Random: Sold Down the River – With Our Own Boat…?

(BOSE headphones promotional picture)

‘Gospel Gathering’ – And Some Worry

This can still have a happy ending….

So the November 2007 SonyBMG event ‘Gospel Gathering‘ has been and gone.

It’s been a huge triumph for gospel music in the UK, which is still so deep underground it’s somewhat hidden even from those of us within it…

However, I worry.

Thieves In The Temple..?

Maybe the following is a cynical view…

But apart from Sony BMG happily lining their pockets with revenues from a huge event and a major venue, I see little direct benefit to the UK scene.

I must add, though: that previous point is an assumption – RCA (the Sony BMG label that actually put the event on) haven’t published any figures that I know of yet,

  • still, that’s not their fault.
  • they’re in business to make money.
  • they make no apologies for it – and they shouldn’t…

My thing is:

  • do we treat this renewed interest in the UK industry as answer to prayer?
  • or the arrival of savvy thieves in the temple…?

I think the answer lies somewhere in the middle.

‘We’ll Take Your Money, Thanks…’

  • I asked a question at the GG Press conference: ‘What’s In It For Us …?’

Mervyn Lyn, then Vice President, A&R (by the way, RCA also represents artists from Alicia Keys to George Michael to Natasha Bedingfield and even X Factor 2007) said:

  • first and foremost, they are in this as a business:
  • If GG1 is profitable and successful, then we can look at what we can do about promoting more UK acts as major headliners for subsequent ones (update Jan 2011: there was only the one Gospel Gathering)…

For the rest of the press conference, many more questions were asked, but a lot were (to my mind) either inane or totally the wrong place to ask, e.g:

  • ‘how can we get the UK industry to more like the US one…?’

I mean: is that a question for a record label press conference????

But almost everyone seemed to miss the significance of Mervyn’s statement, which I interpret as:

  • We’ll come into your marketplace (with events and artists promoted through your mechanisms),
  • take your revenue, return you a tiny proportion to keep you happy…
  • And – if you finally get your act together – we’ll think about sharing some of that money with you…

And again, that’s not necessarily an altogether unexpected stance.

Do Something Different – It Has Been Done Before…

But surely we need to be negotiating a stronger return for our industry:

  • ‘Yes, Major label, we need your expertise and muscle to grow our industry into the mainstream.

But here’s an idea:

‘…if you invest in our industry (we can work out the details between us), we can save you ‘x’ percent of your marketing budget by using our own mechanisms to get our audience to your events…

But you need to invest some of that revenue saved in us, based on a mutual share deal we come up with…’

It isn’t like there hasn’t been a precedent.

See Hugo Urban Rules seminars, which Mervyn presents at (update: 20 Jan 2011 – as far as I can tell, the Hugo Urban Rules isn’t running any more).

  • Branding agency Hubbub worked with Hugo fragrances owner, Procter & Gamble to establish the Urban Rules programme with an intention on a long-term stay in the Urban music scene
  • The idea is to place Hugo in the market as a credible and long term property, which for my money is most certainly the right way forward.

Any sponsor with their eye on success in this sector has got to look to play the long  game.

Be with us for a while – we’ll trust you that bit more.

  • I don’t own any Hugo brands (that I am aware of, anyway) but I tell you if I ever make that impulse fragrance purchase, and Hugo is on the counter, they’ve got my money. Simple.

In this context, the success (or otherwise) of the strategy is irrelevant.

The point is that: the UK Urban music scene still benefits hugely from an extremely powerful brand being involved the Urban Rules seminar…

Back To Gospel Gathering

In the meantime, as you’d expect, Sony BMG did a great job of marketing the event:

The Times: ‘Praise the Lord – and go platinum

  • Underlying message? Gospel music is booming.
  • Interesting fact: official gospel music charts will soon be launched…
  • GG is still being referenced, even now in December, after the event.

Check the Guardian’s The Other Side of the Tracks feature by Alex Petridis (who actually attended the Kirk Franklin day GG gig).

  • The piece looked at a lot of the music subgenres of the UK scene (Polish Jazz, anyone…?)
  • Not only does Gospel Grime get a mention (and DJ Fitz get a quote), here’s another thing:
  • Underlying message: gospel music is booming.
  • Interesting fact: official gospel music charts will soon be launched…

So – To End – Are We Gonna Be Sold Down That River…?

It seems interested external investors recognise the potential of our industry…

  • but we don’t seem to realise how urgently we need to ring fence it
  • We’re providing pretty much anyone with a bit of money unbelievably easy access to our largely open market.
  • It’s the one thing of value that we don’t need to sweat to create…

Once these labels get what they want (big audiences to buy their products), why would they be:

  • interested in supporting the scores of kids who are creating potentially strong, SALEABLE music in their bedrooms,
  • interested in providing guidance to take things up a few notches (marketing, production, industry seminars, for example)…?

There’s obviously less of a risk for those who’ve been around the industry, but they are the (tiny) minority

One Possible Solution…

I’d suggest that’s where we as a collective industry come in.

  • Build that support mechanism into the contract(s) we negotiate for these profitable events that these companies want to put on…
  • …or if that sounds like too much work:
  • how about taking some of our more established artists (Raymond & Co and Four Kornerz, if you want ready examples) to a wider market…?

Or am I missing something…?

Where’s The Life Jacket..?

The way things stand right now (and like that picture above) we might be heading for a waterfall…

  • If that’s the case, I’d suggest we’re currently in the boat without lifesaver jackets or parachutes.

And – if the history of major external interest in UK gospel is anything to go by – we may be the only ones that haven’t mapped out a contingency plan…

(Originally published – October 2007)