The lowdown from Live At Leeds

Blog by Louise Dodgson under Artist Managers, Media, Music Training & Careers

Last Friday The Unsigned Guide headed across the Pennines to Live At Leeds’ for a day of music industry chatter and networking called The Unconference. Focussing on the topic of Digital Futures, the programme featured a series of panels all about harnessing developments in music and encouraging emerging bands and artists to embrace digital tools to their advantage.

Kicking off the proceedings was BBC 6Music’s Tom Robinson with an inspiring keynote speech. As a songwriter and performer himself, Tom has witnessed and worked through many decades of the music business and gave an entertaining potted history of what many refer to as ‘The Golden Age of Music’, but was it as golden as rose-tinted glasses would have us believe?
Whilst the 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s may in retrospect appear to be glory era where rock & roll excess was the norm, if you delve a little deeper the old model of the music industry had very little room for anything other than the big-players. If you didn’t achieve airplay on Radio 1, as far as the general public was concerned, you didn’t exist so if you were under the radar any hope of making a living from music was little more than a pipe dream.
And whilst today’s music business may be tarnished with piracy, poor record sales and charts awash with X Factor winners and losers, if you look a little closer you will see that this is in fact a great time for emerging bands. The opportunities are rife and Tom was keen to make those aspiring artists in the audience aware of just how lucky they are. Talent has the best chance of getting heard today as it is no longer fully reliant on money, budgets and having the right insider contacts, and on top of that technology has enabled making music from your own bedroom and uploading across the globe possible without little effort or expertise required.
As always, there are obstacles to overcome and with resources so readily available there is indeed a great deal of competition from other bands and artists vying to get their music heard. Tom also provided an interesting example of how being signed to a record label is not the ticket to financial success that many dream of. He broke down the sale of a 79p track sold on iTunes with a mere 6p being awarded to the songwriter, whilst 12p goes in Apple’s pocket, 7p to the credit card company and the lion’s share of 54p to the record label. Who will still want to recoup their advance from your 6p share, by the way.
So whilst there are still difficulties on the road to success, it is fair to say that the music industry has never been more transparent. There has never been a better time for aspiring bands to make informed choices about which path they want their careers to follow and be able to act positively and proactively, and generally help themselves.
This past decade has seen a world of technology open up enabling artists to put their music out there but Tom did make the point that whilst the likes of SoundCloud, YouTube and Twitter are great tools, they can only be used to their maximum potential if you have what he described as the ‘OMFG song’; the track that stops everyone in their tracks; the track that is worth shouting about to all and sundry. You may get the chance to chase Steve Lamacq down the street and push your 4 track demo into his palm, but if it doesn’t contain an OMFG track, you may have wasted a prime opportunity. If Steve listens once and doesn’t hear an OMFG song, he may not find time to listen to your band again in the future. Harsh, but true. 
Tom’s solution to creating the OMFG track was a pretty interesting concept in itself – just hammer out a load of terrible songs! His opinion being that lowering the bar and your expectations will leave a band with more room to experiment and take risks, out of which the killer track you’ve been waiting for may just arise. As he eloquently summed up ‘Perfectionism is the enemy of achievement.’
Onto the next panel entitled ‘Making the Most of Your Digital Prescence’ which featured social media and digital marketing experts from Motive Unknown, Work It Media and Get Ctrl sharing their gems of knowledge from the day to day work they carry out for artists such as Klaxons, La Roux, Scissor Sisters and Temper Trap. 
They summed up the nuts and bolts of digital music marketing as ‘facilitating word being spread’ which is most effectively achieved by uploading your content onto portable media which can be easily shared, embedded onto blogs and the like.
Uploading music to platforms such as YouTube and SoundCloud with a good press shot is the best place to start, but dig deeper and start looking at similar bands and researching similar genres to help you find and begin nurturing new online fans. Whilst social networking can often take prominence, there is still much to be said for email communication, and bands shouldn’t overlook this, complimenting their social media activity with building a strong mailing list.
One of the points driven home strongly by all members of the panel was that, whilst social networking platforms like Facebook and Twitter are ideal for making announcements and plugging yourselves, this can become tiresome quite quickly and turn potential fans off. Don’t fall into the trap of constantly talking about yourself, instead interact with others and share your personality. Following like-minded people/artists/bands who want to share their interests and sense of humour makes for far more enthralling reading than faceless, relentless, self-promoting tweets and posts. Some of the most entertaining high-profile artists namechecked by the panel as using Twitter and Facebook to their advantage whilst not being afraid to show their ‘real side’ were Kanye West, Danananakroyd and Scroobius Pip; all artists that understand the mediums they are using and enjoy it as a form of communication, rather than treating it as a marketing chore.
The topic of giving away music for free came up and sparked an interesting discussion amongst panel members and the audience. Is such an action speculating to accumulate? Or is it demeaning the value of your musical creations? The panel seemed to agree that giving away a few of your tracks for free, or offering them up as ‘pay what you want’ was a great idea, but placing all your music online free of charge was unnecessary and detrimental in retaining value of your work. 
And onto the final panel of the day, tackling Social Recommendation & The Digital Press. The line-up of music writers and bloggers from The Guardian, Drowned In Sound and Pitchfork are more than accustomed to receiving music from bands and artists and wanted to share their top tips for avoiding becoming lost in their Bermuda Triangle-esque inboxes, or even worse…relegated to the Delete folder.
Whilst there don’t seem to be many definitive ‘Dos’ for guaranteeing getting through to the music journalists who are overwhelmed with emails from bands, there were certainly many ‘Don’ts’ to be considered. Each panel member had developed their own filtering techniques to attempt to pick out the wheat from the chaff, and conserve their time for actually writing instead of endlessly sifting through emails.
Firstly, an impersonal, blanket email sticks out like a sore thumb, be it from the subject, the greeting and opening text, to the overall tone of the email. So, carrying out your research, tailoring and personalising your communication will always go a long way. Researching the bands and types of music a blogger has previously written about or listens to and enjoys is a great starting point, and if you think there is some common ground between their tastes and your music, then this could be as good a way to get your foot in the door as any.
On the topic of discovering and hunting down new music, where do these music writers even begin? Obviously there are the hoardes of tracks emailed to them by PR companies and bands, but digging around on the internet also happens a great deal so tagging your music online effectively so bloggers have a chance of finding you is a simple thing that shouldn’t be ignored. Tuning into radio shows, new music podcasts, checking out sites such as This Is My Jam are also primary ways that music writers hunt out worthy new talent. Not to mention, speaking to the bands they already love to hear who they recommend or checking out new acts on the same record label. All methods used by members of the panel in their quest to find new music they want to cover.
So all in all, a productive and informative day at Live At Leeds’ Unconference. Here’s hoping it will return again next May with an equal calibre of topics on the agenda, and if it does make sure you’re there in the audience!


live at leeds, the unconference, unsigned bands, unsigned artists, tom robinson, bbc 6music, music business, music industry


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