Page last updated at 10:44 GMT, Wednesday, 8 October 2008 11:44 UK

Gloomy news at music conference


Jarvis Cocker
Jarvis Cocker gave a presentation about the art of song lyrics

By Ian Youngs
Music reporter, BBC News


Who will Britain's next music stars be, and how will you listen to them?

The future of bands and the business have been in the spotlight at In the City, the UK's top music industry summit, in Manchester.

Parked on double yellow lines outside the swanky Midland Hotel is a car packed with Scousers who are calling over anybody who looks like they might have come from the conference within.

Each perplexed person that approaches gets thrust a CD through the window and an invitation to watch a band the following night.

(l-r) Steve White, Tom Robinson, Peter Hook, Clint Boon, Jon McClure
Musicians including Peter Hook (centre) discussed celebrity vs creativity

"That's me," says David Tyrrell from the back seat, pointing at his EP.

It is a cocky ploy to get noticed by the massed ranks of music business wheelers and dealers at the event, set up by the late music impresario Tony Wilson 16 years ago.

Inside, the attendees have been chewing over the future of the industry in great detail, debating the digital future, new ways of making money, and the shift in power from record labels to technology companies and artists (or not, depending on who you believe).

But it all comes down to one thing. As the event's motto says: "It's all about the music, stupid."

Without new artists shouting from the sidelines, double yellow or not, the music scene will cease to exist.

'Super commercial'

So as well as the deals and debates, In the City, which ended on Tuesday, also hosted showcase gigs by the cream of British unsigned talent, with 500 acts playing in all.

Oasis, Radiohead and Suede played at the first In the City. Muse and Coldplay appeared in 1998, Snow Patrol performed in 2000 and The Arctic Monkeys put in an appearance three years ago.


This has done so much for the north of England and Manchester in particular. I heartily endorse it. Long may In the City reign

Seymour Stein

It attracts some of the most influential talent spotters in the business, such as Seymour Stein, who signed Madonna, The Ramones and Talking Heads to his Sire label.

Asked whether he was watching the acts on show, the 66-year-old industry legend said on Tuesday: "What the hell do you think I'm doing? I was out seeing bands last night, and the night before, and tonight.

"This has done so much for the north of England and Manchester in particular. I heartily endorse it. Long may In the City reign."

While he may be on the lookout for new signings, one theme of the event has been the reduction in the number of record deals being done in recent years, and the reluctance of the music industry and media to take risks on new talent.

'Terrible or magnificent'

Cerne Canning, who manages Franz Ferdinand, says 100 acts are normally signed by record labels in the UK by October every year. This year, it is more like 10 to 15 - and they are mainly "super commercial".

"Most things aren't selling, and the bigger things aren't selling enough, so people are being very cautious," he said.

Oasis
Oasis played at the first In the City

Record labels are holding back in the face of an uncertain climate, while bands are less tempted by the deals on offer, he believes.

"You worry about creativity," he said. "I'm sure there's lots of stuff going on under the radar and on a grassroots level, but the marketplace is going to be a pretty barren place in a year. It feels like a very tentative time."

Warner Music, one of the major labels, has cut back on new signings. But Warner boss Lyor Cohen said that was because greatness is evident from the start, and there is no point taking a punt on anything less.

"There was a time when I signed every possible average artist," he said. "We were quite arrogant thinking we could make good magnificent. Good sucks - I'd rather be terrible or magnificent."

Illegal file-sharing

Cohen was taking part in a head-to-head debate with Jazz Summers, the venerable manager of The Verve, in a bout billed as a battle of the music business titans.

The two are on opposite sides of an argument about who should own the songs, with Summers leading a campaign for artists to wrestle control of their copyright from their labels.

But Cohen warned: "It's very important for us to own those rights if we are going to have an infrastructure around the world of thousands of people, if we're going to invest in new artists to create new music and promote and market it."

Charlene Soraia
Charlene Soraia was among those hoping to attract attention

How to sell music in the digital world - and who should get the money - was another big question.

The choice is between mobiles and computers, between a la carte (pick and pay for the songs you want), subscription (all you can eat for a set monthly fee) and ad-funded (free but with an advert in the way).

And will any of those combat illegal file-sharing, the industry's biggest bete noir, anyway?

Celebrity debate

Nobody yet has the answers, even if everybody thinks they do.

It was left to a smattering of stars to lighten the mood. New Order's Peter Hook took part in a debate on celebrity, aiming his venom at the "pretty robots" of X Factor and advising bands to "chin" those who ridicule them.

Jarvis Cocker, meanwhile, played the Open University professor with greased hair, thick glasses, a 1970s suit and a pointy stick while making a Powerpoint presentation about the art of lyrics.

He switched from academic analysis of I Am the Walrus to a karaoke version of Life by Des'Ree.

As for the new talent, the names creating a buzz here included The Grants ("Alan McGee's favourite new band"), who play gentle, jangly guitar epics, Cuban-Belgian-Swedish singer EJ, and frenetic artrock group Baddies.

Brit School graduate Charlene Soraia, who charmed with her dreamy voice and guitar, indie hopefuls Flashguns and jazz-funk singer The Jessie Rose Trip ("Manchester's Amy Winehouse") were also among the hottest names.

If any of those are truly magnificent, it is up to the industry to make sure they get the chance to prove it.




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