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“If you’re a fisherman, you wanna go to the sea” – Notes on a music conference

A post by Eastaste Eastaste on September 4, 2012


I’ve been to the Jerusalem Music Conference last week, where about two dozens of music industry pro’s were flown in from companies like Coda, Glastonbury, Primavera, Q Magazine, Brooklyn Vegan, CMJ, ITB, United Islands, Windish Agency, Exit Festival, Mighty Sound, Full Steam, Friendly Fire, BMG, Mercury Records and so on.

The aim of the conference was to give some insight for the Israeli music industry on how they could join the party that Europe or the US is throwing. It’s very much the same what our Eastern EU friends want, except maybe they are a bit further ahead in the line, closer to the bouncer, but still outside trying to figure out whether their dress code is okay.

There were multiple thematic panels about usual questions like how to get into big festivals, how to get a booking agent, how to get on blogs or magazines or what do labels look for in a band. It was all very informal and chatty, the audience could ask a lot of questions to, so there was a nice back to back to it.

It wasn’t so much about cracking anything new, unless you’re ignorant enough not to read about the stuff you’re into. It was rather a hardcore reminder about the reality, and a few tips about how not to waste your time by doing it wrong. And of course a good chance to become BFF with the people you bombard with emails all the time.

You can read plenty of stuff about the do’s and don’ts as an unknown musician, so I’ll try not to repeat them, and concentrate only on what seemed to be interesting from a how-to-break-in-from-handickapped-places perspective.

Relatively the easiest way to go to a new country and actually have 1+ people in the audience is of course to get into festivals. Out of personal experience, but also from what the bookers from Exit, Glasto, Primavera etc said, about 60-70% of their bands come from established sources i.e. buddies from labels and booking agencies, but the rest are independent, unknown artists or their reps. If you send them your material properly, well ahead (10-4 months) chances are they’ll check it out. Now, what does properly mean? The more it gets than a soundcloud link, the lesser the chances are it gets listened. The only thing all of them agreed on, and I’ll get back to it later, was that they favor the bands who have some kind of plan, strategy in which the festival slot falls into nicely. Don’t aim for a festival to make it pay for your flights. Count it as a good opportunity to play and build gigs around it. If you’re reading this, chances are that based on your position in the entertainment industry you shouldn’t even think about money coming in, only money going out. Of your pocket of course.

The one with the labels was interesting. They were kind of trying to defend their role in the equation as the most important players, which seemed a bit awkward after acknowledging that their first and foremost purpose – putting out cd’s – is pointless nowadays. The bottom line was that they are still the engine and gatekeepers of the industry on many levels. Their thinking is, that you should turn to them when you’re sick and tired of doing it all on your own, provided you’ve done well on your own. If the label is kosher, they’ll do your social media, hook you up with bookers, publishers, get you into festivals and do your PR. Unfortunately, as I’ve seen it with many bands it’s rarely the case, so even if you get a record deal, be prepared your days as a business man are still not over, and you’ll still have to work on getting a booker, publisher, pr agent and do social media on your own.

However, if you couldn’t get a good label, it probably means you still haven’t done enough legwork to stand out and have the almighty buzz. Labels don’t have the resources anymore to run their hit & miss business as they used to, so they can’t take chances. As Adrian Jolly, Senior A&R from Mercury pointed it out, his work hasn’t changed too much, except there’s no artist development. They don’t have the money for that anymore, that’s why they only pick bands that have done that by themselves and built up a fan base, great live shows, image etc. His job is to try to sign the hot bands before other labels do. Your job as a band should be to engage as many fans as possible until you stand out with your Youtube and Facebook numbers. Emma Hogan booking agent from ITB was pretty much on the same page. Picking up a band from an email has maybe happened once in history, but it’s safe to say sending emails to big booking agencies is hardly the way to get tours. Actually thinking about tours in general is a bit dumb and idealistic for an unknown-unsigned band as Alex Hardee put it. He’s 3 advice were: move to London, LA or New York (or Berlin if you’re making electronic music). To quote him: “if you’re a fisherman, you wanna go to the see.”

It’s a tough call, as most of the bands break up when they move, or they gave up after X years of table waiting. Some however, like DENA or Maria Minerva (maybe going solo is the way) most recently, may see some light at the end. You need a strong team with sheer determination and people with different skillset. Like in a hardcore band from Hungary which moved to the US quite a few years ago. The person from the band who was going to knock on doors but hardly spoke any english commented on this shortfall: I’ll make up for it by using sophisticated words: instead of maybe, I’ll say perhaps…So, be creative I guess!

One might wonder, how come the whole world is talking about going independent, f*ck the labels, go DIY, while you still have all these people who actually have the power to make you count (the money). I spoke to Alex afterwards about it and he said that the system, as crooked as it is, still powered by those few labels who can invest at least 50-100k in a band which pays for tourings, PR and the rest. But to get to that level, you have to invest too.

And this brings to the press panel which was represented by Paul Stokes editor of Q Magazine and Dave (didn’t disclose his full name) from the überblog Brooklyn Vegan. Q mag is higher up in the chain in a sense they’ll write about bands that already have a lot going for them, whereas BV will pick up on any band they like, which often results in those bands getting mails from bookers, labels etc. As you rightly think so, chasing blogs that are relevant for you is your cheapest option to generate buzz, but to get any of the influential blogs to write about you is the tricky one. Just to get an idea how tricky it is, the BV team gets multiple emails every single minute. That’s way more than a 1000 emails a day, so chances are your beautifully crafted piece will never get read. The only way to get noticed if your info comes from a legit, solicited source, which is a publicist, or pr agent who they know and have a steady flow of great material. And this is only about being opened, it’s got nothing to do with being featured. Bottom line is, if you want to be serious about your release, you should have a well thought strategy in place, that includes a pr agent (with great track record), focusing on territories that make sense for your band, and always have an idea about the next steps.

There were some more interesting and not so interesting panels, and we also got to meet the female Borat from Uzbekistan. She killed the panel with a video, that nobody saw coming. We got to learn about the origins of their folk dances while she was reading from what sounded like an agitprop text edited by Stalin.

To sum it up, here’s one of the panelists’ wisdom: nobody gives a shit about what you do unless someone else does.

Ren Horvath