The Great Escape Festival, to which I’ve been going for 6 or so years to see new bands, meet old business acquaintances and to make new ones, took place last weekend. Our annual showcase had a fantastic line up this year in Danny Starr, Vixans, Rock Bottom Risers, The Dabhands and The Mockingjays. It’s a privilege to be able to bring talented artists to the biggest showcase festival in the UK and have them play in front of a packed house, and, most of all, to have them so well received.
At the business conference that coincides with the showcases, a panel discussion on Brexit revealed that British bands can kiss goodbye to touring in Europe, if and when the excrement really hits the air conditioning on the introduction of restrictive and expensive visa schemes. All manner of other taxation issues and manufacturing problems will also arise. Not much positive was said about Brexit. Of course, big bands will continue to prosper, others will fare less well, which will, in all probability, be mirrored across the population. Speaking of politics, there is a clear choice available in the coming general election. My view is that voting for the ruling class will not make it any more likely that one will become of it. Just a thought.
Another panel discussed music PR in the changing landscape of music consumption. Gone is the 12 week run designed to get a fan to buy a record. Campaigns are longer and they drip feed music to consumers with the objective of keeping them constantly engaged with an artist. It makes sense when no one is buying albums and new music is streamed by the track on streaming services.
To deliver their part, artists need to provide more material such as acoustic tracks, cover versions and alternative mixes – anything and everything to keep “content” coming. Maybe music is fast becoming just content that fills a regular unit of time in a person’s semi-interested consumption habit, rather than the art it once was.
Pause to think. When a music journalist gets around 1000 emails a week and BBC Introducing gets around 500 newly registered artists per week, how is “content” going to break through in that environment? Surely, exciting, forward thinking, cool, edgy and awesome music would be a better bet.
Many of the gigs I went to also provided great live content, to coin a phrase. Bands knew exactly what a band is supposed to do and look like, and audiences knew where to whoop and holler accordingly. It has to be said to the credit of bands at TGE that they’re not as “manufactured” as their counterparts at some European showcase festivals. Things are a bit more gritty here.
I suspect that artists themselves are fast becoming “content”. I overheard a manager talking to his mate about a new band he’d signed. Asked what kind of a band they were, he struggled to describe them, but said: they’re like all those bands from Essex who are called Shboom or Lafalaloop, you know, that kind of thing! They both laughed heartily. I, too, thought it was funny. Apt.
In contrast, my old manager – from when I was in a band – used to speak of the sheer sense of awe and other worldly wonderment he felt when he first saw Jimi Hendrix. It was so powerful that it prompted him to seek a career in a business that didn’t really even exist at the time.
Over the decades that followed the business of music grew into a big business, creating an almighty myth about itself, which still informs the actions of new artists seeking careers in music. People still record demos and send them off to labels in the hope of a deal. They still believe it’s all about the “right management”, the “right shows”. Others speak of a “new music business” where artists do things on their own terms, of their own accord. They’re closer to the truth, but dismiss the necessity of team work as part of a value chain at their peril.
I saw a lot of gigs where semi-interested looking bands were banging half-heartedly on mini keyboards and pads in front of quarter-interested audiences. No one was getting into it. Like, really getting into it. It was all “we’re here doing our thing and we’re kind of doing it whether or not anyone likes it, including us”.
It’s a bit visionless and lacking in ambition. A little Shboom and Lafalaloop, don’t you think?