Music Industry Musings

Is it time to rethink the music industry’s 24/7 relationship with social media?

Billie Eilish, the 17-year-old superstar who’s the epitome of a modern artist in the digital era – with nearly 15 million followers online – has, on more than one occasion, decried social media. “Don’t post your feelings” is the advice she’d give herself back when her Instagram follower count was 1.8% the size it is now. She recently told ES Magazine that sharing things on the internet isn’t worth it. “It’s way better to be mysterious,” she said, which followed an interview on CBC where she declared the internet “poison,” adding: “Nobody does anything real anymore, if there’s no picture, it doesn’t happen.” This is an interesting perspective from someone who grew up oversharing on the internet – which has arguably helped her career reach stratospheric levels in a very short space of time.

Young artists are encouraged to be authentic and omnipresent online in order to build a connection with fans and increase their follower counts. This, in turn, helps them look legit to companies that might want to offer opportunities. Which all sounds sensical, but as Nils Frahm recently pointed out in a Facebook post announcing his imminent departure from the platform: “The picture repeatedly drawn to me is one where I cannot afford to leave Facebook because of the access to fans it represents. It feels like I’m being held hostage by a force out of my control.” Frahm says he instead wants to “imagine and construct a world where people like you and I find a different way of interacting with each other, without laptops on our knees or smartphones in our hands.”

Will this have an impact on the way his music reaches fans? History suggests not — good music will always cut through the noise. Take the viral track Sexual by NEIKED, which spread through the internet like wildfire despite no-one really knowing who made it. Then there’s the fact that Stormzy frequently deletes his Twitter account. Adele has a barely-there approach, as does Frank Ocean, who will simply post a photo every now and again on Instagram. In fact, if you look at most of the world’s top superstars, like Taylor Swift, Chris Martin, Drake and Ed Sheeran, all of them are very selective about what they share online – and it’s rarely personal. Exceptions to this rule include Ariana Grande and Post Malone – but even he issued a cry for fans to allow him some privacy and “let me live” on Twitter back in January. Couple this with evidence to suggest there’s a lot of fake Likes out there, and you start to wonder whether there’s any value for artists in spending a lot of time online at all.

There have been countless recent reports suggesting social media isn’t particularly good for the human brain. Multiple studies suggest there’s a sharp rise in people being treated for mental health problems globally, and last year the NHS reported record figures in children and young people suffering from anxiety, depression and eating disorders. The influence of social media was cited as one of the key causes. In Notes on a Nervous Planet, author Matt Haig talks about a ‘technology overload’. He writes that taking himself away from the noise online helped him recover from a period of depression. In January, an article by Buzzfeed titled ‘How Millennials Became the Burnout Generation’ raised the interesting phenomenon of “errand paralysis” which might sound like an inventive term for laziness, but is actually the result of burnout thanks to a feeling of needing to work all the time, which is exacerbated by the fact that social media is always there, waiting to be fed. If your job involves some element of promotion, it’s even harder to ever switch off.

Cast your mind back to earlier generations, pre-internet, when daily life was less convoluted, and it’s not hard to imagine why today’s ‘always on’ mindset might be quite taxing for the brain, which remains the same size as it always has been. Atlantic co-Head of A&R Alec Boateng discussed the impact of this on artists during a panel at Urban Development’s Industry Takeover in February. “I’m one of those weirdos who feels like artists are special and they need a bit of protection, and what they give to the world needs protection. It’s weird because we ask them to interact with people while trying to protect their ability to create something special, and there’s not much of a middle ground to do that with a lot of people to be honest,” he explained.

“Even for artists early on in their career who are figuring out what they are good at, they then look at artists doing similar things [on social media], look at what they are achieving and whatever they deem is successful happening to them quicker and they get confused. I always say you’re letting the noise in; please just focus on being good at what you do and growing your art or your tour or nurturing your own talent. That requires patience for an artist and a faith in their talent to pull them through, which isn’t an easy thing to do when you are being told that you didn’t look good at that awards show, or people have got opinions on your girlfriend or that freestyle which [they say] wasn’t as good as the last.”

So why are artists still encouraged to constantly share their lives online and get those follower counts up? It’s bad for mental health, and anxiety and depression are not conducive to creative productivity. While some things have changed, the basic nature of how a music career is built remains the same — make good music and perform it well, and people will come. A funny tweet does not a fanbase make. Yes, concentration spans are limited, and there are lots of other things aside from music that fans can decide to direct their attention to instead. However, letting people discover something for themselves is a tactic that has worked quite well in the UK for decades — we are a nation who does not like to be told what to like. In addition to ensuring happier and more creative artists, holding back online – and creating a sense of mystery – might actually help artists cut through the wealth of in-your-face noise that’s out there in the long run.

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Is thinking UK-first helping or harming British artists abroad?

Historically, what has the British music business been brilliant at? Producing culturally distinctive pop superstars whose talent and relatability has traversed borders. In recent years, that’s Adele, Sam Smith, Ed Sheeran, One Direction, Florence + the Machine, Mumford & Sons and Coldplay, following in the footsteps of greats like George Michael, Elton John and the Beatles. In the last two years, however, that hit rate has slowed. In 2017, Sheeran was the only UK act in the IFPI’s annual global recording artist top 10; will there be any British entries in that list for 2018? At home it’s a similar story – at the end of Q3, just two British acts appeared in the Official Albums Chart top 10 YTD list (George Ezra at No.2 and Arctic Monkeys at No.8).

There are a few explanations as to why this change in fortunes might have occurred. Firstly, music is cyclical and British hip-hop, R&B and rap has been having a long-awaited moment in the spotlight – though one which hasn’t yet set the US on fire. Secondly, I’ve heard complaints about a lack of support within the British media for straight-forward pop acts, who either have to appear ‘edgy’, or gain success in wider Europe before gatekeepers back home roll out the red carpet. Despite a clearly receptive audience for mainstream pop, labels are being left with fewer promotional avenues.

This can be seen in the fact that Dua Lipa had chart success in continental Europe before her breakout hit, Be the One, was playlisted by radio stations in the UK. George Ezra broke through Italy with Budapest, and it was a similar story for Rag N Bone Man. He first won radio support in Germany, which is also where Tom Walker broke through after his song Leave a Light On was used in a Sony advert. Thirdly, the global nature of streaming services, and Global Release Day, means that competition for playlist positions – one of today’s key routes to market – is truly worldwide, resulting in a very limited amount of space for British acts.

Global Release Day was widely supported by the industry back in 2015, when IFPI CEO Frances Moore said an aligned day for new music meant that fans in different countries wouldn’t feel like they were missing out. The ‘sell’ was that Global Release Day would lower the risk of piracy, and re-awaken the sense of ‘event’ around the release of new music. For all these upsides, Global Release Day removed yet another point of difference for UK artists. To borrow a phrase from YouTube champion Lyor Cohen, have there been ‘unintended consequences’ for British music? By aligning so closely with a huge market like the US, new UK artists are at a higher risk of getting buried under the weight of their Stateside counterparts.

On a global platform, US releases will naturally rule the charts, thanks to a larger population and key relationships with the biggest playlists. In the words of a quote I recently heard attributed to Mo Ostin: “The key to a No.1 is to make something appear to be No.1 first… What is the world’s favourite form of transport? The bandwagon, godammit!” More streams equals more and more streams, hence Drake spending a cumulative 29 weeks at No.1 on the UK’s singles chart over the last two years.

All of this isn’t to say that there aren’t any British acts making waves overseas. Dua Lipa is a big breakout story with three million album sales globally, and she could make that IFPI top 10 this year (despite her album being released in 2017). Ella Mai is the new name on everyone’s lips after hitting No.5 on the US Billboard 200 with her debut. Freya Ridings just secured a deal with Capitol, Rex Orange County sold out a North American tour in just one day earlier this year and Glassnote have high hopes for the hugely talented Jade Bird. However, Dua Lipa aside, none of these acts are being developed by a British major label. Ella Mai is Interscope first, Polydor second; Freya Ridings is independent at home with Good Soldier; Rex Orange County, while managed by a British company, is independent (despite fierce interest from labels on both sides of the Atlantic); and Jade Bird was signed by Daniel Glass in New York.

One of the observations made by executives I spoke to for an article on this subject for the Guardian is that while the world is more global than ever, the UK music industry may actually be becoming more local. This can arguably be seen in the wealth of developing British talent hitting Top 40 in the UK, including Dave, Mabel, Not3s, B Young and Kojo Funds. All are playing a big role in the strength of the local (and European) music market, but have a hard task attracting support on global stage when competing with superstars like Drake, Nicki Minaj and Post Malone. Are British record labels creating enough of a point of difference with their signings? And can these signings, given due time and patience, cut through in America?

One very successful artist manager spoke recently to MBW about the danger of the UK becoming an insular A&R fiefdom. “If we’re not careful, the UK is going to become Belgium,” he said. “We’re going to be giving out Gold records that mean nothing anywhere else. In my opinion, in the modern streaming industry, that approach puts you on a hiding to nothing.”

This column featured in the Q4 2018 edition of the quarterly MBUK magazine, details for which you can find here

Equality on a conference stage

Alongside the wider music business, industry conferences have been under scrutiny for the lack of diversity within speaker line-ups in recent years. The criteria for those chosen to appear on stage generally values seniority and time in the business, and because the music industry isn’t very diverse at the top, that results in many all male panels.

An excellent article by journalist Cherie Hu measured the scale of the problem across 2017 editions of 13 music conferences of note, and found that 73% of the total 1,644 speakers were male. There’s evidence to suggest not much has changed in 2018. Of the 292 speakers listed at four conferences – Midem in France, Future Music Forum in Barcelona, NY:LON Connect in London and Pollstar Live in Los Angeles — 26% were women, and 74% were men.

Nothing changes overnight and it’s going to take a long time before there’s equal representation at the top because it takes proper nurturing and retirement before women can take a fair share of those senior positions. However, there is far more equality within the lower ranks of the totem pole. In the UK, the gender pay gap figures published earlier this year showed that while the average top-earning quartile across Universal, Sony and Warner is 69% male and 30% female, the average lower-middle earning quartile across the three labels drops to 56% male and rises to 44% female.

So in order to get equal representation at conferences, those who book speakers should be looking across all levels of people working in the business. The music industry is catering to the world: the young, the old and the in-between. Which is why it’s important that a voice is given to people from all those categories, as well as equal gender and ethnic backgrounds. If there’s a lack of representation at the top, which we know there is, why not give chances to a more diverse group lower down the ranks?

Some conferences seem to be doing just that… only to retract offers made to women if a ‘more senior’ guy becomes available, even after those women have accepted. Alongside my own experience, I’ve heard similar stories across three conferences from more than five other sources within my limited network of this trend. First of all, it’s rude and insulting to ask and then replace (especially for those who have, for the most part, kindly agreed to give their time and expertise for free). Secondly, years in the industry as the main qualifier excludes the wealth of value in different perspectives and experiences. Which is how you end up with a lack of diversity in the first place. Is equal value being place on everyone’s time and expertise? And if not, why not?

As music business consultant Lara Baker wrote about here, women are more likely to turn down speaking gigs because they feel they haven’t got the required expertise. I can say the same goes for being interviewed in the trade press. So it can take a lot of courage to accept in the first place — to then be bumped from the programme might mean the answer is no next time, and the lack of equal representation continues. Those in the minority are doing their part to improve the status quo by accepting the offer. Those who are being paid to make the decisions have a responsibility to make sure speakers feel valued and respected, and keep on saying yes.

Include yourself

When are we taught business skills that equip us for the world of work? Like how to negotiate pay rises, deal with people we clash with in the office, and make sure our voices are heard in what can often be intimidating environments. More often than not, we begin our careers with very little idea on how to conduct ourselves professionally, and muddle along until mistakes prove to be hard lessons learned.

We know that there’s a gender imbalance in the upper echelons of the music industry. There’s also more than enough evidence to suggest there’s historically been a culture of sexism in the way that the women that do work in the business are treated. Hopefully that’s changing, as dated attitudes leave with the older executives who hold them and companies make diversity a priority. But it’s also the responsibility of those who feel marginalised to be confident and take no shit, in as professional a manner as possible.

Someone who knows loads about that is comedian, corporate speaker and executive coach, Deborah Frances-White, and freelance hostage negotiator (yes, that’s her real job), Suzanne Williams. They both offered advice on how to be assertive in work, public speaking and negotiating during a leadership event in London called Include Yourself in May. Read on for the highlights.

Include yourself

What kind of person do you turn into when you don’t feel included: whether that’s in a social gathering or a board meeting. Quiet, intimidated, and certainly not the best version of yourself, right? In an ideal world, we’d forget our pack mentality in the workplace and everyone would feel on equal footing. That’s not the world we live in, and it’s natural to feel isolated and afraid to speak up when outside of a clique.

So unless you’re lucky enough to be in a very progressive professional environment, you must include yourself. The first step to doing that is thinking about the uniqueness that you bring to the table, and then learning techniques that trick yourself into no longer feeling intimidated, says Frances-White. Then, practice being your best self for three months in order for it to become authentic and habitual. Once you’ve worked your way into the ‘pack’, you’ve got the power to include others.

Physicality

Consider the movements of a gazelle and lion. One is very swift and jumpy, the other strong and calm. “The patriarchal structure of society trains women in being authentic Gazelle-like selfs, but we can train that out,” Frances-White explains. That gazelle-like behaviour can be seen in speaking too fast, apologising when it’s not needed, being unable to stand still and backing away. 

If you focus on appearing physically larger by standing up straight and taking up space, breathing deeply, speaking slowly and replacing that inner critic with positive thoughts, your brain will be tricked out of intimidation because your body isn’t doing the things it does when it feels intimidated.

Frances-White adds: “Movements triggered by anxiety are just biochemistry – you can exacerbate the loop, and you can also cut it off.” In other words, if you start shaking, and then worry about shaking while wishing the ground would swallow you up, it’s only going to get worse. If you instead force your body to do what it does when you feel naturally confident, your movements and stature will become a self-fulfilling prophecy. 

Public speaking and presentations

Fear of public speaking is basically the fear of getting eaten, according to Frances-White. It makes sense; standing alone in front of a crowd of beings staring at you does have an element of hunters versus hunted about it. So “when standing, put your weight on your front foot—it’s hard to look scared of people when you’re coming towards them,” Frances-White explains. “The person on stage is naturally a gazelle, but if you have purposeful movements, you become a lion.”

After you’ve established your status as leader-of-the-pack, don’t ruin it by a crap slide. Instead, present like you would tell a story in the pub. Include the worst bits and the best bits, use your emotions, words, face and voice, and leave Powerpoint well alone unless a pictorial element is definitely required (not a stock photo, people are not inspired by stock photos).

Says Frances-White: “Powerpoint sucks all the stories out and replaces them with abstract ideas that nobody can understand, like stats. Using slides or lecterns to hide behind will only make anxiety worse.” For more public speaking tips go here

Leadership

When it comes to leadership, people respond to positivity so get good at working out what’s good about those around you. In the words of Frances-White: “Stop being self conscious, when you can be conscious.” So enter a conversation or meeting by expanding on a good point someone else has said, and quell difficult characters by asking their opinion and praising their values. There’s always something someone else knows that you don’t.

Frances-White continues: “All difficult people want is status, so give it to them by being sincere about what a good thing was. That’s the most powerful leadership style. Aggression is not a good leadership style—a leader is someone you want to look at, and a manager is someone you don’t want looking at you.”

Consider how pilots react over the tannoy to delays: positive, calm and jovial. Now think about how taxi drivers react in the face of traffic… “Pilots are rigorously personality trained to make sure passengers feel calm and safe in situations that trigger anxiety, taxi drivers are not. So be a lion flying a plane.”

Negotiating skills

Asking for a pay rise or extra benefits at work is a pretty terrifying and potentially soul destroying experience. Thankfully, there are lots of tactics to make it less so. Going into a meeting fully prepared is the first step—so know exactly what you want to ask for, which isn’t always money (with a plan B in case that doesn’t work), justify that with what your value is to the business (with facts and data, if applicable), and try and get a sense of what you might be up against so there’s no surprises (does the company have budget?).

Then, pick your moment. Suzanne Williams, whose finely-honed negotiating skills have literally saved lives, says: “This is not an around the water fountain type of conversation. So make an appointment—statistically, Thursday is the best day to ask for a pay rise—get your evidence, check around with local recruiters to see if you’ve got better than the going rate, because you may be onto a good thing and you don’t know it. If not, I’d ask for a tiny bit more than you really want so there’s some wiggle room.”

Avoid comparing yourself with others that might be being paid more, especially when reasoning with a child-like ‘But it isn’t fair!’, don’t get personal and be in control of your own emotions. According to Williams, the other common mistakes to avoid are: “Not knowing what you really want, treating it as a fight, using the blame game, not taking responsibility, not listening and being selective about what you want to hear.

It’s not a battle, ideally you both want to win. Once you’ve made it personal you are not on the winning side. You shouldn’t really make any threats but you’ve got to be prepared to carry them out if you do. It should be about what’s in it for the company, it’s not about you. The moment you make it about you, ‘need and greed,’ you’ve lost it.”

Frances-White and comedian Athena Kugblenu role-played negotiating for a pay rise as part of this episode of The Guilty Feminist podcast with Williams rating their efforts. I’d highly recommend you listen to the episode in full, which can be purchased for a mere £5. You’ll find more tips on how to be a boss woman in the music industry here.

Five ways the music industry can achieve long-term sustainability

The music industry is quite unique in the fact that its existence is predicated on the creative output of human beings. Quite often, that creative output is the result of dealing with the hardest things we have to go through in life. In previous decades, when money from CD sales seemed evergreen, there was a lot of space and resource for patience and care when it came to A&Ring those creatives. In 2017, when the music industry is run by three major corporations whose primary business is not music and profits have halved, it’s not hard to imagine the pressure that might create.

The digital revolution has changed the parameters of success and hugely decreased money earned from record sales. That should mean, in practice, major labels signing fewer acts and focusing their attention on a small roster. Stats suggest it’s the opposite. In the UK, new artist deals in 2014 were 30% up on the 120 signed in 2013 and the highest annual total since 2009. Of the 156 new artist deals signed in 2014, nine debut albums reached gold status. That’s a hit rate of 5.7%, according to MBW. While we don’t have similar figures for last year, we do know that only one debut album released in 2016 hit gold. That wasn’t fresh and innovative music written and performed by the next Bowie or Madonna, it was 13 covers of swing classics sung by TV personality Bradley Walsh (the host of ITV gameshow The Chase).

Laura Mvula, who was recently dropped by Sony label RCA after three albums (including her live album with the Metropole Orkest), has her own idea as to why this environment might exist. “I think fear is behind a lot of what we thrust in people’s faces,” she explains. “Very often, me and my manager would present a vision [to the label] that would be met with scepticism and almost a prediction of failure. My orchestral album wasn’t something that everyone got on board with as a transitional record, but when it came out, we played it for the first time as part of the BBC Proms to a sold out Royal Albert Hall. It was a really important part of my creative journey.

“One of the things that shocked me when I got signed was how quickly things change within the machine and how fast people move around. That must be terrifying for those people working within that because you’re not operating from a place of confidence and faith in something, you are fighting for your life most of the time which can lead to rash or inaccurate and unmusical predictions. I’m sure that’s not the total picture but that’s what I’ve witnessed so far. I’m not sure how in touch the people that are in charge are with the artistic heart of the music industry.”

Mvula’s referring to the major industry, and there are many independent labels, publishers and management companies that aren’t as beholden to financial targets. However, with lower revenues, they are faced with their own pressure to stay afloat and an acquisition cheque from one of the major corporations would be understandably tempting to any struggling CEO. In this environment it’s perhaps more important than ever to step back and consider the duty of care the music business has to those that work within it, in order to ensure it continues doing what it has historically been good at; helping artists create music that’s exciting and made with passion, and delivering that to the general public. It’s not just the artists that need looking after, it’s also the managers, A&Rs, PRs, publishers and wealth of young and overworked executives.

So how do we do that? A conversation about mental health has happened recently, and that’s great because it encourages open discussion about a widespread problem that’s previously been shrouded in shame. However, the pressurised culture and the impact that has on creativity is only going to change if everyone working in the music industry takes practical steps towards a brighter future. Here’s some suggestions.

Stop being busy

Why is staying late in the office and working all hours hailed as vital for progression? Why are we sending and answering hundreds of emails a day? Why do we have our emails linked up to our phones outside of office hours? Why do those working at a computer use spare time to spend more time at a computer on social networks, watching YouTube videos or whatever? When you’re in a meeting listening to music, how many of those around you are on their phones instead of closing their eyes and focusing? All the above kills our concentration span and makes lateral thinking incredibly hard.

Creative consultant Clare Scivier, who has recently launched a charity that provides health and wellbeing coaching to the music industry called Your Green Room, offers a suggestion: “If you ask someone questions with a hand in front of their face, they can’t think. You need to take time out, breathe, get a glass of water, go outside and get some air. That’s when you start to [be able to strategise] and plan things. If you’re in crisis mode, there’s going to be a crisis.”

Have passion and belief

It’s no secret that once a track or artist breaks, A&Rs are told to ‘find something that sounds like [insert artist here]’. Signing decisions are supposed to be based on passion and belief in talent, not on what’s gone before. Scivier says that finding who you are and what makes you tick makes it easier to know what talent you should work with. “How do you know you love something? You can feel it in your chest, and repulsion comes from the same place,” she explains. “Things go wrong when you don’t really believe in something. 97% of things that are signed fail, and that’s because we sign everything. Record labels sign far too much to cope. If we only signed the 3% everyone would be much less stressed and happier.”

Huge amounts of money is wasted on all those signings, and a lack of direction based on gut feeling furthers that even more. Scivier adds: “When everyone wants to sign something, all the labels jump on, the price goes up and they never recoup. It becomes this big fight and suddenly the track some guy has made for nothing in his backyard has been signed for £200,000. There’s so much pressure before tracks are even finished.”

Define long term goals

Scivier uses Time Line Therapy to talk through the realities of what a goal or idea would mean. It can alleviate indecisiveness and stop problems happening further down the line when the artist or members of their team are faced with a reality they’re not comfortable with. Having a clear strategy with goals to tick off along the way helps maintain focus. In our internet age, we’ve got tonnes of choices. Make life easier by whittling them down.

What you want to achieve and what you’re willing to sacrifice in order to get there is vital to define. Does the artist want to be a worldwide superstar? If so, are they willing to live a life on the road and be in the public eye at all times? Do you want to be a rich executive? Are you cool with working all hours and sacrificing time with your friends and family in order to get to the top? Perhaps one day you’ve had enough and want to give everything up and live on a farm. If so, you’re going to have to wake up early every day to feed the animals and clean up their poo. And how will your goals and aspirations change with age and responsibilities?

Treat artists like athletes

Athletes have a crew with physiotherapists, behavioural psychologists and nutritionists. Artists have people to further their career and little support when it comes to mental health and wellbeing, despite undergoing what is often a gruelling touring and promotion schedule (especially when most income is made playing live instead of from record sales). If the industry wants to nurture and maintain career artists, support for mental as well as physical health should be part of a signing package.

“Professional footballers have an entire crew to look at every element,” Scivier explains. “If you walk into a record company, there’s a press department and marketing, but there’s nothing about physical health at all. Artists have to be athletes these days physically and mentally, they have to be resilient. British Airways cabin crew have rules about how long they can fly and how many days off they have. DJs and artists don’t. It’s treated far too much as ‘you’re having it good now, and it could all be over tomorrow.’ We need to consider the long term rather than quick, cash in while we can, because these artists are being burnt out.”

Invest in the next generation of execs

Passionate mavericks like London Records founder Tracy Bennett and former Chrysalis boss Doug D’Arcy created real movements in the ’80s and ’90s. Neither of the execs were known for their employability. Music companies should be recruiting and nurturing the next generation of mavericks, and give them the time and space to learn from their mistakes. Hiring people from all walks of life is also vital in catering to a diverse general public, and unpaid internships won’t do that.

Sarah Stennett summed this up with a recent call to arms while accepting her Music Week Strat Award: “I think it’s important for us to embrace those people who think differently. In the noise and endless discussion around technology, platforms, streaming and marketshare, I feel that we have forgotten the importance of the people. It’s the people who are the heart of this business,” she said.

“Let’s support the young people. Let’s allow them to express themselves, let’s help guide them through their mistakes. To all the young people in the room who aren’t always able to express themselves in a room full of experienced executives, or who aren’t heard even if they do, and to all of us who are navigating the uncharted waters of a rapidly changing industry, I encourage you to be brave, to embrace your individuality and, in the words of my father, hang on in there.”

This article originally appeared on Synchblog

How to be a boss woman in the music industry

The music industry is hugely homogenised. In the UK, all three heads of the major record labels are men, and there’s just three women occupying power positions among the major’s sixteen frontline imprints. A&R wise, there are a handful, at best, of females scouting and developing talent. It’s not dissimilar in the indie sector either: amongst the fourteen significant labels, there’s two powerful women, and publishing and management isn’t any better.

Quite rightfully, the music industry has been hit with a barrage of criticism for its lack of diversity. Race is as much a problem as gender, as is the lack of class representation. As WIN CEO Alison Wenham explains, “A male-dominated club-culture is what the music business started out with. As it became more powerful and defined it was reliant on a constant feed of university educated middle class kids who came through via unpaid internship programmes.” It can be seen in the industry’s output, and the lack of truly exciting and innovative breakthrough acts coming from the major labels. We are in dire need of some different ears.

I’m a white woman who works across two very male, white and middle class industries: journalism and the music business. So I’m just about qualified to tackle the gender problem. Firstly, I applaud the articles calling out sexism, the women-only award ceremonies, and the conversation that’s started recently. However, I can’t help but feel that the only way anything’s going to change imminently is if the men in charge care enough to implement special measures.

So, some advice for those men: take steps to ensure your recruitment process isn’t influenced by subconscious bias, have a zero-tolerance policy to sexism at work, include any females in the ‘pack’ (if there is one), let them know they can talk to you about anything and take them seriously when they do. Understand you may have to change the style of communication you’re used to, and make sure their hard work is recognised. Also, obviously: pay them the same as their male counterparts, accept the fact they might take time off to have a baby at some point and find ways of working around it. What advice is there for the women who have a chance of breaking through the music industry’s glass ceiling?

Don’t talk about it in the office

In the words of power manager Sarah Stennett, don’t talk about gender issues in the office. “It’s like nepotism, you might have to work twice as hard, you might have to show that you are more committed, but my advice is basically keep going,” she says. “If it becomes something that’s making your life a misery and you feel that you can’t achieve what you want to in the role that you’re in because of some sort of male/female issue, find another job that will recognise your talent, respect what you do and support you in achieving your potential.

“Nobody needs to hear people complaining about the reasons why they are not doing well, it can very easily become an excuse and sound like a whinge. You have to make your own destiny, create your own boundaries and live your life to achieve your dreams.”

But don’t stand for discrimination

In the same vein, digital exec Sammy Andrews, who started her career as a tour manager and left her position as Head of Digital at Cooking Vinyl last year to set up a data analytics business, says she’s powered through by refusing to accept bias and standing her ground in negotiations.

“I worked with Annie Lennox for ten years and she taught me a lot about being a woman in the industry. You just have to get on with it and don’t accept [discrimination]. I used to have the worst rows about my salary, ‘How much are you paying him? Then you pay me the same!’ and that’s the way you’ve got to take it. And fuck apologising for ourselves, honestly. No matter who you are, know your worth. Take control of what you want to do and don’t stand for it.”

Stop apologising

Comedian and career coach Deborah Francis-White was given a challenge during this episode of the Guilty Feminist podcast. She had to ring somebody up who could be helpful to her career and ask for a meeting without apology or qualification. Francis-White rehearsed what she was going to say on the call, which was: ‘I’ve just won the Writers’ Guild award for Best Radio Comedy and a lot of people are calling me and asking me what I’d like to do next. I thought to myself, ‘Who do I want to work with? I don’t just want to be reactive’ and I thought I want to most work with you (which is true).

“I said I have some ideas, didn’t say they were good or otherwise, and I want to pitch them to you. I would like to meet you next week for a coffee. The man said, ‘Oh that’s so nice, that’s really flattering.’ He was so happy and then he started pitching himself to me and explaining why I wanted to work with him.

“In the comedy world there is a part of me that goes, ‘I know that I am a woman and I know that that’s often seen as an obstacle, I don’t know that this person wants to hear from me so I don’t make the call. Today I made the call, it was really great and I have a meeting next week.”

When making deals and pitching ideas forget ‘Can I borrow some of your time?’ ‘I’d like to pitch you something’ ‘I’ve got an idea you might like’ and instead present the deal. Don’t apologise, or, if you really need to, do it once. Just see how empowered you feel.

We need to sing better songs

Men have ten times more testosterone than women and testosterone is a very powerful self-promoter because it makes you think you are better than you are, Francis-White continues. “It’s a biochemical lie to make you think you can catch a woolly mammoth when you can’t. I see board rooms all the time where the men come in and they’ve just won a big deal or developed a product. They stand up in front of all their peers and bosses and go, ‘Okay, so as you can see here from the first powerpoint slide… I saw the beast and the beast was scary but the beast didn’t get me, I fought the bears, I killed the beast and I brought it home for tea.’

“Then a woman will stand up, who does not have a biochemical lie telling her she’s a rock star, and go: ‘As you can see from the first slide… I’ve got a beast but it was kind of old, it was probably going to die anyway, sort of fell down in front of me… team effort?’ We’ve got to start singing better songs ladies.” Amen.

A final note: women need to be nice to one another, never competitive and combative. Stick up for fellow females in meetings and private conversations and see strengths not weaknesses. Refuse to feel threatened. There is so much strength to be found in solidarity and encouragement. It also feels really good.

How do we solve Britain’s ‘boring’ music scene?

Much has been made about the stagnant UK charts and dearth of British breakthrough acts in 2016. And rightfully so, by this time last year, James Bay, Years and Years and Jess Glynne were success stories from the British isles. Debut albums released in 2014 from Sam Smith and George Ezra were still topping the charts, and Ed Sheeran was doing so with his second, as were third albums from Florence and the Machine and Mumford & Sons. This year we’ve had first albums from Jack Garratt and Blossoms do fairly well plus Zayn, but he’s been launched from the US. 

Everything is cyclical, and this year is without a doubt a time when albums from US acts have overshadowed everything else worldwide. But what about The 1975? They hit #1 in the US and UK with their second album and French act Christine & the Queens has truly broken with her debut thanks to a high-profile TV performance and Glastonbury slot. Entrepreneurial grime artist Skepta won the Mercury Music Prize for his fourth record, and Ed Harcourt, who has been independently managed and signed by Sean Adams for four years, got a deal with Polydor to release his excellent seventh album Furnaces to much admiration. Also: Adele. I don’t think it’s a fluke all those artists have independent roots.

This isn’t about to turn into a major label bashing argument. It looks glamorous from the outside but it’s really hard to work at a major. The pressure is always high thanks to the constant presence of cash counters at the top, and those in charge are doggedly competitive with rivals. Being creative is a risk, and requires a lot of time. Scouts have weekly meetings to come up with the goods.

A&Ring at a major label is the equivalent of requiring a very fragile flower to grow into its full potential overnight. And if it doesn’t, you go into work expecting to be fired. It’s a lot easier to sign something that past evidence has proved popular than it is to spend someone else’s money on something that’s different and may or may not be interesting to the wider public. Because then you’ll probably get to keep your job and make sure you and your kids are warm, fed and clothed.

The business isn’t swimming in money like it was pre-digital revolution when the likes of Culture Club, Rolling Stones, David Bowie, Oasis, the Beatles and Spice Girls were making history. So the focus has shifted from creativity and innovation to clawing back as much profit as possible by appealing to the mass market. The mass market loves radio-friendly pop tunes from Justin Bieber, Adele and Drake. Says veteran manager Simon Napier-Bell: “One of the big changes you’ve seen in last 10 years is that record companies are run more and more by straight-laced people like accountants and lawyers who are thinking profit, not creative, so pop music gets a little bit more boring and less off the wall. Previous bosses were music fans who just happened to make their way to the top of the company.”

Independent labels (and managers), however, don’t have parent companies that expect them to grow profits year on year. There’s usually one guy (and it’s always been a guy) that genuinely loves music and has worked out a way of making enough money to keep him, his small team and artists afloat, thanks to private financing or luck. The 1975 are a prime example. Their manager Jamie Oborne has worked with them for nearly ten years, and signed them to his own label four years ago when every major turned them down (the music was apparently “confusing”). A licensing deal with Polydor was eventually signed prior to the release of their debut in 2013, which also hit #1.

Can you imagine Universal, Sony or Warner waiting as long as Oborne did for a debut album? They want it within a year or two. And The 1975 needed those six+ years of getting better at gigging and writing before they were ready to launch. As a result of financial support and more, that launch was absolutely incredible when it arrived. Let’s say the band didn’t have Oborne’s backing and that no-one else, including the majors, were interested. How would they have funded their lives? And had enough time, energy and space to learn to be great and creative if they’d had full-time jobs simultaneously? Charmingly, when Oborne offered his services as manager, they asked, “How much does it cost because we don’t have any money.” In the words of A$AP Ferg, you need capital to last in the game.

There’s talk about the lack of small venues being a reason for a decline in homegrown acts. I don’t think that’s it. I think it’s that the only musicians who can afford the time it takes to learn to be amazing and find out what they want to say over a long period of time – the real deal always write – are the rare few who have funding from somewhere, and, ideally, belief and patience from someone. That formula is not easy to find. There are the major label A&Rs who only want you when you’re ready, the indie execs who’ll sign you if you inspire them but may not be able to provide enough funding for you to quit working, and those rare finds like Oborne and Adams who’ve dedicated their lives to making something they believe in successful. Artists like Skepta exist with or without the industry.

Those who are lucky enough to get backing from a well-financed indie label face more obstacles when it comes to exposure. They then have to compete with major artists who have even bigger-moneyed marketing campaigns, worldwide infrastructure and relationships with radio stations, TV bookers and budget for pluggers. They’re hit again at streaming services where the three majors own their own playlist brands and there’s routine reports of major label dominance on Spotify’s own curated lists. On its All New All Now list playlist this week, for example, seven out of 30 entries are indie. That’s 23%. It’s not because the majors are making better quality music.

So what’s the answer to Britain’s ‘music problem’? We can tell the major label A&Rs to have more patience and take more risks, and I think they’d say they’d love to do that. But that’s only going to happen if the culture of their company gets a complete revamp. Firstly, the diversity problem must be addressed immediately. That can only happen if you literally throw out all the staff and start again with a new recruitment procedure that isn’t influenced by unconscious bias and unpaid internships. Many different perspectives from all walks of life would bring music to the public that they didn’t even know they liked that isn’t ‘boring’ pop or dance. Case in point: Christine & the Queens first broke in France, and her French label head then used his UK operation to do the same in Britain.

Strict targets are never going to be conducive to the creative process, and a nurturing approach to signees needs to be adopted and adhered to at all times. One or two acts per A&R at any one time is enough. The indie community must then be given equal opportunities for radio play, streaming playlisting, TV appearances, sync deals and other kinds of promo. In a perfect world, the indies and majors work together to share data and expertise. It’s a tall order, isn’t it. And it’s the major label shareholders who can make it happen. I’m just not sure how much they care.

The state of music and mind

This feature was written for autumn 2016 edition of The Musicians’ Union magazine

The lifestyle of a working musician may not afford much time for mental healthcare but evidence suggests music-makers should exercise extra caution when it comes to matters of the mind. Late night gigs and the temptations they bring, hectic touring schedules, and the transition from stage to sofa all take a tool on the human psyche, not to mention the unique pressures of working in the creative industries.

In 2014, a survey by Help Musicians UK highlighted that of 552 respondents, 67% had, on occasion, suffered from depression or other psychological problems and 75% had experienced performance anxiety. In terms of the general British population, around in one four people will experience a mental health problem during their lifetime. Other stats are sparse, and that’s a gap Help Musicians is aiming to help bridge with its mental health and music academic study, Can Music Make You Sick?, which was launched at The Great Escape in May. The report will explore how the music industry can have a negative impact on the mental health of those working within it, and look into ways of solving that.

A range of mental health problems cover multiple musical disciplines. Common problems include performance anxiety and the expectation of perfectionism resulting in obsessional worries, depression due to loneliness felt while away from family and friends on tour, as well as the mental effects of succumbing to what can easily turn into a damaging lifestyle of little sleep, junk food, alcohol and drugs while traveling. And the ‘tortured artist’ cliche can prevent both sufferers and their support network from taking any complaints seriously, as could the perceived ‘glamorous’ reality of a musician. 

Musician Rob Harvey had a hard time touring while a member of his previous band, The Music, and turned to alcohol as a result. “It was after a year or two of touring that signs of anxiety started to show,” he said in a film produced by Vice and shown at The Great Escape. “Every night you’d be hitting the drink, [and looking for] girls. The attention on stage makes you feel powerful but it gives you a false sense of self.

“I could never get to the point of being comfortable in social situations, I’d only feel like everybody else at two drinks in. That’s a slippery slope because two drinks soon lead to more. I’d wake up feeling bad every day, and my only remedy was to keep drinking.”

Dr Carol Chapman, a psychology practitioner for the British Association of Performing Arts Medicine, works with a lot of musicians in the classical arena – a genre where the use of Beta Blockers to enhance performance has long been documented. “The ethos of learning an instrument classically, doing grades and getting a job in an orchestra, chamber or choral group requires people to know repertoire very well, with teachers typically quick to point out mistakes and being perhaps less aware of the value of being positive and encouraging,” she says. “It results in a degree of performance anxiety and unhelpful perfectionism.” 

So what help is there available? Help Musicians can help pay for treatment and therapy and refer people to relevant expert charities, predominantly Mind. BAPAM offers free one-to-one advice and clinical service assessments through its national programme of education and training, with psychologists offering their services at a comparatively low rate. Musicians can also get funding for specialist medical help from other organisations like PRS and The Royal Society of Musicians. Elsewhere, new charity Music Support provides a 24/7 helpline manned by volunteers and professionals offering help and support for individuals in any area of the music industry suffering from alcoholism, addiction, emotional or mental health issues.

BAPAM Chief Executive Deborah Charnock recently called for a creators’ health service, to provide more performers with career-specific medical advice. Which begs the question, who would provide the funding? “Ideally, it should be available through NHS/social services but these are stretched, so it’s now down to charities and private providers,” she answers. “However, employers and those who benefit commercially from the industry have some responsibility not only to fund services, but to provide conditions that foster good physical and mental health.”

During her time as Shadow Cabinet Minister for Mental Health, Luciana Berger was trying to get government to recognise that mental health should be a cross-governmental responsibility, and not just dealt with from the Department of Health. “I want to see the business department work with employers, the education department working with schools and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport working more closely with community organisations and so on,” she says. “In that way, key industries, such as the music industry that touches the lives of millions of people, could be supported to improve people’s mental health. Unfortunately, there simply wasn’t enough of that innovative thinking from the government.

“It is important for us to see a culture change, led by government, that supports organisational initiatives and encourages them to link up with community organisations. BAPAM does great work with the Musicians’ Union and others, but it needs the support and encouragement from government to do more.”

For musicians with management and label deals, the consensus at The Great Escape was that those companies should be helping to alleviate stress by advising on money management, health and lifestyle, and offering financial support if needed for rehab or therapy. There are also a number of self-help measures musicians can take to reduce the chance of being hit with bad mental health in future.

Creative consultant Clare Scivier, who has been coaching musicians for eight years, advises: “If you’ve had mental health issues in your family or you know that you have triggers, before you sign a contract or get involved with anyone on the business side, I would recommend having some cognitive behavioural therapy, neuro-linguistic programming or coaching to understand why you are going into this, and what kind of people you need to be working with.”

Creating an alter ego is one of the measures Scivier schools musicians to adopt so they can better manage the ups and downs of a life spent performing. “The performer is different to the person who buys sandwiches and does normal functioning things. If you build a healthy avatar that you step into for performance, it makes your normal life a safer place to go back to once you’ve finished,” she explains. Some of Scivier’s other tips include being in a safe and comfortable environment when writing or practicing music, which can help alleviate pressure, and remembering to loosen up and breathe when faced with potentially stressful situations.

But perhaps the most important step to take is communication. When Harvey was suffering, he told his management and they advised he speak to someone professional about how he was feeling. He took a train to London and went to a mental health care facility which set him on the road to recovery. 

“One of the most amazing things about being there was sharing what I was going through with people openly,” he remembers. “It felt good that I wasn’t the only person feeling those things. To recover you have to understand at some point that you’re broken. If I could give the 18-year-old version of me any advice, it would be to speak sooner.”

Imogen Heap has a dream

This feature was written for the winter 2015 edition of BASCA’s The Works

There are too few artists like Imogen Heap: creative talents who’ve had the space to experiment without worrying about where the next big hit will come from. It wasn’t always so simple, but the singer/songwriter’s tumultuous relationship with record labels at the beginning of her career made Heap realise that fame and big bucks weren’t the recipe for a fulfilling career in music. Since then, she’s been driving her own success and wants every other artist to have that same freedom.

It’s something Heap is trying to make possible via her work with the Blockchain technology. The Blockchain is an online system that takes information of transactions happening worldwide between people and checks that they are valid before storing them. It does away with the need for banks and all the money received is done so through a cryptocurrencies, which can then be used to fund other transactions.

Heap explains: “It’s called the Blockchain because it builds upon itself each day with a memory of the past days worth of accounting through what are called ‘blocks’. With this technology comes an amazing new era of possibilities for all kinds of systems to not be centralised, enabling global commerce between people without the need for top-­down authority.”

This model has the potential to put the artist, songwriter and composer at the top of the music industry food chain, instead of being the last ones to receive a small fraction of the income their music generates. They would be the ones to upload their content and decide who gets a percentage of its earnings dependent on contribution, as per conditions set within a smart contract (essentially an online set of rules). A few new companies in music have been using the Blockchain, including PeerTracks, Bittunes, OCL, and, the firm Heap has been working with, Ujo Music. The aim is to provide a solution to problems like
disparities and complications in global royalty distribution and licensing as well as enabling new ways of making money from music.

Heap found out about the tech via musician Zoe Keating and has since created an independent concept called Mycelia, an idea which could be used to represent artists’ rights. Written for Sennheiser’s Re-shaping Excellence project – a campaign held to celebrate sound and innovation for the audio brand’s 70th anniversary – Heap’s latest track Tiny Human (with lyrics inspired by her very own tiny human, one-year-old daughter Scout) is available online via Mycelia as a digital contract on the internet.

The page looks like a spider’s web with every contributor and rightsholder named and it takes just one click to buy licences and samples for the music and access any other information the artist wishes to share. Instead of getting money up front, this is a way for people to invest and share in the artist’s profits. Says Heap: “It leaves a lot more creative space for the artist, and people who like them, to share in their good fortune and invest.”

Heap’s interest in music and technology started when, aged seven, she’d record herself on a cassette player playing piano while “beatboxing really badly and playing some whisks or something in the background.” Then, after finding herself an outcast at boarding school, she found solace with an Atari computer, working out how to programme sounds inside it.

“That was really when my romance with music and computers began. I realised how much it would liberate me from having to write everything out all the time. I learned theory and arrangement, writing musical pieces down on manuscript paper – but there is no way for you to hear it unless you magic an orchestra out of nowhere. When I realised I could just play things on a keyboard, hear them back and get a flute, violin, and some other really bad sounds, it was just magnificent.”

Since the age of 20, Heap has released four solo albums; iMegaphone (1998), Speak for Yourself (2004), Ellipse (2009) and Sparks (2014), plus one with Guy Sigsworth as musical duo Frou Frou, Details in 2002. Thanks to her relationship with a music supervisor Heap had known during her time as Frou Frou, Hide and Seek from Speak for Yourself appeared in US TV series The O.C. and Frou Frou song Let Go was placed in Zach Braff’s cult indie film Garden State in 2004.



In 2010, Ellipse won a Grammy for Best ­Engineered Non-Classical Album. That same year, Heap won an Ivor Novello Award for International Achievement. Solo career aside, she’s also known for innovative and tech-focused creations like her Mi.MU musical gloves, a crowd-funded project that allow the user to produce music and manipulate sound by waving their hands, recordings for TV and film such as The Chronicles Of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Criminal Minds and CSI Miami, and her work as a songwriter for others, including Taylor Swift.

Swift’s latest album 1989 closes with a track written with Heap, the downtempo and melodic Clean. That project happened when Heap’s manager read that Swift said Heap was her dream collaborator. He got in touch, and Swift came down to her studio/home in rural Essex for a “crazy creative nine hours”. “I just knew that we were going to write a song, I hadn’t prepared anything,” Heap remembers. “I didn’t know very much about her other than she was a huge name and had a couple of songs that were very big on the radio. I didn’t know she wrote those songs herself. I suffered with the perception that girls don’t write or have any interest in production – even though I know that’s not true because I am one. That goes to show how strong that message comes across.

 

“She came in looking immaculate, sat down next to the fireplace with me and said, ‘Can I play you a song idea?’ She pretty much already had the song and I thought it was brilliant. So we recorded it and very quickly had the structure. There was a point where the weird Imogen Heap that likes five middle eights tried to muscle in on her songwriting skills and she was like, ‘I think we’re going to lose people there .. .’ That’s why she sells millions of records and I don’t! We met in the middle and created this really lovely song.”

The secret to landing high-profile writing projects, whether in film, TV, advertising, or for other artists is reliability, says Heap. “The best advice I can give, which came from my dad, is always fulfil your promises. If somebody says, ‘We want you to do this song by this date,’ just do it, even if it’s not perfect. People rely on reliability and if you can stick to your word they come back to you time and time again.”

In the beginning, Heap’s songwriting process was simple: sit in a room at a piano and write. That process then moved into the studio where she would put sounds around her voice and the piano based on what was available. As technology became cheaper and Heap mastered editing on Pro Tools, her music became much more sculptural. Tiny Human was an extreme version of that – it was made using Scout’s rattle, the breast pump and the play gym (largely due to being resourceful when occupied by an energetic baby). While Speak for Yourself was made alone in a studio, Ellipse was based around sounds from Heap’s house like rustling leaves and acoustics. Every song on Sparks was constructed around a different project, including a jogging app, reactive music and a spoken-word piece about a neglected wall garden.

 

Nowadays Heap finds being open and inclusive most useful when writing. “In the beginning I thought I had to shut everything out to make music. Now I’m opening everything up because I’ve realised that the more open I am, the more fun I have, the more people get involved, and the more I’m pushed into doing something different. I get unhappy when I’m left to my own devices for long periods of time. I thought that’s what songwriters had to do, be a little bit depressed, go a bit crazy, and I spent many years doing that and not being social at all.

“Now I want to be around people and make music with them, create videos and gloves and talk about Mycelia, and I’m much happier. Now that so much revolves around Scout so many things have come alive because it takes the pressure off you, the focus has always been on me since I first signed a record deal. Now it’s about Scout, people, family, collaboration and openness.”

Aside from the Blockchain, the other project that’s taking up most of Heap’s time is writing the score for a Harry Potter play that will debut on London’s West End in June. And now finding herself completely independent, with no label, management, publishing or licensing deal, and no pressure, writing more music could be on the cards in the near future.

“On the one hand I want to do a really simple piano voice album. I’ve never done that and it would be a real challenge for me to just use a piano because I love all the noises and sounds. But there is another side of me that wants to write the weirdest totally electronic music out there, maybe under a completely different name so no one knows it’s me. I love beautiful music, classical music, but I also love music that just bangs you over the head like a big saucepan.

“It’s nice to feel like there’s no limitation. It’s kind of like I’m freefalling at the moment and seeing whose hands I grab on the way down. So far, it’s been amazing. I’ve met the most incredible people. And I’ve been able to imagine a new architecture, a new direction, and dream of a positive future for the music industry.”

Is the music industry headed for revolution?

This article originally appeared on the website of digital music distributor iMusician. I write two articles for them a month on advice for artists, new trends and the inner goings-on of the music business.

2014 was a loud year for the music industry. Artists, independent labels, publishers, managers and songwriters made plenty of headlines for demanding change. Taylor Swift stood up to Spotify and removed her catalogue and YouTube was publically berated for offering what were said to be highly unfavorable terms for the use of independent music on YouTube Music Key. Then Sony/ATV boss Martin Bandier threatened to withdraw performance rights from US collection societies over concerns that his songwriters were not being paid fairly by digital services.

Swift’s  latest album, 1989, along with her entire back catalogue, is no longer available on Spotify. The move was “out of respect for her superfans,” said the singer’s label boss Scott Borchetta. The exec favoured services that offer a premium tier-only like Beats and Rdio. Spotify founder Daniel Ek responded, pointing the finger at the deals acts have with their labels – and how much of a share of this revenue record companies are claiming.

As if in response to the unrest, a wealth of new companies that set out to assist, rather than control musicians are fast making ground. Veteran music manager Irving Azoff’s new company, Global Music Rights, aims to negotiate higher performance royalty rights for songwriters via direct licensing deals with digital services. Names already on board include Pharrell Williams and Ryan Tedder. Meanwhile, Audiam, existing to ensure payments for the use of music on digital services such as Spotify, YouTube and Rdio make their way to the creators (payments which, according to founder Jeff Price, currently often get lost due to ‘bad data’ from collection societies), has secured $2 million in investment.

Elsewhere, label services firms like Kobalt, who help artists and songwriters get open access to why they’ve been paid, what and when, have an impressive roster. The company represents, among others, Björk, Sam Smith, Bruno Mars, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Calvin Harris, Lenny Kravitz and Macklemore & Ryan Lewis. Kobalt is attractive because it offers creators the chance to own their copyrights, while picking from a menu of services that includes online global copyright administration, sync, A&R, digital collections, label services and neighbouring rights management.  In short, it’s starting to get really difficult for big companies – whether that be labels, collection societies or digital services – to get away with only serving their own interests (and back pockets).

History

Music wasn’t always so fraught. There was a time when artists would make music at their leisure, but The Beatles came along and proved there was big money to be made. A few wealthy people started to invest growing sums of cash into record labels and allowed the business to grow. However, those vested interests inevitably wanted to ensure their investment recouped a few times over and it all started getting a bit murky. Contracts that favoured the record labels were unwittingly signed and there were royalty disputes galore.

The internet arrived, Napster launched in 1999 as an online music download platform and sparked over a decade of free file sharing – rendering buying the physical product pointless for those that only cared about listening to a track. But while the internet brought a blow to the music industry’s bank account, it also offered those that don’t run the show a way of taking back ownership of their art – no longer were record labels an essential component of the route to market.

And while it’s no secret that income has been steadily declining since the glory days of the CD, the situation is nowhere near as dire as the news stories might have you believe. Yes, in 2014, the UK saw significant falls in album and single sales, but thanks to a steep rise in streaming, the market remained more or less flat overall. There’s enough to go around, it just needs to be distributed fairly.

What now?

The fight between YouTube and the independent label community resulted in “more favorable” terms being agreed than those originally set out. Together with the Taylor Swift vs. Spotify debate, it proves that all it takes is a small group of people to get together and demand change for those in power to realise how worthless they are without the people whose co-operation they rely on to exist. And it looks like there could be more to come.

Speaking at Eurosonic in January, Vevo International EVP Nic Jones tipped 2015 as a year for big change in the music industry. Agreements between labels, publishers and digital service providers are reportedly up for renewal, and Jones predicts a momentous shift when it comes to negotiating new terms. “I think that there are a lot of rights-holders who’ve licensed a lot of platforms over the last three to five years who will now be reviewing that decision when it comes up for renewal on the basis of how well monetised those platforms are,” he explained. “2015 is a vitally important year, we are at the very beginning of a transition, and there’s a lot to happen. There is no way that anybody can say that digital and streaming is the be-all and end-all.”

So how can you help this revolution along in 2015? When country singer Garth Brooks launched his own online retail shop, Ghost Tunes, last year, he said: “It’s going to get a lot better when music starts standing up for itself. Guys, there’s some big friends in music we need to stand up to. I mean, if iTunes is gonna tell you how to sell your stuff and it’s only gonna go this way, don’t forget who’s creating the music.”