local demand or culture. There is no trust or ongoing working relationship built between project and beneficiaries as the project is focussed purely on the financial and legal relationship within a given time scale. Whilst local acts and labels and management continue to struggle with a budget you can stick under a glass, someone else sets up and runs a project that spends huge amounts of money to produce something that has little or no cultural significance and when the funding stops guess what? The label and all its activities stop too. This is not in my view contributing to the development or growth of the region, if anything it is a distraction from where the real work investment needs to be made and a waste of valuable resources that could be better spent.

In addition Many of the funding organisations I have come into contact with appear to me to be funding projects being run by individuals or organisations they already know, or have already worked with before, or can demonstrate a track record that is acceptable to the funding organisation. There doesn’t seem to be full analysis of the most effective partner to deliver the project and the “required outcomes” of the funding initiative or the “deadline for budget spending” become more important than the method of delivery or the short term or long term results of the project itself. By this I mean some projects seem to put more emphasis on collecting names and numbers and postcodes by a specific date than actually providing effective advice or guidance to the beneficiaries themselves. The Project may show 250 beneficiaries assisted over a given time period and so warrant the spending of the funds. What level of advice or guidance are those beneficiaries actually getting? Will they still be here in three years time? Is it making a difference or is it just a means of paying salaries and administration costs using names and postcodes as a justification?

Time for some sweeping generalisation to stimulate discussion. I don’t think the region is maintaining a grip on its current or potential future talent. People are leaving both the music industry and the region all the time and this explains why people keep referring to past success stories from the region, there aren’t as many current success stories to talk about. When we do generate a recent success like the story of Nachural records and Bhangra music, few people find out about it as the local news, radio and TV media certainly show little interest. Many of the best minds and some of the people with the greatest ideas have completed their training or education or apprenticeship and then left the region altogether in search of better work elsewhere.  I am concerned that many people remaining in the region occupying positions of influence or managerial responsibility are under qualified for the job they have to do; they do not have sufficient experience and are operating beyond their personal capabilities. However, the problem may not lie with the individual, it may be that a lot of our talent has already left the region or has moved to other careers.

Where is there best practice in the region? Draw on your experience from events you may have been to or particular examples of innovative collaboration.

There are many examples of best practice in the region and I will list some of the one’s that I have found as a result of my own business activity over the past ten years or so.

Artwork/Graphic design: Russ at Shock Proof design.

Education: New Music Strategies written by Andrew Dubber, UCE Music Degree Course and the recent written work of Prof Tim Wall.

Film and Video: Mark Corden

Local Governmental/Organisations: Jonathan Webber and Steve Cunanne UKDTI, Paul Cantrill Birmingham City Council.

Local Press / Music plugging: Mike Davies

Music Accountants: Mike Meakin Clement keys, John Seeley,

Music Equipment Retail: PMT at the End of Curzon Street.

Music Events: Godiva Festival Coventry, Rootsville Festival and Rooty Frooty / The Rainbow, Birmingham.

Music Networking: The Music Network (sometimes also known as Birmingham Music Network, Birmingham Music, West Midlands Music, European Collective), Musicians Union.

Music Magazines and Websites doing similar: Ryan’s gig Guide, Media Assassin, Created in Birmingham, Brum Blog, and Birmingham it’s not shit,

Music Management: Jackie and Rob from Zoot, John Mostyn, Steve Hughes,

Music Support Organisations: Music Leader – Baz Chapman, Musicians Union – Julie Plant.

Music Venues and Music promotion: The Actress and Bishop under Scott from Solar creations, The Glee Club, Frank and Zena and Skanking Dub Beats, Brain Marr at Marrsbar Worcester, Mick Willets and Dave Vale at Surge Music, The Glee Club, Catapult Club run by Arthur at The Jug of Ale.

Legal Support: Philip Allery Putsman WLC, Stuart Price Young and Lee, Kevan at Tidy Law,

Pod casting: Robin Valk and Radio To Go, Nic Treadwell and Homegrown, Chris and Brumcast.

Record Labels: The story so far of Nachural Records and the rise of Bhangra, Fortune and Glory records, Bearos Records, Iron Man Records (I would say that wouldn’t I?) and Punkshit Records and distribution.

Staging/Sound hire: LNP sound,

Studios and Production: Artisan Studios Moseley run by Jon Cotton, Magic Garden Wolverhampton run by Gavin Monaghan, Musoplex rehearsals and Framework studios now based in Oldbury, Bob Lamb’s studio in Kings Heath.

T-shirts/posters/flyer printing: Gerv at Mission Print.

Website design and innovation: Stef and 3form, Mal and Pall mall design.

A note should be made that as far as initiating discussions and countless meetings on regional policy, strategy and ideas for the future of the region’s music business the likes of Phil Savage, Dutch van Spall, John Mostyn, Scott Roe, Geoff Pearce, Tim Wall, Andrew Dubber, Kent Davies, Jon Cotton, John Purser, and of course Anthony Hughes at Digital Central have all proved valuable contributors.

Some examples of best practice from Elsewhere:

Music Venues:
The Tunnels in Aberdeen, one half a restaurant, the other half a venue and bar.
The Luminaire, London. Downstairs a restaurant and bar, upstairs a venue for live music.
The Adelphi Hull. Combining support for young people living away from home for the first time with new live music.
The Spitz London, restaurant downstairs and café, venue upstairs.

Regional development Agencies: Generator and Development Agency for North East.

What are the next steps? What does the region’s music industry need to help it develop and grow?

First of all I would like to quote several points and borrow heavily from the rest of an email sent to me in June 2007 by Peter Jenkinson, Administrator, UK – Music Sector Forum. Peter is quoting direct from “the music organisation template from NIMIC, the Northern Irish Music Industry Commission:” Most of the words are from his email but in the spirit of good plagiarism I have changed several parts so it reads more easily as a recommendation for the West Midlands region and some people may even be fooled into thinking I had all these ideas first.

Our Aim could be to Accelerate the development of a sustainable music industry….key strategic areas of delivery may include:

Creative Skills Development: provide a high quality arts business training programme and career development programme. This strand of policy includes the delivery of a programme of workshops, seminars, mentoring, master classes and residential initiatives that provide experienced advice and guidance on key creative skills including songwriting/composition/studio production etc

Business Skills Development
provide a high quality arts creative training programme and career development programme. This strand of policy includes the delivery of a programme of workshops, seminars and master classes that provide experienced advice and guidance on key music business skills including management, promotion, marketing, legal issues, digital marketing and distribution, general business planning and practices.

Regional and International Marketing
In line with its marketing priorities, provide an annual programme towards maximising showcase opportunities for artists and their work both at home and abroad. These opportunities cover the complete spectrum of career development opportunities from local urban and rural showcasing support for aspirant artists to high profile international artist showcasing support at key music industry events. It also includes the production and promotion of digitally enhanced genre specific compilation CDs. Develop a series of websites as contemporary music portals to provide a powerful promotional capability and an informative hub for the sector.

Key to all of these strands of activity is:
The maintenance and development of productive working relationships with a wide range of local, national and international organizations.
The maintenance and development of relationships with all of the relevant sectoral practitioners and organizations within our region to maximize outreach to and feedback from the sector that we service.

Budgeting and Monitoring
The organisation’s budgeting process is controlled through regular monthly reviews and reports to a board of directors who meet on a monthly basis and whose organization would be audited independently and annually. Employ fully computerised accounting procedures. Ensure project by project monitoring, reporting to funders on a quarterly basis. We also require those to whom we offer support to report in detail on their delivery.

Initiatives and events are monitored and evaluated through participant feedback  – This process helps to inform the organisation as to effectiveness of past and current programmes and to the generation of new programme of activity. Publish this evaluation regularly.
Peter Jenkinson and UK – Music Sector Forum can be contacted at: PO Box 121, Stockport, SK6 5WB.

If you would prefer a suggestion that is all mine then how about this from what I wrote in “The Music Network’s” last business plan which still remains undecided upon on several local funding organisations desks.

“We should aim to inspire, support and promote the regions music community on a national and international level.

We should deliver a yearly calendar of events, essential resources, advice and guidance & networking opportunities to beneficiaries. Including the following: Showcase Events, Consultancy, Network Meetings, Creative Partnerships, promotional sampler Cd’s, Music Resource Web-site, Advice and Guidance, Newsletters and other Information and Learning Materials.”

I also included this in the Music Network plan as something that needs to be addressed: The West Midlands region has “A fragmented social and music community who, as with economic factors feel bound to leave their area to seek employment in the music industry. We have found that in line with the regeneration agenda that improving the infrastructure of the regional music industry and community helps to generate opportunities within their own area. A stronger sense of community and a ‘scene’ where they can learn, develop and thrive in an industry they actually want to work in. Many young school leavers with little or no qualifications are drawn to music as a way of engaging with society and communicating their knowledge which may not be listened to in other areas of their lives. It gives individuals a sense of purpose, builds confidence and when successful, in turn strengthens the economy considerably.  The music network also serves to share best practice and provide real experience in a variety of ways. EG work experience placements within studios and other music industries, Learning events and development of performance skills, as well as legal advice in matters such as contracts.”

I also think that any future proposals and approaches could be different in and for the following main areas: –

“…contributors to the regions Music Industry need to be offered an accessible, ‘practical’ base of experience, not theory based. Aims and objectives should be free of the often political or funding accountable remit others have to adhere to. Aims should be as inclusive as possible, and should not be limited to specific target audience agenda’s such as ‘employed’ / ‘unemployed’. The proposal should be to work with any individual regardless of gender, ethnic background, economic socio-political background and should not be genre specific. Future Projects should work and design initiatives to meet the needs of the music community and beneficiaries, they should not develop initiatives to suit funding requirements. Our aim is to provide what is needed and requested by the community. Individuals working on these projects should also have an ability to convey honest first-hand experience based knowledge of the industry as well as an understanding of the theoretical or academic approach. Individuals should also be able to advise on opportunities which are of a real or immediate benefit and be able to differentiate between those and others which will require work alongside a structured long term plan.”

Having said all of that, here follows a selection of my own personal priorities in no particular order for the region.

Research, Development and execution of a clear strategy for the Regions Music industry

There has to be a balance between funding or investing in projects to inspire support and promote financial growth in the region and NOT just spending money because the money needs to be spent by a certain deadline.

Development of an effective Tourism strategy that includes young people, music and the regions heritage.

Encourage the development of better interrelationships between local music industry and local media eg press, radio, tv, internet.

Encourage the small music related businesses to cluster, network, share knowledge and best practice. To maximize the opportunities of content, back catalogue and online opportunites.

Facilitate the region’s music industry’s access to new markets overseas, new networks, new modes of working, effective use of new technology, licensing of intellectual property for film television games etc. To encourage the growth of small scale operations into much greater scale ones that draw on different markets in different territories to maximize the opportunities of content and catalogue.

To encourage not just economic activity but recognize, value and encourage cultural activity too.

Encourage a better interrelationship between the regional development organisations and the creative industries. A representative group acting on behalf of the different parts of the music industry could generate a more effective dialogue with the regional development agencies if those agencies were willing to do the same.

Innovation and experimentation around combining the music industry with user generated content and social networking embracing opportunities generated by web 2.0. This could also include as Tim Wall suggests in BOX 1:07 “facilitating more effective use of digital media to enhance music promotion, distribution and consumption.”

Where innovation is supported the methods and results could be shared with the wider community.

A higher percentage of the local music industry could benefit from understanding new technologies and making investment in their own knowledge and strategic approach. As Tim Wall says “most small music enterprises don’t have time to step back or analyse changes to the media environment or brainstorm new approaches.” BOX 1.07 2007

Investment in existing businesses could be more effective when it is not subsidising current losses but facilitating the generation of new income. Investment could be encouraged in areas of marketing and promotion, licensing, accessing new markets, new networks, new modes of working,  testing new technologies, new strategies or any activity that maximises the potential of existing product, repetoire or knowledge.

I think the regional development agencies could achieve far better results by giving 100 small businesses £3,000 each than to give £300,000 to a single project which is tasked with helping 100 small businesses grow. Too much money has been wasted on wages, administration, operating costs and few of these “flagship” projects appear to me to have done anything other than provide jobs to the project workers and cash flow for the financial managers. I hope I am proved wrong, we’ll see.

It is easier than ever for people to do it themselves in the music industry. This has lead to an increase in the number of people entering into what we call “the music industry” at a basic level. Many of these acts, bands etc will fall by the wayside when their members move on to other more lucrative activities. However trying to tell the difference between someone who is looking at music as a career and someone who is just treating their music as a pastime until something better comes along is harder than ever. I think the Development of a strategy to identify clearly from the hundreds of potential applicants, which small music businesses would benefit most from investment and which ones are clearly chasing the available funds is an important problem to deal with. By This I mean in very simple terms it is important to identify someone who is for example: “an existing music venue promoter, who needs help to develop and grow their existing business into a more sustainable one,” and be able to separate their case from someone who is willing to “become a new music venue promoter if the funds are made available to them but who will give the business up or move to other activities when the funds run out”.

I think part of the problem in Birmingham is we need to make more effective use of what we have already than to keep starting new projects that will fail when the funding runs out. For example the problem is not “we need a new medium sized venue” but more “we need an effective team who know how to maximize the potential of an existing building or open space not currently in use as a medium sized venue.” In the same way its not a case of “we need to grow the regions music economy” its more we need to “more effectively manage and invest the resources that are already available or intended to contribute to the growth and development of the regions music economy. Oh yeah, and we need to understand how it all works before we pour more money in”

I’ve watched this discussion about the West Midlands Music industry for over ten years now and to be honest from 1996 to 2007 I have seen little change in direction or attitude demonstrated by the regions development agencies. Staff, Administrators and facilitators of funded projects seem to come and go, no effective strategy has emerged and no leadership has been demonstrated by any of the regions development or funding agencies. At the same time the numbers of people involved in music related activities in the region must be greater than at any time before, the internet has opened up many opportunities and there has never been a better time than now if you want to do it yourself and start your own music related business. A number of useful strategies have been put forward over the past ten years by members of the Local Music industry, their respective representative groups and enthusiasts keen to see the regions music economy move forward. I have not seen one of these proposals put into action, taken seriously or fully supported by the regions development agencies. So What of the future? Do It yourself, or as the saying goes – don’t do it at all. It’s back to work for me now, Dufus and The Nightingales are off to Europe again soon, P.A.I.N are on tour somewhere in this Country and I need to give them a call. Perhaps a few more emails, a few more meetings, arguments about who supplies the tea and coffee and who is going to pay for it no doubt. I’m writing yet another business plan, I may even be invited to further discussions generated by this piece. But I can’t wait to see what happens, perhaps we’ll have another meeting, and another meeting, and another meeting and when I call to ask if anything has been agreed as a result of all this they can put me on hold while someone who has control of the funds and influence over the strategy sits at their desk with the air conditioning on full and the windows open….and reads the newspaper, eating their lunch wondering what time they get to go home. It’s all in a days work here on the frontline of the West Midlands Music Industry you know.

References and sources for further reading:

Mapping exercises and online resources include:
Stuart Worthington’s research document for Advantage West Midlands (this borrowed extensively from the existing resource we hold)

Professor Tim Wall – Regional Music Economies Research
Research paper on how the regional music economy generates wealth and creates jobs 2006.
PUB BACK ROOMS – July 2004 by Bill Drummond Taken from: “One Man And His Bog” (Twenty years on the toilet tour). One Man And His Bog does not have an ISBN but is available from Amazon, it is a book that celebrates 20 years of the New Adelphi Club in Hull.
Email 21st June 2007 from Peter Jenkinson to The Music Network
Peter Jenkinson is administrator for UK – Music Sector Forum
PO Box 121, Stockport, SK6 5WB
w: http://www.musicsectorforum.org.uk
Regional networking with the Music Sector Forum
30th April 2007 Partnership Application on behalf of The Music Network to Digital central and many others in the past.

About the Author: Mark has been running a local independent record label called Iron Man Records, in Birmingham, since 1996, he set up the Birmingham Music Network in 2000, and organised over a 1000 gigs in Birmingham between 1994 and 2004. In addition he has played in many bands and some of them have taken him up and down the country and to parts of Europe in the back of a van. Mark works as a tour manager and driver for bands, runs a music distribution shop online and has worked as a mentor for Birmingham City Council Equal Project, helping people to develop a sustainable income from their activities in music. Recently Mark has lectured at BCU as part of their music business degree course, and enjoys a good game of mental chess with local funding organisations.

2 Comments

  1. Super post Mark! Now you’ve just gotta get the b******ds to listen. I have to say, I’m quite pleased with the arts council right now. They seem to be one of the few funded organisations that actually give money to musicians to grow their business. I agree with everything you say about useless projects run for the benefit of the project managers, and I’ve been thinking it for a long time.

    I would add to what you’ve said and suggest that investment and information is needed for venue owners and also potential music venue owners to show them how booking (and paying) live musicians can work. Also, I think there needs to be more local information available for musicians that want to organise their own gigs (types of licenses, suitable/friendly venues etc)

    cashflow is a serious problem for many musicians, especially when getting paid gigs is so hard. I think that that is an issue that should be put back on the agenda. As a musician, I don’t particularly want to live on funding, just sing and ply my trade, and we need a culture and a community that supports that. We should start with getting BCC to lead the example and pay performers for artsfest as they manage to pay everyone else, or at least work something out with the venues that are constantly packed with people over that weekend . Paying musians to play seems to be the elephant in the room that never gets discussed.

  2. Mark – I tried to reply to this…..

    What started for me as a relatively reasoned argument from someone who is really a fresh pair of eyes and relative outsider to the obvious nonsense that is present in those who function within the Birmingham music scene soon deteriorated into a bile-filled spiteful rant about what I see all around me while running the studio, rehearsal rooms, label, joint promotions, promotions and looking after the infrastructure and Pete :o).

    I have sent my diatribe to you directly instead but this is how it looks from a fresh pair of eyes at the edge of what is happening.

    Cheers for an excellent, if divergent and painfully long, piece :o)))

    A

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