The FastForward conference in Amsterdam is only in its second year, but its concluding panel session already has some traditions.
The audience have beers, the panel members have beers, and there’s a participatory drinking game triggered by over-familiar phrases from the speakers.
However, the light-hearted atmosphere throws up some serious points, particularly around diversity and inclusion within the music industry, from hiring policies to support networks.
“You should always hire people that are smarter than you. You’ve got to get over that thing of feeling like you’re going to be intimidated if you hire someone smarter,” said Darren Hemmings, MD of Motive Unknown, in a discussion moderated by FastForward founder Chris Carey.
“It’s a tricky thing to pull off, but knowing what you don’t know is good, and you should seek out the people who DO know, and nurture that. You’re not going to get undermined for that.”
While the discussion (understandably for a conference aimed at under-35s) touched on younger people in the music industry wanting more respect and responsibility, Kobalt’s SVP of recordings supply chain and client services Silvia Montello warned that this should not become a conversation that stereotypes ‘the old guard’ as past it.
“One of the things I’ve heard over the last few years which concerns me slightly is that ‘music is a young person’s industry’, and that people will get to a certain age and have to be shuffled off because they’re the old guard,” said Montello.
“I like to think that actually, one of the things I can do as an old industry lag who’s been around the block is… to actually bring young people through and impact whatever knowledge I have picked up.”
“Having the joined up youth and experience is going to to be the best way for the industry going forward. Not just retiring people at 50 because their face doesn’t fit any more.”
Montello also pointed out that women suffer disproportionately from that attitude more than men do. That in turn sparked a discussion about sexism and representation within the music industry.
Samantha Kingston, client director at virtual-reality marketing and PR firm Virtual Umbrella, talked about her experience in the VR world, where she is sometimes invited to conferences to talk about “women in VR” when she would rather be invited to talk about the technology itself. “Because that’s what I do!”
“I’ve always said, being an advocate is great. If you are the only woman in the room, don’t think of it as a negative thing. It’s an awesome opportunity,” added Kingston.
Communion Music’s head of digital Claire Mas backed the various initiatives trying to boost the visibility of women at conferences, as well as mentoring and supporting women within the industry. But she suggested that the debate should be inclusive, not adversarial (in the sense of women against men).
“The way to look at it is it should be we’re equally representing how the population looks. It can’t work when it’s one against the other… It’s everyone’s problem if we’re not equally representing talent,” said Mas.
“We need to be really careful about putting guys in stereotypes as well when you’re putting girls out of their stereotypes… It’s not men versus women. It’s just about equally representing everyone, and making everyone feel they can be part of the conversation.”
Montello also had a warning: that the diversity debate is not just about gender. “The industry from the outside still looks a little bit too white and a little bit too middle-class,” she said.
“The way that things have tended to go in the past, especially with unpaid internships, the only people you will attract with unpaid internships are the people who can afford to work for free… people who live with their parents or people who have a trust fund.”
Other topics during the final FastForward panel included the desire to break down silos within the industry, especially those between the live and recorded-music sectors.
“The music industry is so siloed it’s just insane,” said Mas, citing the example of trying to pool marketing budgets from a label and promoter to advertise a band’s tour and album in the same campaign.
“The record label’s like ‘what if my advertising money makes people buy a ticket?’ and the other way [the promoter] is ‘what if I’m boosting the album sale?’” said Mas.
“It’s just crazy that I haven’t found that many people who are open-minded enough to go ‘let’s work together’. Record labels and promoters don’t have that much of a dialogue.”
Montello agreed, saying that Kobalt has struggled with exactly the same problem of co-promoting album pre-release sales when tickets for a tour go on sale.
“Whether it was the artist management or the promoters, people just weren’t wanting to join up and do an integrated campaign,” she said.
Promoter Kilimanjaro Live’s marketing manager Karma Bertelsen pointed to other kinds of silos, citing Spotify’s emails to listeners about nearby gigs as an example. “We have not been included in that conversation at all,” she said. “Streaming services are very valuable to me as a promoter, but at the same time there’s a long way to go.”
The panel had some sharp views on the structural problems of the music industry, while simultaneously admitting that they wouldn’t want to work anywhere else.
“I do very often find myself looking at music and thinking you are just a laughable mess of an industry, the way you’re set out,” said Hemmings. “These ludicrous fiefdoms that you protect… When you go outside of music, you look back on it and the ridiculousness of it is very much amplified.”
“If you were thinking about it logically, there are several other industries that are probably more joined up or better at marketing or understanding their customers’ needs,” said Montello.
“But for a lot of people here, working in music isn’t a choice. What’s going to get you out of bed in the morning? You are still working with the thing that lights your fire and fires your passion.”
“As much of a mess as this industry is, that doesn’t mean there aren’t opportunities if you’re open-minded and have your own way of doing things,” said Mas. “We don’t know where we’re going to be in the next five or 10 years, and that’s amazing.”
“The only thing you can predict about the music industry is its unpredictability,” agreed Montello, joking that “vinyl might be the main format in 15 years’ time and streaming might have gone down the toilet!”
At least, it was intended as a joke. Perhaps in 15 years’ time, we’ll find out it was a solid-gold prediction…