Culture Minister plays safe as he meets the music biz

Matt Hancock

Digital and culture minister Matt Hancock made his maiden speech to the music industry, but hardly bowled them over, at the BPI AGM.

Hancock – a big fan of cricket, thankfully for that metaphor, though not previously well-known to the music business – followed BPI chief executive Geoff Taylor on stage at the annual get-together of BPI members, held in a sweltering room at County Hall in London.

Taylor had made several requests of the government on behalf of the music business in his speech, perhaps most notably a renewed call for a “creative tax credit for music and video production in the UK”. But Hancock did not make any direct response, beyond a vague pledge to help “support the environment for your success”.

Hancock noted the achievements of the Music Export Growth Scheme, jointly run by the BPI and government, and pointed to the GREAT campaign to promote British culture and the reform of entertainment licensing laws as proof of that commitment. He also pledged support for Creative Content UK’s “Get It Right From A Genuine Site” anti-piracy campaign and flagged up the new Digital Economy Bill as an opportunity for the music business to enhance their legal protection from digital piracy. But there was little sign of any new help for the music biz.

Hancock was on stronger ground when urging the industry to embrace diversity – even if that is a suggestion some in the biz might find a bit rich coming from a Conservative government, albeit one marginally less staffed by sons of privilege than the previous administration.

“We in government are on a mission to spread opportunity to all, not just the privileged few,” he pledged. “It is the very real responsibility of everyone in this room to be a force for social mobility in Britain. No one should be excluded from your industry because of their accent or their postcode.

“Onstage talent is often diverse - because talent doesn’t choose where it lands - but let’s make sure not only that it remains so, but that it’s matched by an equal diversity behind the scenes. In the boardroom as much as backstage.

“It’s great that the BPI have given their assistance to the Rated Awards, taking place at the legendary Roundhouse this evening. This year there’s a diverse range of talent on the Mercury Music prize shortlist. UK Music are also doing some sterling work, with the launch of the music industry’s first ever workforce diversity survey.

“But, taken together, it’s not enough. Music can’t be the preserve of the privileged. Are you doing all you can to blast open the doors to the industry? I want the answer to be yes. Because the music industry is not just an industry: music defines how we are seen as a nation. It defines how we see ourselves – as individuals, as communities, as a nation.

“In Brexit Britain, it is more important than ever that we are, that we are seen as, and that we insist on being, the outward, open, global, progressive country we are when we are at our best.”

There were, at least, a few signs that Hancock has more musical knowledge than so-far displayed by his boss, Culture Secretary Karen Bradley. He made a weak joke about Adele, quoted Bono and claimed to have hung out at Fabric in his youth (as did London Mayor Sadiq Khan recently – were all of our political leaders out raving there in the ‘00s?), even if he did mispronounce Skepta (it came out more like Skepcar). His favourite album meanwhile? Paul Simon’s Graceland, apparently – at least that’s the disc the BPI presented him with afterwards.

But the music business will be hoping for more substantial evidence he’s on its side if he’s to prove a biz-friendly replacement for the well-liked Ed Vaizey. Afterwards, some said they were “encouraged” by his words on helping the sector, although the word used by most BPI members seemed to be “bland”.

A steady opening innings then. The biz will be hoping the Twenty20-style fireworks come later.

You can read Hancock’s full speech here.

 

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Music Week Radar, 26th May 2016

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