It is with great pleasure that we launch our new series of articles – Single of the Week – in which we review the latest releases by talented artists, as well as featuring them on our 'Friends of Ganbei' Spotify playlist. Our first artist is VULIN – stage name for Fowlis-based Scottish singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and producer, Craig MacLeod – who just released his solo debut single "Distorted Silence", a song that perfectly encapsulates all of our conflicted feelings and oxymoronic emotions at the end of this atypical summer. MacLeod's musical career started back in 2001 and his songwriting has been praised as work which captures "emotional maturity and possesses anthemically charged moments, powerful melodic ideas and engaging lyrics" (The Daily Record). Written, produced and mixed by MacLeod, "Distorted Silence" showcases the artist’s talent for songwriting and production, as well as, his very communicative lyricism. The song came alive during this past COVID-19 lockdown and has therefore been recorded remotely by all the musicians involved. It features musicians Louis Abbott (Admiral Fallow) and Graeme Smillie (Arab Strap, Emma Pollock), alongside contributions from former Dante members, Stuart Hosking, Euan McLaughlin and Seán McLaughlin, and has been mastered by Guy Davie (The Smiths, Björk, Mogwai, The Shins, Sigur Rós, etc). This is a dynamic song, which immediately starts with a soft, yet heartbreaking, acoustic guitar. As it progresses, every additional instrument enriches the sound and builds up the emotional journey of the song. Each string, percussion, and vocal adds another layer to the dramatic atmosphere, which culminates with the very emotional words "hold me fast". When asked about his greatest inspirations for this solo project, MacLeod cited the Manchester Orchestra, Bon Iver, City and Colour, Pinegrove and Frightened Rabbit, and there is no doubt that "Distorted Silence" perfectly fits the long tradition of intimate lyrics and melancholic ambience, not forgetting VULIN's strong and poignant voice. "Distorted Silence" was released on 4th September 2020 through all major digital and streaming music retailers and you can follow VULIN via these links: Spotify SoundCloud Facebook Instagram Twitter Official website If you have an upcoming release and would like it to be considered for our 'Friends of Ganbei' Spotify playlist, then feel free to contact us.
The crisis of self-employment within the music industry
Six months ago, before the COVID-19 pandemic kicked off, many self-employed musicians and other music industry professionals were already struggling to sustain - never mind grow - their careers within a highly competitive and increasingly technologised industry. I think it's fair to say that most people who work as freelancers or self-employed have what is known as a 'portfolio income', which basically means, instead of having one main source of income, say from a full time job, a person will instead have multiple sources of income from various places. This was certainly my experience when I worked as self-employed, and I have spoken to many people over the years who say the same thing. In fact, a friend of mine who is a professional drummer in a well-known touring band, also works as a composer, session musician, peripatetic music teacher and hourly paid lecturer. In isolation, these paid jobs are not enough for her to live a comfortable life - when taking into consideration family commitments as well. Altogether, however, it provides her and her family with financial stability and - in certain periods of the year - financial prosperity. COVID-19 hit most subsectors of the music industry hard, but none more-so than the live industry, and this has had a devastating effect on self employed individuals working in all areas of live music - as gigs and festivals were cancelled all over the UK and the world. When lockdown was imposed, performers, artist managers, promoters, booking agents, venue owners and sound engineers almost instantly lost one or more income streams. Not forgetting the potential negative impact that the pandemic has had on individuals' physical and mental health, as musicians have openly talked about losing purpose as well as work. Back in March, as the coronavirus crisis worsened, there was a wave of criticism about the government's approach to supporting self-employed individuals as they felt let down by the lack of economic support as the pandemic quickly escalated. For companies who were unable to pay staff due to the effects of COVID-19, the government agreed to cover 80% of employed staff's wages - up to £2,500 per month - which was in stark contrast to that of freelancers and self-employed people who were simply offered a revision to the existing Universal Credit system - the equivalent to £94.25 per week. In response to the government's apparent lack of support for self-employed individuals working in music, organisations such as UK Music, Musicians' Union (MU), Association of Independent Music (AIM) and Music Managers Forum (MMF) - to name a few - all offered a helping hand with different types of finance, grants and funding opportunities. In fact, several of these organisations came together, led by Help Musicians, to create Corona Musicians, which has been a central source of support and advice for all musicians during the coronavirus period - offering health advice, business support across the UK. Whether this support has been enough remains to be seen, but it's possible that many self-employed individuals working in music have had to change career path - although I hope that is not the case. Of course, certain subsectors of the music industry have thrived, with a movement from physical interaction - such as live events - to more online engagement. Digital marketing, for example, has seen a huge boost in client engagement, as well as live streaming of artists via platforms like Instagram, TikTok and YouTube. Interestingly, webinars have become a staple of the "new normal" with recent networking and training events, which would normally have been face-to-face, taking place completely online. I have attended more than a dozen networking and training events online, most of which have been free due to COVID-19, and have to say they've been extremely inspiring and rewarding. But what now? Initially, the main goal will be to make up for lost time and try to regain some much needed revenue, especially from the live sector. Recently, Newcastle Racecourse hosted a socially distanced Sam Fender gig, with a mixed response. This was an innovative attempt at getting back to normal. However, I feel we need to embrace other positive aspects of what we've experienced during lockdown and bring them into our "new normal", socially distanced music industry.
Video killed the radio star – how video continues to revolutionise the music industry
Ironically the first ever video played on MTV was The Buggles' record "Video Killed the Radio Star". It hit the television screens in 1981 and, ever since, video content has been at the forefront of music marketing.
In a personal endeavour to keep myself updated on all things digital and to delve a little deeper into the world of video I attended a YouTube workshop in Belfast, pre-Covid-19 crisis of course. It was for sure an eye opener and it got me thinking about how our marketing strategy needs change to stay ahead in the hyper-competitive music market.
Here is what I learned: YouTube is the second largest search engine in the world with a staggering 30 million people using the platform daily. Video consumption online is at an all time high – on average users are watching 6.5 hours of video content per week. Consumption habits continue to evolve and it is predicted by 2022 that 82% of internet traffic will come from video streaming and download, a massive year-on-year increase. Armed with these facts I immediately got to work thinking about how I should alter my approach.
Fast forward a few months and the live music industry as we know it is at a standstill. The livelihoods of many musicians, pubs, clubs and music venues alike have been put at risk as traditional revenue streams dry up.
Although many thought that music streams would increase over the lockdown period, this surprisingly is not the case; most labels have pointed to a modest dip in audio streaming figures. Interestingly video streams on YouTube, VEVO and Twitch have seen an increase in numbers as people at home opt for a visual music experience. Again, video seems to be the winner in this instance. The old cliché “The Show Must Go On” is not quite possible in its traditional form in the current Covid-19 climate with many musicians adapting to a new way of thinking and finding inventive ways to bring their music to many. Artists are fighting for our attention more than ever before in the form of streams and views, and with no outlet to perform live, people have turned to live video streams and creative video recordings. A scroll through my Facebook news feed on a Saturday night shows the abundance of live concerts on offer, albeit in a restricted digital form. More than ever video content has been at the forefront of fan engagement. Many are keen to make an impression now; in the hope it will pay dividends when the live industry picks up again. It has never been as important to stand out from the crowd, with more noise and competition than ever before. What has caught my attention is the level of creativeness of some musicians - deploying new ways of thinking. It’s been great seeing some of my favourite artists and bands getting imaginative in front of the camera lens; Blossoms covering The Beatles through multi screening, Gary Lightbody giving his fans the chance to write a song with him and one band even turning their living room into a makeshift pub for a St. Patrick’s Day concert, complete with beer kegs, pub décor and bar stools. The misconception for many is that video content is expensive to produce. With ease of access to new technology and editing software like Final Cut, Premiere Pro and Movavi the rise of the DIY video has emerged as a cost effective option for many. So get creating, let your imagination run wild; set the scene, get your iPhone and shoot. Be as imaginative as possible. Time is on your side; God knows how long this is set to last. The music industry has come a long way since the birth of music videos in the '80s and social media is continuing to popularise the trend. Covid-19 is generating a new wave of video stars, and it looks like the rise of video is set to continue well past the lockdown period. In a bid to keep up to date in an ever evolving market, I try my best to figure out the next video craze – TIK TOK.
Most of us probably know speech recognition from Amazon’s Alexa, Google Assistant or these 'new' so-called smart speakers that can only be operated by our voice. We can ask these devices how many inhabitants Berlin has or what’s the most popular Madonna album. With the rise of smart speakers, the role of speech recognition becomes more relevant. The music industry should adapt to this development to cover voice-oriented consumer segments, and considering voice as a very natural way to operate digital devices (human-machine-communication), voice adoption, for now, is expected to grow in the future, enhancing the importance of this customer segment. For instance, 20 % of all voice searches within the Google App were already done via voice in 2016. Also, throughout the last four years, the market for smart speakers has risen tremendously. In January this year, the ongoing 'The Smart Audio Report' since 2017 by NPR and Edison revealed numbers of Winter 2019 stating 24 % of the U.S. population (60m in total) owning a smart speaker (see figure below). This steady growth of smart speaker ownership, being only operated via voice, pushes the adoption of voice to operate digital devices in general. However, if the use of voice transfers to the access to music, which is expectable, what does that mean for the music industry and music consumption in particular? First, access to music is easier than ever before which could promise the next golden age for the music industry. If we imagine that we just use our voice with a simple request such as "Alexa, play music“ to initiate music listening, the barriers to it are limited to a minimum - no operating of tiny smartphone screens with touch or opening applications and typing in what we want to listen to. This could also encourage older generations to access music streaming services. These arguments all speak for an increase in music listening. The industry expects that voice commands generally comprise of requesting for artist names, parts of memorable lyrics, song titles, and music for certain moods or usage situations (cooking, driving, showering), in other words, playlists. The music industry also recognises that this simplified consumption brings new challenges with it. On one hand, music consumption, in general, is expected to rise through voice technology. On the other hand, speech recognition addresses passive music consumption through playlists and the increasing track business, as voice assistants are not able to show an artist’s face or music video. Therefore, music would be consumed in the background, similar to radio. Especially for those in the music industry who rely on marketing artists themselves, as brands, where visual aesthetics play an important role. Here, speech recognition embodies the new concept of promoting artists through voice only. Through radio and music streaming, the industry is used to marketing artists through voice-only commercials and can potentially transfer that knowledge to smart speaker usage. Furthermore, there are some experiments with voice assistant marketing, such as Google’s "Talk Like a Legend" approach, where the tech giant built a voice cameo of the "All of Me“ - pop singer John Legend or a speech recognition based interview in Germany with the pop singer Mark Forster. In the end, the growth of voice adoption will help the underlying technology to improve and vice versa. For now though, it is too early to predict the full impact of speech recognition on the music industry. However, the ongoing process of voice adoption will show us how people use their voices for music listening, thus giving us the basis for an exciting new marketing channel worth exploring!
How will Covid-19 change the music industry as we know it?
Such a funny thing life is. Just when the whole of the UK music industry was asking the question ‘How will Brexit affect us?’ and we all thought that our biggest challenge in 2020/2021 would perhaps consist of overly complicated tour and distribution arrangements, life and nature reminded us that their power extends way beyond that of politics and economic deals. Glastonbury, SXSW, Coachella, The Great Escape, MIDEM and Eurovision are only a small part of the numerous big music events that were postponed (or delayed, for now) as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. Along with the rescheduling of other large-scale events, such as the UEFA Euro Championship and the Olympics, and with a super long list of acts whose shows and tours have been cancelled or rescheduled, 2020 begins to look like something that no-one actually thought it would be. But what does the worldwide state of emergency actually mean to our industry? How do the current circumstances affect it, and will they lead to a change in the way it is structured? As almost any other kind of industry, ours is customer-oriented, and the customers are those who make it work. Well, the customers certainly haven’t gone anywhere, even as a matter of fact, they have probably never been so ‘not-going-anywhere’ in a very long time. This clearly does have a negative impact at present. Only less than half a year ago UK Music revealed that out of the £5.2 billion contribution of the music industry to the UK economy in 2018, the live music sector’s contribution was equal to £1.1 billion. However, from the examples mentioned at the beginning, we can only try to guess what the financial impact on this year’s music business will be. We can perhaps only easily assume that the live sector numbers in the reports on 2020 won’t be even close to the above-stated ones. In fact, a recent survey by the MMF (Music Managers Forum) and the FAC (Featured Artists Coalition) reports seven-figure losses for artists and managers in the UK from cancelled shows, lost record and merch sales, and lost artist-brand deals contracts. But as the old saying goes, ‘what’s important is not if you fall down, but how you get back up’. The change of circumstances has obviously led to a change in our customers’ behaviour (as reported by DSPs), but they are still here and it may well turn out that they are thirstier than ever for any new piece of content that we can put out there. Not only the lockdown has not really had a negative effect on the music release schedules, but with the now-trending home-based live concerts and with the amount of time that people currently spend on streaming platforms and social media, we can only imagine how much music content is being consumed. Furthermore, it could be stated that the current consumption is of a higher quality, because the current circumstances may possibly mean that consumers are actually paying way more attention to the music content that they are being exposed to. And to end this on an even more positive note (from a purely business perspective), earlier this week, the Association of Independent Music (AIM) ran the AIM SYNC Conference, despite the tendency of events being cancelled. In fact, the Zoom-YouTube-hosted event turned out to be the first ever entirely online-based conference of this kind, and the 4,000+ attendees from over 20 countries clearly demonstrated that the music industry of 2020 is up for the challenge to keep working, even from home. We surely don’t know what the future has prepared for us, but surely the creative industries people are ‘creative’ enough to adapt and keep finding new ways to reach the audience.