I've just landed back in the UK from a frazzling week at SXSW in Austin, Texas, the annual industry frenzy of more than 2000 bands and something like 200 stages, more probably. Every venue, bar, cafe, restaurant, petrol station or doorway has a stage, a pa and a band of some description.
It's absolutely bonkers.
I had two bands there, Skinny Lister a folk band signed to Rob Da Bank's label in the UK and a band called Films of Colour who are building a nice following and showcased for America's versiom of PRS for Music, BMI.
The week was a blur of hundreds of gigs, agency parties, label showcases and meeting some really interesting and influential people. From a British point of view there was the British Music Embassy, a venue taken over for a week of events feature a small number of bands from the UK, which seems a bit of a shame considering the lust for British bands and music in the US.
A lot of other countries have their moment in the spotlight, the french showcase, tuesday was groovy dance music and Air-like pretentions, the New Zealand showcase, started suitably with some rather lovely NZ wines and ended with the excellent Avalanche CIty. The Canadian Showcase was well attended I heard and of course every other stage is rammed with American talent, being their normal shy and retiring selves and siezing their moment with both hands. I saw a rather excellent Ska band called The Pinstripes and gave $10 for a $5 cd, you kind of get carried away and swept along with some bands and I dont even like Ska, preferring Reggae and Dub.
The big names were of course there and Springsteen stole all of the accolades with his inspirational Keynote speech. Literally everyone was talking about it and I used it as a motivational pre-gig speech before Films of Colour blasted their sound.
On the streets its a fervour of band's going to gigs, friendly americans having the time of their lives and some amazing food and the usual quirkies.. 'Free Shrugs' being my favourite.
Working as I do in the music industry predominantly for me its about my bands and reaching out and meeting influential players in the music industry. Especially as my band's start to pick up traction, the US is an obvious place to be. SXSW really is a must for any new band treading that path and I'm proud to say both my bands turned alot of heads in the US.
What did strike me was the difference between the US and UK industry folk you meet... The US seems to be full of enthusiasm and fired up, actively looking for the next big thing and every exec you meet is really optimistic and buoyant about the possibilities and making some money. I think its just natural for americans, whereas by comparison, in the UK its always tales of wo and phrases like 'well its just really difficult at the moment' are often trotted out..
People show up and reply to emails, they're really interested in finding and backing the next big act, be it Hip hop or folk or death metal. This is where it seems to be happening.
What we seem to have at the moment is a cloud of musical pessimism floating above UK music execs right now, people seem to be too scared to take a risk, or back anything in case it doesnt work and they get sacked.
I attended the Music Managers Forum SXSW brunch meeting during my week here, headed up by Adam Tudhope who manages Keane, Laura Marling and Mumford & Son. We talked about all sorts of topics from the secondary ticketing scandal and how to close the loop holes that still glaringly exist there, aswell as the changing role of the manager and how really the manager's role has now turned into the early developer, A&R and initial backer of music. This space was previously occupied by major and indies labels and their development budgets, but sadly this opportunity largely doesnt exist. The problem this leaves us is where to find funding from to develop acts up to the initial level needed to get noticed and onto the level that major labels like Universal or Sony might sign them on. What came out of it, is that there are a few funds around, but nowhere near enough. The problem is the risk. Investors want a return and whether a band makes it or not, largely depends on timing, spotting a gap in the market and a sprinkling of luck. For an investor looking for ROI, its often not enough money investment wise to make it worthwhile to them nor a big enough guarantee for that return to actually happen.
On the plus side, the music industry is as cool and exciting as it's ever been, probably more so and if I were a music fan with a few pounds looking to sink into something interesting, i'd definitely encourage them to sink their hand into their pockets. In fact, call me, I know plenty of bands who could benefit.
This funding problem has to change though, we definitely need to find more ways of backing acts and I believe the government should also get more involved in supporting what is an incredible UK Export. If not then perhaps we'll see bands going to SXSW and saying, hey you know what.. they like us here.. they're backing us.. lets stay!