How NOT to Lose in the Music Industry

October 29, 2008

I’ve watched the success of BarCamp & OpenCoffee Belfast very closely: both are basically a group of like minded yet disparate technology-focused folks getting together to share their collective knowledge, geek out and possibly collaborate.

I’ve wondered aloud if something similar was even possible in the music business.

Thankfully, recent experiences at Unconvention, Creative Camp and Soul Ambition’s “Kick Up The Arts” has convinced me that it is not only possible, but essential.

Next Thursday sees the largest music industry conference so far in 2008, NIMIC’s “Northern Ireland Music – The Way Forward” take place at the Whitla Hall. Following that, from 5pm at The House, myself and a load of other loosely related folk will be gathering together with the same goals as Barcamp – to see what our collective enthusiasm, knowledge and geekiness can create…

And as if to hammer home the point, Seth Godin’s recent post “How To Lose” should be an indicator of how important such events are to this, and many other, music communities:


“Actual conversation at a local shoe store: “Do you have dress shoes in a size 6?”

“No, I’m sorry we don’t.”

“We’re from out of town. Do you know any place we can get some?”

“I’m sorry I don’t. Perhaps you’d like some in a size 8?”

Now, what are the chances that someone who wants a size 6 is going to buy an 8? Zero. The game is over. You lost.

Instead of feigning ignorance about the whereabouts of your competitors (you really don’t know where other shoe stores are?) and instead of pretending you don’t have a phone book, what would happen if you actually spent that spare minute being incredibly helpful. “Ask for Jimmy! Tell him Sal sent you…”

Of course, the recipient of this friendly advice would tell everyone at the wedding exactly what happened. And some of those folks wouldn’t be from out of town…

Marketers, salespeople, athletes and politicians spend their days losing. Losing RFPs, losing someone browsing through a store, losing a race.

If it’s close, the right thing to do is to lean into it, to persevere, to push at the end when it can really pay off. But what about when it’s not? What happens when the RFP doesn’t match (at all) what you sell, but the competition is a perfect fit?

If you’re not qualifying people relentlessly enough to have many opportunities like this, you’re not really qualifying them. You’re just spending all day grabbing what you can grab.

It seems to me that this is the perfect opportunity to be a statesman. This is when you earn the right to be seen as a trusted advisor, not a self-interested shill. Two months or two years from now, when you interact with that person or organization again, we’ll remember that you were the one who spoke up on behalf of the competition, the one who helped us find a better fit, the clearly disinterested advisor who helped us choose between the two remaining good choices.

Your ego might not enjoy it, but in the long run, your organization will.”

Get together, help each other, or lose.



October 17, 2008

SNOCAPImage via WikipediaJust reading Mark Mulligan from Jupiter Research‘s roundup of Popkomm. “I was…disappointed at the lack of anything new…I couldn’t help but get the sense of a lack of impetus.”

I felt the same thing in every corner of the Midland Hotel at In The City this year – the same conversations, the same approaches, the same Innovations. Last year it was social networks, this year it’s widgets.

Could it be that people are settling into “new models” for the music industry already? Are people beginning to stand still in a market in which today’s innovation is tomorrow’s buggy whip? When Snocap launched their DIY artist StoreFront widget, it was one of very few players in town. Less than a year later, it was washed away in a widget tsunami.

Now it’s music discovery that’s getting the “Me Too!” treatment – A slew of copycats hitting the airwaves on the heels of Imeem and LastFM. Haven’t we something BETTER to be getting on with?

As you may have gathered from my last post, this was not the attitude at UnConference at Salford Trinity Church. The discussions I had involved burning down the businesses we’d spent 18 months building because they weren’t working, and building anew around the old frame. New ideas and a fearless commitment to impermanence is the only way.

In a market as uncertain as the music industry, ideas rush toward obsolescence at a shocking speed.

Just over a year since I started Penny Distribution, right now it has very little to do with Distribution. Change is coming and will continue as necessary to better serve my artists and their fans. There will be no idea too cherished to discard if its not serving its purpose: i.e. a better deal and wider audience for artists, a sustainable model for Penny and the best experience possible for our fans.

What’s your business doing to address this constant and rapid change? What are you ready to throw away to avoid stagnation?

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Tom McShane w/ White Hinterland, Tuesday Oct. 21st

October 13, 2008

White Hinterland (Casey Dienel) at the EchoImage by via FlickrTom McShane is opening for Portland’s wonderful White Hinterland ( next Tuesday, Oct. 21st at Auntie Annies in Belfast.

“White Hinterland recalls pieces of Guaraldi, Sufjan Stevens, and Joni Mitchell at once, as Ms. Dienel’s endearing voice skates over that instantly familiar bassline and playful, jazzy piano shuffle, resulting in one of the best songs of this year” – Gorilla Vs. Bear

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Escape Act release new album via MP3 blogs

October 13, 2008

Belfast rock trio Escape Act, who recently released the first single of their album “Loosley Based on Fiction” with Penny Distribution via a split 7″, are taking a novel approach to the release of their debut full-length.

Over 10 weeks, all tracks off the new album will be delivered via various music blogs – MP3Hugger, and BoxSetGo have kicked off the release. Click here to download the tracks for free… A CD version of the album will be available in November.

Kudos to the lads for trying something unique and I know I’m excited to see which blog will release the next track.

Having been lucky enough to hear the album in it’s entirety, it’s an absolute corker – get on that Escape Act email list and in a few weeks you’ll have one of the best Irish albums of the year…

UnConvention Vs. In The City

October 10, 2008

Bearded (magazine)Image via WikipediaI don’t know what happened to me at In The City this week – maybe it was the energy of Unconvention, or the razor sharp minds who gathered at Salford’s Trinity Church for the anti-In The City.

I suppose it can all be summed up by In The City’s final panel – entitled “Has The Music Industry Gone Full Circle”. The panelists included Alan McGee (he of Creation records and “I discovered Oasis” fame), a gent who’d just left Warner and was keen to express how happy he was to leave, a chap who still worked at Columbia (and who spent a good few minutes performing fellatio on his parent company, Sony, for being the “ultimate media company”), a fellow who remembers buying Elvis’ first single and, as panel moderator, Andrew Loog Oldham, manager of the Rolling Stones. At the last minute, Mr. Oldham invited a member of the audience to join the panel: Geoff Travis, founder of Rough Trade Records. The only quote that sticks in my mind, and which I believe bears repeating, is from the venerable Mr. Travis:

“It’s about that thrill. The thrill of finding a new artist, when all of a sudden you’re 13 again, in the back of a musty old shop, flicking through the 3 racks of new singles and finding the gem that will possess your heart for the coming weeks.”

As if to back up those words, I bumped into Mr. Travis (who must be in his 60s by now) at the front row of at least 3 very sweaty rooms, watching the bands.

At the SXSW panels, I summarized the questions and answers of participants. But as I reviewed my notes for this post, I couldn’t bring myself to transcribe the vacuous nostalgia and irrelevant drivel from the ITC panels. It’s not that what was said was entirely irrelevant, I suppose, but as has been the problem with the music industry, there was absolutely NO conversation. They were up “there”. We were down “here”.

It was ironic that a recurring theme of some of the panels was how “technology had removed the mystery from rock bands”. It seemed that the reason d’etre of the panels was to impose that same sort of mystery on the panelists.

The passion, excitement and accessibility of the attendees at UnConvention was simply not present at In The City – not only that, it seemed that ITC simply did not have a platform for labels, artists and zines working at the most exciting level of the music industry. Unconvention celebrated that in every sense.

As with the majority of conferences the best conversations occurred after the panel finished – and WHAT conversation! Implementing “use-it-or-lose-it” copyright, the importance of supporting local music businesses, creating infrastructure (legal, pr, accounting) for said businesses; the realization that all too often music businesses can work in a bubble, unaware that across the street someone who can help achieve their aims toils also; reinventing the label to be a model of what artists need, consumers want and labels can deliver – making the label a conduit of information and a focal point for artist and consumer contact.

The buzz in the foyer of Sacred Trinity was electric as label startups, digital services and indie musicians bounced ideas and exchanged details – the most thrilling discovery was just how many bands, labels and artists were in a similar situation – there was an immense sense of camaraderie, founded on the simple realization that everyone was pushing in the same direction.

Companies like SoundofMonkey, iThinkMusic, Bearded Magazine and innumerable merchandise, publishing and graphic artist discovered each other and began discussing the problems and solutions in their daily businesses. There simply is not substitute to getting a group of people with ideas in a room and watching those ideas get refined, drawn out and expanded upon for the benefit of all involved.

So, anyway, onto the music.

Overall, I was surprised at the real lack of “blow-me-away” artists, although there were a few. Hearteningly, many of Belfast or San Francisco’s top bands (Cutaways, Cashier #9, Not Squares, Two Door Cinema Club, Overview, Low Red Land, Geographer, Two Sheds) would easily hold their own against this lineup. Here’re my top 5…

To The Bones – Angular, glorious rock with the kind of twists and turns that’d make Deerhoof proud.

Toolshed – Their chamber jazz, avant-garde glory suited the Church setting in Salford very well. Vocalist Seaming To’s operatic reaches brought the house down.

Down The Tiny Steps Glaswegian electro-trio, mixing spoken word vocals and layered and sampled vocals, these guys rocked Piccadilly Records on Tuesday. Big shout to Laura & Darryl at the store for ruling (and for hooking me up w/ that Cheval Sombre 7″!)

Barbarians – Only the 30 or so people in that room (The Tiger Club) know what happened when Barbarians started.

My Toys Like Me were an interesting electronica-tinged wail-fest.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

In The City/Unconvention Day 1

October 6, 2008
Ricky Korn and Einar Jóhannsson during the 200...

Image via Wikipedia

I eventually made it to Manchester @ 6pm, just in time for the NIMIC showcase.

Ross & the Northern Ireland Music Industry Commission are, I believe, a model industry body – publicly funded, NIMIC support NI’s music industry and scene with business showcases and live events aiming to educated dullards like myself in the workings of the industry. As well as that, they put on showcase events like last night to introduce the wider world to the awesomeness of Northern Ireland music. Never a bad thing.

Most importantly, they’re very approachable and great sources of info for the enterprising music biz.

Anywho, Panama Kings truly brought the rock and proved beyond doubt how vital Belfast is these days. But it was Cashier #9 who truly shone on this night – their footstomping bluesy grunt, tastefully embellished with beats and loops, really brought the house down.

We headed up to the site of Unconvention, the beautiful Sacred Trinity Church in Salford. It was truly a pleasure to walk into the main area of the church, replete with altar and baptismal font, and see Cynic Guru rocking out for the crowd. This place, and event, promises to be unique in every way. Artwork from Fat Northerner & Humble Soul records adorned the walls – check out some photos of the bands via Penny’s flickr (on the right of this post)

We hit up the legendary Night&Day club next for The Spinto Band’s brand of on-stage lunacy, replete with Kazoos. I loved the area and the venue, and it’s right next door to Manchester’s premier indie record store, Piccadilly. It was at this point that someone suggested Goldschlager. Wrong, wrong, wrong.

Out the door we bumped into Manchester native and fellow tub-thumper Graham (he of Groovy Revolution) who took us to Mojo, which was serving up amazing Vodka mixers and great tunes. In fact, they’ll play anything that you ask them, as long as it’s not shit. A bar owned by music-snobs = result. 4am and much dancing later, it was time for a well earned sleep.

More of today’s fun and games (and some post about the Music panels from Today’s convention) later…

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]