‘The Problem Is Not Lack Of Talent’
Disruption is the buzzword of the digital age. The recorded music sector has felt the impact of new technologies to a far greater extent than the live business.
Pollstar – Stuart Galbraith
After more than a decade of struggling to keep up with digital innovations, recorded music seems to be poised for growth again, thanks to streaming. How has the role of promoters changed over that time period?
Have they become more important as talent incubators given a lack of long-term label investment?
Pollstar spoke to
Stanley said it can’t be denied that “record companies helped to build so many great careers,” but “the whole record company model that was built up over the past 50 years or so has been blown apart by the internet.
“The barriers to production and marketing have come down so much that anyone can make a recording and distribute it for next to nothing … but it has also made a lot of music disposable. For many artists, their creative output comes and goes so quickly that it is almost impossible for them to make a real connection and establish a wide and loyal following.”
“That is why live performance is so important,” Stanley said. “It is one of the few things that can’t be copied. Nothing compares to the emotional connection between performer and audience at a live gig.”
Schoneberg said promoters have become just as, if not more, important than labels when it comes to building artist careers: “Label support is more or less non-existent. If anything, it exists for artists that don’t actually need support any more.”
Galbraith said the promoter’s role as talent incubator “always has been crucially important, and indeed all of the companies that I’ve been involved with have been very firmly focused around developing new talent. I’d even go as far as saying that all of the acts we worked with were ones that we worked with from the very first time that they toured.”
He added that “recorded music with the upturn in streaming is actually on its way to having a new heyday. Certainly, over the past few years there have been circumstances where, without our input, acts would not be able to tour, because there hasn’t been the support for as many acts as there has been in the past. Having said that, I think there is still huge support from labels for artists in the live sphere.” So what are the challenges when it comes to sending emerging acts on tour?
“Quite honestly, the problem is not lack of talent,” Stanley said. “There are so many talented music makers out there. Tour support [from labels] may be finished and the cost of doing things has risen a lot, bars and small clubs that have live music have struggled in recent years, but that is changing and there are still a lot of great venues to suit all types of musical styles and audiences.”
Schoneberg agrees that there’s no lack of venues, at least in his main market Germany, seeing that there are German acts who play 80 to 100 concerts per year. He wouldn’t mind seeing international emerging talent make use of that, instead of only coming to Germany for a maximum of four shows.
Galbraith says that “with regards to small and developmental venues there are some huge challenges that they are facing, both nationally and more particularly in London. We would like to see as many of those venues thrive [as possible], but also we would like to see more potentially open.”
Which is why Kilimanjaro is involved in London Mayor Sadiq Khan’s Music Board, which focuses on supporting local grassroots venues, among other things. The real challenge for promoters when it comes to working with unknown acts is costs.
“Tickets often have to be given away for free when the artist is unknown, so that obviously needs someone to fund the shortfall,” Stanley said. “Some of the bigger players have started departments to put on small gigs or have bought small independent local promoters. But, the real issue is whether a promoter can build a really strong relationship with the artist and their management and the whole team that surrounds them. Live music promoters have always done this, but I now see them doing it more and more, saying ‘I believe in you and what you are doing’ and making the decision to promote emerging talent at a loss.”
Marshall Arts has invested in a group of young promoters under the umbrella Strange Place, “who have started to make real inroads in building new talent in Europe and USA,” according to Stanley.
All three promoters have success stories of artists they supported from the very beginning to share. Galbraith’s ultimate example is Ed Sheeran.
“We’ve worked with Ed all the way from the very first time that he did shows in pubs. You could also say the same for acts like The 1975 or Bastille or, more recently, Maggie Rogers, which is coming through now. Those are all good contemporary examples of acts we’ve worked with right from the start.”
Schoneberg sent Charlie Cunningham on tour at a point when he did not have a label deal, which worked well.
“One reason was the fact that he had supported the Mighty Oaks shortly before, although that doesn’t explain all of the success. Maybe it’s the much faster dissemination of music via streaming platforms that enables artists without a label to go on tour.”
Stanley highlighted the “incredible Scottish artist Elle Exxe,” who reminds him of a young
“Elle Exxe is a brilliant singer-songwriter who has a great band and we have been promoting them for just over a year. We have regularly promoted Elle Exxe in clubs around the country, working closely with her management as her social media presence has grown and her fan base has grown bigger and bigger.
“She won best female solo act at the Unsigned Music Awards and these types of awards shows can really help to give new talent a springboard to get exposure. We took her out to SXSW and she blew them away. Now she is playing European Festivals and will be on the bill at the V-Festival in the summer. We are looking at taking her to the next level in audience size as her following on social media grows alongside her fan base.”