Crispin Hunt (FAC)’s BPI AGM Talk

09 September 2013

A must read. Read below or download a copy here.

“Good Afternoon, and thanks very much to Geoff, Tony and the BPI for inviting me to speak today. It’s an honour.

My names Crispin Hunt, I’m Co-Ceo of the Featured Artists Coalition. I’m a songwriter and a producer and I used to be in a Britpop band called Longpigs. In between what I do now and what I did then I worked as a Parliamentary Researcher for a Think Tank just over the River in the Commons. 

I have an incredible job. Everyone I work with is young, cool, beautiful, hugely talented, inspired, hungry, and more often than not a little stressed by the pressures they have chosen to accept in becoming a Featured Artist. I’ve work with all the usual suspects; Florence and the Machine, Lana Del Ray, Ellie Goulding, Jake Bugg, Newton Faulkner, Ce-lo Green, Bat for Lashes…. etc etc yadder, yadder. The other wonderful aspect of my job is that I am privy to the concerns of the A&R departments: full of slightly less young, slightly less cool, considerably less beautiful, but never the less hugely talented, inspired, hungry people more often than not a little stressed by the pressures they have accepted in choosing to become an A&R person. 

To serve as a bridge between artist and label is the best of both worlds. Obviously I am as keen on having an global international smash hit as you are, but I seem to have developed a reputation for being able to work with artists that wont work with the usual suspects. I work in the left of centre, because that’s what I do. A lot of my day is spent convincing myself, and whichever brilliant act I am working with that day as to, how it is possible to make great art and still have it on the radio and sell lots of records.  I fully appreciate how slim the margins; I understand the investment and the pressure to succeed.

The FAC (to call it by the obligatory Music Business acronym) is a not-for-profit organization formed in 2009. We are a collective of Artists with about 4000 members ranging from the known: Blur, Radiohead, Pink Floyd, Mumfords, Rizzle Kicks, Passenger, Annie Lennox, Frank Turner. To several thousand, as yet, unknown but hopefuls! Those that the FAC hope to represent and help to navigate their way through the industry here today.

 In the past 5 years The FAC has grown, grown –up, become more realistic and involved, evolved, become more experienced, learnt  much from our past mistakes and from our healthy dialogue with the BPI, the MMF, AIM and the Majors. We exist to provide a much needed collective voice for Featured Artists during this strange transitory period between formats. 

As you well know, artists can have a million differing opinions in the same person. Let alone band. Let alone organization of thousands of artists. So today my opinions are my own and not FAC policy. Although the general gist of what I’m saying is agreeable to most.

Being a songwriter not a speechwriter- I’m not going to say anything really original- just like a pop song. (After all if music really wanted originality Aphex Twin would be bigger than Adele).  I’ll point out the bleeding obvious- just like a pop song. I’ll repeat myself too often- just like a pop song. I will get annoyingly moralistic -just like a pop song. I’ll offer clichéd teen self-help advice- just like a pop song.  I’ll borrow heavily from other similar talks, (sampling if you like), so much so that you’ll vaguely recognize what I’m saying in an; “I’m sure I’ve heard that somewhere before” kind of way -Just like a pop song. Much of it will sound like a 6th form essay or at best 6th form poetry- just like a pop song. I’ll be idealistic, fantasy driven, jump from subject to subject, and repeat myself often… just like a pop song. 

None of us would be in this room if we weren’t all enchanted by music. I don’t think its any accident that in the evolution of language Music is only two letters away from Magic. Like Magic, Music has no shape, no form and no sense even. Why should the arrangement of three noises elicit an emotional response? ‘How strange the change from major to minor’, and I’m not talking about Conservative Prime Ministers. 

Music is made of the air. It doesn’t exist except in the ethers… everything else that, may or may not, exist in the ethers has been  demonized: Ghosts, telekinesis, and vampires. God.

Yet music strikes a primordial chord. Like the crackle of a fire or waves turning pebbles on a beach.

The trouble we all face today is that the Ether is no longer the unknown. The Ether is now the place where regimes are broken; where the world communicates; where it shares pictures of itself on holiday; publishes grandiose, poorly written, reviews of cultural occasions by some bloke (or blog), from his bedroom in Norwich. Convinced that his opinions are worth publishing. Alongside riveting news of how much he enjoyed a regular sized Frappuccino with nut marshmallows for breakfast.

 The Ethers also have all of our songs floating around in them. Songs that we have invented after a life of trying to distill what we hope to communicate. That you believed in, paid for to be created and promoted. Songs that we are now being told are valueless by self-proclaimed revolutionary freedom fighters posing as Robin Hood.  Unfettered Self-interest masquerading as idealism. Champions of Liberty and Free speech, and (complete with revolutionary beret) in the case of, chubby Che Guevara, Kim Dot Com. Hell bent on furthering his own Corpulent interests, rather than some of our more Corporate ones. 

Sadly for us, it’s a fact: Nobody owns the clouds.

 For some they bring rain, for others, welcome shade. And for those hardened Freehadistas, prepared to spend night after night, drinking cans of Relentless, seeking and deciphering encrypted far European websites, trawling for trillabites of music, lining their pockets with silver stolen from the edges of our every cloud. This is their life. And to paraphrase South Park;’ How do you kill that which has no life’.

But the one thing we can do, both as labels and artists, is strip Kim Dot Com of this argument. We can reveal him as the self-interested privateer that he is and not allow him to hide behind the mantra of ‘ fuck the man, it all goes into the coffers of the Brothers, the artist gets jack s***’.

If we made an effort to re-humanize music. To connect with the real fans of music. To educate the casual corsair away from a life on the high seas and offer him better music on dry land. (Not just as some kind of guilt driven charity where the listener feels sorry for the artist. Feels he really ought to pay for some of the music or the band will starve).  But to successfully Re-Brand the Music Industry as the good guys that give us great music rather than the bad guys who exploit young talent. I’m not sure how the Industry ended up with such a poor reputation, but there’s usually no smoke without fire.

“The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There’s also a negative side.” I don’t know whether Hunter S Thompson actually said that, buts it’s bloody funny. And a good part of the attraction to working in the music business is its dangerous reputation.

For such a sensitive, emotional, subject as music, (created by sensitive, emotional people: even the genuine Gun touting Gangtas are in it because they write poetry)! It’s incredible what an insensitive business it is that has grown around it. Or maybe not. 

True, we no longer live in the days of Col Tom Parker when it was ‘99 for me and one for you’, but frankly in more than 60 years of the industry, its still ‘90 for me 10 for you’: after packaging deductions, TV advertising, Tour support, returns, discounts and distribution is taken into accounts that are delivered in such an opaque form that they’re Greek to anyone this side of Business Affairs. ‘The Large Print Giveth and the small print Taketh away’, as Tom Waites put it.

I don’t think anyone in particular in this business is a particularly bad person. Just  that the sum of the parts, the entirety, the un-joined up, un-cooperative, competitive clutching at straws, (and then squeezing every ounce out of those straws) in order to please the share holders may not actually be the best way to deal with the change in technology we are faced with. Or the best way to sell lots of music.

There are plenty of successful re-branding examples: Burberry has gone from Chav to Chic; Ronald MacDonald has now started selling Salad and printing posters of happy cows. Let alone Apple who went from virtual bankruptcy to beloved manufacturers of the ‘must have gadgets of the’ world and the hegemony of the only record store on the planet. 

And I don’t mean just some re-spinning of the Biz only to revert to form once the battle is won, (like Caring -Conservatism). I think we need an actual sea change, a complete re-invention of the internal culture of music. 

‘Ah, typical, sentimental artist, who doesn’t understand that the real world is severe’, I hear you think. ‘It’s a dog eat dog world, survival of the fittest’ and all that alpha male shite spouted by pinstriped bankers quaffing Crystal @ £300 a bottle. But we make and sell Music. We don’t trade in futures of oil, at the expense of trailer trash from the Deep South, who have the choice of eating or defaulting on their sub-prime mortgage.

The age of ‘don’t you worry your pretty little heads about all that nonsense. You just concentrate on playing the guitar and worry about what hair product you’ll be using today. We’ll worry about the cut’,( so to speak), is thank fully over.

Artists are increasingly business savvy. For every Goss brother there is a Logan. Lana Del Ray may play at being Marylyn singing ‘Happy Birthday Mr. President’, but inside she is the president, or may be. One day.

 PRS, the global flagship of collecting societies, and a hugely successful business: has a 50/50 artist/rights holder’s board. Partnership and transparency does work.

True. Most artists are incredibly lucky to be given the investment that the industry affords and I don’t know of a single musician who would not sell his grandmother into slavery for the chance to sing to 10 thousand people a night…. but without their creativity their ideas, there is nothing to sell. There will be no innovation, no evolution of music. No New.

The UK is brilliant at inventing ideas. In fact it only has ideas to offer. Ideas are what we do. Ideas, creativity and (and the odd weapon of mass destruction) are our only currency. It seems extraordinary that the UK is considering relaxing its IP laws when all about us are strengthening theirs. In favor of a Silicon Valley future that doesn’t yet exist, and that will have no content to provide if we can’t safeguard the value of our ideas. A bad case of biting off our own cash flow to spite our interface. 

Having said that, maybe if, like in Germany, it became illegal to assign copyright and copyright remained with the creator, only was licensed to the Label (admittedly for 35 years, which pretty much amounts to the same thing), then that too might take the wind out of the sails of the Dot Kom Galley.

No artist, with anything worth saying, wants to live in the medieval world of cottage industry that Kim Dot Com and Co prescribe; re-training as a plumber in the day and making bedroom albums by night. Uploaded to an ocean of mediocrity, along with 10,000 other works of genius (uploaded to sound cloud every day). Eeking a living from selling CD’s and T-Shirts at poorly attended gigs. Peopled by an audience of well-wishing friends, who all crowd fund their mates albums. Exhausted at the choice of 30 gigs a night to see…in Norwich alone. And bored to death by the endless tours of re-formed ageing dads on stage, who would much rather be settled down watching Later with the kids than donning Paul Weller Style Indie Man Hair and flogging around the toilets of Britain in a splitter, whilst some kid rips the lifework of their youth from Hulkshare because he wants to spend his money on Gran Tourismo twenty five. 

True. Artists can now develop themselves in the early stages far better then ever before. But sooner or later they are going to need that dedicated garden shed, with it’s 3 fanatic muse’s, who start the indie label, mortgage their house, believe in the communication of new music and are willing to push that band above the surface and let that music get heard. And have the skills, conviction and cash needed to reach real people other than your mum and your mates. 

There is never a better time to be a lover of music, the access is incredible, and the appetite of the public is ravenous. The taste makers aren’t waiting for radio or press, the Internet develops everything; early developers, the thrill of the chase, discovery. New is God and last year’s runner up on the voice, has no voice.

 Music is everywhere: in the shops, on your phone, on telly, in the car, even as piped birdsong in the toilets of M & S. We may listen to more music than ever, but our connection with it is somehow shallower, more fleeting. The past ten years of online free exchange have created a paradise for consumers of music, but meant catastrophe for the people who make and sell it. However…

The model will change, it changes every year, and new technologies will develop. Hope fully streaming and Spotify may be the answer, and I have great hopes that Googles own streaming service may help the search engine to point people towards legitimate sites that pay the musicians not illegitimate ones that don’t.

Technology has always driven the invention of music .I used to think that the 3-½ minute pop song had evolved over the centuries as the perfect form for delivering a tune. That after millennia of cave men experimenting with 8 minute bass solos the 3 ½ minute song: verse, verse bridge, chorus, verse, half bridge chorus, middle 8, chorus, chorus end…. had risen to the top organically as the best possible medium for tunes. But no; it was the length of one side of a 78 record. 

Puccini….  the most popular of all opera-composers…. canny in gauging public responses in every way, not least in considering the potential of the new-fangled gramophone, in the early days of which (the very late 19th century into early 20th) three-and-a-half minutes was the maximum recording-time; so he wrote 3-minute arias…  and even the longer ones could be un-hurtfully cut into 3-minute segments…   a guy with an unerring eye to success…. the first pop songs.

But if the technology du jour is on demand streaming, then the industry needs to un-mix its messages. If, as artists, we are told by the Labels that a stream is more akin to Radio than sales. Then the industry should, do as the Beggars Group does and, pay us like Radio; 50/50 to the Artist. I haven’t heard of anyone complaining about Spotify from that stable. And much of the independent sector seems to behave with similar grace. The artists are happy, and a happy herd produces more, and sweeter milk. 

Beggars have been choosers, and they chose to do the right thing by their Artists, and their Artists,( Adele being the obvious example), have done well and are cool and are happy to work for, and with, the labels they are signed to with the confidence that they are treated fairly.

I hope that recent research that suggests that listeners are using streaming services as a substitute for purchasing music rather than serving as a catalyst for more purchases is wrong. But Streaming, and music from the cloud, is definitely the way forward, for now. 

To fill my 64gb iPod with music would cost thousands of pounds. Whereas to stream an endless library from the cloud for a tenner a month seems much better value. But Spotify is only available in 6 territories, because of complicated cross border licensing issues. 

Let’s do the Global Repertoire Database but do it properly; overseen by an independent ombudsman and obligatory not voluntary. When that comes into reality then the licensing and use of music from the great HMV Oxford Street in the sky will at least re-imburse us for our efforts, and the Clouds silver lining may start to become apparent. 

The FAC have often considered starting a Sustainable Music logo; a sticker, (like fair trade coffee beans), so that the consumer can look for the logo and know that his music was not made by children in a sweat shop, more kids in a sweet shop as the case maybe…. that will appeal to the Toyota Prius driver in the fan, the growing moral compass within the public. A trend that we in the music industry are failing to cash in on. 

Why not connect the Artist direct with the fans? Let the Artist sell his/her own MP3s on his or her own website and let the Artist keep the retail cut. Minus a small administrative cut, perhaps, on behalf of the label. It makes no difference to the profit. Personalize the experience. The fan could access previously unheard material, buy merchandise, demo’s, interviews. Cut out the middle man. Happy Artist, happy Label, happy fans… unhappy Kim Dot Com, and possibly slightly grumpy i-tunes to boot.

And if its on the radio or on you-tube let people buy the thing then and there rather than download it for free, or worse be bored of it because its not New when it finally gets artificially propelled to number 3 on less than 10,000 sales. That’s the bands granny’s and mums and mates combined, and not sustainable. It’s Profile at the expense of profit.

A few simple changes would make all the difference; we’ve been close to it before, whatever happened to the RCA Artist Friendly Contract of 2002. What would be lost in miniscule royalty adjustments, would surely be gained in lack of piracy; if the artists started to say, ‘Oi your not Robin Hood your Robin Us’.

The public seems to care that their artists are Free Range, or at least Barn Reared. But the public perception, (fuelled by chat rooms of Kim Dot Coms), and not wholly accurate, is that bands are Battery Chickens. And nobody buys Battery Chicken any more. We buy 3 Barn reared chickens for a tenner from Tesco’s and feel morally admonished.

The Public care that Rick Rubin runs Atlantic records and is making music he loves; People will always want music and they will always need dedicated individuals to sift through what is good from what is crap. The public doesn’t want to swim down a river of home demos, (mind you neither do many of the A&R men I’ve met). They only want the cream and that’s why this industry will never perish, it will only change. 

The Independent music Label sector have aligned themselves with new consumer models based upon modern music consumption using many different new technologies and devices, and continues to break the ground then break the act by involving a Major.

It’s not just because they are forced into our ears by heavy radio promotion that Kings of Leon sell by the bucket load. They are popular because they are an incredible band, recorded by incredible engineers and incredible producers and because somebody had the will, and the money and the belief to let them make incredible records.  They would not sound so good if they did it at home.  Believe me I’ve tried to get the drums to sound like Jon Bonham in my vocal booth and it’s not possible; no matter how good the drum replacement. I suspect if we navigate the future not as products but as partners the future would be brighter for us all. 

Apple and Spotify have no responsibility to continuing the production of music. Apple make the hardware, and Spotify play the content. The job of ensuring that the flow of music continues falls upon the labels as it always did. For which we are truly thankful. 

And with the advent of 4g we will be able to listen to great sounding music again. Downloading a wav in the time it takes to download an MP3. Blue-Ray CD’s…now that would justify the £200 quid I spent on my Dr Dre headphones only to listen to tinny little MP3’s with no bass but the Bose. 

Later this year the FAC will publish a charter of our beliefs. A set of principals that we think will help to improve the relationship between Music and the public. We hope we will set out a clear way forward for a fairer, transparent, co-operative and successful future for British Music and those that make it and sell it. And we would love to speak to any of you about how we might help in making music Sustainable for us all.

In the meantime…. ‘be careful, it’s a jingle out there’.”


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