British music optimism in 2017: talent, exports, hard work


British music will have a high profile at Midem 2017, thanks to the British Music at Midem stand; more than 150 British delegates and companies; and six British artists performing at the evening showcases.

That presence is backed by a strong sense of optimism across the British industry, based as much on successes abroad as it is rising industry revenues at home.

While Adele and then Ed Sheeran have been the poster artists for large-scale global success, they are accompanied by a much wider swathe of artists, songwriters, music companies and tech startups making their names around the world.

The excitement within the industry is infectious, as epitomised by Music Ally’s recent interview with Paul Pacifico, CEO of UK indie trade body AIM.

“I am fantastically optimistic. There has never been a better time in history to be in the music industry,” he told us.

“No matter how difficult it is to make a living from one individual release, the fact remains that the music market is the most open that it has ever been. Anybody can get their creative ideas to market and we have a greater chance of a market that is a meritocracy than ever before.”

Missions possible

AIM and its industry partners are putting in some hard work behind the scenes to lay the groundwork for that meritocracy, as the BPI’s director of independent member services and international Chris Tams points out.

That includes the various industry bodies teaming up for international trade missions to countries including China and India, as well as a sync-focused event in Los Angeles that puts British music in front of some of the world’s most influential supervisors.

“There are a lot of opportunities for UK companies to export on a really granular level, right through to going to China and being able to do a deal with a company like Tencent,” says Tams.

Such trade missions aim to help British companies get in front of key people in the different countries, and get a first-hand understanding of those markets’ nuances.

“Even the smallest companies can do well, as long as they have the guidance and the open door. It’s a digital age, but this is still very much a people business: nothing beats physical one-on-one meetings,” says Tams.

“Independents in the UK have never been more able to export internationally, from the biggest companies like BMG to the smallest one-man operations. The opportunities are there for them to export, and they are doing it with great gusto.”

Tams also says that these relationships are a two-way affair: often overseas companies will strike a partnership with a British firm for their home market, but then explore the potential to work together back in the UK too.

If British artists are benefitting from these relationships between the companies that release their music, they’re also tapping in to funding from the BPI and the PRS Foundation, which is geared towards helping artists perform overseas at showcases and festivals.

Artist funding

The BPI’s Music Exports Growth (MEGS) scheme is now into its tenth round of funding, having distributed “way over a couple of million pounds” to more than 130 British artists so far. There is a strong emphasis on the economic impact of this funding, as Tams explains.

“Our latest return-on-investment figures for that are roughly 10 to one,” he says. “For every pound that we give to UK artists to perform overseas, they’re bringing on average ten pounds back to the British economy.”

Tams is keen to also praise the work of the PRS Foundation and its International Showcase Fund, which says that for every pound it gives to artists, another £8.90 in revenues is generated for them.

“Those are two big exporting schemes, and they both seem to be having a positive impact,” he says.

In January, the PRS Foundation funded 13 artists to showcase at the Eurosonic Noorderslag event, including Be Charlotte, who are also one of the British bands playing Midem 2017.

According to the Foundation, between 2013 and 2016, 89% of supported artists said they got “tangible business outcomes” from showcases abroad, including record, publishing and touring deals.

Inspiration abroad

There is also a cultural impact here, with British artists finding fans in parts of the world they may not have expected to.

“In India there’s a huge hip-hop scene, in China there’s this new-wave punk stuff. People are identifying with overseas music and producing their own, but they also want to know more about the roots of it: where it came from,” says Tams.

“I went into one small bar in China, and all of a sudden a bunch of young guys, 17-18 years old, started playing Joy Division’s ‘Transmission’. Where did they hear that?!”

British collecting societies are also buoyant about growth at home and especially abroad.

PRS for Music recently reported record financial results for 2016, including paying out £527.6m in royalties to songwriters, composers and music publishers.

Exports were key to this growth: PRS said that international income from its members’ music played abroad grew by 5% to £233.7m in 2016, as part of a wider growth that saw it process more than four trillion performances of music, up 80% year-on-year.

“We paid out more money, to more members, across more works and against significantly increased data volumes, than ever before,” said CEO Robert Ashcroft as he announced the results.

PRS for Music is also an example of a collecting society keen to forge partnerships with its peers around the world. Its ICE processing hub, launched with Swedish society STIM and German society GEMA, is one example. Its recently-announced joint blockchain project with American organisation ASCAP and French society SACEM another.

International royalties

Back on home turf, fellow collecting society PPL also reported record financials for 2016, with its £212.1m revenues representing an 8% year-on-year rise, as it paid out to 83,102 artists and 9,598 recorded-music rightsholders that year – up 30%.

Again, international looms large in these figures: PPL paid out £51m to its members from international collections in 2016, up 37% year-on-year thanks to its agreements with overseas collecting societies covering 39 countries.

That trend has continued into 2017. In the first quarter of the year, PPL’s international payments rose 15% to £15.7m – the largest first-quarter payment in its history.

“International is a key area of growth for us as an organisation and it is exciting to see things go from strength-to-strength,” said PPL CEO Peter Leathem as the first-quarter figure was announced.

Which brings us neatly back to British talent, be it on the performing side, the songwriting side, or both.

“British songwriters are increasingly breaking through in the American market, whether as songwriters for Drake, Rihanna and others, or as artists,” says Jane Dyball, CEO of publishing body the MPA Group.

She cites Glass Animals as one example: a band who have sold 700k albums worldwide, after first breaking through in the US.

Dyball also sees publishers taking a greater role in developing artists before they reach the stage of signing to a label, with the UK market at the forefront of this trend.

British publishers are getting to grips with some of the technological challenges in their sector of the industry, in order to enhance their competitiveness, according to Dyball.

“Data continues to be a top priority right across the business: from investigating blockchain to creating invoicing protocols with DSPs,” she says.

“The publishing industry is very focused on creating efficiencies and making change whether within their own businesses, at society level or throughout the industry.”

Optimism abroad

As those 150+ British delegates and companies descend upon Midem, there’s a sense of pride in the creative talent coming out of the UK, but also a determination to make the most of overseas business partnerships to help that talent flourish.

Industry body UK Music is currently conducting its latest Measuring Music survey, which will aim to put figures on the export value of British music in 2016.

Its last report, for 2015, pegged annual export revenues at £2.2bn, including £946m from musicians, composers, songwriters and lyricists; £520m from music publishing; and £360m from recorded music. This, in a year where five of the world’s top 10 selling artists were British.

“Culturally our language and music is something we’ve historically been very good at exporting overseas,” says Tom Kiehl, director of government and public affairs at UK Music.

“People talk about the 1960s and the ‘British Invasion’. We’re perhaps on the crest of another one with the likes of Adele and Ed Sheeran, and other artists coming through like Skepta and Stormzy.”

Kiehl warns against complacency about the positive trends around British music in 2017, citing campaigns to help smaller grassroots music venues avoid closure through licensing problems or redevelopment threats.

“There’s a need to support the infrastructure of the sector: including the venues where new audiences are created and developed, and which become a talent pipeline,” he says.

However, he is enthusiastic about other efforts to widen the pipeline for British talent at home, and ultimately overseas. For example, investment in regional clusters, to continue to nurture local music scenes.

Other campaigns, for example that by management body the MMF to educate fans and the industry about the problems in the secondary ticketing market, also show a determination within the British industry not to rest on the laurels of (in 2017) Ed Sheeran’s global success.

There will be more challenges ahead for the UK industry, but the palpable willingness to roll up sleeves and get working – from artists playing showcases around the world to industry bodies collaborating on trade initiatives – bodes well for this market.

Music Ally’s Midem 2017 coverage is supported this year by Music is GREAT, the British government’s campaign to promote UK music exports.

The UK and British Music are represented through the British Music at Midem stand, with the Department for International Trade joining forces with music industry associations AIM (Association of Independent Music), BPI (British Phonographic Industry), MPA (Music Publishers Association), PPL (Phonographic Performance Limited) and PRS for Music.

Together, they will support over 150 UK music businesses and member delegates as they seek to pick up on the latest trends, connect with international companies, sign deals and develop trading and export opportunities.

Music Ally

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