Music Industry Panel at The Lending Room on 12 July

Emerging music artists were on the receiving end of some pragmatic insight from experts in the music industry, as the Music Industry Panel sat prior to #360RAW9 on 12 July.

If you want some realistic information that will help you in your music career, you could do no better than attend what I believe is the best music panel for anyone who is serious about being in the business of making music.   I still feel like high fiving after being part of the audience.

 #360RAW is a branch of the main hub that is the 360 Club run by Richard Watson.  The RAW is Alan Raw, BBC Radio presenter (drummer, photographer and art curator) and long term champion of new music in Leeds and Yorkshire.  Together with Ian Cheek, a music PR of many years based in Leeds, they produce #360RAW, an event put together to promote, inform and celebrate the new music talent in Leeds.

This month’s panel members were host Alan Raw with Ian Cheek, Tom Robinson and Steve Cusack.

Tom, legendary UK singer-songwriter, started out in the 60’s, with major hits including 2-4-6-8 Motorway (1977) and War Baby (1983).  Steve Cusack is an Artist Manager. All four members of the panel have incredibly interesting backgrounds which, when combined, serve up informed opinion, inspiration and advice from which every aspiring musician can benefit.

The #360 RAW is held in The Lending Room, which is upstairs in The Library Pub in Hyde Park.  It’s a nice little intimate set up. The space has the energy of a theatre and feels more than just a music venue  – it’s a place where good things happen.

I parked myself on the front row, which was empty at that point, and along came Mr Tom Robinson himself, who smiled and said hello.  We shook hands and in an instant I was made to feel completely at home. War Baby is one of my top favourite songs of all time and it was lovely to have a wee chat with Tom about his classic hit.

As people gathered, the relaxed, homely feeling continued – a gathering of friends and like-minded people, with an informality which, for me at least, is the perfect environment for learning.

Alan Raw opened the event and introduced Sarah Smith from the Martin House Hospice, the recipient of proceeds from ticket sales.  This was the first time an entrance fee has been charged and an ideal opportunity to raise money for a worthy cause. Sarah briefly spoke about the music therapy rooms at Martin House, the destination for the funds raised this evening.  More information about this can be found on their website.

Alan introduced the panel members and off we went.  Straight down to business; here we go! From the very first question presented by Alan right to the very last question coming from the audience, it was nugget after nugget of real, tangible advice and information.  Hang on a minute. What’s this quite unique feeling? Am I actually learning something here? It doesn’t happen very often with panels, this information that you can grab and go run with immediately – information that you can implement right now and expect some kind of positive result.

The panel covered the basics, just like any other, but moved beyond the norm with a collectively genuine and sincere strength of will to help music artists succeed in the industry.  The impact? This panel was effective, on the side of the budding artist from an impressive base of knowledge and experience.

These guys weren’t messing around.  They told it exactly how it is, in combination with some funny life experiences and stories.  They were refreshingly candid. I feel the whole panel event was so priceless it should have been recorded, pressed on some gold vinyl, sleeve artwork designed and sold as a classic! When the panel was finished, I felt I’d had the perfectly balanced meal, rather than the junk food which tastes great at the time, but afterwards you wish you hadn’t bothered!

 #360RAW is the kind of dedicated music event we greatly need in Leeds for the many vibrant, diverse, passionate and talented music artists in our region.  We are lucky it exists! I’d personally like to give a massive THANKS to all who are involved with making these events happen. There was appreciation all around from the audience and the bands that played later in the evening, bands who quite evidently have a lot of love for the 360 Club guys.

Yorkshire has an amazing wealth of musical talent, past and present, the type of talent that will continue into the future.  We need to support, take part and promote this gift of a musical platform we have and hold it as our regional treasure.

Let’s close this 360 degrees circle with the goodies from the panel session.  Stand by, folks, for a large music career smarts download.

Each of the panel members has an incredible background and experience.  Some of these elements and stories were revealed during the panel session, but I also suggest you look them up to learn more.

ALAN:  What are the things you notice in a local band that make you feel you can work with them?

IAN:  The music has to appeal to me.  This is number one!  What is also very important is we have to get on.  We have to trust each other and feel comfortable.  They have to be happy with working with me, as I am happy working with them.  I have to see them live;  good recording isn’t always enough.

STEVE:  For me, the question is how do they stand out?  You have to have a bloody good record, something to offer, something different.  They have to be hardworking, not just working hard on the music, but on their socials.  They have to have great motivation to be able to manage themselves.

ALAN:  Does the quality of a recording matter?

TOM:  No, you can’t polish a turd!  If it’s a great song, it’s a great song.  It’s down to the song.  Back in the 70’s I started a band.  It was going nowhere, so I left to start a new band on my own.  I had no money, no budget; I had to play in lots of clubs and pubs.  I wrote 2-4-6-8 Motorway and it got turned down by EMI.  I kept playing at the pubs and clubs but this time I took photocopies with information about the band and wrote on it ‘If you want to write to us, we’d love to hear from you.’  I kept gigging and gradually, six months later, 2-4-6-8 Motorway eventually became a hit record.  Then there was nothing for years and I wrote War Baby, which was my next hit.  These are the two songs every knows.  Just write the f…er!  The key to quality is quantity.  If you are a songwriter, then write songs!

STEVE:  Be clear.  iTunes won’t deal with your recording if it’s of bad quality sound.  Other platforms are not as fussy, but iTunes definitely won’t except your recording if it’s bad.

IAN:  It doesn’t have to be perfect.  It can be acceptable if it’s not perfect.

ALAN:  What’s the next step?

STEVE:  Once you have a recording, you have to have a plan.  Make sure all your socials are in order.  Do a YouTube channel.  Be creative, do Q&As, blogs…..

IAN:  To add to the social media thing:  They are your followers, but appeal beyond that – appeal to the people who don’t know who you are.  Build your contacts, and do your research.  If you notice a similar band, in a similar genre, at the same level, follow their website and socials for details of the contacts they have.  If you’re playing a gig in a different area, find out the publications in that area, tell them you are gigging in their area and try to create an audience in a different town.

DO find the journalists  and send them a brief bio of who you are.  It’s important to provide everything they need – photos, links, music.

DON’T claim you are the best new band in Leeds or Yorkshire or anywhere else.  Let them decide that.

If they don’t respond in the next few days, email them.  Don’t give up.  If they ignore that email, contact them again. Keep contacting them until they are sick of you.  DON’T GIVE UP!  Keep calling; be persistent.  If they say they aren’t interested then ask them why?  Always remember that you are important to them, just as much as they are important to you.

TOM:  Bios are so important!  You need a story because they need something to write about.  Don’t tell us how great you are, tell us how interesting you are.  Photos must be professional, not snapshots of you at a party.  They get thousands of applications a month and if they see something they like, they will forgot about them because they will get lost in the pile.  If you don’t hear from them, it doesn’t necessarily mean they don’t like you.

ALAN:  Making videos live or not?

STEVE:  Go for both.  10,000 hits on YouTube gives you the bronze package, which means you get access to their production.  Make sure you have a good camera when filming and be creative about the content. Acting a twat in a video helps.  There is a guy on Tic Tok called Cowboy who does this all the time and gets loads of hits.

Brief pause for Richard Watson to pass a beer to Tom Robinson, who is delighted and gives a thumbs up for the beer.  

ALAN:  What is the difference between Regional Press and National Press?

IAN:  I don’t do National Press but I know you will struggle to get into National Press on your own.  It’s better to get into Regional Press anywhere.  Being up North, it’s hard to get into the nationals because there is too much emphasis on national press in London.  There are lots of other types of press you can use, like student Press.  For example, Arctic Monkeys and Muse: National Press didn’t want to know them.  Their success came from working hard and gradually getting into regional press, which ultimately has a wider reach.

ALAN:  What about Pluggers?

STEVE:  I’d use free platforms.  You won’t need a plugger.  It’s kind of 50/50 with a plugger.

TOM:   Radio presenters who do live shows, even very famous ones, have to go into and out of their workplace on foot. With a bit of determination and persistence, you can accost almost anybody in radio and give them a CD or a business card in person.

But I don’t recommend trying this unless you’re certain you’re giving them your one and only ultimate OMFG breakthrough track. Mithering DJs in person at their place of work is the nuclear option – you can only try it once.

They won’t listen a second time.

STEVE:  On approaching presenters be cool, nice and sensible.  Remember they are still human, even if they are on the radio.

TOM:  Do your own plugging and do it one to one.  Don’t send group emails.  It makes us feel dirty.

ALAN:  Make sure you get your track up on the uploader rather than a CD.  That way, all I have to do is press the button and it’s sent to all the other BBC Introducing presenters and through the uploader the artists will get an email to say it’s been listened to.  And always leave your contact details.

Alan opens up the questions to the audience.   

What type of pitfalls should we look for?

IAN:  Be very wary of spam emails from PR companies saying they can do your PR for £399 + VAT or something similar.  Any company that mentions a fee before music is more interested in your money.

TOM:  Yeah, they’ll say things like ‘I heard your track on the BBC,’ and they ask you who is going to handle your promotion.  Don’t fall for random emails – delete them!

STEVE:  A credible PR company will have good socials, testimonies from other bands, a good track record.  Ask about them, use word of mouth. Avoid companies who may entice you with small fees and then run with your money.  What you can do is get in touch with a PR and ideally meet them and find out what they can do for you. Tread very carefully to be able to trust them. Avoid any company that asks for all the money up front.

What do you recommend for getting your music heard abroad?

STEVE:  If a track goes viral in the UK it catches on in other markets.  Use streaming like Tic Tok. Hash tag everything when uploading, using the right tags so they produce the right algorithms.

How do you keep the fans coming back?

ALAN:  A good, old fashioned mailing list and work your relationship with your audience.

IAN:  A huge part is down to the music.  Try and get reviews and good reviews.  Reviews get reposted. Get on blogs, even if it’s a small blog.  Publicity after the event can make a huge difference.

STEVE:  Reviews are really valuable at gigs.  You get scanned and the data gets back to the platforms, who put you on a playlist driving traffic towards the next gig.

ALAN:  Know how to engage your audience in fun and interesting ways.  One band had a German name for their band and they decided to give out free sauerkraut.  It tasted crap, but it was a good stunt that fans will remember. Remember, it’s not what the fans can do for you, it’s what you can do for the fans.

TOM:  It’s about music; it’s about the people.  Get some giveaways, something people can take home with them – photographs, leaflets, something you made.

What’s the best way to get a professional’s attention?

ALAN:  Buy them a cup of tea and ask for a chat for five minutes.

IAN:  Mine would be coffee but yeah, we are approachable.

What’s it all for?

TOM:  Never lose sight of the WHY!  Why are you doing it? What are really trying to achieve?  Is it about trying to find a paying audience to come and hear you year after year?  You must always bear in mind the audience. People build your audience, not playlists.

There ends the cut and thrust of the panel session, but to experience the event in its entirety and gain every morsel of information, attend the next panel in the flesh, especially if you are a music artist who is serious about succeeding in the music biz.

All photographs by Marcin Czechowski.

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