What we learned at Music Cork

Like many industries, the world of music is in a state of flux at the moment. The digital tide has washed away the old ways of doing things, and ever-changing technologies and consumer tastes ensure nobody is quite sure what the industry is going to look like in 10 years.

It was these sort of considerations that brought delegates from various sections of the industry to the third Music Cork event at the Clayton Hotel in Cork city. Musicians, promoters, marketers, etc, gathered for panel discussions and networking opportunities, as well as attending showcase gigs at Cyprus Avenue for emerging bands.

Pictured at Music Cork at the Clayton Hotel were Brian Hetherman (Cerebus Canada), Zach Hyde (UTA USA), Steve Garvan (MMFUSA), Lisa Lester (US Lawyer), Karen Norbakk (Columbia Records Germany), Cesar Andion (Live Nation Spain), Lucas Keller (Milk & Honey)

Among the many issues they would have heard were:

Ticket prices are too low

If you’ve recently slaughtered your debit card on an encounter with Ticketmaster, this statement might seem rather counter-intuitive. But talk to some

promoters, and they’ll point out, that while the costs of putting on gigs (artist fees, crew, logistics, insurance, etc) are steadily rising, ticket prices for many events haven’t had the same jump. Hence the importance of corporate sponsors and other commerical tie-ins for concerts and festivals.

Brexit is coming

For the music business, Jacob Rees-Mogg and his Leave brigade would readily be cast in roles of the White Walkers from Game of Thrones. In terms of scheduling, logistics and costs, it can already be quite a task to get major artists to visit this fair isle. Throw in added customs restrictions and other time delays, and a trip across the Irish Sea could be the first thing crossed off a European tour. Representatives of the UK industry present in Cork were clear about worries for their industry, and it’s obvious that Ireland could also suffer collateral damage.

Revenue streaming

Music Cork took place in the same week that Spotify had announced it had hit 100 million paid subscribers world-wide (another 170m are on the freebie plan).

Although artists gripe about the paltry payments they receive from the streaming giant, the model is better than the zero-revenue option that looked to be the norm a few years ago as the industry struggled with piracy and the spread of YouTube. The streaming company’s Bryan Johnson pointed to the Spotify for Artists app, with its range of nifty features for musicians to find out about their audience, and to push their music. This app also underlines how all sorts of powerful data about audiences is becoming increasingly available.

Knowing how to use this is becoming an essential part of the skill-set.

Syncing is king

‘Syncing’ is an industry term for the licensing of music for use in films, TV shows, advertising, etc. It has become ever-more important due to dwindling revenue from music sales, and a whole sub-section of the industry has emerged around it. Among the speakers at Music Cork was Catherine Grieves, who handles the soundtrack for the Killing Eve series. Get your tune in a TV show or film, and you’ll not only get a fee, but also all sorts of other knock-on benefits. The revival of the Frank & Walters’ ‘After All’ through its use in The Young Offenders show is a recent example.

Interestingly, one contributor suggested that offbeat cover versions are often sought after by advertisers. The tunes are familiar, without carrying the baggage of the original, and can convey the mood a brand is trying to put across. Aurora’s version of ‘Half the World Away’ may have left Noel Gallagher non-plussed in 2015, but it made for a memorable John Lewis Christmas advert.

Branding has come a long way

While it doesn’t look good for many acts to become associated with corporate marketing campaigns, Bandon woman Sarah Desmond of Universal Music pointed out how the interaction between musicians and companies has evolved in recent years. Getting the right ‘fit’ is crucial, with Desmond pointing to the deal between Sigrid and Gore-Tex, as one which suited both parties. The Norwegian singer had grown up wearing the product, skiing and hiking, while her image fitted with how the fabric company wanted to portray their brand. Further down the foodchain, Irish acts such as Jafaris and Saint Sister have benefitted from tie-ins with 3, with the telecoms company being quite savvy in the way it targets the youth market.

Gender balance is complicated

In recent years, events are under increasing pressure to include more female artists on their bills. Even those who aspire to such a situation admit that it can be difficult to find enough female artists to fulfill these roughly-hewn quotas. You get the feeling that many event organisers would be happier just deciding lineups based on quality and popularity, rather than on gender.

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