BACKGROUND: CONSTRUCTION OF INFRASTRUCTURE
I have been trading on a part time basis as Demerara Records for three years now. In that time, it has developed into a not-for-profit platform for releasing music, managing artists, promoting live events, publishing books and articles about music and acting as a general hub for new music with resources, advice and links intended to be useful for independent musicians and those supporting them.
I have built an infrastructure which includes:
three talented young female-fronted acts under my management;
a talented young British Asian composer and artist in development;
a virtually unlimited pool of new music talent seeking opportunities;
an established monthly live event in a beautiful South London venue;
a new [and hopefully] regular live event in a beautiful Central London venue next to an iconic music venue and store;
a user-friendly website, significant social media footprint & twice-monthly blog about new music which is rapidly growing in popularity;
a book published offering detailed insight into operating within the independent music sector which will be updated and published in early 2020;
a large and expanding network of contacts across the music industry and media;
I also have a standing invitation to present my own show on Exile FM which I have said I will accept subject to my being able to secure funding to support my work on this project. Presenting such a show will provide me with another fantastic platform for promoting new music talent to a wider audience. My own informal survey suggests there would be considerable interest in such a show.
In January 2018, I became a moderator and reviews author for Fresh on the Net, the highly acclaimed not-for-profit platform for new music funded and managed by the famous singer-songwriter and BBC broadcaster Tom Robinson. I am now organising their first festival; a one-day event on 21st July 2019 entitled Fresh on the Net Live involving sixteen (16) new and emerging bands and artists performing across three spaces in North London.
We plan to follow this with a two-weekend festival taking place at venues in London, Liverpool and Chester involving around seventy (70) acts.
My proactive role as the most prolific reviews author and article writer for Fresh on the Net and the twice-monthly publication of my blog Trust The Doc have led to a constant flow of bands, artists, labels and others following me on social media and sending me their music. I have built and continue to build trusted relationships with many of them and give out a lot of free advice especially to aspiring artists.
The relationship has enabled me also to:
offer paid gigs to a number of these bands and artists;
have the gigs live streamed by bndr Music;
include those with a track record of attracting votes through Fresh on the Net the opportunity of involvement in our festivals;
publish articles and reviews of numerous new and emerging bands and artists via blogs, online platforms and journals which will expose their music and activities to a wider audience;
provide a vast amount of free and good quality advice to aspiring artists about their careers and plans;
I have also utilised my own growing reputation and networks to further publicise some of this work, especially Fresh on the Net and its associated live music plans and the existence of such a welter of new and emerging talent, at events where I have been a keynote speaker or panellist such as the World Music Conference (2018), Festival Live @ The Great Escape (2019) and through articles for Fresh on the Net, Goldsmiths University, Sound and Music, Angry Baby, Trust The Doc, Demerara Records and others. I am regularly invited to live music events and gigs by independent labels and artists and, in 2017, I was a VIP guest at BBC Amplify.
These positive developments must be assessed, however, against the limitations on what can be achieved within current budgets and, worse, how that disadvantages bands and artists the further they are based from London.
For example, the live events I regularly promote are not big pay days for bands and artists. How much remuneration they receive depends entirely on ticket sales which are unpredictable. This makes the prospect of peforming at one of these events less appealing for those who face costly travel into London and, with a few exceptions (i.e. where the artists can claim expenses from record labels or managers or where they are already planning to be in London and can fit the event in with other plans), it means we are mostly only able to offer live performance opportunities to bands and artists based in or close to London.
The same financial considerations affect the booking of acts for festivals and they limit what can be done by way of marketing, merchandising and other areas in which some sensible investment has the potential to produce meaningful returns.
So while there is, in theory, no upper limit on the amount of good quality advice I can publish or provide in one-to-one interactions and there is no geographical limit on the music I can release, promote and distribute, much of my activity necessarily has a Londoncentric bias.
WHAT WOULD A GRANT OR SPONSORSHIP ENABLE ME TO DO?
A grant and/or sponsorship would enable me to do the following:
set a ringfenced budget to cover payment of fees and expenses for bands and artists to perform at events where they need to travel longer distances with, in some cases, the prospect of needing overnight accommodation;
set a ringfenced budget to cover the costs of marketing live music events and any other significant events and publications that are likely to benefit new and emerging UK-based musical talent;
invest in areas of production that would help launch these services such as CD or vinyl pressing, generation of suitable merchandise (i.e. T-Shirts, badges etc.), publicity materials, low cost social media adverts and other justfied expenditure;
conduct good quality research, meet with important contacts and pay for travel and occasionally for accommodation as I seek to ensure the activities of Demerara Records’ Music Artist Development are genuinely UK-wide and not just focused in and around London.
pay myself a modest part time allowance in what would, for the purposes of this project, constitute Year One, in order to spend 16 – 20 hours per week planning effectively and supporting more people in a range of areas;
I believe that, given the oxygen of a relatively modest degree of funding, I would be able to make significant progress including the generation of investible funds that would enable me to apply for markedly reduced funding in Year Two and be self-supporting by Year Three.
BBC INTRODUCING: GOOD AND BAD PRACTICE
There is a gap between the initial helping hand offered to artists by BBC Introducing and the next level that they seek to attain. While I would want to be clear in reiterating my approval of and support for BBC Introducing, it is important to recognise its flaws too and how they impact on hardworking, aspiring artists.
I have experienced the roller-coaster of this process first hand when I was picked up as a BBC Introducing Composer and Artist in 2017 and performed, with a hastily assembled backing group, on the BBC Introducing Stage at Latitude, the largest music festival in Europe. I have subsequently talked to and observed other artists going through similar experiences.
In short, there is a honeymoon period in which an artist [or band] is successfully recommended either by their BBC Regional Station’s Introducing network or by a specialist show on national radio and are earmarked to perform on the BBC Introducing Stage at a Festival, typically Latitude. What follows is a glut of media attention, on-air live interviews, airplay on key national shows and a lot of praise and presentation of the artist as being an exciting new discovery. This euphoria culminates with the performance itself and the broadcast of part of that performance on national radio a few nights later. Then suddenly it is over and, just as rapidly as the BBC Introducing process has sucked the artist in, so they subsequently spit them back out and there is no further support or even interest in the artist’s continuing activities or new releases.
In terms of my own experience, I was even told informally by one radio producer that I did not need their support as much as other new artists since I was now ‘established’. This attitude perhaps sums up the problem. The notion that one festival appearance and about six weeks of getting attention including a handful of radio plays and one or two interviews leads to that artist being ‘established’ is laughable. But this appeared to be what this producer believed to be the case.
The key issue here is how artists deal with this situation. Usually their careers take on one of three paths. Namely:
if they have sufficient knowledge and experience, they will be aware of ways in which they can build on that brief success and continue to move forward. This is the minority pathway at present unfortunately;
If they lack the information but have sufficient resilience and were already gigging regularly and seeking opportunities, they might absorb the disappointment of this sudden sense of abandonment and continue to work hard to chase their dreams;
if they lack the knowledge or the confidence in their ability to move forward, they may simply become disillusioned and give up. Sadly this is an all-too-common response.
There are other avenues of course. Fresh on the Net is one of them. It can, for the 12% or so who make it through to the Listening Post each week, mean they could be voted into the Fresh Faves and receive an upbeat review. In some cases it might help them catch the ear of Tom Robinson and be selected for the BBC 6 Music Introducing Mixtape and. If they are very fortunate, a one-off play on Tom’s Saturday Night show. However, in any of these scenarios, they will then have to wait three months before they can submit another track.
BBC Introducing shows on their local and regional stations might continue to pick up their new tracks and play them. Their audience reach tends to be modest but it is still worth having the attention. There are radio stations who offer new music shows with public votes to determine which artists receive more plays such as Amazing Radio and Union Jack Radio. There are also small online and community stations who have shows that support new music such as Exile FM, Conquest Radio, Radio Dacorum (and equivalent local area community radio projects) and others. I already give this advice out regularly to bands and artists.
None of these opportunities on their own are likely to do much to raise the profile of a band or artist nor contribute to sales of their products. There needs to be a means of pulling all these strands together and presenting them as evidence of artists’ ongoing development. I have joked that we need a BBC Intermediate service! But in essence that concept is close to what I believe Music Artist Development should be about.
Currently the only ways most artists can bridge that gap are by involving themselves in potentially high risk investments or by finding a booking agent (which usually requires a track record of self-generated success and can lead to poor deals for artists). Either path is difficult for most struggling artists to take. The limited availability of grant funding in the UK does not make the situation any easier. There are very good organisations like the PRS Foundation, Help Musicians UK, Sound and Music and the Arts Councils of England, Wales etc. But they face a large volume of applications and consistently have to reject good quality projects purely because of funding limits. It makes it extremely hard for the average band, artist, manager, small festival or other deserving project to compete on a genuinely level playing field with established events who deploy experienced grant application specialists.
I want to use my unique position in new music and my wide-ranging experience to operate a not-for-profit intermediate level development process for new and emerging music artists to help them build careers. At the heart of that aim must be the principle that those bands and artists who are selected [through whatever process is put in place] should not pay a penny for the services provided.
ABOUT THE PROJECT
At the moment I can provide limited help to artists and only in London. The concept of Music Artist Development will be to provide:
– advice & support to new & emerging artists;
– opportunities to perform at London showcase venues;
– bring artists from across the UK;
– opportunities to organise and promote events at venues across the United Kingdom;
– opportunities to appear on suitable compilations & playlists aimed at industry, media and fans;
– help with securing radio play;
– help & advice with collecting royalties & seeking synchronisation deals;
– help with maximising the use of digital streaming & playlists;
– advice about contracts, merchandise, agents, management etc;
– help with developing musical ideas and talent;
– representation to suitable labels, festivals & other opportunities;
– help with widening media exposure.
I will also seek to create income streams through these activities so the project can become self-supporting. These will include:
Merchandise (T-Shirts, Badges, Bags, Hoodies etc.)
Physical Stock (CD or Vinyl)
Royalties Collection (through registration with PPL and PRS)
Digital Downloads and Streaming
Synchronisation Deals (i.e. use of music in other media)
Use of individual crowdfunding methods to pay for production of above
Ultimately the aim will be to enable artists to acquire the knowledge, experience and self-confidence to take on many of these areas for themselves.
One aim will be to give artists who may have been subject to the initial cathartic burst of BBC Introducing support or initial success at the Fresh on the Net Listening Post a lift when they may feel like they have suddenly been left to fend for themselves at too early a stage in their careers. However the project will not exist exclusively for artists who have had that type of support and success.
The governing principle will be helping talented, hardworking music artists to move forward with their career ambitions supported by good quality advice and support.
EQUALITY & DIVERSITY
It is vitally important that the project is managed in line with a strong equality and diversity ethos. So I will introduce a set of measures to ensure that there is a good level of participation (artists and audience) taking into account BME, Women, LGBT, Disabled, Younger People and Older People and that there is no disadvantging of anyone based on religious, cultural or social backgrounds.
HOW THE PROJECT WILL DEVELOP MY WORK
The project will be a learning experience for me as well as for the artists. It will also enable me to have the time and resources to continue building a first class network of key industry & media contacts; expand the opportunities for aspiring artists and build a reputation that they can benefit from too.
By being able to market events and creative projects, I will increase the numbers of fans of new music engaging with artists’ activities. This will also be good for the venues I promote in and will enable them to have confidence in the ethical policies they currently operate.
By helping to publicise many of the smaller radio stations and journals that tirelessly support new music I will bring them more listeners and readers and, in turn, more people will hear the new bands and artists whose music they play and write about.
I will continue to build a strong but flexible infrastructure that aims for continuous improvement in all areas of activity. Because I will not be taking any profit from income generated through these activities, more money can be reinvested in the project, reducing its reliance on external funding in the longer term and increasing choice about how funds are used in the future including for marketing, employment or deployment of staff and freelancers, production of physical stock and merchandise etc.
I am open to working for or with external partners or organisations who can help me to strengthen the existing infrastructure and exploit avenues and opportunities whether for income generation or exposure. I have a huge knowledge of music (including a PhD and Masters in composition from Goldsmiths, University of London), expertise in new music coupled with that of being a pop music historian who has been interviewed on national radio about my knowledge of the Post-Punk music era and has written various articles. I can be a major asset if given the opportunity and talented music artists can be the beneficiaries.
I am open-minded about how my role might develop in future and whether my business should remain independent or whether it would be able to achieve more for music artists by partnering with a larger one.
WHAT FUNDS I AM SEEKING
I am seeking a total of £15,000.00 which breaks down as follows:
£10,480.00 (84%) of an allowance calculated as £15.00 per hour at a minimum of 16 hours per week (with a clear understanding that additional hours worked will not be subject to any additional payment (I will secure the remaining £2,000.00 of an annual total of £12,480.00 from my own funds or other sources) enabling me to commit to dedicated work on managing this project;
£2,000.00 to constitute a ringfenced fund for investment in suitable merchandise including physical stock (i.e. CD/Vinyl) for sale primarily but not exclusively at live events;
£2,000.00 for use in covering all costs associated with live events promotion, releasing and distributing music products and all other justifiable expenditure on furthering the interests of the project and those it aims to support;
£520.00 to constitute a contingency fund for unforeseen or unexpected expenditure that will be beneficial or necessary.
So I am seeking £15,000.00 and I will provide a further £2,000.00 constituting a total budget of £17,000.00.
I am (Dr) Neil March (FRSA); a moderator and reviews author for the popular new music platform Fresh on the Net (set up and funded by songwriter and BBC presenter Tom Robinson). I am also a label and artist manager, live events promoter, organiser of two indoor music festivals, author, blogger and an active musician who has been supported by BBC Introducing. I am author of the book ‘The Independent Music Sector (2019)’ and I have a PhD and MMus. (Masters) in music composition both from Goldsmiths, University of London. In 2019 I was awarded fellowship of the Royal Society for the encouragement of the Arts, Manufactures & Commerce (RSA).
I have appeared on the BBC Introducing Stage at Latitude in 2017 as a solo artist with a live band and electronics and have had my music featured on BBC Radio 3, BBC Radio 6 Music, BBC World Service, BBC Three Counties Radio, Amazing Radio and a range of independent stations. I was interviewed by Liz Kershaw on her BBC Radio 6 Music show in my role as a popular music historian and I am a regular contributor of articles about music to online journals and platforms including Fresh on the Net, Trust The Doc, Angry Baby, Sound and Music, Goldsmiths University and others.
I currently promote Vanishing Point @ The Ivy House, Peckham and Demerara Records Showcase @ Cafe 1001, opp. Rough Trade East and am organiser and curator of Fresh on the Net Live and the Fresh on the Net Festival. I own and manage Demerara Records and provide all content for its website and social media platforms.
I have been a moderator and author for Fresh on the Net since January 2018. In that period I have picked out and highlighted in articles and reviews artists who I believed had stand-out potential. I have so far been proved to have sound judgement as those I have particularly named as hot tips – Lauran Hibberd, Kongo Dia Ntotila, Cloth, Roe – are all moving forward impressively with their careers, supported by national radio, booking agents and appearances at big summer festivals. This demonstrates that I am well placed to recognise exciting new music talent across a wide spectrum of music.
Finally it is important to emphasise that the figures and priorities set out here are not set in stone and I am open to ideas about how these plans could be modified and improved.