We come in the ages’ most uncertain hours and sing…

I went to a music conference yesterday.  Not for me a long trip up the M6, service station breakfast and an overdraft to cover the car parking fees.  For this was an online conference in the comfort of my own office.  Whilst the prospect of live streaming gigs being the future of music is depressing, the future of live streaming conferences, based on this experience, has got to be the way to go.

Folk Talk Live was presented by English Folk Expo, the four main topics under discussion being:

  • live streaming
  • the future of live performances
  • diversity
  • album promotion. 

All of which were discussed against the backdrop that lurks behind every aspect of our life today – the pandemic.  Although focused on folk, in truth, what came across was true for all forms of live music.

It was good to know that in Kevin Brennan MP music has a voice in Westminster.  Kevin presented the opening address and what struck me is how much we need someone like him who can talk lucidly about the music industry in a language others in government can understand. Indeed it was he who quoted the Paul Simon lyric which I have used as a headline for this piece.

The first panel discussion posed the question about whether live streaming could be considered a viable alternative to live performances.  Interestingly enough the answer came through loud and clear that, if done properly, it can be viable.  ‘If done properly‘ being the key phrase in that sentence!

Everyone agreed however that it should be ‘as well as’ not an ‘instead of’.  After all, sport has been doing this for a long time – pay per view football doesn’t stop the fans turning up but gives those that can’t be there physically the opportunity to be involved.

Adapting to change was the headline message, though some voiced their concerns that those less tech-savvy could suffer.  In future this is perhaps where venue-value-add comes in – as well as getting to know the sound engineer at sound check, musicians could end up needing to cosy up to the camera crew and production team.  Matthew Bannister summed it up perfectly:

What we are doing is inventing broadcasting.

Matthew Bannister, Folk on Foot

The discussion around festivals, small venues and clubs didn’t really throw up many surprises other that highlighting that fact that most Folk Clubs generally don’t own the venues they perform in, indeed this is not confined to folk clubs.  These clubs are not in control of the necessary safety measures required to re-open.

The highlight of the afternoon’s sessions was a pre-recorded discussion about diversity in folk music introduced by Bristol based singer Lade Nade and featuring Yola, Kyshona and Allison Russell.  

Parts of that discussion left me feeling embarrassed for our industry and its attitude to women, let alone women of colour.  But the positive I took away from it was here were four artists who are new to me, that I’ve now listened to and want to see play live.  I’m also indebted to Yola for introducing me to the term ‘genre fluid’ which I am now going to adopt – so much classier than having ‘an eclectic taste in music’.

The final panel of the day discussed album promotion amid a shrinking media presence.  On which subject I should say that Grapevine Magazine will be back after the interval.  Our core content is our gig listings and we all know there isn’t much of that about just yet.  (If you are looking for a live gig in our region – click here)

Grapevine is still online, going to conferences, doing interviews and reviews.  We have changed in the twenty-nine years we’ve been about we will no doubt change again, we have a big birthday to celebrate next year and we are not about to miss THAT party.

The consensus around album production seemed to be that rather than the big album release and tour, the way forward may be dropping singles regularly to maintain visibility is a very crowded world.

Final words of the day went to Tom Kiehl acting CEO of UK Music, the organization who for ten years or more have been attempting, with some success, to present a coherent voice for the industry. They address diverse issues such as Brexit and what it means for touring bands, copyright law, income from streaming platforms – all of the things you don’t want to deal with when all you want to do is play your music!

Our thanks to the team at English Folk Expo for pulling together a really informative, well presented afternoon. And indeed to all of the panelists. The format was added to by the ability to interact in live online chat.