I was very interested this week to read the comments from the Head of the Arts Council Alan Davey who told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that UK labels don't take A&R risks and "want talent to be delivered to them ready made and they're not prepared to take a risk over a long period of time investing in talent". He added: "It's something that you see lots of industries get into when they're under pressure. They'll concentrate on giving the public what they think the public want, rather than exploring or [bringing] the public things they didn't know they want."
The BPI were about as fast to react as I've ever seen them react, with Geoff Taylor their CEO immediately putting out a bullish statement to Music Week. It read, "Alan Davey's remarks about the lack of risk-taking in pop music are ill-informed and out of touch. UK labels have invested £1 billion over the last five years in new music. "The results speak for themselves: five out of the top ten best-selling albums last year were from the UK. It is difficult to see that global breakthroughs such as Adele, Mumford & Sons, Emeli Sande, Ed Sheeran, Muse and Jessie J represent short-termism, or a failure to back talent. And huge successes such as One Direction who emerged from the X Factor should be celebrated.
"The new Arts Council fund represents a drop in the ocean - around a third of one per cent - compared to annual investment by UK labels. New funding for investment in UK talent is always a good thing, but the Arts Council should be supporting the music industry's excellent record of breaking talent, not attacking it with ill-judged soundbites."
All of this hubbub comes in light of the aforementioned Arts Council launching a brand new creative fund called Momentum fund at the recent Great Escape Music conference. This fund is apparently available to aspiring acts and artists who need the much needed initial funding to get started on the road to success in the music industry. From what I understand the total fund amounts to £500,000 and is being hailed by its originators as, "a breakthrough moment for music in England".
This kind of funding is the very thing I've been banging on about in this blog since I started writing it, so it's great to see something is finally happening. The fund itself will be administered by the PRS Foundation. This in my opinion could be slightly worrying, if the application process is anything like that for the British Music Abroad fund, which is supposed to give money to the best placed British bands seeking to break into new markets ie by providing funds for travel to the likes of the US' SXSW etc.
Having applied for this process several times for acts over recent years, in my view the whole fund distribution process seems to be totally arbitrary. Mostly in my experience it tends to be given to bands with little or no profile and those least well poised to make an impact, rather than band's who are making a great start, have a buzz about them, with some backing, perhaps from a small label, but no major label tour supporting them, who with a small injection could leap to the next level.
In my opinion the Arts Council's fund is a step in the right direction and releasing funds to creative projects can only be a good thing. I'm worried though that the usual politics and bureaucracy will probably get in the way and the funding will end up being meted out to the wrong acts and those who are worthy causes rather than trailblazing artists who need the most help.
I do think though that Alan Davey has a point and he is right in identifying the huge funding gap that the major record labels have helped to open up. The BPI's solid and rapid reaction is also to be expected, they certainly don't want anything to damage the major labels' reputation, which over recent years has enjoyed a resurgence in respect and popularity, after years of fat cat sloganing.
However, the response from the major labels, only partly covers the cracks, as the truth from where I'm standing is that they certainly appear to be signing fewer and fewer acts and instead are pumping all of the money and funding into the few that show signs of making it such as the likes of Mumford & Sons, Emeli Sande, Ed Sheeran and before that say, Rumer or Paolo Nuttini.
Record labels used to sign a dozen or more acts in the hope 1 or 2 would turn to gold. Now, the number of signings and acts signed to development deals are virtually non-existent.
Now the true artist development is left to managers like myself, the likes of Lateral Management, who manage Paloma Faith, Taoi Cruz and John Martin and companies like Quest management. All of this new breed of 'management labels' are signing acts and investing time (Lateral had been working with Paloma for 6 years before success came) and their own money to get them to a level where either major labels take notice, or indie labels with cool rippling muscle, such as Korda Marshalls Infectious Music take control.
The BPI is right in stating that the UK industry and major labels has had unprecedented success in the last couple of years with British Acts flying the flag globally at the top of the charts. BUT and it is a big but, the biggest problem I can see is this. Music cannot move on creatively, if a greater number of acts are not given a chance to break through at all.
Music is getting safer and safer and subsequently so is radio, so is TV and we're all less well off for it, culturally, physically and emotionally. If challenging acts and music is not given the platform to grow, new genres will not emerge and as a consequence we are left in this negative (and boring) feedback loop of band's on the come back trail on tv (do we really need to see the Sex Pistols on Later.. err NO) and radio.
Music is about new sounds and new acts that excite the soul and make you feel alive. Music is a part of our biological psyche and it needs renewing constantly, refreshing and updating.
We do need more low level funding such as Momentum and we need major record labels to go back to even more low level funding themselves.
Firstly, I think major labels should also be doing JV's with the new breed of management labels as they are the true breeders of future talent. And secondly, why don't the major labels nail their colours to the mast and match the Arts Council's Momentum Fund? It would be a very public way of showing that they do care about artists trying to breakthrough and would instantly silence their critics. Now wouldn't that be a revelation.