Sun Shines Brightly at 2012 Great Escape
TMV’s UK Writer Laura G Thorne is feeling the love at this year’s Great Escape in Brighton England. Tries to control herself, but can’t.
Where music’s concerned, The Great Escape is the sun around which all planets rotate in the UK from May 10-12. While top billing goes to its artist showcases – there are over 300 acts, under the banner “Europe’s Leading Festival For New Music” – there’s also a parallel industry conference that provides legitimate cover for the UK’s music business glitterati to convene upon the Brighton seaside for three days of drinkies and chat (and standing in queues, as TGE’s popularity grows).
Speaking of luminaries, panel guests included Michael Eavis of Glastonbury (in conversation with Bestival’s Rob Da Bank), Martin Mills of Beggars Group, Will Page of PRS, superproducer Trevor Horn, Sire co-founder (and recent Billboard Icon Award recipient) Seymour Stein and Domino’s Richard King.
While TGE does reflect the views of the mainstream music industry at least in part, one senses that in its heart it retains the desire to rebel, to be an iconoclast, to stick it to the man rather than repeating the same old same old. That said, there’s still an element of as the French say, plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose (the more things change, the more they remain as they are). So the means may be different, but music is still being recorded, promoted and distributed, festivals and concerts are still being produced, bands still want agents, managers and publicists to represent them, and a whole lot of somebodies are looking to make profit from the enterprise in some form.
A review of the Great Escape conference makes clear that now, an artist can have a legitimate career doing it DIY – which doesn’t mean do it alone, but without the infrastructure of a major label, multi-album deal. Also evident is the extent to which digital has successfully integrated into (and is now assimilating) an industry in which its become as accepted (and as necessary) as oxygen. No, we haven’t fully emerged from the aftermath of the digital revolution and the path may be messy yet for a good while, but if digital was once at unwelcome gatecrasher, it has now become a much sought after party guest.
Reflecting that shift, Duncan Geere, News Editor of Wired UK presided over “The Digital Wedding,” where Kim de Ruiter (Noise Inc), Jackie Kralj (DigiRascal), Sharon Matheson (InGrooves) and Lee Morrison (Believe Digital) stretched the metaphor of “something old, new, borrowed and blue” in regards to today’s digital services. When asked to comment on something old that is still just as relevant to the music business today, InGrooves’ Matheson emphasized that “relationships are still the most important part…it’s not about money any more,” which was supported by Believe’s Morrison: “indies are getting more market share – you don’t need big budgets anymore and it’s really exciting.”
What about something new? Streaming services were applauded by several, for a variety of reasons, including as a source of income, particularly when viewed over the long-term rather than through the lens of physical or download sales. It’s important to be educated about the services that are available, said Noise Inc’s De Ruiter, stating that previous perceptions of streaming aren’t necessarily accurate today: “…it’s about scale. It’s the fastest growing business by a country mile – having a stake in that is massively important, not just in terms of where we are now, but where we will be in five or ten years time.”
Matheson used the “m word” – metadata – for her “something new” pick, while Morrison went with YouTube as a discovery engine and way for artists to expand their fan bases, noting that video production is so affordable pretty much any artist can promote themselves with video these days.
From the “something borrowed” category – an idea or strategy borrowed from someone else – Jackie Kralj talked about “creativity, content, conversation, commitment and consistency” as vital hallmarks of a successful campaign, crediting her colleague Vanessa Picken of Run DNA as her reference point. One creative use of technology mentioned as an example was Arcade Fire’s interactive video that personalised content with Google maps.
Something blue, in this context, referred to something depressing that needs to be fixed. Here, the panel recognised that there’s still much work to be done to compensate rights holders fairly and equitably, noting in particular that while the majors have made great strides in coming to terms with digital, they have also given with one hand while taking with the other, charging so much for their catalogue that new services are crippled. Also taking criticism was the current state of recommendation engines and search algorithms (which should improve as metadata becomes cleaner and more reliable). Believe’s Morrison stressed the necessity to educate young listeners in order to dissuade them from piracy and realise the value of creative content, or to put it bluntly, “if music becomes free, there is no music…nothing is free.”
Another panel that received intense interest was the “Brand Band Partnership,” moderated by the 02’s Head of Music Sponsorship Jasmine Skee. Skee, along with panelists Tim Dellow (LoveLive), Jemma Downey (Live Nation) and Richard Kirstein (Resilient Music) examined the issues that artists and brands might encounter when considering an alliance, and offered the benefit of their collective advice.
Dellow, who worked with Ford on their “Bands in Transit” campaign, which has raised the profile of dozens of participating artists and bands including Michael Kiwanuka, Ghostpoet and The Joy Formidable, established the foundation by calling for a “two-way process, not exploitation…there’s a good opportunity now for savvy, hard-working bands, as long as they aren’t compromising their core values.”
Live Nation’s Downey affirmed, “a band is a brand, they have an identity they need to protect…therefore, they need to set very clear objectives of what they want to achieve.”
The principle repeated throughout was that the more real and authentic the relationship between the brand and band, the more successful the promotion is likely to be. Resilient’s Kirstein offered an example from right in The Great Escape’s own backyard: the “Red Stripe Street Gig of the Day,” which featured various bands including nouveau folk darlings Skinny Lister. The group played an outdoor pop-up gig in front of the Unitarian Church and were observed drinking Red Stripe beer. The event was filmed, offering Red Stripe ongoing promotional value – in other words, a win-win for everyone.
Said Skee: “so many bands don’t do their research. Look at the brand’s history, the space they are in now. Look at the work that the person you are meeting with has done.” Using the 02 as an example, she talked about how they measure success: “loyalty, giving the customer a great experience… don’t come to me for proposals with logos and meet and greets – we do video, content, priority ticketing, that’s what is important to us.”
The panel also encouraged bands to approach a brand partnership with long-term objectives in mind as “some brands like to work with bands through several stages” (Kirstein).
Other campaigns that came up as examples of effective collaborations were that of Will.i.am with Blackberry and LCD Soundsystem for Nike. Blackberry and U2, however, nobody felt that one at all, though Tim observed with dry humour that U2 were probably “strapped for cash.”
One figure that is associated with TGE these days is journalist, commentator and punk singer John Robb, host of The Great Escape Pop Quiz and moderator of John Robb’s Pop Question Time. During Pop Question Time, the subject of travel visas, in particular to the US, was discussed animatedly – given the difficulty, cost and frustration, it is not a process for the faint of heart to attempt. Also touched upon were the effect of illegal downloads on music sales and, in a ray of sunshine, revisions to the Live Music Act taking effect this October whereby pubs will be able to present amplified music to audiences of 200 persons or less without the need to apply for a licence – a change that is predicted to reinvigorate the pub scene.
Another highlight was the panel featuring producer, bassist and all-around legend Trevor Horn, with 10cc’s Lol Creme and drummer Ash Soan interviewed by Serena Kutchinsky of the Sunday Times (on the occasion of their upcoming release Made in Basing Street at the end of May). (The quartet, called Producers, also includes producer/engineer Stephen Lipson.) Notable quotes, Creme: “Music and old age go together really well” and Horn, on the difference between being in the studio and playing live: “The studio is kind of like heaven, it’s air conditioned, soundproofed… you are in control of something. Playing live is kind of like a car crash, you never know what’s going to happen.”
Were you at the Great Escape this year? What was your favourite moment?