How Music Works: Youbloom - teaching you how to make a living from music
Niall Byrne talks Phil Harrington, CEO of Youbloom Music Summit and Festival, about how to make music your life’s work
Donal Lunny, one of the artists taking part in this year’s Youbloom festival and conference for bands and musicians. Photograph: Aidan Crawley
The old music industry models have splintered and shattered in different directions and platforms. Beyoncé just released a visual album that was announced via a HBO TV special. Drake streamed Views From The Six exclusively on Apple Music. Kanye West continues to tinker away on The Life Of Pablo after its been released. Adele doesn’t tour if she can help it. Taylor Swift still refuses to stream her hit album 1989 on Spotify.
That level of impact and control is reserved for the megastars, those who are lucky to have established themselves and have an audience listening – the 1 per cent? Everyone else is still figuring out how they can make their art their life’s work. Those people are the focus of Youbloom, a conference and music festival taking place in Dublin next month.
“Seventy-five per cent of the revenues of the music business go to the superstars – which numbers maybe the low hundreds worldwide,” says Phil Harrington, the CEO of Youbloom. “So it’s not the 1 per cent, it’s the .0001 per cent of artists that earn the most. The rest take the crumbs, not even, the crumb off the table. It’s very unbalanced.”
The new DIY and the old industry
Youbloom’s aim is to help those crumb-earning independent musicians succeed on their own terms by to empower them with knowledge about how music works, facilitating networking and a connect to established and experienced industry figures.
“The question I thought to myself, that became central to Youbloom , is ‘What is it going to take for an artist to make a decent living, if they’re good enough?” says Harrington. “What has to happen? How is this going to be solved?”
Today’s bands can utilise social media, crowdfunding, data analytics, new tech and platforms to get noticed but Harrington says these modern tool have yet to translate into career sustainability and that a lot of opportunities can still come from the old-school idea of networking and showcasing.
“We haven’t yet got to a place where the science and the art of using these tools results in more and more artists becoming viable, but it is coming.”
Now coming into its fourth year in Dublin (it is taking place for the third time in Los Angeles later this year), Youbloom’s purpose has previously included the idea of a data co-op between artists to a song contest as suggested by Bob Geldof.
Geldof invested in Harrington’s forays into video when he acquired the rights to JVC in the early 1980s. They shared an accountant and Harrington got to know more about the music business as a result.
Before that, Harrington had trained as a doctor, but he developed an interest in alternative medicine, which lead to music therapy under the name Voce, something he has done at raves, Burning Man festival and Irish prisons in Portlaoise and Spike Island. At the workshops, Harrington teaches a technique of “releasing your voice in order to explore your inner self”.
“When I do them, I wake up the next day feeling so renewed, everything is back in alignment. It’s a healing experience.”
Harrington’s interest in helping people through music transfers to Youbloom. Once the song contest was established, Nigel Grainge, who signed Thin Lizzy, Sinead O’Connor and Geldof’s Boomtown Rats, got involved by listening to the song contest entries and the idea morphed into the Youbloom music festival and summit.
‘A band or singer-songwriter is basically a little microbusiness’
This year’s event features panels about music synchronisation, approaching the media, music rights, US artist visas, royalties and touring Brazil. There are opportunities for networking and speed sessions.
“Our tagline is learn, connect, play,” says Harrington. “The first tenet of that is the artist learning the business of music. A band or singer-songwriter is basically a little microbusiness. It’s a complex business – there are lot of different elements to understand. Most artists don’t expect to be signed to a major label now. They understand that they have to do a lot themselves. “
Speakers at the conference are drawn largely from the established industry, including publisher of DIY Magazine Rupert Vereker, publisher Steve Lindsay, lawyer Eileen O’Gorman, artist manager and arts immigration expert Matthew Covey and Irish musician Donal Lunny.
“We reserve spots for artists to engage with the industry. On top of that we create mixtapes and collect data from the band and we promote them to industry, the partners and sponsors. If we see an opportunity to connect a band to an industry person – whether it’s management, sync or otherwise, we’ll make it happen.”
Adopt a band
At night, the focus moves to seven Dublin city venues featuring performances from Irish and international bands, playing for the industry and fans alike.
Artists who apply via Sonicbids and Youbloom’s own database are assessed based on social media engagement, live activity, Youtube live performances, fanbase and their answers to the Youbloom application form. The artists that are invited must pay their own way.
“Bands finance themselves to come in. The business model doesn’t afford to be able to pay those expenses. What we see are bands coming in from the US or South America and they put together a tour over two or three weeks and apply to a bunch of festivals and conferences and if they’re accepted it forms the basis of their tour.
“We do a thing called adopt a band. The local artist adopt the band coming in to Dublin. They help them with accommodation, get them gear and help them out.”
Youbloom success stories have included bands signing publishing deals, recording with an established producer, touring opportunities and management.
“We had a band called Cartoon from Brazil who played both in London and LA; they brought both the industry and the local audience to their gigs. They ended up getting signed to a Japanese label.”
Harrington says the bands that are interested in connecting to experienced industry at Youbloom are those who understand what they need to be proactive in order to make a living out of their music to make even a sliver of what the Beyoncés and Drakes are making.
“The A&R guys used to help out the bands by offering advice and talking to them. Then 10 or 12 years ago, they disappeared when the budgets at the major labels dried up. Artists were still doing gigs but the A&R people weren’t there. Then, three or four years ago, the bands would get down to business after the show, instead of partying. That’s something you’re seeing more and more – the artists realise they have to do it for themselves.”
- Youbloom takes place from June 1st to 3rd in Dublin. Tickets are €100 for the weekend. For more, see youbloom.com