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MonoKrome’s Mercury ‘Shouldabin’ Awards – No.1

The Mercury Prize is upon us once again, that coveted award that gives mere mortals a yearly glimpse into the hipster’s coveted iPod Classic. The award is famously diverse with Brazilian café jazz competing with angry, explosive grime.

Perhaps as a consequence of their striving for diversity, we feel some deserving artists are over-looked by the Mercury panel. But not by us. In the coming weeks, we’ll be highlighting some of the luscious LPs that have turned our office inside out this year. So without further ado, our first Shouldabin’:

Mr Jukes – God First 

(Listen here)

‘Mr Jukes’ is the moniker of Bombay Bicycle Club frontman, Jack Steadman, a man whose band, in only four albums, managed to merge vintage folk music, ballsy indie rock and sample-laden sing-a-longs into a signature sound. When the band, nominated for the Mercury Prize in 2014 for ‘So Long, See You Tomorrow’, used the dreaded ‘Hiatus’ word, I and my fellow BBC obsessives were genuinely gutted. Bass player Ed Nash’s project, ‘Toothless’ features a some hints of Bombay Bicycle Club’s influences and a few genuine heartfelt tunes, but in all honesty, it only made us mourn the band further.

So, when Steadman broke his silence with details of his new project, Mr Jukes, and released debut single ‘Tears’, we were probably more nervous than he was. A diluted Bombay Bicycle Club record simply wouldn’t do. Luckily, Steadman shared the same sentiments. What followed was a unique expression of his secret obsession with soul, jazz and funk. The trap beats underpinning the R’n’B tinges of ‘Tears’ proved immediately that this was going to be a very different album indeed.

When seeking collaborators for ‘God First’, it feels like Steadman simply flicked through his vinyl collection, jotted down some names and made a few calls. None are household names but all of them deserve to be. Charles Bradley’s wailing vocals in ‘Grant Green’ are a real stand-out moment. It’s no surprise that he allegedly collapsed after laying them down.

Much of the record was written whilst Steadman was staying aboard a cargo ship crossing the North Pacific Ocean. Perhaps this solitary setting helped him to maintain the raw sensitivity that we’ve come to expect from his vocals on Bombay Bicycle Club records (check out ‘Still’ from 2011’s “A Different Kind Of Fix”). It is this ability to convey deep emotion, even through layers of samples and synths, that makes solo track “Magic” my personal highlight of the album – the placement of the words every bit as beautiful as the content of them.

Whilst his original band’s catalogue will always occupy a special place in my heart, it’s a relief and a delight that Mr Jukes isn’t trying to jostle for that position. Instead, it occupies a place all of it’s own. It may not get the reach of a Bombay Bicycle Club record but it will certainly have the legacy.

The Quiet Inequalities of a Loud Business

Women are at a disadvantage in the music industry. That is a cold, indisputable fact, often shrugged off by the business at large. The PRS Foundation’s recent ‘Women Make Music’ Evaluation found that, unbelievably, only 16% of the UK’s registered songwriters are women. Even worse, according to Women’s Audio Mission “less than 5% of the people creating the sounds, music and media in the daily soundtrack of our lives are women”. With the recent revelations of the eye-watering gender pay gap at the BBC, the reality is finally hitting home in the entertainment industry – we have developed a serious gender imbalance.

Fortunately, some in the industry are stepping up to the plate. Festival Republic and the PRS Foundation have announced the launch of ReBalance, a new initiative set to address the gender imbalance in the music industry.

The Leeds-based project will run for three years and will provide one week’s studio recording to a UK-based female musician, solo artist or female-featuring band each month from 2018 through 2020. Studio and engineering costs will be paid for by Festival Republic, along with accommodation and travel.

At the end of each year, the artists selected will be given slots at a Festival Republic or Live Nation festival. The organisation are defining female as anyone who identifies as a woman, while for bands to be eligible they must include a woman or women who are “fundamental to writing and producing duties.”

There will also be two apprentices chosen for the three year programme, during which they will work with engineers in-house at Old Chapel Music Studio before becoming the lead/co-engineers on the project.

Nearly 80% of the applicants to the Women Make Music programme have said the support they had significantly improved their confidence. This suggests targeted programmes like ‘ReBalance’ may well be the answer to correcting this imbalance.

Vanessa Reed, CEO of PRS Foundation stated: “The evaluation of our Women Make Music fund highlighted the ongoing challenges for female artists whilst also drawing attention to the lack of women working in other industry roles including the recording studio. Low representation of women in these aspects of the creative process is an obstacle for female artists as well young women who are considering a career in music production.”

“I’m delighted that Festival Republic are responding to this by offering new opportunities which will support female artists alongside younger women who want to develop skills in music production and sound engineering. I’m also pleased that this is happening in Leeds, acknowledging the importance of promoting infrastructure and opportunities for talent development outside of London.”

‘Fickle Friends’ singer Natti Shiner, who is part of the selection panel, added: “Let’s face it, guitar music is male-dominated and it seems like the wider music industry is hardwired towards men – even the fact that people often feel they have to refer to our band as being “female-fronted” feels wrong (who ever referred to ‘Arctic Monkeys’ as a “male-fronted band?!)”

“ReBalance is important because it looks to tackle this issue in a long-term way. Rather than just sticking a few female artists on some bills as a token gesture, it will provide support for the things that matter to an emerging artist – studio time, travel, accommodation, practical advice etc.”

MonoKrome Music Director, Rowan Davis, is one of many women working in the industry pleased to see such steps being taken:

“As a woman with a background in business, but being relatively new to the music industry itself, I very much welcome the ReBalance initiative. I’m delighted that an effort is being made to redress the huge imbalance in the industry and support and promote the talent of female artists. Sexism in the music industry feels very much like the dirty secret of the industry; everyone knows it exists and that it’s commonplace, yet it is seldom confronted, or even discussed. Hopefully ReBalance will be the catalyst the industry needs to pick up it’s game and catch up with the 21st century. Lets hope for more initiatives to stamp out sexism, not only for artists, but for employees and fellow industry professionals too.”

In June, Mandy Parnell, award-winning mastering engineer, owner of Black Saloon Mastering and one of the ReBalance selection panel, spoke on the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire programme in a segment titled ‘Sexism In The Music Industry‘. When addressing the shortage of women in music-tech roles, Parnell intimated that the issue could stem from a lack of hands-on experience in school, when children are young and full of enthusiasm.

Often, girls are encouraged to play classical instruments (piano, flute, violin) while boys are taught electric instruments like guitar and bass which can often spark their interest in the sound production process. Parnell believes that classroom-based encouragement for girls to get more hands on with music would prevent them disregarding it as a career path in later years.

Earlier this year Laura Marling produced an excellent series of podcasts called ‘Reversal of the Muse’ in which she spoke to talented female producers like Catherine Marks (Wolf Alice), experienced engineers like Vanessa Parr (Coldplay) and performers from HAIM to Dolly Parton about how their gender has affected their careers. As well as providing first-hand accounts of sexism in the music business, these podcasts discuss what opportunities there are for addressing this historic problem. They are well worth a listen.

Happily then, the ReBalance programme will be welcomed by Marling, Shiner and our other female peers in the music industry. Whilst it won’t fix the problem overnight, providing talented female artists, writers, producers and engineers with springboard opportunities like this should help to put women on the equal footing they patently deserve.

The Vamps & The Fate of Physical

Well, well, well… The Vamps have saved physical. Where Arcade Fire, Neil Young and Stormzy have all failed, hair-gelled heartthrobs, the Vamps, have stepped up to the plate and single-handedly (well actually octuple-handedly – there is four of them) stopped CDs falling into oblivion. Ok, not quite. Streaming is still by a country mile the most prevalent form of music consumption and CD sales have still been falling year-on-year, off the cliff towards the sea of obsoletion. The Vamps have just provided something of a parachute to slow the descent.

They managed to score a number 1 album, largely off the back of great physical sales in the week of release (chill out, Arcade Fire still got number one!). So good was the quality of The Vamps’ various deluxe CD packages and so frenzied is the nature of their fanbase that nearly all of the people who were going to buy a physical copy of the album did so in the first week.

The upside is that the healthy immediate physical sales pushed them to the top of the UK charts, as physical sales count more towards chart positioning than Spotify streams. The downside is that the rapid drop-off in CD sales after their most obsessive fans had purchased the album meant that they dropped straight down to number 35 the following week – the largest drop from the number 1 spot in British chart history. Oh well boys, at least good looks aren’t fleeting…

There are lessons to be learnt from the chart-topping/chart-dropping boy wonders though. Or perhaps, more specifically, the marketing team from Universal behind them. The key was in the gradation of the offerings. Lightweights could simply purchase the standard 8 track digital edition, middleweights could get the deluxe digital edition with 10 tracks with some videos from their Wake Up World Tour Live DVD whilst the heavyweights had a choice of the ‘Brad edition’, the ‘James edition’, the ‘Connor edition’  or the ‘Tristian edition’ – each with 2 exclusive tracks, a copy of the full live DVD and a poster of the respective band member. Full-on obsessives had the option of the ‘Collectors’ edition – all four versions of the album, signed by each member of the band, and a pre-sale code for the band’s upcoming tour. Why anyone would want to buy four versions of the same Vamps album at the same time is beyond my comprehension but, clearly enough of these uber-fans existed to help the Vamps secure the top spot, even if it was only for a week.

Clearly physical sales are not going to be surpassing streaming any time soon (or indeed, ever) but as George Garner puts forth in MusicWeek, “what these victories highlight is that music fans still want physical products”. He remains convinced that “so long as artists can think of inventive ways to package or complement their art by creating things worth owning, physical will keep on doing the business”.

Clearly then, it’s more vital than ever for artists to have a good distributor on their side; one with a solid understanding of the physical market as well as the streaming and download side. After all, as we saw last week, physical sales can make the difference between clinching the top spot and not. MonoKrome are working with Proper, the UK’s largest independent distributor, to give all our artists that crucial physical edge. We’re also working with pioneering Dutch distributor FUGA to deliver complete online distribution with a playlisting promotion service to make sure our brilliant digital repertoire gets the airplay it deserves. Having both physical and digital distribution handled by MonoKrome means that our artists are able to focus on creating their music and we can focus on putting it into the best formats possible. After all, we can’t leave the fate of physical in the hands of the Vamps!

The Very Real Consequences of “Fake Artists”

Are Spotify slipping “fake artists” into their playlists?

Music News sites have been in quite the furore these last two weeks. Ed Sheeran appeared in ‘Game of Thrones’ in the least subtle cameo since Michael Jackson in ‘Men in Black II’ and the internet was outraged. Perhaps the show’s producers should have taken a lesson in subtlety from much loved/hated streaming-service Spotify, who have been accused of slipping in tracks by “fake artists” into their playlists.

What is a “fake artist” you say? Are Spotify playlisting tracks generated by faceless computers? Have humans become obsolete in music composition? Is this the end of music as we know it? Fear not, these “fake artists” are in fact real people. Reputedly from a company called Epidemic Sound, a royalty-free production company, who in their own words “acquire the financial rights” to the songs they produce. Clients receive a one-time payment for their composition because “payment is never based on usage”, meaning that once that check has been cashed, their music is the property of Epidemic Sound.

Initially one might feel a pang a sympathy for Epidemic’s writers, particularly those whose compositions go on to get millions of Spotify streams as, contractually, they will receive absolutely no additional financial recompense after the initial payment for the track. But to be fair to Epidemic, they are very, very clear about the terms on their website. Anyone who signs up to Epidemic’s contract has done so knowingly. The real consequences are for the “real artists”, particularly those looking to get their first big hit.

The suspicion of sites like Music Business Worldwide is that Spotify are paying considerably less for these “fake” productions than they would for authentic non-production material.

As put by Vick Bain (CEO of BASCA): “The heavy presence of these recordings on extremely popular Spotify playlists invevitably means less consumption of music from the mainstream industry and self-releasing artists. This drives down per-stream income for everyone, while lowering the negotiating power of the labels/publishers/collecting societies“.

At a time where streaming income for artists is already infamously small, the allocation of much sought-after playlist spots to “fake artists” who aren’t relying on play-count is worrying. These developments mean it is important for artists to sign with publishers who are switched on to these developments and have the right people to secure those crucial playlist spots for real artists with real faces and real royalties. Companies such as MonoKrome Music are well-versed in playlist plugging and making sure the royalties for their catalogue are collected from all territories – which is particularly crucial with the covert squeeze on streaming incomes. After all, when times are tough, those pounds down the back of the sofa are more important than ever.

Regardless, the question facing the music business now is this: Will the public be too consumed with anger at The Orange One’s appearance on Game of Thrones to notice they’re listening to artists that don’t exist?

Bucks Music Group partners with monoKrome music

Bucks Music Group has announced a new partnership with label, artist and management services specialist monoKrome music (mKm).

The new agreement will see Buck look to help enhance and expand the publishing service that monoKrome offers its label, artist and management clients. Read more

Creative industries and search engines strike deal to tackle piracy

A “world-first” agreement has been struck between representatives of rights-holders and major search engines, which aims to reduce the availability of unauthorised online content in the UK.

The agreement sees the Alliance For Intellectual Property, BPI and MPA, partner with Google and Microsoft’s Bing on a new voluntary code of practice, which will lead to the removal of links to unlicensed material, intended to reduce the prominence of infringing content in search rankings.

Read more

MUSIC STREAMING FINALLY HAS MORE PAYING SUBSCRIBERS THAN NETFLIX

One of the more deflating facts about the size of the global music streaming business has been banished to history. Across the past half-decade, the total number of people paying to subscribe to audio music services has trailed behind those shelling out for just one TV and movie service – Netflix. At the end of 2015, for example, global recorded music body the IFPI celebrated the fact that an estimated 68m people were now paying for the likes of Spotify and Apple Music (which launched in June that year). Read more

Former Beggars exec Kristian Davis-Downs launches new services company

Ex-Beggars Group head of operations Kristian Davis-Downs has launched MonoKrome Music – a new music industry services company.

The new operation offers a wide range of services to help fledgling artists and music businesses establish themselves in the industry.
Read more

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