Jim Carroll

Music, Life and everything else

Talking for a living – The Great Escape by day

In recent years, the convention circuit has had several new entrants jostling for attention and profile and it’s safe to say that Brighton’s Great Escape is well assured of premier league status. Now in its sixth year, the Great Escape …

Mon, May 16, 2011, 09:56


In recent years, the convention circuit has had several new entrants jostling for attention and profile and it’s safe to say that Brighton’s Great Escape is well assured of premier league status. Now in its sixth year, the Great Escape (TGE) has that mix of pointyheaded talking shops by day and gigs and showcases by night which every convention needs to have to be taken seriously (and, of course, to get sponsorship, endorsement, grants, bands, traction and paying delegates). But it’s the quality of the programming on both sides of the equation which means that TGE is punching above its weight – there was a huge turn-out for the daytime panels and more tickets were sold for this year’s event than previously.

On the convention side of TGE fence, there was a big focus on what’s next rather than what has passed. This naturally meant a focus on the live side of the business, though there were warning notes here. James Bates from Deloitte pointed out in his presentation that there are several things which will soften live music revenue in the short to medium term, including the vintage of the highest grossing acts and the state of the economy (this was something also highlighted over the weekend by PRS For Music economist Chris Carey). Of course, as several panelists pointed out over the weekend, the live side will also have to develop some A&R skills, something which they haven’t been all too hot at doing over the years. This may even require, as panelist Iain Watt remarked to laughs from the audience, some agents to forego their large commissions for a whole (an outcome which is as likely as yer wan Lizzie Windsor togging off for a game of camoige when she visits Croker this week).

Several names and memes came up again and again during the convention. You had the by now obligatory references to Adele and XL Records, with Ed Sheeran rising in the rankings in that regard. If you had a TGE word-cloud, data would dominate as every panel had someone keen to press home the importance of data mining when it came to everything from releasing a record to planning a tour. In an example of going against the grain, Warner Music dude Raoul Chatterjee pointed to Enya as an example of someone who bucks every trend because she doesn’t tour, showing that the rules don’t always apply.

For fans of buzzwords, there was plenty to choose from. My personal favourite was a reference by one panelist to “F3 commerce” (fans, friends and followers), while PRS For Music economist Will Page threw out some zingers like “tournament talk” (Soundcloud versus Bandcamp etc) and “Highlander” (the belief that ony one platform can win) during his hugely engaging presentation What Now After Myspace? He was also big on the data issue, saying that the music industry still releases into space, while Amazon and Google make nickels and dimes from astute data management. In terms of looking at what comes after Myspace (Myspace 2.0, perhaps?), Page went back to look at what was in the space before Myspace came along, including CD Baby (still going strong), Tunecore (also still around) and others. It looks like fragmentation is going to be the walk of the way here rather than the emergence of one big killer platform or model.

Ian Rogers from Topspin talked a lot of sense during his spiel on direct-to-fans business models. For new bands, their business is not in 99 cent downloads but in tickets and t-shirts. He also said that bands shouldn’t under-estimate the huge sales potential in premium products, saying that the Beastie Boys were shocked by the demand from their fanbase for premium content. There was also a comparison made to the book market, with the hardback market as the “premium” market. Stressing the continued importance of email in the direct to fans channel, Rogers advised bands that their business model in this channel should be to do one small thing every week (ie blog post, video interview etc) and one large thing every month (ie release an album etc) to keep their fans engaged, but not to feel pestered. You’ll find the bones of Rogers’ presentation here.

The least engaging panel by far was the keynote from HMV boss Simon Fox, which was 30 minutes of absolute nothing. Well, to be fair, I did learn that The Vaccines are managed by a Mama Group/HMV subsidary, which was an interesting footnote. And I did learn that Fox can’t operate his laptop presentation without the help of someone else. Beyond that, nada. A bit of a wasted opportunity, especially as Fox just two questions from the audience, with no-one challenging him on HMV’s current High Street woes.

DOI: I chaired two panels during TGE. What Digital? featured a bunch of geeks and marketeers from 7Digital, Muzu, Good Lizard Media, Omnifone and Wired talking about which digital music business models are going to survive and thrive and which can be assigned to the dustbin of history (ie Sky Songs). I was also the last-minute substitute moderator at The Future Of Ticketing panel, which looked at the growth in direct-to-fan channels and the emergence of new ticketing agencies. Really enjoyed chairing both of these but I’ll leave it to someone else to review them! Thanks to Chris Cooke and Emma Harvey Lawrence for asking me to get involved and supplying brilliant research notes.

Round-up of the live acts who rocked in Brighton to come in the afternoon.