In the year 2016, Germany’s Reeperbahn Festival came up with a contest that awards the best of around 400 artists performing at the showcase event in Hamburg each year: the Anchor Award.
Past winners include Faces On TV, Tamino, Jade Bird and Albin Lee Meldau, all of whom have already amassed quite an impressive tour history, as Pollstar‘s box office reports indicate. Jade Bird from England, for instance, is currently supporting Father John Misty on his U.S. tour. She’s already got a long list of international festivals lineup this summer, after which she’ll return to the States for a headline tour commencing in September.
“It’s a simple idea, stolen from the big film festivals: judges walk into the shows of the nominees,” Reeperbahn Festival CEO Alexander Schulz explained at the unveiling of this year’s Anchor Award jury in New York, June 19.
Besides producer legend Tony Visconti, who has been presiding over the jury since the award’s inception, this years judges include producer Bob Rock, singer-songwriter Kate Nash, singer and producer Peaches, the Australian radio and TV presenter Zan Rowe, as well as Beatsteaks singer Arnim Teutoburg-Weiß.
Pollstar sat down with Visconti in New York to talk about breaking artists in 2019.
How have the requirements for breaking artists changed since you started in this business in the 60s?
Everything now is based on how many people watch your videos on YouTube. It’s never been easier to make a video. I remember, seven years ago a video cost $100,000. Now you can make a really good video on an Apple phone.
The requirements of record people are simply how many likes you get. The emphasis is on how sellable you are. They have to know immediately.
I sill value talent more than anything. I’m always looking for a breakthrough in music. I want somebody to come along who does something so new and original that it takes us completely by surprise. Something that takes your breath away.
The Anchor Award, in its first year, produced such a person in Albin Lee Meldau from Sweden. His lyrics are profound and full of angst, he’s a very emotional person. I am drawn to people like that, rather than cute people, that doesn’t turn me on at all.
I know so many A&Rs who don’t go to live gigs anymore. I might have an artist I want them to see in a club, and they go: ‘Oh no, I just watch YouTube.’
Roberto Finizio/NurPhoto via Getty Images – Albin Lee Meldau
The swedish singer and songwriter performed at Unaltrofestival 2018 at Circolo Magnolia Segrate in Milan, Italy, on 8 July 2018.
But surely you can only judge the quality of the artist when you see them on stage.
I believe so.
Would you say the industry is doing enough to develop new artists and build sustainable careers?
It depends what tier you are as an artist. If you got to a certain level where you’re selling a reasonable amount of records, and you’re doing very well with your tour, the industry does support that kind of artist.
I don’t think they give you seed money like they used to in the old days. The kind of support that labels give has changed dramatically, I’d say, in the last 10 years.
I don’t know if you know Jade Bird, who won the Anchor Award in 2017. At her level, now she’s got loads of support. But she made it to that next level all on her own.
Everybody has a different story as well, I’m generalizing.
You produce records but also tour live, so you’ll have a good perspective on whether live is now where it’s at. Touring is where you break artists and build careers. Is that assessment true?
Touring and videos play the most important role, because they have to see you now, you must be seen. And, of course, shows are just magic. If you’re in an excellent band, the relationship you have with the people in the audience is incredible. The love you can feel, it elevates you as a performer. There’s something magical happening, you’re feeling the outpouring of love from them, and you end up loving your audience. There’s nothing like it.
A video can’t do that. I don’t care if you’re Taylor Swift. You can’t have that emotional impact on an audience, unless you meet eye to eye.
Some say streaming has made the production of a real body of work less important. Do you agree with that, or is the album still important?
I always fight for albums. I think the album is very important, and you have to make an album so good that you actually get people to sit in a room and listen to it.
There was nothing better than getting the new Van Morrison album, getting the vinyl out, putting the needle down, sitting down on my couch, smoke a joint, have a beer or something, and play it again and again and again.
That culture is dwindling a bit. People have short attention spans now, even older, not just young people.
For instance, I did two fantastic albums in the last two years, one was with Damon Albarn‘s The Good, the Bad & the Queen, and that’s an album you have to listen to. It’s so complex, it’s so beautiful and dense.
And then I did them same thing with Perry Farrell. His new album is called Kind Heaven. It’s all about a mythical South Pacific island, where all these adventures happen. It’s an album you would love to sit down and listen to. But nowadays you have to always give that visual element to an album, that’s a bit different.
If you look at the current state of the business, is there anything that needs to change?
Adding to what I said earlier, I think labels look at a band’s potential in a marketplace, based on algorithms. In a conference room they say, ‘well, this band two million hits, we can sell 100,000 records.’ It’s the wrong way to look at it, because they ignore the fact that we live in a culture that is rich, full of information, full of complexity, that they are bypassing completely
The Beatles showed you what four pop musicians could do with help from the classical world. George Martin, of course, was their producer and all hat.
I just read that millennials, I hate to use the word, prefer the music from the 60s to the 90s more than today’s music, because it’s more memorable, the melodies are better.
That’s what labels could do more, invest in people like that, because in the end, they will make more money with people like that, instead of the flavour of the month.
It’s so mercurial, it comes and it goes, instantly. That’s why nobody can remember hits from a year ago, honestly. Try to think about what was big a year ago, you can’t remember.
Record companies have to do some reverse thinking.
What are you working on at the moment?
Right at the moment I’m working on my solo album.
How far into the process are you?
I’m at the end of it. I started it nine years ago, and because I work so hard for other people, I always put it aside, write one song and then leave it.
I just finished an album with Daphne Guinness, I finished that two weeks ago, and now I’m back on my own album again. I know exactly what needs to be done. I’m going to try to get it out in September and do a little touring with it as well. A small tour, through clubs.
Can you reveal the name of the album?
You know, the name is so good, I would rather not reveal it. Someone would steal it.
Will you tour abroad as well?
I think I can do it abroad as well, yeah, because I always do the show with maybe two or three musicians. I can do the show in small places very well. I would use some backing tracks, have the drummer play to a click. On some of the songs I played eight guitars, I can only play one on stage.
What’s your favorite live artist of all time?
Probably David Bowie.