The first Music Producers Guild Q-Time event received an enthusiastic reception on Monday night with a lively discussion covering a range of high-profile topics affecting the UK recording industry, writes Dave Robinson.
A panel comprising Geoff Taylor (BPI CEO), Andy Gill (Gang of Four guitarist and producer), Hal Ritson (musician/producer), Alison Wenham (Association of Independent Music CEO) and – fresh off a plane from Africa – Beggars Group chairman Martin Mills tackled questions concerned with streaming media, piracy, radio playlists, and the Universal takeover of EMI. Tom Robinson of BBC 6Music chaired the Q&A in front of an audience of 80 MPG members, friends and guests at the Hospital Club in London’s Soho – though at times, the presenter and musician broke from a non-partisan approach to contribute to the debate.
A question regarding the modus operandi of Spotify and streaming services kicked off the session. Ritson suggested that the likes of Spotify are “eroding the sales base” of music in other formats, and therefore the revenue musicians can expect to earn from their music. Wenham said the industry needed to “be patient” while streaming technologies evolve into vehicles that can deliver a greater income to artists.
On the topic of artist development outside of traditional structures, Andy Gill reflected that this approach was “OK for electronic music” and those working on laptops, but artists requiring vocals and instruments still needed studios to record in. The requirement of the record company as a ‘filter’ was recognised by several on the panel. Host Tom Robinson highlighted the issue for radio stations: “Radio is inundated by people on SoundCloud – and we still get 100-200 CDs a week – how do you filter that?” He stated that the traditional ‘plugger’ still had an important role to play in a world where DJs are constantly bombarded by music, good and bad.
The role of radio playlists was more of a thorny subject for the panel. “Playlists: I shit ‘em!” dismissed Gill; while Wenham said that the BBC Introducing show was a “noble effort” for supplying oxygen to new artists. Ritson noted that the Radio One playlist was still considered the most important vessel for artist exposure, but: “Radio One has a perpetual identity crisis, and that controls the playlist.” We live in an iPod culture, Ritson opined, where users flip between different types of music as their mood takes them. “I don’t think Radio One understands this,” he noted, saying that Radio One is too concerned with playing the latest, newest style of pop rather than a wider “democratisation” of genres. Martin Mills chimed in with a paraphrase of the maxim that taste-makers should be there not to give people what they want, but to give them “what they don’t know they want yet”.
The prickly matter of the Universal takeover of EMI roused a number of emotive responses from the group, several of whom have already spoken on the record of their displeasure at the move. “It’s nothing more than a land-grab by Universal,” posited Wenham. “They are even scarier than they were [to begin with]. While Geoff Taylor of the BPI declined to express an opinion (“It’s not my position to defend [the takeover]… I don’t have a view”), Martin Mills cut to the chase: “It’s shocking that the regulators let this through,” he said witheringly.
A brief straw poll among audience members showed an overwhelming disapproval for Universal’s actions.
As the 90 minutes drew to a close, the problem of piracy and illegal downloading – and how to tackle it – was considered. After passionate contributions from many on the panel concerning whether users and ISPs should be educated or penalised, Robinson noted, “This brings home the utter seriousness of the situation. It’s one that needs to run and run – but must be resolved.”
A final moment of levity raised the question, “If Simon Cowell became prime minister, would the recording industry survive?” Thinking of the inevitable consequences, Martin Mills deadpanned: “This company thrives on revolution, so yes.”
Tom Robinson formally concluded the evening, as audience and panellists retired to the Hospital bar for further chat.
An audio recording of the debate will be available soon on the MPG website for members to access.
The next Q-Time session is on Monday 14 Jan at The Hospital Club, again chaired by Tom Robinson, with panellists: Jim Chancellor (A&R at Fiction Records/Universal Music Group), Mark Kelly (keyboard player with Marillion and board member of the Featured Artists Coalition), Andrew Dubber (New Music Strategies) and Jake Gosling (Ed Sheeran's producer).