'We want to showcase the best of the country': Michael Dugher on SXSW, Brexit and new music

'We want to showcase the best of the country': Michael Dugher on SXSW, Brexit and new music

In the new issue of Music Week, we look at how the music industry can make the best of South By Southwest, with contributions from UK Music boss Michael Dugher, PPL CEO Peter Leathem, Beats 1’s new music expert Matt Wilkinson and many more.

As anyone who’s spending the week trekking around Austin, Texas watching bands this week will know, SXSW is an intense experience. Last year, Wilkinson argues in our feature, Billie Eilish was among the breakout acts that prove the festival’s worth as the new music showcase.

But where do the international prospects of Britain’s music industry at large fit in? And what does the looming sceptre of Brexit mean for the biz in Austin?

Dugher is a huge fan of SXSW, and is involved with the British Music Embassy along with PPL, PRS, the PRS Foundation, AIM and BBC Music this year. Here, in an extract from our interview, the UK Music boss and former Music Week cover star gives us the lowdown on why SXSW is a vital part of the music industry calendar.

Last year was your first time at SXSW, what did you make of it?

“I went for the first time to check it out, we’d organised a big event with Sadiq Khan at the British Music Embassy. I remember being really impressed and thought it was something UK Music needed to get more involved in. We came back and we’re now one of the official partners of the Embassy, it’s a fantastic showcase of Britain’s world-leading music talent. In recent times the centre of gravity is moving towards SXSW, it’s becoming the most important global showcase. Projecting that is particularly important as we hurtle towards a post-Brexit world. We want to showcase the best of the country around the world, and music makes a contribution of £4.5 billion to the economy and is a fast growing part of the creative industries, it’s really important to drive exports.”

What should the business be aiming to get out of it?

“It’s basically showing off new talent. That’s what it’s all about. The talent is there, we’ve got to find more ways to put that on show and this is one of the most important stages in the world for doing that. You go there and see how good we are at this kind of stuff; I made a lot of really important contacts, new artists, managers, people on the business side… It’s a fantastic network of everyone from the business.”

People in the rest of the world look at us and think we’ve had a collective nervous breakdown

Michael Dugher

What can artists get out of it?

“It’s a great stage, a fabulous opportunity to show off the best of their talent. It’s also a reminder of some of the risks posed by Brexit. It is by no means easy to get everybody out there; it’s a reminder how cumbersome the visa process is, to play in the US. The idea we could have that in the EU is a nightmare. We need to make sure we keep what we’ve got when it comes to the ability of artists to move freely around Europe.”

How is Brexit affecting perception of the industry here?

“It’s affecting Britain’s global reputation, undoubtedly. People in the rest of the world look at us and think we’ve had a collective nervous breakdown. We have always been this great, outwards-looking trading nation and the perception that we are retreating into ourselves is hugely damaging. The fact that we punch so much above our weight with music is a reminder of the soft power that the music industry helps to give the UK, and we mustn’t lose sight of that.”

At the same time, do people recognise how strong our business is?

“Definitely. Everyone you talk to at SXSW is full of admiration for just how good we are at this, historically and today. We’re there to do some good business and make sure those artists get seen. The industry is something that needs support from government and is at its best when we pull together, SXSW is a great reminder of how strong we are when we work together. It’s about supporting our talent pipeline.”

Subscribers can read our SXSW feature in full here.

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