Business News The Great Escape 2015

Yellowbrick Music’s Meredith Cork calls on government to offer more financial support for musicians

By | Published on Friday 15 May 2015

Meredith Cork

As part of this morning’s #VoteForMusic keynote at CMU Insights @ The Great Escape, Yellowbrick Music’s Meredith Cork called upon the new Conservative government to provide more financial support to creative people and the creative industries, to support the growth of a stronger industry.

We are all here because of music. This is the common thread that has drawn us all together this morning.

Even if we are not involved in the business of making or selling music, we are clearly all associated by music one way or another. Music helps define who we are. To ourselves, perhaps who we are to our closest friends and then to groups in general – maybe not so much mixtapes, or browsing the CD or vinyl collection as an ice breaker at parties – but perhaps by streaming playlists we have created and then asking not to be judged if the odd guilty pleasure rears its poptastic head.

Danny Boyle’s Olympics opening ceremony could not have expressed the importance of music to this country more clearly. Music defines not only us, but our cultures and our generations. It is a very essential part of all of our lives. It is also a business that has given birth to myriad other crafts and businesses – illustrators, film makers, photographers, clothing designers, promoters and so on the list is endless – many careers have been defined by the advent of music and risk being lost in its demise.

Making and selling music is still however, fundamentally, the root of what the business really is all about and what we are here today to consider. What do we need to do to survive?

The need to buy music or to actually ‘own’ music is fast becoming a distant memory – unless of course we have lucked upon something rare and collectable. I will come back to that further on.

So is the business a dying art because of this?

No. Possibly the opposite is true – but it does need help from our government during this period of change.

Harking back to the theory of Darwinism – those who adapt better to change will survive.
Those full hearted, fierce self-believers will – it’s what we do.

The big ships of business are always slow to turn. But the business is global, it truly should be a simple one that seems to have been made very complicated over time. As I think Chris Cooke noted at The Great Escape convention last year – artists quite simply make music, find fans and then sell it to them.

Everything else just seems to have stepped in the way of this process.

OK, so the ‘sell it to them’ bit now is tricky and streaming seems to be setting itself up as the ‘new era’ of music consumption and punters are not buying as much music. The argument of correct share of income reaching the artist from streaming – companies such as Spotify / premium v freemium – is a huge battle, with great obfuscation by labels and issues of conflicted interests. Artists are now suing labels based on old deals that have been reneged upon and so on.

That said, even when the consumer did buy music, what percentage of that income actually really made it back to the artist even then? Unless of course the band were massive or it was a joint venture deal – those deals are few and far between. We were fortunate enough to have been able to cut a deal like that with the band Garbage.

But, by the time the label’s approximate 85% has been deducted, the producers have had their percentage, and any recoupable costs have been deducted what really is left? Not much, if anything at all. Sure there is an advance, but over the years these have generally become smaller and smaller and mostly sucked up by business.

So publishing, income and gigs – and of course selling stuff to our fans.

Here’s the good news. The direct-to-fan market now is massive. It covers every possible area you can think of. Direct engagement with your fan – and no more middle-man taking 85%! The artist also owns the copyright.

I was shown an app recently that actually lets you throw it out to your fans that you are looking for a gaming partner – the artists can then actually share their screen and play a game online with a fan… and if it all gets a bit dull, you can Graham Norton them, drop the lever and throw them off, bringing in the next fan. Engaging with your fanbase, crowdfunding is now putting the control directly back into the hands of the artist and their team. No longer dealing with the excuse of a jammed release schedule at the label, the mercy of an A&R guy who has been let go, the release of first single tanking and the album consequentially being shelved – perhaps with all these changes there is something to truly applaud?

These relationships with fans are priceless. Of course they need to be well managed and carefully directed – but these are the same fans as in my generation who stayed awake until midnight to hear ‘Brown Sugar’ by The Stones being released around the world at the same time (I was only ten, OK?) just closer up and a whole lot more personal. The opportunity to sell limited and rare items is now possible to fans that really do care and want to be a part of the journey. The ability to sell work and create communities globally with the aid of the internet and social media. The opportunity to have multiple markets operating at the same time.

Sync deals can also be more easily struck without the hindrance of a label – clearances are faster and easier.

But getting to first base does cost money. There is no denying that. Artwork, press, pluggers – there is only so much you can do yourself and people simply cannot live on air.

The people working in this sector, sure work harder for less and with so much passion than in any other commercial sector – I am sure you ALL will vouch for that one.

The entertainment business is a massive self-employment and small business sector in the UK – and when one is lucky enough to strike gold, it takes an age for any income stream to filter through and then boom! No matter how clever you are you are, you are taxed at the highest rate possible – your income is not amortised out over the ten years of hard graft (even though you scraped by paying staff and making ends just meet) and generally where you had to survive on faith and hope alone, snuggled up with the odd tin of baked beans perhaps – along with the loyal support of wealthier buddies who believed in you and shared that journey along the way with the supply of food and the odd cocktail.

So, let’s push for a more balanced tax scheme that works for artists, producers and their managers – create a fairer platform that truly understands the peaks and the troughs of this business. A possible solution would be to also permit companies to easily offset some of the tax back into their own company as further investment into other artists, without complex schemes?

Let’s create a fund for artists to have an opportunity to obtain small grants that help them on their way – a broader version of The PRS Momentum fund or a reflection of the Canadian scheme, Factor. Where checklists need to be met and certain criteria have to be reached, but with as little red tape as possible. These funds can also help pay for producers who are gifted with the art of recording the songs, pay for artists who create the artwork, promotion and press teams and so on.

Let’s push for the government to give the businesses that take on the budding talent pool of today – whether it be in press, radio, marketing, engineering, and so on – some decent financial support, rewarding those companies that spend hours and days training these future business people.

Instead of making it harder by legislating that they cannot intern for free, please help cover the cost of this education. Instead of interning, perhaps this could be viewed as an apprenticeship in one of UK’s most valuable invisible exports.

This government needs to put money back into the business and help these artists and all their affiliated teams succeed in the global market and not be invisible!

Read more coverage of CMU Insights @ The Great Escape, including later today the other #VoteForMusic speeches, on our special microsite here.