As I approach the third installation of Output Belfast, the mumble of excited chatter and the smell of freshly ground coffee hang in the air. Those within the music industry converse in the lobby with those hopeful to join them, while locals discuss which talks and artist showcases they plan to attend, at the same time providing a guiding hand in pointing those who have travelled from further afield in the right direction.
With so much going on during a day saturated with knowledge and ideas, you could be forgiven for missing an insight or two. From the payment of artists to challenging licensing laws, here are some helpful observations I note as the minds of expert speakers and panelists are put to work at the MAC.
Don’t worry about the complainers, they aren’t listening anyway
Ferocious and insightful, such is the wisdom of Bob Lefsetz. The anxiety that comes with putting yourself out there is a topic present throughout the entire day. A renowned commentator on issues relating to the music industry, Lefsetz speaks of dismissing the complaints in his closing keynote. They aren’t even from the people listening anyway, so why does it matter? The focus must remain entirely on your work and its growth.
'Experiment on YouTube and Soundcloud. If your followers aren’t growing don’t keep doing the same thing, do something different! Not everyone is going to like you, unless it’s your goal to change perception then get down in the gutter and work' - Bob Lefsetz
How to come together to challenge licensing
Amy Lame’s conversation with AVA Festival founder Sarah McBriar tackles the topic of Northern Ireland’s strict licensing laws. It is also a subject of interest during the London Night Czar's opening address. Lame speaks of 'identifying the cultural and financial value of nightlife' and reinforces her desire to see the appointment of similar ambassador for Belfast after dark, one who can welcome new ideas and make the city open for business, even into the early hours.
So, how do we actually challenge licensing? Many promoters with outstanding social media reach are identified amongst the audience, and a copy of the London Partnership model is seen as an achievable outcome. The togetherness that is so vibrant and visible throughout Belfast’s nightlife needs to be reflected politically. Then the possibility of pilot schemes to achieve a collaborative balance may not seem so far away.
Read Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point
Selling yourself and spreading your ideas. Two essential components to learn for anyone who wants to become a success. Bob Lefsetz highly recommends that everyone should read The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell.
'The tipping point is that magic moment when an idea, trend, or social behaviour crosses a threshold, tips, and spreads like wildfire. Just as a single sick person can start an epidemic of the flu, so too can a small but precisely targeted push cause a fashion trend, the popularity of a new product, or a drop in the crime rate', reads the description on Gladwell’s website.
The book is described by Lefsetz as being easy to read and contains a wonderful exploration into how people think about selling and growing their brainwaves.
How to revolutionise the payment of artists
'In the race to adopt new technologies, the music industry historically has finished just ahead of the Amish' – Stan Cornyn
The above quote is used during a presentation of Blockchain, a concept that aims to revolutionise the way artists are paid. British Academy of Songwriters, Composers and Authors (BASCA) director Crispin Hunt addresses the issue during his opening keynote, explaining that his vision of the future sees TV, radio, vinyl, Apple Music and Spotify all laying six feet below. It's therefore essential that we remould the online rights of musicians.
The idea of a new digital format for music where key pieces of information (writer, publisher, contact details and payment method) are embedded within the file itself was first pitched by Benji Rogers, who also co-founded PledgeMusic. In this way a 'smart contract' is created where the ownership of music is completely transparent, and the details required to pay the creator are instantly visible. A potentially groundbreaking venture that paints an idealistic portrait of an equal industry, Roberts and Block Chain seem intent on 'building the truth'.
You don’t need the best manager; you need the best manager for you
Lefsetz does not hold back when it comes to speaking of his industry understanding. One tip he has for musicians in search of a manager is to 'find someone that’s passionate about you', and not just the idea of making money off you.
Those in the audience eagerly jot down useful titbits, such as never paying a manager over 20% of earnings. In order to find the perfect industry group you must first 'build it without a team, then you can find a better team.'
You don’t want money, you want attention
'If you’re making an album and you’re unknown, stop!' You don’t want to go into the industry initially seeking financial reward, first you should focus on building your profile by making as much noise as possible.
According to Lefsetz, one platform that won't help you achieve this is Spotify. 'Spotify playlists are background listens,' he says of the streaming service, whose fractional fees for artists are well publicised. 'You can have thousands of plays and still get nowhere.'
'Your goal is to find people who spread the word. We all know people like this,' Lefsetz adds. Accept the reality we’re living in and be conscious of the relationships you build - they’re going to be the people that take you from nowhere to somewhere.
Realising the importance of artistic relation when dealing with mental health in music
The feeling throughout the room during Help Musicians NI's 'Can Music Make You Sick?' panel is that the conversation on mental health in music has begun, but it needs to be continued. Adam Ficek, formerly of Babyshambles, and Sally Anne-Gross of the University of Westminster explain that help starts with your GP, but with extreme waiting lists and ineffective or inadequate advice there is an overwhelming feeling that there isn’t any help.
'There needs to be an understanding from an artist’s perspective,' explains Ficek. 'People don’t want to be told to not be a musician.' Anxiety is inherited with a musician’s career choice. Safe spaces where discussions can happen are now more essential than ever.
Your big break won’t be that radio show or TV appearance, it will be when you least expect it
Lefsetz states bluntly during his closing keynote, 'there’s nothing more ignorant than an artist'. The writer paints a picture of a scenario where a member of a band inherits five thousand pounds. Should he spend it on the band? 'Hell no!' states Lefsetz.
Another suggestion is not to overspend on audio production programs or kit, as 'you'll need that money in an unexpected way'. There are enough pieces of software that are perfectly cheap or free that musicians can manipulate in different ways to achieve their ideal sound.
The Lefsetz Letter author signs off the third edition of Output with two final instructions, ones which might be easy to take as a given, but essential to never lose sight of: 'Be inspired, be creative.'
For more upcoming music industry events, workshops and opportunities in Northern Ireland, visit www.generatorni.com.