Thursday, August 28, 2008

Supporting local artists: Looking for a win-win situation

OK. Here's the situation. Sideproject at this stage is primarily an events management business. Of course, if you asked us why we do what we do, well there are lots of reasons. One of the major reasons is to support the development of local artists. Canberra has seen a growing number of DJs, producers, live acts, etc coming up over the last 5 years who are into (and good at) electronic music. The question now is "What is the best way to support and nurture this talent"?

Let's think about the traditional promoter-artist relationship. This involves the artist focusing on what they do best, i.e. their art, and the promoter providing an opportunity for the artist to perform in front of the public. The artist is trying to perform well in front of the crowd and the promoter is trying to make money. The hope is that if the artist performs well, then their reputation and stature as an artist will grow, and this will provide better opportunities for them in the future. The promoter is obviously hoping that the artist does well because better artists tend to draw bigger crowds, and bigger crowds equal more money.

With Sideproject, obviously we are hoping to have awesome artists, draw big crowds and make lots of money. However, as I have stated in the past, all profits are to be reinvested back into the business at this stage in order to assist with growth and/or to increase the level of production at events. Thus, as things stand, more money for Sideproject = greater ability to put on a larger/better event = better opportunities we can provide for the artists.

However, beyond putting on gigs around the Canberra region, surely there are other ways to assist in developing our artists? Part of the rationale behind trying to organise tours interstate was to increase the profile and reputation of our artists in other states and territories. I think that we have some great artists, and I would like other people to see that. One could easily argue that obtaining opportunities to perform interstate represents a good achievement for any local Canberra artist, and traveling interstate to perform is usually a great experience for all involved.

What else is there? Well, another idea was to setup a record label. Whilst my thinking is still very preliminary on this, it seems that this could be a dangerous trap for young players, and it's hard to work out if it would actually work towards the goal of developing local artists.

Firstly, lets think big picture. The music industry, as a whole, is not doing too well at the moment. Lots of record labels going bankrupt due to piracy. Secondly, various members of our community already run (or know people who run) record labels. This includes C-tek, Regen Records, UP Records, Subsonic Music, etc. Given that all these labels already exist, it seems rather pointless to develop another label which is Canberra-based and focused on psychedelia.

Secondly, even if we were to establish a profitable and sustainable record label, would it really help the artists? One of my early ideas was to setup an online developmental record label. This would essentially be a bridging label for our artists who are currently unsigned, but who would like to be signed to something. We would sign them and release their early career stuff until they got sufficiently good to be signed to a larger and (more prestigious) label, and at that point, we would hand them (and their music catalog) off to the new label with the good feeling that we had helped the artist develop their musical career so to speak.

However, I'm not sure the idea holds up under closer scrutiny. For instance, do you think it would be good to release stuff that (potentially) larger labels would refuse to release? Is pumping the market with lower quality music really the way to go? I'm not trying to be mean to our artists here, its just that if the production quality was already good, and at a standard that would be accepted by larger labels then our artists should be signed to those larger labels.

Then, there is the issue of why would any of our local artists want to sign with us as an online label. Let's think about it. Say I negotiate a deal with an artist that we will release their material on a range of online music sites, such as AudioJelly, TrackItDown, Beatport, etc. For every track sold at $1.50, I take 50c for the label and the artist gets $1. Sounds good, sounds like a win-win. The artist gets exposure, the label owner gets money, the artist makes money.

But why would the artist enter into a contract with me and sacrifice 50c, when they can go somewhere like AudioJelly and release music unsigned, and get the full $1.50 of the sale? Or alternatively they can just setup their own artist site on Facebook or MySpace, and simply sell the tracks from there and take all the profits personally.

The only way around this I see, is if the label had resources that the artist did not have. For instance, we could employ a sound engineer (or equivalent) to do the mastering of tracks. Through necessity, the artist may have to sign to the label in order to get their production quality to a sufficiently high level. Again though, direct relationships could threaten to undermine the whole thing if the artist and sound engineer communicated directly rather than going through the label. The same thing could happen with bookings. Often, promoters go through a label in order to sign an artist, but the only thing stopping a direct negotiation is the fact that the artist and the label have a contract in place.

Given this, I wonder if there will actually be record labels in the future. Maybe due to an interconnected, computer-literate society, the public can simply access the artist directly through the web, and the artist can contract with necessary sound people directly in order to get the sound up to the desired level, release it themselves direct from their site to the public and leave the label as an outdated (and no longer needed) 3rd party.

Maybe then, the way Canberra crews should help their artists is to help them develop their own personal profiles, webpages, artist sites etc, and work at getting lots of traffic onto these sites. If the artists attract lots of attention to their sites, then when these artists are booked to play at events, more people will recognise the artist and hence more people will come to see them perform at events, creating a win-win for artists and promoters. In this case, I should be spending money on website design and development, and internet advertising, rather than on setting up an online label.