One of the most anticipated keynotes of this year’s Midem was that of First Access Entertainment CEO Sarah Stennett.
Her joint venture with Access Industries combines recorded music, management and publishing services, as one of the companies exploring new shapes for a music industry company.
She was interviewed by Lisa Verrico of The Times and The Sunday Times and they talked about the decline of the rock ‘n’ roll star and the birth of a new type of autodidactic star enabled by social media.
She was asked if she though the rock star was dead as the screen behind her was filled with images of Mick Jagger, Jimi Hendrix, David Bowie, Sex Pistols, Debbie Harry, Madonna, Eminem and Bob Dylan, semiotically setting a tone about received wisdom and the canon in rock.
“I agree,” she said, before adding a caveat. “To a point. For me the last global pre-streaming household name rock ‘n’ rock star was Lady Gaga in terms of her being a disruptor and someone who was culturally important but transcended the music business to be immersed in art and fashion.”
She added, “Kendrick Lamar is a rock ‘n’ roll star. There is no question about that.”
Asked to define what made a rock ‘n’ roll star, Stennett said, “It’s not a sound. It’s a spirit of rebellion. It is not rebellion for rebellion’s sake. It’s a rebellion that reflects what was happening in youth culture at the time.
She was full of praise for the grime scene – primarily because it created its own centre of gravity and bent the mainstream to its will without compromising.
“If you look at what is happening with the emergence of grime in the UK, that scene existed outside of the more stable music business and corporate system,” she argued. “Those artists, the audiences and the community – let’s call it a movement – has forced its way into the system. They have made their own space within the system.”
Stennett said that the industry has, out of necessity because the value of the record business has declined dramatically, had to become warier of risk in many areas.
“I think there has been a lot less risk taking [compared to the 1960s],” she argued. “I think there were some executives [then] who were as rock ‘n’ roll as the artists themselves. The business has been shrinking and the space [for that] is perhaps not there.”
She did argue, however, that the industry needs to accept that disruption on an artistic level is essential if it is to survive and evolve.
“Everybody has to be more open,” Stennett proposed. “If you want these disruptive influences that lead the way then you have to accept some chaos and some disruption.”
The industry’s obsession with data was something she had little time for, suggesting that it was looking down the telescope the wrong way.
“I know catalogues do well statistically on streaming platforms, but for me and my business, I think it is really important that you look outside of the stats,” she said. “Once you start focusing on statistics, you miss what’s happening and what things are going on in a place where there aren’t even stats available.”
She continued, “It was a catchphrase in the business and I hope it’s coming out of common use in the business, but that idea of ‘too early’ meant there were no stats. The first question would be how many Instagram followers there were, how many streams there were [and so on]. If there weren’t enough, it was seen as ‘too early’. For me, if there are a lot of stats, then it’s probably too late. What we’re interested in as business and what really excites me is ‘too early’. ‘Too early’ is when artists need support and if they don’t get that support could lose their way and won’t have any hope of becoming an iconic rock star.”
For Stennett, the internet has caused the old certainties to crumble and that city-based scenes are not as important as they were as new generations of acts are coming through who feel borderless.
“With the Seattle scene and the Manchester scene, they had locations,” she said. “They were identified by where the scene started. What has been a really interesting thing for me to learn from what the community around Lil Peep [one of her newest acts] is that it is global. When he first wanted to go on tour, he said he wanted to go to Russia. I was like, ‘Russia? You want to start a tour in Russia?’ He said he thought he had a lot of fans in Russia. We started in Russia and he went to three cities there. What to me was completely mind-blowing was that this kid – who had no PR and had not released anything – could go there and find a headline audience of its own. Even he was shocked.”
Stennett remains convinced that those swimming against the tide will have the greatest legacy and she sees enough happening her to make her hugely optimistic about the future.
“It’s exciting that these kids are doing that themselves,” she said of acts like Lil Peep. “That is what is going to create rock ‘n’ roll stars – because that is what has always done it. People just did it. They didn’t need permission. They led the way. They were the audience they were playing to. They understood the audience and they weren’t being told what to do. It was rebellion in the true sense of the word.”
She ended by saying that those around artists can offer them advice but should never tell them what to do.
“People are going to make mistakes and you have to wait for them to find their own way,” she concluded. “It’s their time. It’s not our time. It’s about letting go and trusting that these people will emerge. And investing in them before they lose their way.”
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.