Keeping the home fires burning
Random thoughts about musicians and the Irish music industry from the Hard Working Class Heroes Convention
There was one notion which kept cropping up again and again over the course of last weekend: do we need a musicians’ industry rather than a music industry in Ireland? A couple of days keeping a watching brief at Hard Working Class Heroes Convention prompted this thought.
As has been the case for the last few years, I was involved in programming and hosting the yoke, but it’s a much different set of lines when other people come into the picture. You can spend months preparing and visualising (hello Henry Shefflin) and working out what you think will happen when you’ve two rooms with talks, conversations, discussions and the like. Everything changes when the rooms begin to fill and the talking takes place.
You might think that the rooms would be occupied by managers, promoters, agents, labels and would-bes of all of the above – and there was cetainly plenty of them out and about all weekend checking out the convention by day and the bands by night – but most of the seats were occupied by musicians rather than the people who seek to represent them.
Ireland’s music convention has become a gathering of musicians keen to feed their heads, make connections with the business lads and lasses who are there to do business and work out what works for them. It makes you question what exactly is the Irish music industry in 2016 and where does it hang out. Ireland is a small country hard by one of the biggest music economies of all so it stands to reason that our own music business sector reflects that shadowing. That said, we know from last year’s Deloitte report for the Irish Music Rights Organisation that the industry claims a contribution of over €470 million to the economy and more than 9,000 direct and 2,480 indirect jobs across all silos and sectors.
But by contrast, the number of musicians we have here, something we know by from such sources as the Mapping Popular Music in Dublin project or the number of acts listed on the Breaking Tunes website for instance, is just staggering. Is it possible for the existing industry to operate to serve all their needs rather than the top tier? Or is it the case that while the volume of raw material is certainly there, it’s much harder to turn this into a healthy industry hence the concentration on the acts who are selling and getting played on the radio?
There’s no doubt that there is a sizeable number of acts who have absolutely no engagement with a lot of the industry. They may know all about the the venues and the overworked soundmen and women who work that beat, but that’s just the live side, vital as it is to the musical ecosystem. It’s a different matter for the majority of acts in terms of the other strands which make up a healthy music industry and this is where the disconnection comes in. Both sides probably feel that everyone is doing grand and OK, but there is certainly plenty of room for improvement here.
The problem comes back to the caste system. While there will always be venues and bookers who’ll give a band a chance because they need to fill the room with punters who’ll buy beer, it’s a much different matter when it comes to someone willing to invest seed capital in either cash or time in a new, untried act. The people with that developmental muscle tend to invest in the acts who’ve already a manager they know or some other member of the permanent establishment on their team. It’s a way of reducing risk because someone else has already given the act their imprimatur, but the acts who don’t have that in are effectively shut out of the process. This is something which needs to be changed, but it’s hard to see if the will or means to do so can actually be produced.