Have you ever wondered how the music industry really works behind the scenes? Have you ever wanted to know the best way to share your music with the world? Or are you maybe an aspiring producer who wants to find the best courses available to help make this dream a reality? Whatever questions you may have about the music industry, BBC Music Introducing gave it a good crack at answering them last weekend with Amplify ’17, a weekend-long event at London’s Excel Centre that offered a whole range of industry sessions, talks from BBC radio DJs, live performances from up-and-coming bands, music masterclasses and feedback sessions for new musicians.
The opening talk of the day in the Journey Theatre was an interview with Frank Carter, formerly of Gallows and currently of Frank Carter and the Rattlesnakes, and Huw Stephens from BBC Radio 1. Most interviews these days ask the same mundane questions, which are then followed by equally mundane responses. This interview on the other hand was fascinating and provided a fascinating insight into the realties of being a musician in the 21st century. Frank began by talking through his time as the frontman of Gallows. He explained that the only way to get gigs when they started out was to actually host gigs rather than be booked to play gigs, how the band signed to Warner Bros early on for a £1 million deal but only received less than half of that between all of them, how the pressures and expectations of being on a major label was a real struggle for the band, and how he eventually made the decision to leave the band due to creative differences after their second album, Grey Britain. The most interesting part of the interview though was when Frank talked openly about his mental health issues, and that even though cancelling the US leg of his tour recently due to his depression was one of the hardest decisions he’s ever had to make, it’s important to realise that you have to put yourself first. Carter also gave some good advice for new bands – never listen to what anyone says about your music. If you believe in your music that is the only thing that matters.
I then made my way to one of the industry sessions, A Guide to Self Releasing Your Music, with James Walsh (Managing Director, Ditto), James Moodie (Marketing Manager, The Orchard), Ally McCrae (Director, Two Up) and Sarah Landy (Kobalt Music) on the panel. This was a really interesting talk which encouraged aspiring artists to go through the Label Services Companies route rather than signing up with a major label. A lot of the discussion was taken up talking about streaming, which is unsurprisingly an important market for the industry. Getting artists on to playlists on streaming services such as Spotify is a big deal these days, and can really boost streams and open a lot of doors for an artist. The panel explained that one of the challenges labels face nowadays though is trying to transfer the popularity of an artist’s streams over to ticket sales for live shows. Often an artist might get their single on to one of the popular playlists, earning them tens of millions of streams, but when it comes to selling tickets they can struggle to sell more than a couple of hundred. Overall the talk was really interesting and I can almost guarantee that everyone in the room left having learned something new.
I was slightly apprehensive about attending the drum masterclass purely because I haven’t played drums in over two years and the thought of performing in front of an audience was rather terrifying, but I’m glad I went along as I instead spent 45 minutes listening to Rews drummer Collette Williams talk about her kit, her career in music, how she prepares for shows, and watching her play along to songs from their unreleased debut album. I was impressed at how technical she was when running though her kit, and she kept the audience’s attention from start to finish. I saw Rews perform later on in the day at the Amps stage in the centre of the event, and despite only hearing a few tracks I would recommend giving their album a listen when it’s released next month!
The most interesting talk of the day for me was Steve Lamacq’s Demo Bag. I regretted not being more prepared for the event, as there was an opportunity to submit your demo with the possibility of it being heard to the whole audience during the talk. However, by the end of the talk I was secretly glad I didn’t submit a song as the panel were quite brutal to the selected few! Lamacq was accompanied by Huw Stephens and Hannah Overton (Secretly Group), and they spent the session picking out demos, giving their thoughts and providing advice. The talk started with Lamacq playing a demo from a BBC Music Introducing workshop that took place a few years ago. Lamacq described the demo as one of the best he’d ever heard because of its uniqueness, and I almost jumped from my seat when I realised it was Jake Bugg. The demos that were picked out from the audience did not seem to go down fantastically well with the panel. A few kept their attention for more than 30 seconds, and Huw Stephens said he would play a couple of them on his show, but generally I got the feeling they weren’t all that impressed with the demos! The panel gave some useful pointers to those thinking of submitting a demo though. Most importantly, make sure you give a bit of background about yourself and give the song some context. Just sending a file with no info won’t make the song stand out from the rest, which is a must nowadays as DJs at the BBC are receiving hundreds of demos a week. The other piece of advice I found interesting was that when submitting a demo, two songs is the optimum number. Not one, not a whole album. Two songs. And make sure you have your best song first!
I spent the remainder of the day browsing the huge range of stalls. Marshall Amps, Shure, British Academy of Songwriters, various record stalls, Live and Loud, AWAL, Ditto, Soundcloud, you name it! In a nutshell, Amplify ’17 was the perfect event for any new musicians or people looking to work in the music industry.