opinion

Spice up your life: Why the Spice Girls reunion could bring back pop with personality

Last week was quite a week for what used to be known as Girl Power, as the Spice Girls reunion and Music Week’s Women In Music Awards coincided. Indeed, it was almost like the ’90s really did happen as the ...

Viewpoint: Claire Singers on gender diversity

Six months ago, major music companies reported their gender pay gap figures, and they made for unpleasant and embarrassing reading, revealing structural inequality at senior leadership level. In April 2019, companies with over 250 employees will have to repeat the exercise, revealing pay gap figures filed last April. It may be the case that the gap won’t be significantly reduced due to timing, but what most companies did do last April was to file a report, alongside their dire pay gap figures, setting out their commitment to a gender equal and diverse music industry and laying out the policies that they would implement to create this. Therefore in five months’ time, when the figures are revealed, the focus should be on monitoring/assessing progress with these policies, rather than obsessing about the numbers. The year to look for significantly reduced gender pay gaps will be April 2020. Fortunately, UK Music’s Diversity Report, which covers the two years since the last survey in 2016, should mean we don’t have to wait until April to see if the industry has become less of ‘a boy’s club’, a charge levelled at it after the 2015 report. When the pay gap figures were published, I heard a lot of stories about inquests, crisis meetings and accusations of competitors ‘cooking the books’. But, more importantly, did this angst translate to actions or, once the media moved on to another issue, did gender equality and diversity slip down the priority list? I’m hoping that perhaps a major policy announcement or report on, for example, BAME promotions, parental leave policies or flexible working for all will be announced shortly by a music major, ahead of the UK Music report. It just takes one to lead the way. Ten non-music companies recently announced they would publish their parental leave and pay policies online. We know that ‘benefits’ are increasingly playing a big part in attracting top talent, we also know 50,000 women a year ‘lose’ their jobs when they start a family due to unsupportive work cultures. This change has been driven by MP Jo Swinson, who is calling for all companies over 250 employees to publish this information alongside their gender pay gap reporting. I hope that music companies respond to this call by publishing their parental policies in April 2019, if not before. It’s a great opportunity to drop the inherent competitiveness in the industry and to encourage each other to adopt enlightened working practices. Often, we’re told, there’s no silver bullet to create an equal opportunities music industry. But the fact is there are several – and the most powerful is flexible working for all. There are thousands of UK companies that offer all employees some form of flexibility, the most popular being either working one day a week from home or a four-day week with compressed hours: easy to administer, easy to roll out as company policy. The current common practice of leaving flex working decisions to individual line managers is inept and iniquitous. The often resistant-to-change COOs or FDs need to wake up and realise that, for their organisation to attract and retain the best people, they need to offer a modern working environment. They will discover it’s good for the P&L. They will discover it’s good for mental wellbeing. Flexible working is based on trust and output, rather than judging an employee’s commitment by the hours he or she spends shackled to the desk. Accountability in senior staff’s annual appraisals is another game changer: ‘What have you done this year to progress the careers of BAME staff, women, LGBT, and people with disabilities? Are we recruiting the best person for the team? Who are you mentoring?’ I recently spoke to two senior women and asked them how they reached the top and, in both cases, they had active career support from a senior male, who saw their potential and actively encouraged them to aspire to the very top. Sitting in the receptions of music companies, watching the comings and goings of staff, it soon becomes obvious that the industry is failing the BAME community. Investing in grassroots programmes where the industry proactively goes out to schools and colleges and tells students that the music industry is a career for everyone, regardless of colour and creed, is vital. The recently announced government consultation on mandatory ethnic pay gap reporting will be completed in January, with the important aim of improving career progression for ethnic minorities. The good times have returned to the biz and channelling some of those revenues into creating an industry that works for everyone is surely a smart investment.

Viewpoint: Sammy Andrews on Blockchain

In her latest no-holds-barred digital column for Music Week, Deviate Digital CEO Sammy Andrews puts her head on the blockchain – and explains why the much-touted technology could finally be ready to live up to all the hype… I’m wary some of you might switch off at the mere mention of blockchain. But, while I’m the first to admit it’s been hyped beyond belief, you’re unlikely to go a day without hearing about it for a reason. So let’s cut to the chase. What blockchain is not: an instantly actionable Holy Grail that answers every music industry problem. What it is: a completely viable long-term solution to several issues facing the music industry and beyond. Whatever your take on it, blockchain (or distributed ledger technology), has been around for nearly a decade now and it’s already being used and tested for all manner of things. Ticketmaster is the latest in a long line of companies to delve into this world with the purchase of Upgraded, a software company which has built a smartphone app that authenticates tickets using Ethereum. In basic terms, Ethereum is a software platform based on blockchain technology, allowing people to build apps and services. Upgraded is using a mix of smart contracts and dynamic barcodes that both fans and venues can scan to be sure they’re not fake. Ticketmaster and Live Nation have both hinted publicly several times that paperless ticketing is a priority for them. And, from a consumer perspective, it’s ludicrous that you can board a flight or the tube with your phone, yet you still need to root around for a piece of paper for gigs. The anti-blockchain massive that blew up on Twitter about the Upgraded purchase demonstrates that many folks didn’t bother to look into why Ticketmaster bought the company. Indeed, a lot of folks still don’t actually understand what blockchain is, or what it’s not. Blockchain has a huge variety of potential applications for our industry – it’s not just capable of one thing. There are many pilot projects in place with publishers and labels (some of which I hear have already been successful) as well as other developments, including the recent announcement of a platform called Fanbase whose advisors include The Orchard founder Scott Cohen. Equally though, there are things it’s not good for in its current state. It is not a magic cure-all that can be integrated easily into existing tool sets and, due to its peer-to-peer nature, it uses a lot of power. For some things it’s slow – really slow – and its scalability in its current incarnation is questionable. But I’m one of the firm believers that all of this will change. And I’m not alone, everyone from the finance industry and the government to retailers agrees, while the music industry’s curiosity is growing by the day. What many people seem to miss when they glaze over with at the mere mention of the word ‘blockchain’ is the sheer amount of potential applications. Most large companies in our business are experimenting in some way, either by buying companies outright, building in-house solutions or running internal research groups. That’s something that’s evident in some of the public confirmations of pilots and patents in our own industry and beyond. They include: Spotify (music attribution), Microsoft (ID confirmation), Apple (time stamp verification), Ujo (rights management and distribution) and Sony (rights management). Meanwhile, PRS For Music, SACEM and ASCAP are working on a JV to “see if the music industry could create and adopt a shared, decentralised database of musical work metadata with real-time update and tracking capabilities”. Spoiler: it can! I have been speaking on panels about blockchain tech for many years, so I get pitched by at least 10 solutions every month. True, some are absolute bollocks, but there are some people doing truly amazing things in the space – a few I really rate include Dot Blockchain, Blockpool, Jaak, MyCelia, Ujo, Lucid Tunes and Beatchain. Bad news for the blockchain haters, but they are truly the tip of the iceberg. SAMMY RECOMMENDS Hot tech this month SEND MATE We’ve heard a lot about messenger tools over the years but this one delivers. If you want an effective way to interact with your Facebook fans, speak to this company. I have several successful campaigns running with them as I type. CHART METRIC Some folks probably know about Chart Metric already but, if you want to track basic data and insights from non-granular data via more general API access, including playlist inclusions and their owners, this is the service to use.

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