The theme of this year’s The Great Escape was DIY. I’ve often wondered about the meaning of those three letters, actually. Doing it yourself is surely the only way of doing things. Otherwise you’re getting things done for you. Short of having blue blood, what are your chances? Or, if you’re not doing things for yourself, things are being done to you. That could be painful, even with the right lubrication,
My career of two decades and counting has been one big DIY fest. I would wager a guess that so are most careers, quite possibly in most businesses. My Dad had a career in the consulting engineering business and throughout my blissfully happy childhood I never thought for a minute that our daily bread was ever in doubt. Just last year he published a book, in which I read that for the most part it was all touch and go. It was rare for him to know three months in advance what was going to happen, where the money was going to come from.
There went my theory about the perks of a stable career in a stable profession.
Similarily, what we tell young musicians about how the business of music works needs further attention. Like, really. Many of the panels at TGE sort of beat around the bush on key issues. Panelists spoke eloquently about passion and commitment, but were suitably hazy on the details.
Sure, everyone understands that the reason you want to work with someone is because you like what they do and you like them as people. But when was the last time you got a PR to work for you for no fee? When was the last time an agent worked with a band on compassionate grounds? Since when was a publisher a charitable organisation?
In order for there to be a business, music has to generate income. If your band business doesn’t generate any, your day job business needs to subsidise your band business until the latter becomes the former.
You can passionately believe in believing passionately but no amount of glamorised bullshit is going to change this fact.
Then I went to see some gigs.
Judging by the amount of hyped up bands on show versus the amount of good musicians in them, I’d say that some artists would rather spend money on a PR campaign than music lessons.
With so many completely interchangeable bands at TGE it occurred to me that the fashion manual they read is probably in the top 10 on Amazon. It will also be on the list of banned books come revolution…
And if anyone needs to be reminded just how many bands there are out there… bloody hell, it really is quite a lot. Question is, how does one stand out in a crowd?
If the rest of them are looking that way, why don’t you look the other way? Right now. Do the polar opposite without delay. Instead of being one of a million you want to be one in a million. Doing things differently will get you there.
The foreign dignitaries at our showcase said afterwards that it was refreshing in a sea of nondescript indie bands to see our artists on stage, because they were different. Well done, our bands.
When you meet a lot of new people in conferences such as TGE, you need an “elevator pitch” that summarises what you do in 24 words or less. In my general schpiel about us and our artists, I said of The Manic Shine that they were without a doubt the best musicians in town that weekend. Some didn’t understand. I reiterated by saying that they’re the only band in town capable of blowing people away with their chops. Some were still left looking lost.
Why is it bewildering to discuss musicianship at a music conference?
I went to see a bunch of legendary record producers, lead by the very amazing Trevor Horn, talk about music. Trevor said that before the 60s the UK wasn’t known as a major world power musically. There was no Debussy, no Tchaikovsky. I’d never thought of it that way.
The extraordinary thing that’s happened since the 60s is that the UK has become a world leader in pop music. Indeed, for all my ranting about the state of music, all I need to do is go to any other country in the world to know that we’ve never had it so good.
A cool vignette: I met with a band who expressed interest in working with us. I spoke about how I felt about their music, what they were doing and how. My monologue ended in silence and I thought, shit, I’ve gone too far too soon. But then one of them cleared his throat to say that it was the best thing they’d hear from anyone they’d been talking to over numerous similar meetings.
My ideas, admittedly, are usually low on glamour and high on work ethic. It was cool to see a bunch of young musos react so positively.
In my very last meeting a journalist said that we have a really good reputation as honest people who love music. That put the spring into my step and I dragged my tired bones towards the train station to get back to civilisation.
I had a great time at TGE. We did deals. I made a lot of new friends. Discovered new ideas and new concepts about this business of music. Many thanks to the Department Of Trade And Industry for organising a stellar networking event at which I made a ton of international contacts. Thank you to everyone who came to our showcase. Thanks to our staff for running it smoothly. Thanks to the bands who did the business when it mattered.