It’s the very first ‘Music Connex’ an event that is designed to raise awareness and lift the lid on how to ‘DIY’ in the music business. A topic close to most musicians and indeed industry peoples hearts.
New events are potentially interesting and potentially fraught with risks. ‘What will it be like?’, ‘Who’s going?’ and ‘Is it worth the money?’ It’s a delicate balancing act for the organisers. Many people can be stand offish when considering a new event, some open minded and it can be a fine line between deciding to attend or not. One colleague of mine only goes to Midem each year and acknowledges he could have a full time job just attending music conferences and seminars if he accepted every invitation he got.
As a growing independent company who, are very proactive in the ‘new reality’ of the ‘new music business’, we decided to go ‘all in’. We sent 3 people to Music Connex. An artist, A producer and the Managing Director. Now that’s commitment.
A mixture of panels, workshops and networking opportunities promised much. We spread ourselves so that we attended virtually every panel and workshop and debriefed each day. Our objective was to look and listen and see if there was anything new, and to connect with people. We got the feeling that many of the key speakers were happy to evangelise DIY music but the reality is that no one actually stood up and told you how much time, money and sweat it takes to ‘do it yourself’ and that you have to be bordering on insane to take it on and DIY properly.
There’s a reason why record companies exist. To get the scale and reach they do, you can’t do it yourself unless you have a (very) big bag of money, very large industry network and the business and marketing nous to whip up ‘the perfect storm’ of campaigns in a congested and competitive marketplace.
Here at Definition, we do DIY but we do also work with labels and the wider industry within our Publishing, Management and Consulting interests.
Here’s what DIY means if you are an unsigned, emerging artist:
You are going to be banging your head against a very large brick wall for a long time. Only if you have lots of time, network, tenacity, some money and let’s not forget great music, will you be in the game. This is only the ‘price of admission’ – it does not get you to ‘table to play’. Let’s assume you have great talent, great music, perfectly recorded and produced and an easily identifiable target audience. How are you going to tell the world in any meaningful way?
There was a reoccurring theme at Music Connex: ‘It’s all about the music’. No. It’s at least all about the music, marketing, right team, timing and money. Your latest and greatest composition is no good to you if it’s destined only be played to your best mate. And his dog.
We should assume you are not a marketing expert…but you are going to need to be to some extent. If you are an ‘artist’ and only want to be an artist, get someone who gets marketing and promotion and has the will and desire (and time) to help you. In the ‘new music business’, the artist must also understand that you are in the business of music and this business has to be managed, regardless of whether you have budget or not, a label deal or not.
We have seen this ‘desire’ from an artist to tell the world about their music in action. It means teams of friends and family blogging, it means pressing the flesh and networking with CDs (yes, CD’s still work!), it means getting on any live bill that’s relevant, it means lots of research into where the opportunities for unsigned artists are (there are some contrary to what you might think) and going for it. It can mean sitting at a computer for days, weeks, months, applying for any opportunity you can, following up calls and NEVER giving in. In 1-3 years you might make some headway and then, if not sooner you may need to spend some money to promote yourself.
Still want to DIY?
A dear colleague of ours who we work with here at Definition Music just got 2 albums he worked on recently in a engineering and production capacity nominated simultaneously for a Mercury Music Prize. He’s extremely talented. It took (past sense) being a signed artist (recording/publishing) to a major indie, years of plying his trade, the patience of a saint and the sheer determination, sometimes against the odds and when ‘getting a proper job’ seems like the only thing to do just to get this recognition. That’s commitment.
Still want to DIY?
We paint a tough picture but it’s an honest picture. We are glad we attended Music Connex but this reality of DIY music was not well reflected. Maybe because the attendees might have walked out? Or maybe we, as industry believe that if you are ‘greatness personified’ then the industry will discover you. Unlikely. You have to make waves that turn into a Tsunami to ‘be discovered by accident’.
So ‘Connex was good overall, despite the slight lack of reality. We had specific objectives for attending. See if there were any tricks we were missing (there weren’t) and connect with lots of new people (we did). So after all our ramble, what of it, here’s the highlights:
- Good cross section of topics discussed in the panels. Discussions on getting gigs, how to win on You Tube, radio listening panel, how to make money, write songs and basically all the elements of being an artist were covered.
- The panellists themselves were strong, some were more comfortable in public speaking than others but there was a good cross section of the industry, for the most part. Some of the panellists were insightful and evangelised information that most people were not aware of, especially on the topic of fund raising.
- The chosen moderators were excellent, folks from You Tube, Music Week, Music Lawyers and more kept the topics flowing and relevant to the audience. Some were even entertaining…Jamie Dolling…you should have your own deadpan humour show.
- Kings Place as a venue in London was very good for an event this size and the organization was good.
- Attendance was very healthy but this was mostly from artists not industry.
Could Do Better:
- Ticket prices for most were a stretch. Corporate tickets at £300 were over priced, £150 if you were an individual which I heard many artists complaining about. We did hear un-confirmed stories that many people got free tickets to bolster the attendance.
- More industry please. The industry that was there were there to speak on panels for the most part and 50% of them left as soon as they could and 50% stayed to ‘meet and greet’ which was to be applauded.
- Where were the labels? Not one single major record label showed up to offer their views on the changing business or how they were going to work with artists and managers doing more for themselves.
- Networking opportunities. Lots of industry got out as soon as they could, there should have been a meet and greet of some kind. Credit to the folks who gave out their email addresses and openly engaged in receiving CDs and demos.
- Marketing opportunities for artists. This needed to be managed better, artists leaving piles of demo CDs all over the place was not pretty…or effective. How about an official goody bag everyday? At least the content would be managed.
- Facebook. Shame on your presentation. Worst of the event. Know your audience. Don’t try to sell the idea that paid advertising on Facebook is the way a struggling and skint emerging artist is going to find an audience. I can tell you that you won’t. Save your money.
- Choice of food and drink and the prices! Where was Pret A Manger and a Costa Coffee when you needed one?!
I hope there’s a ‘Connex next year but it’s going to have to evolve. We did get business done but we were there for broader reasons, most emerging artists probably walked away more daunted and confused than when they arrived. Daunted they should be, confused they shouldn’t. The subjects will need to be broader and the industry representation will need to be larger, have a deeper involvement and it will need some big hitters to get involved to take this event to the next level. If that happens, we’ll probably go again.