Feargal Sharkey: CEO, UK Music: Access To Finance

18 Jan 2011

It’s become a recurring theme that the “traditional music industry” is over.  Creativity has been democratized.  There has been a paradigm shift from the well-trodden path of yesteryear.  Bands are brands.  Artists and entrepreneurs must find new ways to market.  New “business models” must be established.

To an extent, this is true.

In 2011, there’s undoubtedly more ways than ever to make and record music, to collaborate and to connect with fans.  At the tip of the pyramid, look at Damon Albarn, recording the latest Gorillaz album with iPad apps, or Kanye West’s Twitter giveaways on G.O.O.D Music Fridays.

It’s an incredibly exciting time.  The market is fragmented.  Boundaries are being pushed.  However, to some extent it was ever thus (and apologies in advance for the short history lesson).

Take music and brands…

Last year saw the release of a fantastic 16-disc Hank Williams boxset, compiling a host of radio shows recorded in 1951 for Nashville’s WSM Radio and sponsored by Mother’s Best Flour.  Williams plugs its cake-raising properties between takes. Previously thought lost, here is a prime example of brand sponsorship, albeit a fairly crude one, from nearly 60 years ago.

In 1953, a young man walked into Sam Philips’ Memphis Recording Service to record a birthday gift for his mother.  Legend has it that Elvis paid $3.98 to cut two Ink Spot covers – a step up from the popular recording booths of the time that, for 35 cents, allowed anyone to record an acetate disc.

Another decade on, in the UK, and when they weren’t producing a series of era-defining albums, The Beatles also developed a lucrative fan network.  The official Beatles Book Monthly apparently peaked at 350,000 paying subscribers, while fan club members were rewarded each December with an exclusive Xmas flexi-disc.  The band also, of course, franchised a fine line in wigs, badges and lunchboxes.

My point?

In the bigger scheme of things, it is always the music that matters.  We don’t remember Hank Williams for services to bread-making or John Lennon for Yellow Submarine tea sets.

Our demand is always for brilliance.  Fans want the best music – and they want it faster, and at their convenience.

The notion of a textbook “traditional” business model is probably something of a fallacy – and I write this as someone who began his own career helping fold 2,000 record sleeves, and later embarked on a tour sponsored by Swatch (and thankyou Swatch).

Beyond the essential acts of composing, recording and performing, music-makers and entrepreneurs have always found new ways to market, exploiting the limits of technology.  The digital era has simply multiplied the options.

The other perennial is finance and investment.

As with other creative business, great music needs support – whether from a record label, a publisher, a manager, a fan-funded model or some other source.

Artists and composers need time and space to create.  Marketing demands money and expertise.  Gigging in a transit van is as lucrative now as it was 30 years ago.  And on and on.

It’s why access to finance is one of UK Music’s ongoing priorities – working with our membership to open up schemes like the Enterprise Finance Guarantee, or helping banks and Government understand the pressures and needs of music entrepreneurs.

In the current economic climate, this is no small task.

However, with policy-makers recognising the unique potential of the UK’s creative industries as drivers of growth, and the role creative entrepreneurs play in developing other sectors of the economy – particularly in the digital sphere – it is also a fantastic opportunity.

I have no doubt that 2011 will see yet more innovation, more digital partnerships and more great music.

However, it must be underpinned by investment.

We are making progress on these fronts, and we are hugely indebted to all those who have shared their experiences.  As a result, the Department of Business is undertaking a review of the specific challenges faced by creative businesses when attempting to access finance.

But this is an ongoing conversation.  There is always room for more perspectives and I do urge you get in touch if you can help.

Investment is vital to the future success of this industry, and your views could make all the difference to our cause…

Feargal Sharkey, CEO, UK Music, 20.01.11

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