The Music Industry panel took place on Friday at Summer in the City 2017. It featured musicians Dodie Clark and Will Joseph Cook, and managers Dan Market, Emma Jay Marsh, and Carl Young, as well as BBC Radio 1 presenter Phil Taggart. It was chaired by manager and A&R scout Joshua Edwards.
The panel revolved around the music industry, particularly how online distribution has affected it. It was held in Panel Room A and led to discussions about online streaming, music genres, and Ed Sheeran (which divided the panel).
Josh decided to turn the panel into “Never Mind the BuzzJosh“, splitting the panel into teams of two. To Josh’s dismay, the panellists did not come with prepared team names as apparently no-one had read his email. Will and Phil named themselves “Will and Phil”, Carl and Dodie became “DodiCarl”, and Dan and Emma became “Outboxes”. After handing each team a buzzer and showing the prize (a signed photo of himself), Josh began the discussion.
They first talked about the current climate of our fast-growing digital age and its impact on the music industry.
Will emphasised the importance of putting things out there, especially if you’re at the beginning of your career, stating that “you should just want to get it out there, whatever needs to be done. I would just throw as many things at the wall as possible.” Phil agreed, emphasising the importance of uploading because “if you don’t exist on a streaming platform, it doesn’t exist – it’s the central thing that then hooks other things”. Dodie shared her observations, noting that as she’s put more of her music on platforms such as Spotify and released physical copies, she’s seen her audience grow.
Dan noted that playing live concerts is important for a lot of artists at the beginning: “It’s all very well getting a billion views on Spotify and YouTube, but you need to make it real. You have to have a balance.” Will agreed, sharing a story of how one of his friends receives a huge reach and makes money from it, but struggles to fill seats at his shows.
The conversation moved on to audiences, demographics, and how artists capitalise on them. Dodie has found that she is now starting to be recognised online for her music alone, and not just for YouTube. She said her method has been: “Here’s all of me at once. There you go!”
Josh moved on to the “next lines” round, where the panellists had to continue the lyrics he read out. They struggled through Adele, Stormzy, and Drake but managed to catch some points.
Returning to the discussion, they talked about using major labels and indie labels, with Josh noting that attitudes towards major labels and traditional methods are turning sour. Will, who is on a major label, explained that on an indie label, they can be more agile and keep with the times, “and that’s good as things are changing so much”. However, he feels that there is a ceiling that indie artists hit, whilst major record labels can reach bigger platforms such as Radio 1 more easily.
Phil runs his own indie record company named Hometown Records. He explained that indie records offer a small family: “If we’ve got one or two artists on our label, then they’re a massive priority for us. We want to keep the people, we want to keep the family. We can train them up like in kindergarten… until a major label comes along with a big cheque. And I’m not bitter about it at all!” he joked. Dan emphasised the importance of defining who you are as an artist overall, “trying to understand where you exist culturally and the definition of your art, and understand where you want to get to”. The panel agreed that it was easier to work with talent when they had an idea of who they were and where they wanted to go with their career.
Dodie shared her perspective as an unsigned artist. She felt that if she was signed, more people would tell her what to do: “With my channel, I’m taking it along with me and showing what it’s like to build a brand”. The downside is that she has to find her own jobs – however, her manager helps her.
Josh then asked if it was more important to have an engaged fanbase over having high statistics. Dodie shared that some people feel she’s cheating with her music as she already had an established audience. However, Phil jumped in to point out, “You started from music. You’re not like Jake Paul!” The panel rolled their eyes, with Dodie exclaiming, “He’s ruining it for us!”, and Phil said, “He’s everywhere. Dab on those haters.”
Will emphasised that it was important to know why you’re making music, and the importance of connecting or entertaining people. Phil agreed: “It’s better to have 20 people who are super engaged with your videos than to get 1 million views and never comment”.
Josh then led the discussion to movements in music, asking the panellists if the music industry was killing movements in music by oversaturating the market with imitations or if it was just part of the natural cycle of music. Phil felt it was just natural: “Everything has its day. Somewhere now, there’s a kid in his basement making music that we’ll listen to in five years’ time.” Carl felt that music was so diverse, it will continue to evolve. Will was less optimistic: “Someone makes something, it does well. Then the music industry copies it, it does badly, and then everyone hates that and the original.”
Josh put up a photo of Ed Sheeran and asked the panel, “What do people see in that?” Dodie pointed out that he made his brand “to be a grounded, cool, and genuine guy, but now he’s getting attacked for that”. Phil replied that “he could buy a building and knock it down for a laugh”. Josh felt that because of the strength of his fanbase, “he can do no wrong, even when he releases a subpar album”.
Up next was the round “If this is the answer, what is the question?”, with the panellists guessing Spotify streams and awards and discussing Psy.
Then, Josh asked the panellists to discuss a recent Guardian article that stated that there was a glass ceiling for women in music. Emma felt that there wasn’t a ceiling, pointing out Beyoncé and Rihanna. Will said that “it’s hard for any new bands to come through”. Phil felt that it was a complicated issue: “I don’t know why it’s so hard to get into the Singles Chart. With Spotify, you have so many playlists and so many songs listened to passively.” Emma concluded that it was hard to define what was a hit – “sometimes things get played loads but they’re not selling”.
The panel took questions from the audience. One person asked whether it was important to keep putting things out there or whether to wait until you’re able to release better quality music. Phil shared that he’d “listened to some good lo-fi stuff and sometimes it’s deliberately been made lo-fi”, and emphasised the importance of making music that hits people emotionally. Dodie agreed: “If your song is good enough, it doesn’t matter. How many videos have you seen on your Facebook that’s just someone in their bedroom?” Will pointed out that “no-one’s expecting high quality stuff – it’s weird if it is high quality”.
The panel rounded off with the panel guessing how many times Shape of You by Ed Sheeran has been played on Spotify (the answer is 1,000,042,405). Will and Phil were the winning team and left the stage with a signed and framed photo of Josh.
Photos by George Yonge.
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