Off The Record: Top tips from music industry experts in the know

Blog by Jamie Hamilton under Artist Managers, Live, Media, Record Labels

We've been a bit spoilt lately. Hot on the heels of the recent BBC Music Introducing Live event, last week saw the return of Manchester's annual music festival and conference, Off The Record, showcasing over 40 emerging acts across 8 venues and some great panels of industry insiders.

Being fortunate enough to have tickets to the sold out conference, we've condensed the key moments from 5 of the day's panels into a few short paragraphs (because we're nice like that).

Northern Revival

Moderator: Dave Haslam (Author/DJ) 
Panel: Sally Dunstone (XRay Touring), Chris Hawkins (BBC 6Music), Emma Zillman (Kendal Calling, Bluedot)

First up on our OTR agenda was one of particular interest for us northerners. The panel emphasised the wealth of talent in the industry in the regions with a keen focus on the success stories, rather than a lack of opportunities. There was agreement across the board that the current music scenes in Manchester and Liverpool are in their best shape in years. A lot of credit is due to Off The Record and Liverpool's Sound City for bringing together like-minded creatives, sharing knowledge and inspiration.

BBC Radio 6 Music's Chris Hawkins questioned whether there is any divide at all, insisting that location is irrelevant if a band is making the right noises. Echoing this sentiment, X-ray Touring's Sally Dunstone encouraged bands to build an audience close to home before attempting to conquer other areas.

There was a special mention for The Trade's Club in Hebden Bridge, often heralded as one of the best venues in the UK and a stellar example of a unique northern venue getting it right. In case any proof was needed to confirm the amount of emerging talent from Scotland and the north of England, the panel was asked for their tips on bands to watch. Walt Disco, Pearl City, The Orielles, Sam Fender, Another Sky and Witch Fever all got a shout out, along with The Unsigned Guide Spotlight faves, LIINES

Thinking Outside The Box: Getting Creative With Gigs

Moderator: Jess Campbell (MCR Live)  
Panel: Ade Dovey (Mission Mars), Steve Vandy (I Luv Live), Ben Robinson (Kendal Calling, Bluedot), Sam Garlick (Fiesta Bombarda

This talk dispensed some priceless insight to aspiring promoters from the bookers of some of the north-west's biggest events. Ben Robinson provided an interesting slant as Bluedot's Festival Director, speaking of the importance of programming bands to fit the concept of a site as unique as Jodrell Bank Observatory. This advice can be carried over even to booking for small, local events; getting the right angle and knowing what you're aiming for is essential. Misson Mars' Ade Dovey can attest to this as the Head Of Programming for 3 of Manchester's most popular venues (Deaf Institute, Albert Hall and Gorilla). He insists that the biggest considerations for him are still what is right for the venue and what is right for the audience.

Sam Garlick rounded off the exchange nicely in emphasising the value of getting the basics right when putting on any show. Setting up events pages, pushing online sales for ticketed gigs and urging artists to help with promotion all play a big part. Whilst carefully planned marketing budgets may be a necessity for large events and festivals, well executed, creative promotion can be enough for a successful small scale event.

Getting your music heard: Streaming vs. Radio

Moderator: Charlie Ashcroft (Amazing Radio
Panel: Abbie McCarthy (BBC Radio 1/BBC Introducing), Steve Cusack (CD Baby), Nina Condron (Horus Music

Although this panel's "Streaming vs. Radio" title implied that a fight could break out at any time, the speakers kept their cool and got straight into dishing out some solid advice instead. The key tip here was to put plenty of planning into your release if you are keen to get your music onto streaming and radio playlists. Horus Music's Nina Condron recommends delivering your music to your distributor around 6 weeks before your release date for the best chance of getting onto streaming playlists. There was a comparison between Spotify's more algorithmic approach and Apple Music's human curated route, but the consensus was that there are no shortcuts to being playlisted on either platform. If you have momentum as an artist, you will get more attention from both online and radio playlisters. In Nina's words, "It is a two-way street." Stations and platforms want to be associated with acts that are already making waves and will offer promotion in return.

Abbie McCarthy underlined the importance of BBC Music Introducing's role in advancing artists in the early stages of their career, providing airplay on BBC local and national stations, festival slots and inclusion on BBC playlists. If you're releasing music and haven't done so already, get to the BBC Music Introducing Uploader. Abbie also had some great advice regarding radio pluggers, suggesting attempting self-promotion for a period before scouting out PR companies. This way, you will be more aware of the process and know exactly which areas you need the most help. There may be a time when you need additional promotion to take your music to the next level, but there is plenty that can be done in the meantime.

Exploring The Relationships Between Artist & Manager

Moderator: Jen Otter Bickerdike
Panel: Jeremy Pritchard (Everything Everything), Peter McGaughrin (Red Light Management)

There was a lot of love in the room as Everything Everything's Jeremy Pritchard and manager Peter McGaughrin reminisced over the success of their working relationship. Peter has had strong links with the band's early days, working with them as A&R across all of their records before eventually taking the reins as their manager for the release of their third studio album, "Get To Heaven".

Discussing a manager's role, Peter believes that the most important task is controlling the flow of information between the artist and the outside world. Artist and manager were in agreement that trust is crucial in both directions—between the act and the manager and between the manager and any external contacts (label, publisher, media, PR).

Asked when acts should be considering taking on a manager, there was some more championing of the DIY approach. Hard working artists are much more likely to succeed with or without a manager, and it also helps to be familiar with the business side of the industry even after you have built a team behind you. This tip dovetails very nicely with our recent "Do I Need A Music Manager?" blog.

Jeremy finished things off with some inspirational words for budding artists, "Keep doing what you're doing and be yourself. It's hard and you have to be brave but if you're genuine and doing it right, then you'll make progress."

DIY vs. Indie vs. Major

Moderator: Jen Otter Bickerdike 
Panel: Mark Orr (Lab Records), Tony Ereira (Hatch Records), Julie Weir (Music For Nations / Sony Music) 

Again hosted by the fantastic Jen Otter Bickerdike, our final stop off of the day looked at the challenges of self-releasing or working with independent and major labels.

Starting with the majors, Julie Weir of Music For Nations (a subsidiary of Sony Music) conceded that things can move very slowly at the larger labels but you also benefit from global networks and larger promotional budgets. Asked if major labels are still going to have a role in the future of the industry, the speakers agreed that there is plenty of space for everybody. DIY artists could potentially gain a larger share of the spoils, but for those who are less successful self-promoters, major labels and larger indies can still provide a big boost.

Lab Records' Mark Orr highlighted the increasing similarities of DIY artists and those on independent labels in revealing that a lot of acts supplement their income with side projects and second jobs. He was also eager to stress how vital a lasting connection with fans is for independents in the modern industry. Building a rapport through face to face interaction at gigs and events is just as crucial as interacting online.

We had come neatly full circle by the end of this chat, as the panel restated advice from the morning's "Northern Revival" conversation. Wider success is easier to achieve if you have a base to build on - embrace the scene that you're from and build from there.


Music industry experts at Off The Record share their invaluable advice


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