Unconvention, Salford ‘09

For me Unconvention is a fantastic DIY grassroots music industry event, celebrating the rebirth of the music industry in favour of the musicians, artists and creative’s that work in the industry. Above all else it’s about being independent and facing the exciting challenges that the industry presents and finding innovative and creative solutions.

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From the Unconvention website here’s what they set out to achieve:

• Un-convention aims to be interactive and inspirational. It will begin with participants contributing to the online blog with their questions and ideas for the panels. The event will be organic and will be led by the participants as much as the panel guests.

• Un-convention brings together some of the most exciting voices in the music industry.

• Un-convention is organised by a collective of DIY and independent labels, promoters and bands for people in similar roles and organisations.

As a member of the teaching faculty at a college I am required to complete 30 hours of continuing professional development (CPD) per academic year. As I still work in the music industry this is actually quiet an easy task. To facilitate my evidencing of CPD I kept a log/diary of my experiences at the second Unconvention event in Salford, Manchester.

First thoughts; interesting people, with varied opinions on music and the industry related to it.

Last nights panel of industry professionals titled ‘The Artist Panel: Setting The Scene was and interesting experience. The panel consisted of various musicians with a varied background and experience. These range from huge, well known artists (Peter Hook; New Order, Joy Division) to smaller solo musicians (Jamie Finlay) and the road in between (Lil Fee; The Whip & Pete Jobson from the band I am Kloot).

I’m always fascinated to hear what other people think and how this has been influenced by their experiences. Lots of people on both the panel in the audience who are obviously extremely talented and passionate about their music. Many people on both sides on the room seem to struggle with how to monetize this passion in to a viable business model.

The discussion soon turned to money and how to get it and the various income streams open to musicians. Pete Jobson of ‘I am Kloot’ made some interesting statements about the importance and use of the Princes Trust for young creative businesses, focusing on his own experiences and how it has positively effected his own career.
An audience member posed the question of how to monetize and existing project; she had spent £40k recording and album and is struggling to recoup. The panel did sympathise, but no real answer could be found. As the industry is going through a period of change and re-birth, it’s important to understand that the old industry goal post have moved. This is evident in the recording process for example. At one time £40k was reasonable to spend on the making of an album, but as it stands today this is a very hard amount of investment to recoup. For example you would need to sell 4000 cd’s at £10 each to re-coup, this doesn’t sound too bad, how ever you would most likely have to sell them direct. If a mainstream distribution and retail model is applied to this album you would probably have to sell at least three times this amount to break even on recording costs. This is in part due to the PPD (Price Paid by Dealer) and the distributors costs. If PR , marketing and management are brought in to the mix the amount you would need to sell by traditional retailing would rise expediently.

Well recorded music is achievable on even modest equipment at present and this certainly looks to be a realistic model for future recordings. The recording budget above (£40K) would buy you a decent Protools HD rig, Focustrite Control 24, Genelec Monitoring and a selection of good mics and a nice preamp. This would offer a high level of recording and editing possibilities and as it’s not a one off investment (like an album) so it could be used for subsequent projects. The bonus if this model is the possibility of broadening and building a portfolio career, not only as a musician and songwriter, but also as either an engineer or studio owner in a niche market (in this example roots based music).

As the album is roots based question also needs asking on what equipment would really be required to record such a project. Roots based musicians are often great ensemble players, capturing them in a natural environment (for example at a gig) could be interesting. The bonus of this is the amount of equipment required. The reality is you can build a great mobile recording rig for very little and again this could be an investment in equipment that would pay dividends in the future with continued use and also recording other artists.

The question of realistic career expectations was posed to the panel. No real answer was found, mainly due to time constraints. It’s important for musicians and any other creative’s to look at what they would like to achieve and how they will do this. A realistic (not negative) look at career expectations can yield useful answers on how a portfolio career can be achieved. Understanding what you can do your self and where outside help is required is an important exercise for any creative industry.

I doubt this weekend will provide all the answers to a struggling industry unwilling to adapt and change, but it will provide a deeper look and thought process required to monetize music.
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