What I Learned At The Great Escape

It’s the first day back after The Great Escape 2016 (“TGE”) in Brighton – and a chance to take stock of what has become the UK’s biggest combined music conference and festival. This year I took my son Joe who was keen to promote his band Anchors Lake. With a little encouragement, he quickly seized every networking opportunity to meet industry contacts and hand out CDs. TGE offers a lot for emerging artists.

So what did I learn this year ……

It’s the marketing, stupid
During my time in Entrepreneur’s Circle, members were forever reminded to “stop personally delivering your service, and become a marketer of a business that uses staff to deliver the service.” In other words, work on your business rather than in it. At TGE 2016, CMU’s Chris Cooke ran another great series of DIY sessions for emerging artists in which elements of this rang true. It’s a given that artists need to write great songs and deliver inspirational live performances. However, what pushes some to succeed where others fail is their ability to embrace marketing & sales – a constant drive to attract new audiences, engage them with compelling content and convince them to buy stuff. Until revenues are significant and sustainable, most artists need to be their own manager, agent, promoter, label, publisher, marketer and sales force. Only by thinking like business owners do artists increase their chances of transforming a hobby into a cash-generative career. Chris curated a series fascinating “How To” sessions that examined the practicalities of setting up shows, ticketing, merchandise, digital marketing, IP exploitation, royalty collection and physical product manufacture. All very useful for Joe and other young musicians.

Prepare, Prepare, Prepare
Joe & I spent our days in conference sessions and our nights at shows. With 500 artists performing over 3 days, sets were generally limited to 30 minutes with tight change overs. Some ran smoothly, others were chaotic. We’d picked out Polish electronic duo Rysy as a show to catch at The Hub, one of the many venues based in arches under the King’s Road along Brighton’s seafront. Sadly their set was plagued by technical issues and of their allotted 30 minutes, we heard music for less than 5. (What we did hear was actually very good). Most of the audience left before the end and the act’s moment was lost. Whether the problem was with Rysy’s own kit or the house PA, I don’t know. The audience didn’t care – but it’s an example of failure to prepare for the unexpected.

Never Apologise
We attended several gigs where artists started their sets looking flustered. The fast change overs were clearly challenging. Too many artists greeted their audience with apologies about late starts, broken gear, bad sound, problems with parking etc. The audience do not care. They just want to see and hear a great show. Perhaps it’s a British trait – but one that successful artists manage to supress. Don’t apologise – just get on with the show like a professional, irrespective of the difficulties.

Resilience Pays Off
Joe & I saw an amazing show by Kent-based dirty pop band Get Innuit at Latest Music Bar – It was proper sweaty rock’n’roll venue in the basement of what felt like a church hall. The load-in logistics for the band were horrible – They had to fight their way through the crowd with all their gear – set up on a cramped stage littered with what looked like the gear of half a dozen other bands and do all this in about 15 minutes. They all looked knackered and drenched with sweat before they even began. However, they just got on with it, and delivered an incredibly energetic performance that really engaged the audience. They were superb … and within a few minutes after the show the band were upstairs meeting fans and selling merch. Joe bought a T shirt and commented how friendly they were. Get Innuit clearly have the right attitude to succeed.

Stumble upon greatness
Despite planning a careful schedule of gigs with the excellent TGE app, it’s often the shows you stumble upon that are the best. This was certainly the case with The Invisible – an incredible Prince-meets-Chic-meets Stevie Wonder three piece. Joe & I were blown away by the bands amazing drummer Leo Taylor, with a rare ability to make 5/4 work as a funk beat.

Support your friends
I’m lucky to have some good friends in Brighton having spent a lot of time rehearsing and recording there with various bands. Within that group are the phenomenally talented White brothers, Alex & Tom, who founded one of Brighton’s leading independent bands Electric Soft Parade. Tom’s latest project is The Fiction Aisle who we saw at Bar Rogue, hosted by Earworm within the Alternative Great Escape. It’s a large ensemble including three guitars, keys, trumpet and clarinet. I admit I’m biased, but Tom has a rare ability to craft beautiful timeless songs that sit outside specific musical scenes. The Fiction Aisle’s album Heart Map Rubric is released on Chord Orchard records. It’s a lush mix of serene vocals and jazz harmonies (in places). Do give it a listen. It’s a wonderful record.

So, TGE is over until this time next year. Coming up next for me is C-O-Pop in August at which I’ve been invited to give a keynote on my book Music Rights Without Fights. Also, End Of The Road in September which I always enjoy. For those of you attending Liverpool Sound City next weekend, check out the excellent panels on sync.

Have a good week.