Business News Management & Funding The Great Escape 2017

[email protected] 2017: The MEGS Guide To Exporting New Talent

By | Published on Friday 16 June 2017

David Manders

Look out for more reports throughout June on key sessions that took place at the CMU Insights conferences at The Great Escape last month. Today, the MEGS Guide To Exporting New Talent.

Funded by the Department For International Trade and administered by the BPI, the Music Export Growth Scheme aims to support independent British artists who have gained momentum in the UK and who are ready extend that success overseas.

Chris Tams from the BPI provided a beginners guide to the scheme as part of the CMU Insights Export Conference – reported on here – while three artist managers also spoke about their respective work with three artists who had received MEGS funding to help them with marketing and touring activity in new markets. Samantha Smith from Fairsound Management spoke about her work with LoneLady, David Manders (pictured) from Liquid Management about Public Service Broadcasting and Phil Middleton from ATC about The Temperance Movement.

LoneLady received MEGS funding to support international marketing around the release of her second album ‘Hinterland’ in 2015. It was the second time manager Smith had applied to the funding scheme on behalf of LoneLady, the first application not being successful. “We just had more traction in the UK”, Smith said, explaining why she thought the second application received funding. “It’s really part of the MEGS approach that there should be traction and success in the UK that the artist can build on abroad”, she added.

Public Service Broadcasting manager Manders agreed that this was a key element of the MEGS scheme. “We did very well off the first EP in the UK. We were just approaching Forum-level venues as far as the live shows go, and the band’s first proper album, ‘Inform Educate Entertain’, came out and went into the charts at 21. That was the point when we thought, we have a good business in the UK now, let’s start thinking about international and growing things”.

Bands need to ultimately think internationally, Manders added, if they are looking to enjoy a long career making music. But taking those first steps into new markets can be tricky and risky – especially for independent artists and labels operating on tight margins – which, of course, is why MEGS was created. The timing of the scheme’s launch worked well for Public Service Broadcasting, with Manders noting that “we were actually one of the acts supported by the first round of MEGS funding”.

Of course, for artists, international expansion is partly about boosting record sales and streams, but it is also about building greater demand for live shows, so that an artist can be touring for more of the year. Different artists will have different priorities. For The Temperance Movement, manager Middleton always saw the key opportunities as lying within the live sphere.

“The Temperance Movement are a rock n roll band”, he said. “They’re a live band. They record music yes, and they sell records, yes. But they’re a classic ‘tickets and t-shirts’ band. That’s what they do, that’s who they are, that’s the work ethic that will sustain their career”.

Therefore what the band needed MEGS support for most was to expand the reach of their European touring activity, to find a live audience in more places, which would enable the band to play more gigs each year in the long term.

The funding was used for simple practical things. “The additional funding meant the band could afford something like a tour bus”, Middleton said. “That tour bus meant we could play not just capital cities – not just four or five shows in total – but we could now make a 35 date tour a realistic prospect, and for a band like The Temperance Movement, that was what they needed”.

The strategy seemingly worked, with the band’s European audience growing as they toured. “Their tour went from being 150-cap shows to 500 and continues to rise”, said Middleton. And there were other benefits too. “They picked up a new German promoter on the tour, who also happens to book the Stones” he added. “Once the band had a working relationship with that promoter, we got support slots at the four Stones shows in Europe. Which was a godsend because of the PRS cheque that came with those performances. The performing right royalties from playing those support slots were in six figures, and that kept the band in business for the next two years”.

Finding the right business partners abroad is key to artists enjoying success in new markets, and MEGS funding often allows acts to build those partnerships. For those artists working with independent labels, that might be about allowing those record companies to dedicate more time and resource via their local offices in other markets, or it might be about hiring local suppliers, especially in marketing and PR.

Public Service Broadcasting released their album via their own label, so they had to find those business partners abroad from scratch. Manders said: “It was phone friends, ask people, who do you use in the territory? Get on the phone, speak to them. For years, I’ve done quite a lot of the music conferences, in various countries, so I’ve got to meet a fair few internationals over that time. Speak to those people, ask them, get advice. It’s a lot of trial and error”.

LoneLady is signed to Warp, so Smith could work with the label on securing expertise. The record company had its own people in some places, and even where they decided to hire external PR agencies to boost media exposure, “Warp were able to help us with that”, Smith said. “Because they had people they had worked with before”.

Though once those local business partners are on board – whether label, promoter or PR/marketing agencies – the manager still needs to stay on top of all the activity, and make sure everyone is working in sync. Another challenge for management and the key business partners is deciding with new markets to prioritise, especially in an era where you tend to release every new record globally on the same day, rather than staggering the release country by country.

Manders: “With this worldwide release thing in the digital age, everything goes live at the same time worldwide. But you can’t be in every country at the same time. That can be frustrating. It was actually nice when you could go: ‘Right we won’t release in Germany yet, we won’t release in Australia yet, let’s wait until we can get into the market and then there will be more attention on the band’. Because you will definitely make a bigger impact – and likely get much better media support – when you are actually on the ground in each territory”.

Smith agreed. If you get media support in a country, or traction on the streaming platforms there, you want to capitalise on that momentum, and the best way to do that is to go there. But at the same time, management and label need to properly weigh up the relative merits of every opportunity. “It’s exciting to get offered support slots in Spain and to go and play with a band for four days”, she said. “But it might ultimately cost you £5000 and, actually, is it the right thing to be doing at that time? You could stay in the UK and make an amazing video that will have impact everywhere”.

Even with the streaming services possibly allowing you to get more traction in more markets more quickly, taking an artist international is still a long-term project. “Definitely when you start to go into international, you really have to be committed long-term, there’s no short fix involved in it at all”, Manders said. “We never expected ‘oh right, we’ll get this MEGS funding, we’ll be massive in America, it’ll all be fine and we won’t need anything again’. It’s really about trying to develop something over the next ten years. You can’t spread yourself too thinly, you have to pick your markets carefully. You have to go there at the right time”.

To that end MEGS isn’t expecting overnight success, though as Tams explained when outlining the programme during the Export Conference, the scheme is all about return on investment, on ultimately growing the international businesses of UK artists, and in doing so benefiting the British economy.

“This isn’t an arts fund, it’s a business fund”, Manders noted. Return on investment is key, for that artist as well as the funder though. Middleton: “We did a couple of applications that we actually scrapped at the last minute. We’ve gone through them and thought, ‘Jeez, the return on this investment is not worth it. It’s the wrong time, wrong place, wrong act, wrong everything. We’re not going to do it’. And actually scrapped the activity”.

“MEGS is not free money”, Manders also noted. “It’s there to support you and help with your growth and export. You still have to put 30% in yourself. It’s not cheap. You need a good home business as well”.

In terms of securing MEGS funding – it’s a very competitive scheme – as well as picking the right project for the right artists at the right time, putting some effort into the application is also key. Manders: “Our budgets were very precise, we knew exactly what we were going to be spending on a radio plugger, on a press officer, a little bit of tour support, even bits of advertising, some digital marketing”.

He added: “Probably about 80% of the people we were going to work with, we already knew who we were going to use, so we could provide a CV for each of them, so the MEGS panel could say ‘yeah, OK, they’ve got good people in the market that really understand what they’ve doing. And they’ve thought it through properly'”.

Check out all the reports and resources CMU has published around this year’s CMU Insights @ The Great Escape conferences here.