The Irish music industry flexed its muscles and showed us the money this week. The industry contributes more than €470 million to the economy and supports about 9,000 direct jobs, according the Irish Music Rights Organisation, which commissioned Deloitte to do some research.
The Socio-Economic Contribution of Music to the Irish Economy also suggests ways to help build on this success, including the appointment of an intellectual-property tsar; the provision of training to provide business skills for professional musicians; and the establishment of a music-industry taskforce and, with a focus on the export market, a Music Ireland office.
Minister for Arts and Culture Heather Humphreys said she looked forward to "working further with the music industry as my department develops our first ever national cultural policy, Culture 2025".
This is all very commendable, but we've been here before – numerous times. The new report is the latest in a litany, each with similar findings and recommendations. It includes Stokes Kennedy Crowley's Report on the Irish Popular Music Industry (1994), the Jobs in Music Campaign's The Establishment and Role of the Irish Music Board (1994), Ibec's Striking the Right Note (1995), the Forte music task force's Access All Areas (1996), Raising the Volume: Policies to Expand the Irish Music Industry: A Submission to Government (1998), Shaping the Future: A Strategic Plan for the Development of the Music Industry in Ireland (2003) and An Analysis of the Economic Significance of the Irish Music Industry (2003).
All of the groups that produced these reports worked diligently and turned in a raft of recommendations. These were passed to the appropriate government department or agency – but there was rarely a will to act on them.
Even when recommendations were acted on, the results were half-hearted and tokenistic. Take the Music Board of Ireland, a body that was finally established in 2003, after the music industry had demanded it for years. It was quietly knocked on the head the following year, after the Department of Arts, Sports and Tourism, which funded the office with Ibec’s Music Industry Group, decided that the board hadn’t made a strong enough case for continued financing. (This information emerged from Freedom of Information inquiries at the time.)
One departmental review referred 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 pointed 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.”
That was more than a decade ago, and you could argue that the department’s anonymous official was right. The music industry didn’t need government help to thrive, the market wasn’t failing, and Irish bands continue to punch above their weight. The new report proves all of this. So why bother getting involved when the sector is doing fine under its own steam?
Indeed, using the same value-for-money criteria, some of the report’s recommendations don’t quite stack up. A Music Ireland office? The extremely successful Music from Ireland initiative already supports acts playing international showcase festivals, so why not recommend building on it rather than establishing a new office? This would show a willingness to save resources and be far more attractive to a cash-strapped exchequer, for which music and culture are clearly not priorities.
If all involved are serious about doing something to help, they should look abroad. Canada and Iceland, for example, are among the countries that have backed their music industries, using both macro and micro initiatives.
Iceland’s creative industries now contribute as much to the national economic turnover as its aluminium industries. The Icelandic minister for industry and commerce, Ragnheiður Elín Árnadóttir, noted at the recent Eurosonic conference in the Netherlands that the success of the Iceland Airwaves festival has significantly increased the number of visitors to the country and extended Iceland’s tourism season.
Across the Atlantic, the Canada Music Fund was established in 2001 to help Canadian artists and entrepreneurs pay for everything from recording and touring to label promotion and artist management. The success of that endeavour can be seen in the huge number of Canadian acts to have built international careers in the past 10 years.
There’s no shortage of precedents for what can and should be done. The only missing element is the willingness to act on all the reports and recommendations. No amount of well-meaning publications can by themselves help young musicians trying to make livings from music or acts looking to market themselves overseas. Otherwise, we should just sit back and wait for the next report on the socioeconomic benefits of the Irish music industry to arrive, in 2022.