I just came back from Eurosonic, the continental version of The Great Escape, where lots of bands showcase their wares to a wide range of music professionals and lots of music professionals network with each other and attend panels discussing a wide range of issues relating to the business of music.
I got dragged to a panel by an A&R from BeNeLux. The very interesting panel would have been really cool if I could speak Dutch. Suffice to say, it sounded like mushic ish really good, yesh, ash long ash we shign intershting artishtish, yesh?
My apologies for my crude – and definitely lighthearted – national profiling! 😉
A label head from Sweden said Spotify is their main business. So long album sales, so long the vinyl revival. Scandinavia is technologically quite advanced, but it won’t take long for the rest of us to catch up.
Technology has always affected how artist create art. It drives art, in fact. Please don’t think that bands became album bands because the great spirit in the sky decreed that albums were an artist’s best mode of self expression. The ability to press 40 minutes of music onto two sides of plastic just made it the most convenient way to sell music to consumers, just as streaming is it right now.
When streaming takes over, artists able to create immediate, accessible and addictive tracks will rule more than ever. My humble suggestion to every artist of whatever genre is to learn to write those sort of songs. Or get a nice day job and hold on to it.
2. Standing Out
On the strength of the evidence of the past few days, many still think it’s really cool, edgy and original to wear skinny jeans, a checked shirt, a beard and a woolly beanie, while standing in front of a small keyboard, a drum pad or a laptop, making slightly electronic and ethereally atmospheric indie pop with wimpy vocals drowned in swathes of reverb. This, they are lead to believe, will blow the gates of hell wide open.
Discussing this stagnant state of affairs over a drink with someone I said that I had advised a band to attach pink dildos to their foreheads, if nothing else they could think of would make them stand out. I was told that a German band is already doing it. Wunderbar! Why am I not surprised…?
3. Looking Like A Rock Star
Recently, I met someone who plays Robert Plant in a Zeppelin tribute band. I swear, that guy looked more like a rock star than 99% of the bands playing at Eurosonic. Granted, not everyone has to have flowing golden locks, tight flares and a floral shirt unbuttoned all the way to their belly button to look like a star, but it helps. Bands that look like hipster gaming nerds are really unimpressive and boring.
4. Technical Solutions To Problems We Don’t Have
A networking event discussed this:” The ultimate goal for the [name of project] is to create the reference music digital ecosystem for music, where the entire value chain of a music fan is encompassed in an innovative and interactive way, allowing new business models for sustainable growth in the digital age.”
Honestly, what the fucking fuck does that even mean?
Our business does not have a technology problem. The problem, if there is one, is that it’s very hard to make a living out of art, and, with so much old art still kicking people’s asses, any new art better be very good if it is to become a person’s new favourite art.
With so many new people making new art, and art, in general, occupying less space in people’s entertainment mix, lots of perfectly adequate art by perfectly adequate artists is bound to be ignored by a public that doesn’t care.
No tech gadget will fix it. Only undeniably great art will.
5. Hyperbole vs Working For It
A Finnish artist whose 30m Spotify streams have made her a buzz act played a gig at Eurosonic. Truth be told, I didn’t care enough about the music to go, even if my patriotic duty told me I probably should have gone, but an acquaintance did make her way in. I asked her later what she thought of the artist. “Amazing!” was her enthusiastic reply. Raising a quizzical eyebrow I said: “Amazing?”. Knowing a little about her musical taste I found her answer a tad insincere. “Oh, I didn’t really like it, it wasn’t for me, but, you know, she was pretty interesting,” she said.
Like an unsigned band’s Facebook update about having “smashed it” last night, such hyperbole is empty. Tedious, even. The music business person won’t stick their neck out for something that was, in fact, only pretty interesting. The unsigned band won’t take out a loan from Wonga to finance their hit single, which they would do if they really were able to smash it.
The best bands truly, actually, honestly believe in themselves. The best music executives truly, actually, honestly love their artist’s music.
Both parties have to have the patience of angels, because they know it takes time to get it right.
6. It’s Hard Being A Band
One of the most poignant conversations I had was with the manager of a continental band who had, since I saw them at last year’s Eurosonic, had a national number 1 track, big radio songs – again, just locally – and a few tours. They still need part time day jobs to survive. Living in a new country where they don’t speak the language limits their employment options to cleaning toilets. They miss home and loved ones. Life is hard.
Their dilemma is that they are desperate to be a rock band whereas they’re more of a cool pop thing. The manager knows that they can continue as they are for only so long, before the band’s will dissolves. She also knows that if the band were willing to change direction, a whole new ballgame of opportunities would open up.
Her dilemma hit a personal nerve. Most of the really quite good and promising bands who we are interested in still need tinkering with, sharpening up, a refocus. But how do you get them to change? Is there an app for it?
Artists wanting to get into the business can rest assured that their hand will be bitten off if someone sees a commercial opportunity in them. Equally, if and when people make suggestions, they do so to affect change, to give the team the best possible chance of success.
Being the manager of a band whose main occupation is cleaning toilets is only a little bit nicer than being in the band itself.
Change. Adapt. Evolve. Give yourselves a chance.