Having racked up a lowly 8 hours sleep over the past 4 nights, settling back into a working routine this week was never going to be easy. One of the joys of running a record label from your own home is also the biggest motivational rival, with the glare of the TV like a light to a moth, and the smell of the kitchen and the hunger-defying/comfort eating possibilities it offers acting as the persuasive little devil on your shoulder, such luxuries are hard to avoid. Today, therefore, isn't happening.
This past weekend I attended The Great Escape festival in Brighton. It's my second year there and nice to see the event expanding, rounded off triumphantly with a chaotic Big Scary Monsters showcase at the grotty Hobgoblin. A packed out venue and one-in-one-out system, naked band members, sing-alongs, giant hornets ruling the beer garden and an after-party on the beach were just some of the things which made it a special day and a great way to round off a messy weekend by the blustery sea.
Much like last year, my main criticism of the event lies in the band stage times. Perhaps there's a reason I'm yet to work out, but with the vast majority of gigs being squeezed into the 7pm - 12am slot, it leaves potentially long days of otherwise useful band-watching time for the 4000 or so delegates and tens of thousands of music fans left wandering The Lanes and dropping 2p coins into the pier slot machines. The music-less few hours, however, do provide one benefit, giving us little excuse not to attend some of the panels and discussions, often useful for nudging creativity in the right direction, or at least finding out a bit of information to impress friends with later on.
The standard 'why record labels are pointless' / 'I hate labels' / 'lets chase labels out of the music industry with burning torches and pitchforks' speeches are a given and something I decide to avoid, mostly for state of mind and quarter-life crisis reasons. Meanwhile, a Spotify Q&A is something too good to pass up. Along with another million or so UK residents, I'm a big fan of the streaming music service. As I once saw someone describe it: it's like God's iTunes, and is something we'll be embracing with BSM (for some of our catalogue, at least) at our first given opportunity. As a music fan, the ads are yet to become enough of a hindrance to make me part with my £9.99 a month (plus I'd surely miss the dulcet tones of Jonathan, Roberta and the gang) so it was interesting to hear of future plans for the quickly expanding company to try and discover where and when my tipping point may lie. It was also interesting to discover that myself and Daniel Ek (pictured above, left), Spotify's CEO, both found our way to our current career paths via the illegal downloading of many underground US punk bands songs, and that we're both 25 years old. A few minutes of "what I have done with my life?" daydreaming later, my ears were pricked by a few of Daniel's statements...
I'm not going to rehash everything the man said, I'm an endangered species record label owner, after all, not a news reporter, but the big questions of the hour-long talk seemed to revolve around the subject of expansion, firstly into mobile devices, with the iPhone app currently awaiting approval but most likely to lead the way, and secondly into the US, something Daniel dreams of achieving by the end of this year. Both of these developments could be huge and may - at least for now - help keep the Swedish company one step ahead of the competitors surely waiting in the wings to jump on any wrong steps.
Another subject which seemed to excite the man with a tiny surname was of Spotify becoming a total package, a place where people could not only discover and stream music, but also purchase gig tickets, t-shirts, limited edition vinyl and so much more. With plans of sharing data with their record label members, opening up all sorts of targeted marketing potential, along with talk of a download service (albeit less of a priority) to be introduced, the future of music consumption and one-stop-shops looks to be edging ever closer. Exciting times, if a little scary for some.
The whole thing opens up many doors and begs the question of what more some of us could be doing to stay relevant. It wasn't so long ago that releasing 500 7" singles was "retro" enough to get some notice, whereas these days the "limited single on a cool indie label followed by an investment, big first album and 'oh, I didn't know that was out' disappointing follow-up" is only just enough to get you lost in the middle of a very big pack. What's wrong with thinking outside of the box? Stream all of your music and ask for donations, offer fans subscription packages of rare or special content, stick your songs on a sound chip and release your next single on the 'teddy bear' format. There's no one solution which will work for everyone but take some time and find yours.
At the end of the day, the way we discover, listen to and purchase music is going to be turned on its head over the next couple of years, like it or not. Some people will blindly follow, making the same old mistakes always two steps behind, others will blatantly disregard all changes and will soon be playing their guitars in a field of Dodo's, whilst others might just hit upon an incredible idea, more likely than not already staring them right in the face. Nobody will know if they're right or wrong until it's too late, but until someone invents that Hindsight Facebook app, the best you can do is keep your thinking cap on.
Next month: After March and April's trip to SXSW and the US, and this months Great Escaping, June is all about regressing; it's time for Download festival! Limp Bizkit, Korn, Papa Roach, Slipknot, Staind and so much more, it's the 18 year old nu-metal enthusiast inside's wet dream. Look out for tales of rollin' out in a red cap, partner.