Last week saw Liverpool’s annual music festival and digital business conference, Sound City take over the banks of the Mersey. Now in its fifth year, it’s bigger and better than ever. With some of the industry’s most knowledgeable professionals offering up their wisdom, the conference as always provided a great opportunity to meet up with like-minded people from all corners of the world, as well as rub shoulders with some legendary names. And as if that wasn’t enough, the city’s venues threw open their doors and welcomed 300 acts during the 3 day event, showcasing the best new music from across the globe.
Always keen to keep up to date with what’s going on in the industry and bring you the best advice from those in the know, we saw it our duty to head on over for the day and sit in on a couple of panels…and sample the free bar of course!
Panel 1: How Hard is it To Hit the Road?
Hosted in association with Generator, the panel was headed up with Jay Taylor (The Ruby Lounge), Revo (Club Evol) Steve Zapp (ITB), Jim Mawdsley (Generator/Evolution Festival) and Craig Pennington (Bido Lito!). With venues closing down and promoters in small towns struggling to break even, the panel was centred around assuring emerging talent that they can tour the country for the first time. They looked to explain the issues and talk about what was being done to resolve them.
Here’s a summary of the main points covered:
- With more and more venues cropping up across the country it would appear that they’re all fighting their own corner and holding their own but obviously the state of the live sector in the big cities is quite different to that of the smaller towns where venues are struggling.
- In terms of breaking new acts (i.e. promoters giving emerging acts a gig), it is becoming harder, whereas promoters might once have taken a chance on an act, recent economic pressures now make it more crucial than ever for gigs to break even which has understandably made a lot of promoters cautious when booking new acts.
- That’s not to say that there aren’t promoters still willing to take a punt; you’ll find that in-house promoters that work for a venue have a little more leeway as they can recoup money on the bar.
- Starting as a freelance promoter is tougher now too. Hiring venues and equipment is costly so it’s important that promoters look for other ways of creating revenue within the same sector – diversify and overlap your roles. For example, if you’re a dab hand at artwork and design, offer your services elsewhere and generate some extra income.
- Collaborating with other promoters is also a great shout, especially if you’re vying for the same acts anyway. Pool your talents together and you’ll find you have more time and resources to spend on the little details that will eventually mean more revenue.
- It’s important that promoters maintain that sense of developing music within their cities, whether they’re high profile cities or not. Wakefield being a prime example with its ever popular Long Division festival.
- It’s important that you don’t tour until you are ready, don’t rush it! You need to begin by making waves in your hometown first. A&R people are in touch with local promoters regularly finding out about who’s creating a buzz. Word soon gets around if you’re selling out shows and that’s only going to happen, realistically, in your local vicinity to begin with.
- There’s also something to be said about being, as the panel put it, a little ‘canny’, Wu Lyf serving as a prime example. The mystery that surrounded the band to begin with and the various Manchester gigs they put on played a great part in their, albeit brief, success. A bit of smoke and mirrors never harmed anyone, create your own story.
- You also need to think about the reasons WHY you want to tour. Is it because you have something specific to promote? Or just because you want the experience and the chance to get better whilst playing a set of gigs? Timing is crucial and a promoter or venue is less likely to book you again if you’ve had a poorly attended gig in the past.
- If and when you do decide the time is right to tour, you need to seriously think about your finances. Touring isn’t cheap, especially if you don’t really know what you’re doing. Assess your costs and save as much money beforehand as possible. Think about cost effective solutions, find out how other people have done it on a shoestring in the past. There are ways and means but they might not always be the most obvious options.
- There’s a tendency to rush and get a booking agent when touring becomes an option but you don’t always need one. Pull a few favours in to begin with, build your own relationships with promoters and learn from your peers.
- Don’t treat touring like a holiday! Partying like a rock star every night soon takes its toll both physically…and financially! Efficient touring is the name of the game – striking that balance to make sure you don’t burn yourselves out.
- Tailor your gigs; look at comparable scenes, play in places where you think people might get what you’re about. There’s no harm in picking and choosing your slots, have a strategy.
Panel 2 – Can You Really Manage?
Again, hosted in association with Generator, this discussion was all about whether artists can really manage themselves and make the correct decisions around who should be in their team. The panel consisting of David Bianchi (Reverend & the Makers, Charlie XCX and The Enemy), Dave Stone (Lulu James), Tim Smith (Crown Songs Ltd.), Tommas Arnby (Locomotion Entertainment) and Jim Mawdsley (Generator/Evolution Festival) reminding us that music managers will always steer the career of the most successful artists.
Here are a few of the main points raised:
- The panel decided that there were 3 primary things to consider when deciding whether or not to work with/manage an artist:
1. The artist needs to demonstrate that they’re able to do things for themselves at a grassroots level and they need to be actively creating a buzz for themselves.
2. There has to be a connection with the music; in other words the music has to be good! There has to be a certain level of musical potential otherwise there’s no point.
3. A manager also has to feel like they can bring value to that artist’s career in some capacity.
- In terms of whether you need management it’s once again a question of timing. Some people are already ‘out of the box’, so to speak, and definitely need that direction, whereas other artists take longer to develop. A good gauge that the time is right to think about looking for management is when various music companies start approaching you.
- Management can sometimes put people off, especially record labels, so it’s imperative that you don’t go in too quick and end up landing a manager that could be detrimental to your career. As the old saying goes “don’t judge an artist by their manager”!
- The relationship between a manager and artist is a partnership. It should be a mutual effort. It’s essential that it’s the right match as hopefully you’ll be working together for a long time.
- So what is the role of a manager? First and foremost – they’re not your personal assistant. They’re there to help you realise a vision and advise you to the best of their knowledge. The vast majority of artists are naïve when it comes to the music industry at the beginning and a good manager will help steer you through it. They’ll help you find your fans and monetise your creativity.
- Artist managers have to know the ins and outs of the music industry and have a broad knowledge base. If they don’t know the answers, they’ll know the right people to ask.
- There’s far more A&R involved in management than most people realise. A good manager will help boost your confidence and push you out of your comfort zone when it comes to the projects you’re involved in to aid your development.
- In terms of financial investment, you can’t expect all managers to have the necessary funds but they should be able to invest their invaluable time and skills instead.
- A manager’s role is also to help you manage your finances. Whilst record company advances are all well and good, the reality is that in 75% of cases it’s the last money you’ll see, few acts recoup. Any money you do receive should be budgeted to last for 3 years. You need to make it last.