Liverpool SoundCity 2009
As you’re no doubt all aware last week was the second Liverpool SoundCity festival and I was in attendance for quite a bit of it so I thought I’d let you in on my shenanigans…
As we were an official Twitter partner of the festival I was instructed to arrive at the Beatles themed Hard Days Night hotel early on Tuesday morning for my rendezvous with ‘the tech guys’ to discuss ‘how this Twitter malarkey works’ which took all of thirty seconds. I do feel for these so called ‘tech guys’ at times, especially at conferences like this where they sit huddled away in the corner making sure everything works and never referred to by their first name. As I was Twittering away all through the conference I was sat next to them throughout and not once did I hear them say “have you turned it off and turned it on again?” so it was nice to dispel that myth.
The panels at LSC really took a step up compared to last year with the speakers being both vastly experienced and rather knowledgeable within their respective fields of knowledge. I’d argue they were potentially a bit ‘too big’ to fit in with the ethos of Liverpool SoundCity at times but I did learn a fair few things over the two days:
– Nic Harcourt believes there isn’t any decent music radio in LA. After hearing this I contemplated telling him about ‘Rock FM’ and that he hasn’t got anything to moan about. Or my favourite radio station ever: ‘Riviera Radio’ which can be found in Monaco and seemingly only plays the Pet Shop Boys 24 hours a day. I’ll never forget the ident “Riviera Radio; where traffic… JAMS”. Listen here.
– Mr Harcourt believes the ‘OC Effect’ isn’t as powerful as much as it was around 4 years ago as it had become more saturated. I think I’d agree with this. A friend of mine owns every single Grey’s Anatomy soundtrack released and my better half has a few OC soundtracks to her name as well. As these were the two shows which are seen to have rejuvenated the power music can play within a show and at the same time successfully launch artists careers by pushing them under the noses of potential fans the soundtracks have shifted millions of units. Nowadays more and more shows are utilising new and unreleased music to good effect but as the choice is now greater there is no longer one or two flagship shows to chose from.
– Nic also believes that radio is more important to an artists career here within the UK than it is in the US. I’d agree again here as the US has no real national station like we do here in the guise of BBC Radio 1 and 2. If you’re A-listed on BBC Radio 1 then there is a very good chance that you’re probably going to chart the week your single is released
– Jonathan Shalit believes that “Young consumers are the most powerful influence on the music industry”.
– The panel entitled “The future of the music industry” agreed that Radio 1 is the biggest tastemaker within the UK. I do agree that BBC Radio 1 is rather important and if I was an indie artist with a few grand to spend on promoting myself I’d probably throw it towards a plugger but that doesn’t mean you can’t have success without their backing. Cliff Richard being a prime example of that – that geezer releases a track every Christmas and usually scores at least a top 20 with it without Zane Lowe shouting over the top of it or Tim Westwood giving him ‘mad props’ (which is something I would love to hear). Perez Hilton also got an honourable mention as a tastemaker within the pop world.
– Different professionals prefer different media. The sync panel pretty much agreed that they prefer receiving music via MP3/download links whereas A&R would rather receive a CD. Bear that in mind before you go committing to getting hundreds of discs pressed which will end up being nothing more than landfill.
– The sync panel agreed that UK music has certain kudos to it that other countries music doesn’t. The panel was made up of various Americans and a solitary German who were all very complimentary about our music scene. Here at Sentric we’ve had a fair few placements for our artists on US TV as of late and I believe that the fact we’re British has helped us significantly in that market.
– The decision to ‘go’ with a track is a shared one between the creative and the budget holder in theory. But the German representative from TWBA stated rather staunchly that he was in charge of the cash and therefore it was his decision. Quite recently we were a gnat’s crotchet away from securing an US advert for an international company which would have been worth upwards of £12,000 to the artist, but just as the deal was about to be signed off the creative changed their mind which ruined our weekend somewhat. After we put the Lambrini back on ice we suggested we may be able to clear the track for a bit cheaper if needed but they assured us it was a creative decision, not a fiscal one so that may give you an idea into who really is in control.
– The ‘art’ of A&R is grossly misunderstood according to those who do it for a living. There is definitely an air of truth to this as I come across many people who assume A&R scouts just find artists, sign them to the label and then jog on afterwards to find the next big thing all over again. Whereas in reality a truly good A&R person acts as a voice in-between the artist they signed and the label they signed to. Thus why you hear constant horror stories about artists who sign with a label only for the A&R person to leave/get fired/OD a couple of weeks later and they then get lost in a sea of artists with no marketing budget or tour support. (Read ‘Ask the A&R‘)
– According to Rob Swerdlow (the Kooks manager) a good record label should have two types of A&R person; one who signs artists for trends and one who signs artists for longevity. A rather good point here which I’d assume is already in practice at certain labels within the industry, wheter the A&R person in question knows what they are to their boss is a different question though and if they do know they’re employed to sign trending artists then lets hope they don’t use that in their sales pitch; “Yeah, you should definitely sign with us! Why? Because you sound just like that Little Boots bird so I reckon we could shift a hundred thousand units with you before dropping you before the second album”.
– According to Phil Saxe all the best music lawyers are in London. I have no idea if this is true or not but my favourite music lawyer is indeed in London. Is it wrong to have a ‘favourite’ music lawyer?! That’s a niche drunken pub chat right there; ‘Top 5 Music Lawyers… Go!’ I don’t think I have five, but I would as well as my favourite I’d also include the one I interviewed for some uni work I did once. He was nice.
– Gary Calamar (music supervisor and all round lovely guy) says you should expect to work for free within the music industry if you want to eventually make a career from it. Pretty obvious stuff but always worth reiterating.
– In the US Warner will not sign a band without taking the publishing with it. Amazing little fact that. God help the artist who signs that deal.
– Universal will only make a publishing offer once a band has proven they can generate income. Another very interesting fact which proves majors aren’t willing to take may risks anymore which opens up opportunities for smaller indies to grab bands on their way up. Hurray for entrepreneurialism eh?
– Music education within the national curriculum needs a bloody good looking at. When I was at school it was all recorders, keyboards and stumbling horrifically through various traditional songs. Not once did we learn about the actual business of music and what the concept of copyright was. The panel argued that if kids were taught about copyright at a younger age then they may respect it more and be less inclined to steal it which is an interesting angle which I might just agree with. They also praised Fergal Sharkey for his continuing work within the industry to raise awareness regarding this are.
– Don’t approach agents, let them approach you. There is no point sending your music out to agents, once you’ve reached a level where you’re regularly pulling crowds and making enough ‘industry noise’ they’ll come find you and offer you something.
– “They (major labels) just need to die”. A quote from the festival director Dave Pichilingi. A potential epitaph maybe?
So that was the panels! Now for the gigs.
Casio Kids – Had high hopes for these after several people informed me that I ‘just needed’ to check them out and alas, they were vastly underwhelming. After several G&T’s I thought I’d come up with the perfect comparison: “like Friendly Fires but castrated” but now in the light of day I’m not too sure.
Toyko Pinsalocks – Easily one of the highlights of the festival. Three Japanese ladies doing candyfloss pop with quality bass lines and floaty synths. Lovely.
Bicycle Thieves – Along with Sound Of Guns these guys are the current Liverpudlian tip and their set didn’t disappoint. They sound a bit like Queens of the Stone Age. And I really like Queens of the Stone Age. So I quite like them.
Black Lips – Oh dear me these were awful. Treat them as you would a Mexican pig; avoid at all costs.
Eugene McGuinness and The Lizards – I do prefer him without the Lizards if I’m honest but still a very talented young man.
Lee Broderick – If you like pop then you’ll like Lee Broderick, it really is that simple. His scouse manager somehow managed to majestically blag a hotel room performance which was seen by some of the sync agents attending the conference who were very impressed. A fantastic example of how a good manager can make all the difference at times.
Minion TV – it was the first time I’d seen these guys perform since Sentric Music secured them a Lexus advert and I’m rather glad to say they can pull off their rather epically massive sound live.
A Cup of Tea – Another one of my highlights of the week played a tragically under attended show in above the once legendary Parr Street Studios. Someone once described them to me as sounding “like Four Tet after they’ve raved to hard” which is a pretty good description.
White Lies – I could only stay for three songs and luckily for me they played two singles during that brief stint! I do think these guys have some great songs on their debut album and they can indeed pull it off live, but it’ll be interesting to know what the follow up album will sound like.
Soft Toy Emergency – A lot of buzz around these guys at the moment thanks to the whole Tings Tings success of 2008 and they’re also managed by the guys who look after Elbow so the combination of those two things could be promising. Enjoyable set, but for me they’re far more interesting when they calm down a bit and make their songs a bit less frantic.
Dan Black – I really enjoyed DB’s set despite him clearly being a bit dishartnened by the lack of crowd at his Little Boots afterparty set. The two singles shone out the most with ‘Yours’ being the definite highlight of the set. I was a little bit suspicious of the fact his voice may have been autotuned though, can anyone confirm/deny this?
Post War Years – If you’re yet to catch these guys live yet then do so immediately. Their live show is very strong and the album sounds even better when you listen to it again the morning after.
Ed Zealous – These guys were ace. Apparently one of them gave up being a professional football to be their drummer. You have to appreciate that utter madness/passion.
I strayed away from Liverpool SoundCity on the Saturday night as I discovered two of my favourite bands were sharing the stage over in Manchester which was an opportunity not to be missed:
Grammatics – If you read the blog often you’ll know how I feel about these guys; they’re just bloody brilliant. The crowd were a tad inpatient as the lager flowed down and they wanted to singalong with their favourite Geordies, but any misplaced attention was well and truly stamped out when they finished on the rather epic ‘Relentless Fours’ (Spotify link). Brilliant.
Maximo Park – The new album is slowly growing on me (almost painfully slowly – if it was anyone else I’d have given up by now, but I owe it to them to give it more time) and the tracks genuinely work better live then on record. I won’t lie though, it’s the oldies that make me smile/sing/dance/jump etc in ways that a lot of other bands can’t. Paul Smith’s lyrics at times verge on genius and the atmosphere was immensely joyous. Also brilliant.
Well there you go; my week in at Liverpool SoundCity. There are several other anecdotes that didn’t make the cut so if you see me buy me a drink and I’ll tell all.
What I’m reading this week: An Ode Less Travelled by Stephen Fry.