EQ: Mogul in the Making

Clubbing in London has reached the bottom of its dip. A pattern I have noticed over the past few years, the fickle tastes of Londoners - and recently, the redevelopment of areas where clubs have been located, have seen many of the best nights shut down. Add that to the generational shift, and you have a displaced audience who wants to go out, but are left with very few options.

Enter EQ - the electronic pop night hosted by Raj and crew. A sideline to his blog, the monthly event features new talent offered up in the bucket loads.

What's refreshing here is the smorgasbord of acts presented. The night revolves around the performances of multiple acts (this month - no less than nine!) - it's the equivalent of a mini festival. Never mind the fact that it's free.

Its surprising then, at a time when people are starting to value live performance more, there isn't more nights like EQ. Raj is on to a winner with a perfect extension to the EQ brand. The success lies in his very obvious love and devotion to the music. Each act is handpicked from his treasure trove of demos and MySpace discoveries (with the odd major label audition thrown in for good measure).

Refreshing to have such a genuine figure emerging on the UK scene.

The next EQ night is this Friday 31st July at Underbelly in Hoxton Square, N1.
Visit the EQ blog here.
And join the Facebook group here.


Worry and Fear

Worry pretends to be necessary. It serves no purpose.

My tweet today was inspiration - as always - from Eckhart Tolle. Sound advice. I try to live without worry as I have come to realise that it is truly one of life's most useless emotions. Worrying about something has never helped me to resolve a situation - it has only ever made things worse.

Certainly there are some things that cause me concern; climate change, paying that outstanding invoice, whether or not we'll sell all that stock in my studio, etc. But as soon as it moves into worry stage, ie that incessant noise in your head that stops you from seeing things clearly, I push the thoughts aside. Only then can you come to a creative, rational solution.

It seems so simple, yet for some reason society has become obsessed with worry - to the point where worry turns to fear. Some even capitalise off of it: drug companies, Republicans, and most of all, the media. Nothing sells more than fear, terror or the latest pandemic.

Dan Gardner has done a fantastic job of dissecting the politics of fear in his book Risk. He examines the reasoning behind our minds' ability to succomb to worry and fear, and dispells some common myths with rational argument based on simple statistics. One of the most compelling being an analysis of Americans post-9/11 fear of flying, which resulted in a shift of people driving long distances rather than taking a flight. The result was over 1500 people being killed in car accidents as a direct result of not taking that flight that they would have booked.

Its just one example that makes you shake your head and wonder why we can't see through the fog of our own irrational fear.

Both Tolle and Gardner are highly recommended reads. Just think how much more creative and productive we would all be if we stopped giving away precious time to useless thought?


Brand Madonna

The 2009 Superbrands have been announced, with the likes of Microsoft and Google (not surprisingly) leading the pack again this year. Skimming through the list my suspicion was confirmed - not a single position given to anyone in the music industry.

This is perhaps a reflection of why the industry struggles. In days of yore, labels operated more like a traditional consumer brand. Buy a Motown record, and you knew what you were getting. Trust was established, and an expectation of the Motown experience was assured. The music industry seems to have turned its back on this strategy. In comparison, the gaming world is lapping it up - with Nintendo and Playstation holding positions in this years' top 100.

None of the major labels today exhibit characteristics of a strong brand. Rosters are sporadic, constantly changing and have no glue connecting the artists they release together. But most of all the labels fail to create any emotional ties with the consumer - in fact most music fans probably couldn't tell you what label their favourite artists are on. There are a few mid-weight labels - like Warp or Modular - who have managed to achieve brand status (though sadly not to the level of the Superbrand ... yet!).

Where the big labels fail, many artists have certainly risen to become brands in their own right. The best example of this is of course Madonna. What lets her down on the Superbrand scale is inconsistency - her policy of reinvention and desire to court controversy means she loses trust. And though she maintains a loyal following she has struggled to attract new consumers to brand Madonna.

A consistent experience is what has lead Depeche Mode and Pet Shop Boys to become successful. Quality, strong image, believable - they are certainly groups that have used their brand to maintain an audience where their contemporaries have failed to do so.

Some people would argue that music shouldn't be tarred with the brand brush, but I believe that artists and labels can create powerful brand loyalty and use this to thrive. Brands are about creating a lasting positive experience which form an emotional bond with a community of ambasadors who spread the message. Music is already a powerful medium, it is made even more addictive when artists are able to capitalise on their brand potential.

Chatting about brands yesterday a friend of mine asked which was my favourite. Without even thinking I responded - Apple (number 9 on this years Superbrands list). I have used their products consistently for over 15 years and am fiercely loyal to them - to the point where I defend any criticism of their work. They are fantastic at creating emotional bonds with their customers, through their customer service and image. And their shit works - I've never had an issue with anything they have ever made. A fascinating, innovative company who have been a true inspiration.

Image by dadawan on Flickr.


Bono's Big Bad Clawprint

It was only a matter of time before U2 were attacked for their latest tour. Even more offensive than the giant claw that adorns their stage is the estimate of the carbon footprint of the 44 date worldwide show.

Bono fans will no doubt let this fact slide - the rare opportunity to see their pint sized messiah in the flesh will be too important to miss. It seems entirely hypocritical for a man who has campaigned to rid the world of poverty not to at least address the impact that his career is having on those he cares so much to save. We know that climate change will have the greatest effect on poorer nations (in fact Bono's primary area of campaign concern - Africa - is already the most effected - see DFID for more info) - does he not consider this before jetting off on a carbon intensive tour? He has acknowledged the issue of climate change in contributing to global poverty when he took to the stage at Davos last year. Perhaps he's becoming forgetful in his elder years.

I'm not expecting Bono or any artist to be a saint. But walking the talk is essential to credibility, and it shouldn't be surprising that the mantra of campaigners like him fall on deaf ears. It is also worth noting that as the business model of the old industry falls away artists will be under increasing pressure to tour to make up revenue. More touring equals a bigger footprint - not only of the artists themselves, but for every fan that travels to see their shows.

I do expect artists who are role models - like U2 - to be innovators and leaders. They should be establishing the blue print for not only a new music industry, but a new way for the world to behave and interact. Bono demanded we make poverty history - I'd like to see him step up and show us how its done.


Who's Zooming Who?

In the old industry, the roles of artist and label were quite well defined. The artist performed, and the label controlled. While the artist may have been responsible for the music element of the product, jurisdiction for all others fell to the label. How it was packaged, sold and presented - and in some cases, even how it finally sounded - was all down to the men in suits.

The new industry is fundamentally different. The label's role now centres around co-ordination. Ensuring that all the pieces of the puzzle fall into place, from administration of the artists rights, to planning the strategy of getting the artist connected to it's community.

The artists role has changed as well. They are learning more about how important it is to market themselves, and actively participating with their fans. Social media - like Twitter - is changing the relationship between artist and fan, to the point where fans have started to expect a much higher level of instant interaction. This marketing falls to the artist themselves - something relatively unheardof in the old industry.

The new industry has given power back to the artist. Effectively they can create, market, and distribute themselves. They now have more responsibility, but in a way that gives them greater connection to what they are creating. Finding the right label can give them access to skills and support which can help them reach their community. It's an equal relationship based on collaboration rather than control.


Sony Gets Some Tail

I was invited to attend the launch of Chris Anderson's new book - Free - last week. Alas at the last minute I found that the one thing that was lacking in my life, was free time. Anyways, I'm quite certain that he wasn't about to be giving his latest manifesto away gratis. After the grilling he was given by his peers perhaps this latest endeavour won't be as favourable received as The Long Tail.

One other thing nearly slipped my attention this week. As I was cleaning out my inbox I caught sight of a slice of Music Week spam with news that Sony had bought a slice of IODA - who just so happen to be the digital distributor of choice for Gaymonkey.

Could this be? A frantic Google search led me to an article at Wired (the fabulous periodical edited by noneother than Mr Long Tail himself) confirming that indeed the major label is now involved with a digital distribution arm set up as an alliance of independent labels - with the belief of the long tail at the forefront of their business strategy.

A threat to our indie integrity - or a giant 'told you so' ... perhaps both. Still its an interesting sign of the times considering the last decade has been primarily about the majors protecting their assets and shunning anything that wouldn't draw what they considered to be a commercial audience. Provided IODA don't forgo their own intentions, perhaps we should all just be flattered that the big boys want to come play on our patch for a change.