Jim Carroll

Music, Life and everything else

Music Board of Ireland – now, there’s a couple of words I thought I’d never have to type again

Sigh. There are some things in life you never want to revisit and the Music Board of Ireland fandango is one of them. I wrote about this body many, many times for the paper until 2004 when it was finally …

Fri, Dec 14, 2007, 10:23

   

Sigh. There are some things in life you never want to revisit and the Music Board of Ireland fandango is one of them. I wrote about this body many, many times for the paper until 2004 when it was finally put out of its misery. I thought that was the end of it, but I was wrong.

First, the facts. Established by the then Minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands Sile De Valera in May 2001 for an initial three year term, the Music Board of Ireland’s role was to act as a forum for the industry and provide assistance to Government in growing the industry at home and abroad.

Operated on a partnership basis by the Department of Arts, Tourism and Sport with the music industry (as represented by the Music Industry group of IBEC), the board initially prepared a strategic development plan for the industry which it presented to the Ministrer in January 2003 (the “Shaping the Future” report).

Many such reports have appeared on the Irish music industry over the years, but this was the Best Report on the Irish Music Industry Ever! It identified a number of areas which would benefit from strategic initiatives including education and training, bringing the Irish industry to an international marketplace, attracting risk capital and showcasing new talent. Yeah, I know, a couple of monkeys with typewriters and U2′s back-catalogue could have come up with the same details.

By 2004, it was obvious to all that this board was just not working and it was quietly knocked on the head. Few in the industry here had cause to lament the board’s demise. Actually, there are probably many at the industry’s coalface who didn’t even realise that the board has been and gone.

But I was nosey and wanted to know why exactly the Department of Arts, Sports and Tourism had decided to kill off the board so I made a couple of Freedom of Information Act requests.

What became apparent from the files which were eventually released was that the Music Board of Ireland just hadn’t made a strong enough case for the department to continue funding its existence. One departmental memo refers to the “internal contradiction” in the board’s argument to be put on a statutory footing. “Again and again, it is stated that the Irish music industry does well, that it boxes above its weight”, the memo points out. “If this is the case, what problem are we trying to rectify by putting in place a whole framework of supports? There is no evidence of market failure here.”

Despite all the board’s reports and projections, there was a belief amongst the department’s officials that the board’s estimates about proposed returns from government expenditure were naive. “We have no way of knowing whether by spending X, the Board can generate Y jobs or make a difference of Y to the National Economy annually.”

The department also found it “not terribly surprising” that “a report commissioned by the Music Board concludes that the Board should continue to exist and that the Board’s proposed programmes would be worthwhile”. In much the same way as major labels decide to drop under-achieving Irish bands, the department decided the time had come to stop wasting money on this beaten docket.

At least, this sad, sorry charade established some things about the relationship between government and music industry. The Department of Arts and, by extension, the government have absolutely no interest in developing, strengthening or exploiting the cultural and economic advantages of the popular music industry. It means therefore that any further attempt by industry bodies or groups to lobby government to do this or that is a complete waste of time, effort and resources.

This game was lost at the outset. Because they ensured that the Music Board was nothing more than a toothless talking shop, the music industry blew it. An opportunity had finally presented itself to establish a truly representative, dynamic and strong lobby group, but the Irish industry’s inherent conservatism put paid to that notion.

Compliance rather than controversy was to be the watchword by which the board and its staff operated. Because it was a body more concerned with talk, planning and reporting than with taking action, the Music Board managed to undo what little advances had been made by the industry in the previous 10 years.

I thought that was good an epitaph as any to sum up this fiasco until some video footage popped up during the week and set me thinking again about the Music Board of Ireland. It’s a documentary made by Lindsey Byrne featuring a whole load of talking heads including Channel One, Humanzi, Director, Dave Fanning, Angela Dorgan and this eejit in his green jumper.

It also features an “interview” with then Minister for Fun, John O’Donoghue and it’s the performance of the minister, the person charged with developing and implementing government policy on culture after all, which makes this a priceless video nasty. Watch and learn, people, watch and learn.

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