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State of the Nation

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State of the Nation: Katie Hogan (NuMu)

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I can’t remember how I first came across Katie and NuMu. It may well have been simply through an MCD press email back in the days when she was learning her trade at Ireland’s biggest gig promoter, but I do know that her brand has seeped into my consciousness, and that can only be the sign of a good brand. While I haven’t always been into everything Katie’s promoted (but who could ever say they’ve been into everything anyone works on!), I’ve always felt like giving it a chance, because she always speaks positively and with such passion. In fact, it’s fairly typical of my experience of Katie that when I asked her to do ‘State of the Nation’ she answered my small selection of questions in such astonishing and fascinating details. Katie’s a manager and PR aficionado who gets stuck in to recording and mastering, and runs projects that are a far cry from music at all. This is easily the most in-depth of the series to date, and might take you twenty minutes to get through in full. If you’re into PR, start-ups or sheer passion for the Irish music industry, though, I’d highly recommend sticking with her!

NuMu is a brave move, particularly in an industry that’s notorious for having a difficult time financially over the last few years. How did it come about, and what’s got you to where you are now?

In 2010 I was living and studying, to obtain my journalism degree, in London. Like many in the industry I had friends in bands and watching their struggle, unaware of the music industry in full, I had decided to help as much as I could by introducing and then promoting these artists in London, again completely naive to the industry and even public relations! I had approached it all from a journalistic point of view. I was winging it, genuinely had no clue even writing my first music review at 20 (bearing in mind I had been writing for a number of years) basically music was something I enjoyed, not something I was involved with, and thanks to my lack of knowledge I fell into the deep end (didn’t voluntarily dive in). From here I became involved with the industry from online music sites and promoters to managers and labels, I had found something I adored – my new passion!

When I touched back on Irish soil, thanks to the growing recession there was a lack of opportunities available to me as a graduate, so this had originally inspired me to get thinking of how I can create a role for myself to keep me sane. NuMu and the idea behind it had not come along until I bagged an internship at MCD, which opened a whole new door for me. I adored working behind the scenes and my nose for journalism soon grew to become a nose for promotional opportunities.

There was also moments I would think “if only someone would start a new venture that could…” and swiftly ended my train of thought with “wait, why ‘someone’…when I can do it” It was from here that I wanted to create a brand to host certain events and work with musicians and overall talent so thought to use my own abbreviation for New Music which is “NuMu”.

There is a man by the name of Damien O’Donohue who worked at MCD, I remember he had called me to his office to discuss my internship and pointed out a number of skills I had that I wasn’t aware of. He told me to look into artist management as he felt I would do well in this field. I am sure O’Donohue has no idea of how much that chat inspired me – it was somewhat of a lightning bolt moment. Under NuMu, I started to organise events and gigs looking for the right “artist”. The ball started rolling and now I am proud to have two extremely hardworking and thriving bands under NuMu – Featuring X and Travis Oaks – who have helped our brand reach a wider audience.

State of the Nation: Alexis Vokos (Delphi Label)

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I first came across Alexis through a borderline obsession I have with one of his acts, We Cut Corners, and have happy memories of fireside fun down at Other Voices in Dingle a couple of years back. I didn’t realise at the time just how far-reaching Delphi Label really is, but as my knowledge grew, I recognised the Alexis’ outlet as something a little bit unique on the Irish music scene.

I was particularly taken with their special edition releases, such as the handcrafted five-copy only four-EP release for Record Store Day 2011 (see below right), which remains one of the most treasured items in my record collection. They put out a similar release a year later. This is a small label that takes its image and integrity seriously, and does the best it can to produce something unique and interesting at every corner. In connections with Le Galaxie – who’ve now made their way to a major in Universal – and We Cut Corners, the label is also home to two of Ireland’s hottest acts. I was delighted, then, when Alexis agreed to give me his take on Delphi, and Irish music in 2015. Kindly legend that he is, he’s offered up the most in-depth ‘State of the Nation’ to date.

delphi boxsetWhat are the greatest challenges facing a small label in 2015?

Well, the obvious answer is the perennial challenge to release hit records!  Whatever else you could say, every small label is hoping to have that success.  It’s the one thing that can provide the revenue and reputation that allows you to stick at it and grow.

Beyond that, the greatest challenge is bridging the gap between a relatively unchanged cost-base, and dwindling revenue streams. This may sound like old-hat to the casual observer, ‘label complains that no one is paying for music‘, but at the coal-face it is still very much the big issue.  This is illustrated by how few small labels are still releasing music in Ireland.  It’s impossible to exaggerate the degree of structural change that’s occurred in the recorded music industry.  The flow of wealth in intellectual property away from creators/rights holders, and to the dominant intermediaries (as in the big services that deliver the music to listeners) is on a massive scale.

We still by and large live in an economy where it’s necessary to pay the going rate for any number of services and overhead items, and that’s the same for the things labels require, be it office costs, staff, advertising and promotion, design, manufacturing of physical product, but people consume music in a way which is economically completely unlike that.  The reality is that unless you have an out-and-out breakthrough hit it is very hard to make the numbers add up, certainly if you’re releasing physical product.  There is the argument that the digital age has provided the opportunity for artists and labels to enjoy a commensurate fall in their cost base, in terms of harnessing digital know-how and technology for recording, production, artwork and design etc.  The reality is that professional product still requires professional services, studios, engineers, designers, videomakers and everyone needs to be paid.  The sums are often not so pretty!  A recent article reported that 1% of artists are earning 77% of all revenue from recorded music, I’m not sure how that compares to 20 years ago, but it is something which generally does not bode well for new, independent labels… so back to finding that hit!!

How do Delphi pick your artists?

‘Pick’ sounds a bit like going into the artist shop and browsing the rails, and not many artists, managers and labels are pret-a-porter.   In our case it is a pretty organic process, firstly we want to be confident we are dealing with something really exceptional creatively.  Then it’s about nurturing a relationship and ensuring there is a fit in temperament and vision for the shared goals of artist and label/manager.  So the process is generally gradual and requires patience, and releasing records takes time.  Sometimes I get emails from bands saying they want me to release their record and they’ve already set the release date for 6 weeks time, that’s obviously totally unrealistic!  For a small label like us, we can only ever work with a small number of artists anyway, so committing to a brand new artist is pretty rare.  You quickly learn that you can only ever do things in which you have complete conviction, for the simple fact that you have to champion it day-in day-out, so without that you soon come unstuck.

State of the Nation: Linda Coogan Byrne (Goodseed PR)

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Linda Coogan Byrne followed her dreams in setting up Goodseed PR and bursting into a tough and specialized industry. It goes without saying, then, that the self-made PR guru knows a thing or five about what’s going on in our scene, and even about how she might go about influencing said goings on. Personally, I can’t even begin to imagine the frustrations of trying to promote something you love – or perhaps, occasionally, don’t – to the indistinct entity that is taste in music, so huge respect to Linda. Here’s what she had to say about her job, and where we are in Irish music right now…

How do you view the role of PR in music at the moment, and how does it effect what we hear about?

The role as I view it is to deliver music to the following people within the realm of the music media industry: tastemakers, music journalists along with producers and researchers in radio and TV who make the decisions to write about it, blog about it, air it and support it. Thus creating an infrastructure for the artist or bands music to grow from. To build this infrastructure can be rather time consuming for both established and emerging artists. So the role is also about knowing where to pitch the music, who to deliver it to, time management and creating a realistic time line campaign for the client. An important factor is how important it is for the client to understand that it takes time. No matter who you employ, it takes time to grow a successful business. And to be a professional musician/artist you have to trust those in the know and not expect to be famous in 3 months. It simply does not work that way. So communication is absolutely pivotal between your client and the media. The people responsible for choosing what music to air and support are those who affect what you hear about, not the PR.

In PR, your role is a mix of promoting Irish artists and promoting artists within Ireland. Obviously the music industry has changed substantially over the last few years and ticket sales seem to have overtaken album/ music sales for a lot of artists. How has this stuff affected the job?

It hasn’t affected the job or role of PR – you are still publicising and the elements of the job remain the exact same.

What makes an act easy or difficult to promote?

If you choose an act not out of passion and belief in their music but for money, then it makes it a hard sell. Because if you do not personally believe in an act or that they have the capacity to succeed then it shows and you can’t sell it as you would something that you are passionate about. Many within the music industry extort bands in this way. In fact most of the money made in the music industry is made from bands on the rise as well as bands that will never rise. It’s also the very reason why its so important to work with clients whom you believe in, otherwise you take on a hell of a lot of heart ache. That’s the negative. The positive reply would be to work with superb bands who make superb music. It’s THAT simple. I am not an advocate of this ‘Irish radio doesn’t support great Irish Music’. It does. Its just that most bands do not research the music played on specific national radio stations and shows and therefore have false expectations of the kind of airtime they can receive when in fact their music does not fit the stations remit that they expect to be played on!

State of the Nation: Greg Synnott (7BillionPeople.Net)

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Hello, and welcome to the first of what I hope will be a year-long blog project, in which I interview various people from all over the Irish music industry and try to establish just how we’re all doing – the ‘State of the Nation’, if you like. First up is Greg Synnott, the talented blogger behind Irish Blog Award winning music site  7BillionPeople.net. Greg has a full time position at a major Irish national paper, yet continues to plow his musical endeavours into his own site, which is currently awaiting a revamp. You’ll catch him exploring the experimental fringes of the Dublin music scene and occasionally chipping in over at Goldenplec.com. What he’d like from the Irish music scene? Make his jaw drop again, lads…
What’s the role of journalism in the Irish music industry in your view?

The role of journalism in Irish music is to filter the extensive amount of bands that keep  producing new music. The average consumer can’t listen to everything, so the music journalist takes on that task and offers up what they think is the best from the scene. They don’t always get it right and too many journalists just push everything but I believe that each persons role defines itself really. No single music journalist is doing the same thing normally and people will follow a varying amount looking for new filters to tell them what’s good.

Can we trust the media/ bloggers to express a balanced opinion?

Yes and no. Bias seeps through everything. You will notice a pattern of journalists pushing acts they obviously favour over others if for no other reason than they’re a fan and want to see those acts succeed. It’s not exactly a bad thing, but it’s not good either. It’s just something that becomes part of opinion based journalism, balance is a tricky thing to get right.

Tell us about something in Irish music – be it a band, label, promoter, venue, whatever – that you think is a bit special.
Finding one single thing to define as a bit special is a nearly impossible task. Honestly, my favourite part of the entire Irish music scene is everyone’s willingness to promote and help each other. You see it online all the time, bands etc. going out of their way to help everyone else when they can. It’s something of a rarity and really shines through in Irish music. Few people are out to better anyone else, they just want to make friends and have a good time.