BASCA interview with Amanda Ghost at Goldsmith’s Music Department, University of London

I attended a BASCA masterclass (strictly speaking, it’s an interview) today at Goldsmith’s College Music Department in South East London.

I’ve captured some of my notes from the 90-minute session below, including some observations made during the visit. I share those notes and observations in list form for expediency’s sake.

Goldsmith’s College has a thriving music department

I was impressed. There were in excess of 25 songwriters/music students in attendance at the session, the majority of whom were already publishing their content via Soundcloud and YouTube.

The music department is bigger than I remember it when I spent time at Goldsmiths in the mid-nineties – the range of ensembles, niche concerts, support groups, and careers advice on offer via the noticeboards is eye-watering.

Don’t anyone let you think that music isn’t worth pursuing – Goldsmiths is proof there’s an industry-driven curiosity-fuelled appetite.

BASCA / UK Music Primer

Moderator Dan Moore (BASCA Marketing/Membership Manager) provided an introduction.

UKMusic is the umbrella organisation for a range of support/lobbying organisations of which BASCA (British Academy of Songwriters, Composers and Authors) is one. The others are AIM, BPI, FAC, MMF, MPA, MPG, MU, PRS, PPL, and UK Live Music.

I had no idea that membership of PRS (which ensures songwriters get their dues from their creative endeavours) required a one-off £100 membership fee.

BASCA campaigns (amongst other things) for transparency and royalties from digital streaming platforms, removal of YouTube’s ‘safe harbour’ (meaning rights holders get the revenue they deserve for music used in videos supposedly). BASCA also runs the Academic Supporters Programme – a link with institutions, supporting and developing the next generation of creatives.

BASCA runs the Ivor Novello Awards (set up in the 1950s to assert UK music in a US dominated marketplace) and the Gold Badge, Fellowship and British Composer awards (of which there’ll be a blog post about the 2019 awards in the coming days).

Amanda Ghost’s career history

  • Songwriter, producer, TV producer and record company exec
  • Secured first publishing deal at 22; dropped out of fashion college; used publishing advance to make demos for record companies
  • Spent nine years writing songs for herself; hustling to get studio space;
  • Secured a manager and eventually signed to Warner Brothers/Los Angeles during which she collaborated with other songwriters
  • One such insistent individual pursued a collaboration which she initially turned down – it was James Blunt
  • Her and blunt co-wrote ‘You’re Beautiful’ – “we wrote it in the swimming pool at my Los Angeles apartment, not in Kosovo as he prefers to tell people’
  • Other collaborators got in touch following the Blunt success, one Mark Ronson
  • Chair of DefJam invited her to write a song for Beyonce (when she was in Destiny’s Child) – a duet for Beyonce and Shakira; Amanda had to write it in 5 hours
  • Took a year for Shakira to come on board and commit the vocals; after that, 12 million sales
  • Ran her own music company (Epic?) at the age of 34
  • Now sits on streaming board of BASCA (amongst other appointments); married to Deezer’s chief exec

Insights from Amanda

  • “Nobody knows anything” – this is Amanda’s personal mantra for tackling any kind of imposter syndrome; don’t let perceived stardom in others dictate your levels of confidence
  • If a publisher/manager says they’ve got everything sorted, ditch them; the songwriter/musician has got to do a nearly all of the work in a record company contract
  • Simplicity is the key to creation – both in storytelling, lyrics, orchestration, and harmonic progression
  • Amanda explained how she worked melodies for songs with two chord progressions (R&B/Hip Hop) by expanding on the original harmonic concept with transitional chords; then built a melody to accommodate the expanded idea; then returned to the original two-chord track and recorded the melodic line over the top. Neat.
  • Writing for other artists is unexpectedly liberating – you don’t have to take into consideration your own perspective on issues
  • Songwriting collaborations are in part about taking someone else’s idea for a lyric and applying your own ‘stamp’ – in the case of Blunt’s ‘You’re Beautiful’ it was injecting something bittersweet into the statement – “you’re beautiful, I will never be with you
  • “The song is the fusion of melody and lyric.”
  • Influences: Prince (for his subversive lyrics), Michael Jackson, and Madonna
  • “Pop music is like MacDonalds – it’s good but its not good for you.”
  • “Blunt has an amazing falsetto.” Agreed.
  • “Streaming services have fractured audiences. BBC Radio 1 isn’t important anymore – getting on Spotify’s weekly playlist is more important than being played on Radio 1.”
  • “A&Rs are data-driven now. What’s interesting is that streaming hasn’t, as yet, broken a new artist yet – the last global artist who made it big (pre-streaming) was Ed Sheeran.”
  • “You as an artist have never had it so good – easier to create, easier to distribute – but it’s also never been quite so hard as it is now to get cutthrough.”
  • “Streaming companies can work out in 3 days based on skip rates whether or not a song will be a hit; but they can’t work out if it won’t be a hit – syncs and licensing of a song can transform it and your success rates.”
  • Rap, R&B and Hip Hop skew the streaming music industry; modern music is minimal, it needs to be stripped right back
  • In the future Amanda sees artists/songwriters going straight to streaming services, the middle man – record companies – getting stripped out of the deal
  • Publishing/record company execs need to see initiatives from people – state your connections, blag
  • Songwriters/performers must think of themselves as content creators and as business enterprises – they can’t think of themselves as working in a particular line of the music business

My observations

From a classical music perspective, I found it invigorating to hear how the art of songwriting can be articulated as a business process. In this way the art of songwriting probably does more to demystify the compositional process (in comparison to composers of ‘art music’).

At the same time I was wary about the way in which a simplified life-story can be make the process seem easier than it really is. Persistence is the key to all of this – a sense of hunger, as though there is absolutely nothing else you can do so you must writing songs.

The unequivocal message I heard (that I don’t hear as emphatically in the classical music world) is that the creative individual must think of themselves as a business first, finding ways to utilise their mindset and skillset in a variety of different areas.

 

 

Print Review: Royal Academy of Music Summer Programme 2018

Those who know me reasonably well may recall one of the key moments I got into blogging about classical music. If you don’t, let me explain. 

Printer Ink Numbs The Pain

Back in 2007 I fell off my back heading into work one day. I broke my elbow. I felt very sorry for myself. I was signed off work for three weeks. I was bored shitless. Scooch had won the UK selection for the 2007 Eurovision (a dark moment in BBC TV history) and I had the brochure for the forthcoming BBC Proms season to flick through.

The smell of the Proms brochure dulled the pain in my elbow somewhat. That’s when I thought it might be fun to record a short video about that very thing. Anything to counter the hours of boredom.

It seems incredible it was over 10 years ago now. It always seems incredible to recall that at the time nobody really talked about the Proms, hence the repeated line pointing out that every single concert was broadcast live on BBC Radio 3.

The BBC Proms won’t have that, obviously. The Proms has always been a big deal. But the wider audience – the people I worked with at the time (at the BBC, doncha know), friends of mind, former colleagues in other organisations didn’t know what it was. How things have changed.

Complete transparency

Just this past week I visited the Royal Academy and met with a contact (I can’t claim to call him a friend – I think that might be a little presumptious) during which the conversation focussed on the conservatoire’s most recent piece of print (which I complimented him on – even though I’m not entirely sure whether he was responsible for it). This then led on to him saying, “You should do a comparison of classical music print on your blog, Jon.”

And because I’m a vulture, shameless in the way I vacuum up other people’s ideas and pass them off as my own (usually), I figured I’d start on that long and in-way-arduous task of reviewing each piece of classical music print I come across. And then score it. And then come up with an uber-table of who has done good and who needs to do better.

So, first off. The Royal Academy of Music’s Summer 2018 programme. They’ve set the bar high with a cracking 77%. Will the BBC Proms (out next week on Thursday 19 April) beat them? 

ROYAL ACADEMY OF MUSIC SUMMER PROGRAMME 2018 Score out 10
Smell ★★★★★★★☆☆☆
Cover (weight) ★★★★★★★☆☆☆
Cover (feel) ★★★★★★★☆☆☆
Initial impact (colour, weight, smell, feel)  ★★★★★★☆☆☆☆
Inside pages (feel) ★★★★★★★★☆☆
Inside pages (layout & content) ★★★★★★★★★☆
Easily accessible information ★★★★★★★★★★
TOTAL (%) 54/70 (77%)


NOTES

Smell
Deceptive this one. It’s not actually the cover or the shiny pages inside that brings out the smell, but the listings insert in the middle. 

Cover
Lots of names of artists – slightly difficult to read because its a greeny-cream colour set against bright pink. But I like the pink. It makes the logo for the Royal Academy of Music pop. Are there more than two typefaces on the cover? I always thought more than two typefaces was a bad thing.

Inside pages (layout & content)
I’m giving this a 9/10 because I adore the contrast between the sharp typefaces and the bright white paper. Red marks out the important information and event taxonomy. I love the strict adherence to pages laid out in blocks. The imagery isn’t too wanky (only one hand on the chin pic – so that’s OK), though I don’t see any black faces. The picture of Daniel Hope on page 25 reminds me of the hairdresser in 7 Year Switch. Also, I would never have thought to combine bright pink with red – works. Clear, unfussy, and informative.

Additional Notes
I love the RAM’s typeface – heritage without being too flouncy or self-absorbed. I especially like the handy ‘at a glance’ list in the middle of the publication.

 

The Royal Academy of Music's Summer Programme starts on Monday 16 April. More details on their website. 

The Thoroughly Good Blog is an independent blog celebrating classical music and the arts. Please consider supporting its development in 2018 by giving a donation using this PayPal.Me link.

Notes from Wildkat’s rountable discussion on entrepreneurs and innovation in the classical music world

In a digital age where arguments become steadily more reductive and information sources narrow, making the effort to actively seek out other people’s thoughts is a real boon. Having the opportunity to do that face to face is a rare thing especially in the classical music world.

But there are places where like-minded people can convene and share ideas. One such endeavour is Wildkat’s invitation roundtable discussions – a great opportunity to make connections with industry people who share similar passions.

The most recent session was on entrepreneurs and innovation in the classical music world.

Questions quickly arose. How did we define entrepreneur? Why was there a dearth of entrepreneurs in the sector, yet they were two-a-penny in the pop world? What impact could an entrepreneurial spirit have on the classical music world?

I’ve captured some of the thoughts attendees shared during the 90 minute session, as much for my own recall as for sharing useful information. They’re deliberately in note form and are, inevitably, a reflection of what resonated for me on a personal level. Sentences in italics are my personal reflections in response to those of the delegates.

What attracts entrepreneurs to the classical music world? What’s putting them off? Where do we find the next generation of entrepreneurs? This needs to be embedded in education at an earlier stage. Conservatoires and higher education establishments need to place more emphasis on business and entrepreneurship alongside the more traditional ‘conventional’ musicianship training.

Organisations make great strides to encourage young people to join them and replenish the staff, but a mixture of inertia, fear, lack of imagination or opportunity means the new generation of administration staff are quickly ending up disillusioned. Any innovative or entrepreneurial spirit is quickly extinguished. Little wonder there aren’t many entrepreneurs.

This was definitely my experience in arts management. I had ideas and energy I wanted to bring to bear on programming, for example. But convention, tradition, and hierarchies meant demonstrating innovation resulted in defensive reactions. Low wages was tempered with a sense that as a member of staff at an arts organisation one should feel grateful for the role you had no matter how poorly paid it was.

The arts world needs ‘capacitors’ in order to stop the ultimately destructive way individual beneficiaries fuel status anxiety and fulfilment through the arts. This was a nuanced point, but a very interesting one: some influential individuals seek out art not only for the purest artistic benefits, but also for the status of being associated with it – most notably through financial support or connection with a work of art or organisation. This fuels a sense of superiority which damages the reputation of the art form itself, elevating it to a higher plane and alienating everyone else. Capacitors in the electronic sense stop the flow between the two. Might the arts world benefit from capacitors being put in place (whatever form those capacitors need to take)?

Has sustained public funding of arts organisations in the UK meant generations of entrepreneurs overlook the likes of classical music because its survival has for a significant amount of the 20th century depended on funding to keep it alive? If it’s funded, there can’t be any money to be made out of it, can there?

Has sustained funding made the classical music world demur and impotent when it comes to entrepreneurship and innovation? Does there need to be a shift in thinking about how funding is used to support the arts? Should it be used, for example, to create a sustain a future sponsorship model?

Does language we use to talk about classical music need to change? Do we need to radically rethink how we talk about the genre?

Where is the ‘fight’ for the arts? When the arts – or more pointedly, classical music – is under threat, then the genre will be fought for more passionately. Right now it feels passive, weak, apologetic and grateful for its attention. Where its emotional impact being spelled out? Where is its joy being spoken of passionately?

Entrepreneurs need investing in too. Until there are entrepreneurial and innovation role models leading the way in the UK, then others won’t feel inspired to take risks in the future. And role models may well be best created by significant amounts of money being made available to them, so that they can take risks and experiment with new ideas.

Notes from OMTF’s Value of Inclusion Conference 2017

Value of Inclusion was a day-long conference organised by the Opera and Musical Theatre Forum exploring diversity and inclusion issues in the arts performance sector. Delegates from a wide range of venues and performance groups up and down the country were treated to a rich series of presentations, panel discussions, and thought-provoking debates.

The conference’s scope included ethnicity, gender, and LGBT+, both on-stage and in organisational staff administration. The conference sought to examine what the sector has already achieved in terms of diversity and inclusion, where it needs to go next, and identify what some of the blocks to effecting change are.

I’ve included some of my notes from the day in this blog post. If you were in attendance and would like to add to this collection, please drop me a line at jon.jacob@thoroughlygood.me.

Unreasonable Adjustment

In an uncompromising and punchy start to proceedings, Andrew Miller from Royal and Derngate in Northampton, highlighted some of the key issues facing disabled audiences and staff in arts venues across the UK.

  • We are at a breakthrough moment.
  • Equality of experience is vital for the arts world.
  • Reasonable adjustment means: we’ve made our venues accessible – you can get in – at least you can see stuff.
  • Miller wants: I should expect at least as good an experience as my able-bodied peers have.
  • As a wheelchair user I’m often dumped at the end of rows in concert halls, opera houses, and theatres. There needs to be an equality of experience.
  • What one unreasonable adjustment are you going to prioritise to bring about change in your organisation?

Travers Smith & PwC / Diversity and Inclusion in other organisations

  • Organisational performance at Travers Smith following a D&I policy saw 19% greater staff retention.
  • Research saw that 86% of female and 74% of male young people consider prospective employer’s diversity and inclusion policy when research company
  • Travers Smith – Just Like Us Mentoring scheme pairs up 25 mentors with LGBT+ university students helping to make the transition from University to the workplace easier
  • PWC’s gender pay and bonus gap 2017 revealed that BAME pay is 13.7% behind white pay at the organisation
  • Improved team performance is increased by diverse, well-managed teams – these teams out-perform non-diverse well-managed teams.
  • Diverse teams not well-managed on the other hand, perform poorly
  • Challenges facing individuals when improving diversity and inclusion: complacency; the task being ‘too difficult’; controversial tasks like diversity and inclusion might ‘offend clients’; the project is ‘too expensive’.

Unconscious Bias

  • We all do it, we will never stop doing it, so we need to be aware of what’s going on in order to change things
  • Biases include: education, culture, religion, ethnicity, seniority, income, marital status, sexual orientation, gender, upbringing, physical ability.
  • Experiments have shown that the brain categorises people by race in less than 100 milliseconds about 50 milliseconds before determining sex.
  • When applicants were behind a screen, the % of female new hires for orchestral jobs increased from 25%-46% (Goldin & Rouse) (2000)
  • Gut instinct is your brain connecting your experience with familiarity.
  • What makes you more likely to act on your unconscious bias? Conflicting priorities, deadlines, need for quick decisions, being challenged, fear, low blood sugar.
  • What can you do: (i) Identify bias (ii) correct images (iii) watch for micro messages (iv) seek contact (v) collaborate to correct

Micro-inequities include:

– checking emails or text during during 1-1 conversation
– consistently mispronouncing name
– interrupting person mid-sentence;
– making eye contact only with men;
– taking more questions from men than women;
– raising your voice;
– mentioning the achievements of people but not others whose are equally relevant;
– make jokes

Change behaviour by:

– acknowledging success
– build on suggestions
– identify development interventions
– appreciative enquiry
– positive body language
– invitations to meetings / events they don’t have to be at
– introducing them to people ‘it might be good for them to know’

Thoughts arising

We’ve started but we can’t stop here There is a need to be bold, to maintain the momentum. Endeavours like Chineke! are not the conclusion but the beginning of increased representation, for example.

Audiences have a skewed image of what the classical music and opera world – is that down to the inherited bias of a conservative clique of writers? Classical music and opera practitioners and producers separate their content into the ‘museum’ pieces and the new. It’s easy to forget that especially in the digital sphere where everyone follows similar content plans (reviews, previews, profiles, interviews etc) fuelled by tried and tested but largely unambitious PR strategies. Writing needs to reflect a wider classical music and opera culture, bringing the audience into the business of the arts – this could help amplify issues and causes.

Creating new PR strategies that different stories to different audiences It was refreshing to hear composer Raymond Yiu state his active involvement in shaping the PR strategy for one of his new works – “I didn’t want this to go solely to the classical music press.”

Diverse fundraising staff make connections with a variety of different audience groups Diverse fundraising staff is not just about satisfying a requirement for Arts Council funding. Look at the benefits of recruiting diverse talent to create diverse funding streams.

Increased diversity, inclusion and representation increases the relevance amongst the audience If they don’t see themselves on-stage or in the office, then the assumption is made that the organisation, ensemble, or company isn’t relevant. More people seeing the organisation relevant, the bigger the potential audience. But how to pursue that strategy at the same time as maintaining the existing audience?

Most audience and administration behaviours can be tracked back to unconscious bias The key learning point from Aesha Zafar’s presentation: the brain is malleable; behaviours can be changed; merely being in the presence of diverse range of individuals can begin that process of change.

Conclusion

This was a genuinely fascinating day, rich in information, offering thought-provoking questions to take back into the field. Everyone involved in the arts – those who make it, produce it, present it, or write about it has a shared responsibility to effective change. The diversity and inclusion challenge needs louder voices and greater commitment. This day helped focus thinking and give delegates a sense of impetus.

  • Following a career in arts management, and a passion for classical music, Jon Jacob writes regularly about the sector on his Thoroughly Good Blog
  • He is also a BBC-trained and ICF Accredited Coach, specialising in management, executive, and leadership coaching.
  • He currently works with people in the arts, media, and higher education, sharing his twelve years experience as an award-winning BBC digital editor.
  • Contact him on 07768 864655 or at jon.jacob@thoroughlygood.me

Yay, Mr Davey

Radio 3 names and faces – presenter Clemmie Burton-Hill and controller Alan Davey – are out online banging a drum ahead of the BBC’s Opera season.

Clemmie’s opinion piece for the Evening Standard lays out the familiar assumptions and lazy journalism opera has long fallen foul of, contrasting them with present-day reality of the medium. She concludes with an impassioned call for curious viewers to watch the programmes and ‘have their minds blown and their hearts broken’.

Standard fare, but a tired stance.

Radio 3 Controller Alan Davey (find him on Twitter as @ArmsLengthAl) offers a more sophisticated and thought-provoking angle.

Making an appearance on the Classical Music blog, he reinforces the contribution BBC Radio 3 makes to the UK cultural landscape, demonstrating how it supports and appeals to the next generation.

Hence the long list of Radio 3 and Proms-related achievements that feature young people. Highlights include BBC Introducing – the BBC’s actively and carefully-curated talent search – this week celebrating 10 years. So too Radio 3’s Next Generation Artists scheme. The Proms ‘Inspire’ scheme does what it says on its tin. Young Musician gets a mention too.

I’m really hoping that Young Musician can continue on its current trajectory. . Originally, the revamped series was trying desperately to justify its rebranded self by adopting an X-Factor visual grammar. It was infuriating to watch.

But I see a change in the programme today – it’s easier on the eyes. It doesn’t dumb down quite so much. It’s pulled back on the over-dramatization. The most recent series injected a little more deference to the art.

The Young Musician point is uppermost in my mind when I read this in Davey’s blog post:

“As the BBC has shown through its Ten Pieces initiative – if you can get young people to engage with classical music and not dumb it down, they will listen and respond to it.”   

BBC Ten Pieces is an incredible endeavour which achieves what it set out to do: a simple solution to a problem which won’t ultimately be solved until music is his Government’s education policy reinstates music at the heart of the curriculum.

That a senior editorial bod at the BBC is comfortable acknowledging publically that dumbing down is not the right approach to appealing to a new audience is incredibly reassuring. It gives the sector something its needed for a long time: a bit of confidence about itself and what it delivers.

Later in the post, he goes a little further in clarifying the approach to new audiences,

“You shouldn’t assume knowledge from any audience, but you can assume, from a millennial audience in particular, an innate openness to music, a curiosity for the unfamiliar, a desire not to be short-changed by the in-authentic, and a possibility of seriousness that means classical music is near the top of the list of things an audience could be curious about.”

The use of the term ‘millennial’ isn’t good, it has to be said. A number of twenty-somethings I know have told me how much more they dislike it too. I’ve heard industry people use it on-air and in print. Surely, if you’re looking to appeal to that demographic not to use a pejorative term to refer to them seems like a good start.

Alan Davey credits a potential new audience – let’s call them twenty-somethings rather than ‘millenials’ – with curiosity and openness. In doing so he abandons the paternalistic stance most usually adopt when referring to the challenge facing classical music marketers appealing to the ‘replenishers’.

Davey gives a clear confident statement about how the pursuit of new younger audiences isn’t some kind of Holy Grail. He is unapologetic about the content. Good. It’s the lazy thinking and tired approaches that need challenging.

Yay him.