7 Sep 2017

How to make your band succeed: the inside guts on the music industry

From RNZ Music, 11:28 am on 7 September 2017
Attentive audience at Going Global 2017

Attentive audience at Going Global 2017 Photo: Dave Simpson

Going Global is a local music summit that brings together musicians and key music industry players from across the globe. 

This year the summit was held at Neil Finn's Roundhead Studios. Speakers included artist and repertoire (A&R) directors (the people at record labels who sign bands), music festival directors, publicists, music journalists, tour bookers, artist managers, curators, and lawyers.

They came from all over the world – the UK, the US, Australia, Chile, Sweden, Singapore and NZ. For the hundred or so participants, it meant having the chance to learn from and connect with world experts in the music industry.

RNZ Music attended both days of the summit. Here are some of the things we learned:

Brave New Worlds – New Approaches to Releasing Music

There have been increasingly elaborate and innovative record release strategies in the last decade, from Beyonce’s ‘surprise’ albums, to St Vincent’s twitter driven release-o-meter, to Arcade Fire’s recent ‘fake news’ campaign - yes, the one that has backfired badly.

Top Takeaways:

  • Release cycles (the time from when you publicly announce the record to the time you release it) are shorter now. Usually only around two months. You need to capture an audience in that time, and not give them a chance to forget about you.  
Jane Abernathy, 4AD A+R Director

Jane Abernathy, 4AD A+R Director Photo: Dave Simpson

  • While releasing a record now needs to make more of a splash on impact, there is still one thing that acts need to do - Tour. It’s the best promotional tool you have.
  •  “Premiere culture” isn’t something these panelists are keen on, though they admit it does come in use for ‘baby bands.’ Read more about the problem with blog premieres here
  • A resounding “DON’T SEND DEMOS” from the A+R Directors.
  • Like Ben Swanson said: “Find your champions, and cultivate those relationships.”

Listen To Me – Cutting Through The Noise

How to make your band stand out in the sea of new music that journalists encounter every. single. day.

Top Takeaways

  • Keep your pitches short and to the point. No one likes cliches. There are some good tips for writing press releases here and here. You don’t need a story, but it sure helps to get attention.
  • Target publications and journalists that fit your style. Try to find out what specific genres journos like. Send them gifts. (Jokes, I’m kidding. We can’t be bought. We do it for the passion. SRSLY.)
  • Have a strategy! Proper lead-time to build a campaign is 12-18 months of working with a publicist. They’ll help you stock your toolkit with the right branding images, story, and contacts to get your music to the right people and places.
  • U.K. music publicist Mel Brown says “Be passionate.” If you can’t back yourself, who will?
Mel Brown and Nicole Thomas, publicists

Mel Brown and Nicole Thomas, publicists Photo: Dave Simpson

Let’s Be Remarkable - Treating The Creative Process With The Reverence It Deserves

Okay, the Going Global Music Summit is all about doing the Biz. But without your creations, you have no product to market. “This is the easiest time to be adequate, but the hardest time to be remarkable,” says Graham Ashton of Footstomp music.

Top Takeaways

Jon Toogood

Jon Toogood Photo: Dave Simpson

  • Be obsessive. Carve out time in your day to focus on creating, and staying present. Even if it’s only a couple of hours. Have a space where you can make the most ridiculous noises you want. Be fearless, and change things up. As Shayne Carter told Jon Toogood once: “Don’t be afraid to suck.”
  • You could use your live show as a testing ground for new songs, and refine them over time, as Ladi6 has done with her album labs.  
  • With representatives from Shihad, Fat Freddy’s Drop and Six60 on the panel, Ashton asked what the secret to their longevity was... “Keep the band together” says Nicole Duckworth. It’s a family, and those relationships need to be looked after and worked on. Toogood says the best decision Shihad ever made was to split royalties on every song they made evenly. 

SONGHUBS – On Collaboration

Q: How many writers does it take to write a hit song? A: 4.53

This is a legit average, taken from a study by Music Week magazine of 2016s 100 highest charting singles. Only four songs were credited to a single artist. Though co-writing has always been the norm in pop music (e.g. the hitmakers that worked out of the Brill Building in the 1960s) in other genres it’s a relatively underrepresented form. Unless you truly collaborate in your band, it’s something that New Zealand musicians have shyed away from, preferring to do almost everything themselves. 

APRA introduced Songhubs in 2016, hoping to break that mindset, and facilitate some interesting combinations of ideas. Musicians we know who have been through it have loved the experience.     

Top Takeways

  • Co-writing can be a kind of alchemy, but like any good collaboration requires a good conversation beforehand, to make sure you’re on the same page, and staying true to yourself. Remember that it’s about “serving the song” - and that sometimes requires you to leave your ego at the door. 
  • There are different ways to split copyright and the royalties that flow from that. Sometimes it’s just more diplomatic to split it evenly between every writer in the room, even if you feel one part is less important. This is called “Nashville Splits” and you can find good advice on that here. But there are many ways to slice and dice it. APRA NZ can provide advice on this too

Unlocking Australia - Panel

Being in such close proximity to NZ, there’s a long history of local bands heading to Australia. With a larger population, and similar cultural values to ourselves, it’s a natural market for NZ musicians. But you still need to put in the work to make it in Australia.

Top takeaways:

  • "Get your shit together before you go." Become familiar with Australian acts similar to your own, and make connections. Find out who their record labels, publishers, publicists are. Where do they play? Which radio stations are playing their music? Introduce yourself to industry folk by email, and then send your manager (if you have one) over on a scoping mission. Start in Sydney, where the music industry is mostly based. Make a plan to return to tour every 6 months to a year.
  • Each city has its own different musical bent - e.g. Sydney has more of a dance/club culture than Melbourne. Target the market that suits your sound best.  
  • Regional touring is possible. Parlour Gigs is a service that organises house concerts (it’s the Air BnB of live music), and is a great way to fill up your tour schedule between bar/club gigs.
Unlocking Australia panel

Unlocking Australia panel Photo: Dave Simpson

The Panels:

Brave New Worlds – New Approaches to Releasing Music

Andrew Jervis - Chief Curator, Bandcamp (USA), Ben Swanson - Co-Founder, Secretly Group (USA), Bill Roe - Label Owner, Trouble In Mind (USA), Jane Abernathy - Director of A&R, 4AD (USA), Stuart Meyer - A&R/Production, Sub Pop (USA), chaired by Mikee Tucker - founder, Loop (NZ)

Listen To Me – Cutting Through The Noise

Andrew Stafford - Freelance Journalist, The Guardian (AU), Lars Brandle - Correspondent, Billboard (AU), Mel Brown - Owner, Impressive PR (UK), chaired by Nicole Thomas - Owner, NicNak Media Ltd. (NZ)

Let’s Be Remarkable - Treating The Creative Process With The Reverence It Deserves

Graham Ashton - Director, Footstomp (AU) with Jon Toogood of Shihad, Marlon Gerbes of Six60, and Nicole Duckworth - Manager, Fat Freddy's Drop

SONGHUBS – On Collaboration

Catherine Haridy - Artist & Producer Manager, Catherine Haridy Management (AU), Paul Adams - Artist Manager, New Community Management (USA), Possum Plows - Artist, Openside (NZ), chaired by Ant Healey - Head of Operations at APRA AMCOS NZ

Unlocking Australia - Panel

Andrew Stafford - Freelance Journalist, The Guardian (AU), Catherine Haridy - Artist & Producer Manager, Catherine Haridy Management (AU), Maggie Collins - Artist Manager, BIGSOUND Programmer, Triple J host (AU), Matthew Rogers - Chief Operating Officer, UNIFIED Music Group (AU), Matt Walters - Founder/Director, Parlour Gigs (AU), chaired by Anthonie Tonnon - musician (NZ)

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