Interview Extract taken from Music Week by Dave Roberts 7-9-15
Created five years ago by the North East based regional business booster Generator, Music Futures has evolved into a well regarded music business conference with a national (and indeed international) agenda. Founder Jim Mawdsley talks to Dave Roberts about how the event has grown and what to expect this year…
Can you tell us a bit about how and why Music Futures was started?
Historically we had shied away from producing an annual conference as we delivered content all year round. We were then tasked with producing a Music Business network in Yorkshire and one of the pre requisites of the agreement was to produce a conference for the network at the end of the year. We planned a day packed with panels, networking events and talks which was over subscribed and extremely useful for the businesses in the region so we thought we should be doing this in the North East.
And how has it evolved in the last five years in terms of its standing, its agenda and its goals?
As we had established our business support programme for new and existing Music Businesses in the North East originally Music Futures was an opportunity for those business to get together for a day, network and to listen to panellists and speakers from the highest end of the music industry. We were almost taken aback at how much support the industry gave us in terms of the calibre of experts willing to give us their time and travel to the Northeast.
As the conference has grown we’ve had to move it to bigger stages, from the original theatre to the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art and again, as attendance and interest has grown, we’ve had to move to the iconic Sage Gateshead. We realised that this has become an industry conference of national interest. We always wanted to evolve a conference which was less about the practicalities of the “here and now” which all the other conferences and conventions are about (and are extremely useful), to one that was more for music industry leaders, strategists and commentators to outline where they think the industry is going, on as many aspects as possible in one structured day. We have an ambition to make this the must attend autumn event for the Music Industry and it is shaping up to be just that.
Who is Music Futures for?
Music Futures is aimed at the national Music Industry. It is for anyone working and making a living from the industry whether as a junior or senior exec in a major label, leading indie or small recording company right through to trade associations, management companies etc. It is an opportunity for the industry to get together outside of London and discuss and debate the immediate future of the industry.
What will delegates get out of MF?
They will certainly get insight into where areas of their business activity are headed by hearing discussion from some of the leading figures in differing sectors of the industry. Throughout the event including the preconference reception on Wednesday the 11th and the post conference drinks and social they will get opportunities to network with each other and the invited panellists / speakers. We aim to have high quality throughout and these opportunities will be enhanced by the fact we have limited the numbers to 320 delegates this year.
Who helps you shape the topics and the participants?
We are really proud that through the success of the organisation we have built strong partnerships who are happy to help with content and with attracting the right guests to participate. This year apart from working with Music Week, of course we are producing content with Music Ally, Music Business Worldwide, New Slang Media and with trade associations including the Music Publishers Association and Musicians’ Union. We are also massively fortunate to have Tony Wadsworth on our board and he has been a huge help in advising on all aspects of the conference as well as inviting key people to attend.
Which issues in particular are you tackling this year?
The main themes we are tackling are quite simply retail, publishing, A&R and streaming but obviously where the future lies for them. With A&R we are asking whether the whole business of signing artists is too reliant on data nowadays with less emphasis on the actual creativity of writing a good strong repetoire. With retail we are asking where the continuing rise of streaming will leave retail both physically and digitally and with the former is the continued rise of vinyl sales boosting a return to the high street stores? Streaming is a fascinating area at the minute, not least the revenue share debates but also how it could eventually take over radio as well as a primary music consumption and promotion model as we have seen moves towards increased curation and indeed the ‘acquisition’ of key broadcasters and producers by Apple in recent times. We have also seen changes in the way technology can affect the way publishers can share data with their clients and we are asking the question on whether transparency is the future. Underlying all of these themes is the big question of whether more tech based companies are actually trying to take over the music industry as we see an increasing need for their promotion and distribution models.
Who are some of the standout speakers and panelists and how many more are there to announce?
We still have plenty to announce including the ‘fireside chats’ with leading Music Industry figures but the line up of speakers is already not only the best yet at Music Futures but also one of the most impressive I’ve seen at an industry conference for years. The A&R panel ‘Where Data leads the music will follow’ already has Alison Donald (joint MD at Columbia), Jim Chancellor (MD Fiction and Caroline International) and Caroline Elleray (Head of A&R at Universal Publishing) on it. The future of retail has a similarly strong line up so far with Martin Talbot (MD at The Official Charts Company), Kim Bayley (CEO, ERA), Mel Armstrong (Director of Music Category at HMV) and Lee Morrison (General Manager UK at Believe Digital). We’ve just added Andy Heath (Beggars) to Chris Meehan (CEO at Sentric) for the publishing panel and with Joe Harland (Radio 1 and 1 Extra), Simon Cole (CEO at 7 Digital) all to be joined by confirmed but yet to be announced guests as well as a strong showing of moderators including Mark Sutherland from Music Week, Karim Fanous from Music Ally, Chris Price from New Slang Media and Tim Ingham from Music Business Worldwide it really is shaping up to be an unmissable event.
Has it been a goal to build around the conference itself? And what do you have this year ‘outside office hours’, so to speak?
Yes definitely, as we have had increasing amounts of people travelling to the event from much further afield and staying over we have been conscious that we should lay on some social events. This year we are hosting a preconference reception on the Wednesday 11th which all speakers and delegates will be invited to in order to break the ice. Also following the event we will have the traditional networking drinks and then everyone can move over to the Ouseburn Valley where we have an evening programme of gigs at the Cluny and Cluny 2 (venues that were central to the recent 6 Music Festival day time programme) where we will be putting some of the Tipping Point artists on alongside some of the regions brightest talent. The beauty of these venues is that they have a huge bar in between so if the bands don’t take your fancy you can just continue your conversations…
One of Generator’s founding principles is to assist local businesses and creatives, does that mean that there is a regional element to Music Futures, or is it an entirely national event?
Over recent years we have taken a more national role in a significant amount of what we do and it is this outlook that we see Music Futures now becoming a truly national event. Newcastle / Gateshead can be reached on a train from Kings Cross in under 3 hours and with the conscious decision to keep the key content of Music Futures to one day we are looking to build a strong conference that will definitely be worth the trip without being too costly at all.
On that note, is the music industry too Londoncentric and do you ever get pushback from potential panelists or delegates who don’t fancy making the trip?!
No not at all. To be honest we have been taken aback by the willingness of everyone to come and take part. I think that is testament to the team at Generator who have earned the respect and admiration from the UK Music Industry by producing outstanding programmes that have helped artists and businesses succeed wherever they are based. We are finding that while the heat of the UK music industry remains in London there are an increasing amount of success stories from all regions and nations of the British Isles.